Wednesday, May 23, 2012

'Female Chauvinist Pigs'

Alexa Tomaszewski: Have you seen Sex and the City and what are your thoughts on how the woman are portrayed in this show? Ariel Levy has an interesting take on this. In FemaleChauvinist Pigs she states the show romanticized accumulation – “there was as much focus on Manolo Blahniks and Birkin bag as there was on blow jobs.”

For me the show opened my eyes to the fact that you didn’t have to get married and have kids when you grew up. You didn’t have to be Cinderella and be rescued by a prince (which we still ingrain in our children today). You didn’t have to be Buffy or an X-Woman to be strong enough to save yourself. All you needed was a career, an apartment, and a closet full of designer wares.

Dave Sim: No, I read all the reviews of it in the National Post and I got the idea. In the same sense that I watched about ten seconds of a Lady Gaga video and I got the idea. Same response in both cases: not interested. Lady Gaga is costume design being used to sell skankiness and Sex and the City is high fashion being used to sell skankiness.

On my flight to Halifax for The Last Signing, my seatmates were these three girls who were barely pubescent, two of whom were watching the last (hopefully the last!!!) Sex and the City movie. A society that allows barely pubescent girls to watch material like that in a public setting has no cause for complain when it ends up the way it is going to end up.

Alexa Tomaszewski: Well, to say the least, it’s not like fans of George Lucas changed the world either.

Levy talks about acting like a man, something I was touching on above. She says that if a woman is going to act like a man there must be an inherent manliness to aspire too. Can a woman act like a man?

Dave Sim: Woman can – and do – TRY to act like men, but it isn’t healthy and it does them no good in any of the areas that they’re genuinely interested in. Through a man’s eyes it can either be endearing – in the same way that it is endearing to watch a child trying to act like a grown up “Isn’t that CUTE!” – or it can excite a certain level of pity. Like watching a guy in a batter’s cage who thinks he’s major league material and who just doesn’t have the chops. You don’t know what to say to him. You’re just embarrassed on his behalf.

If three guys are talking and a woman walks up to join the conversation, the conversation automatically changes because a woman has walked up. Which, as you know, is the case when three women are having a conversation and a man walks up. Men know that and accept it. Women know that but don’t accept it. Women are just weird that way. They want mandatory interchangeability – they want to MAKE men see them as being the same as men. You can MAKE men pay lip service to it and we’ve spent the last 40 years doing exactly that but all we’ve really done is to create a huge swath of the population who are squishy men – or rather, “men” – who are willing to pretend to believe that men and women are the same. “Men” that women aren’t interested in.

I  know a lot about fashion but I don’t talk about it in casual conversation. To do so would be just weird in that same way: as if I was trying to convince women that I was the same as them. They would just go to default setting: this guy is either gay or this is some weird scam he’s using because he thinks it’s going to get him laid.

The same thing happens when a girl is trying to act like a guy. The default setting is ‘maybe I can get her drunk and get into her pants or get her to do something that involved bending over so I can see her tits.’ 

Alexa Tomaszewski: I think this all depends on how much or well you know a person. I think we’re getting all hung up on sex here and what it means. I think we also need to ask how the sexes are delineated in society – that’s to say – why do women feel they need to act like men? And why does the conversation change between three men when a woman does not?

Do you think raunchy culture like Britney Spears or Girls Gone Wild means feminism has been achieved or is it just the opposite?

Dave Sim:  It’s a SPECIES of feminism, but it’s really infantile. Used to be immature, then became adolescent but now it’s really just infantile. Willful in the way that a two-year-old is willful. A woman’s right to choose is really just a lunatic phrase of Free Will. A woman has the right to choose to go to a gun store and buy a guy and some ammo and then go out and shoot someone. What she can’t do is a) do so with impunity or b) avoid bad repercussions from doing so.

Choosing to be a skank or trying to be a man is really no different. It just puts you in the Whack Job category. Nutty as a fruitcake. The opposite end of the spectrum from a wife and mother or legitimate girlfriend. Men know they’re not allowed to say that, but they know a skank when they see one. How many women can legitimately wear white on their wedding days? 1%? I’d say that’s optimistic. Margaret Liss, Cerebus FanGirl described the League of Extraordinary Hosebags issue as “crass”. No, I don’t think so. It would be crass if Hosebag wasn’t the “new normal”. The characters on Sex and the City were hosebags and I assume so are the actresses who portrayed them – so are the vast majority of their audience. A very unwise and unhappy choice, with completely unhappy consequences, but fully protected.

Alexa Tomaszewski: Nutty as a fruitcake, that’s not in the urban dictionary’s definition of hosebag, but I’d agree. Skanky is very much the “new normal” these days. Heck, I would even say it is expected. I cannot see how acting skanky would put you on equal standing with the guys? If equality is what these women seek. This is the part of the equation that boggles my mind. 

In the past decade there has been a noticeable shift towards glamorizing sex trade work. Christina and Britney starting wearing smaller outfits and at some point started dancing on poles in their videos, at the same time, elementary school children started wearing make- up and singing “I kissed a girl and I liked it”. Today Saturday nights are a free-for-all drink until you can’t stand any longer tradition. It’s a dangerous world to have a daughter in.­­­­­­­­

Dave Sim: I was interested in the quote from Ariel Levy that starts “Even if you are a woman who achieves the ultimate and becomes like a man . . .” Do you see it that way? That becoming like a man is in some sense an “ultimate achievement”? Personally that seems really unhealthy to me – that it’s far better to aspire to be the best you can be. That is, as a woman. As expressed it seems to me to be like a me trying to achieve the ultimate as a cartoonist and become a professional hockey player. A cartoonist is one thing and a professional hockey player is another.

Alexa Tomaszewski: See, the thing is you could aspire to be a hockey player or a male cartoonist. I don’t think it can be fairly said that woman have been given a fair shot in either industry. DC Comics, Marvel Comics and all the other major league publishers are male dominated. Women’s hockey is not nearly as superior as the NHL. Most men I know here in Toronto don’t have any women on their hockey pools. It’s not that women aspire to be like men because it’s the ultimate achievement, I think it’s because they’ve been convinced of the American dream. Now, I know we’re Canadian, but at no point can you deny that we are heavily influenced over here by the United States. That being said, the American dream is a male driven one, where the woman stays home or works a non-threatening job. Even in this day and age, if I said I wanted to be the best nurse I could be, no one would blink an eye. Because nursing is a predominately female driven work force, and it’s interesting to consider the stigma men who choose nursing as a profession sometimes endure. One might only look to social norms to clearly identify how to act “male” or act “female. Ideology about how to act one way or the other is all over the place – on television, in magazines, on the radio, in the streets, all over the internet and it can be very confusing for someone who is gay or transgendered let alone male or female. I haven’t said “acting like a man” is the “ultimate achievement” but in some ways society has.

Dave Sim: I’ve spent a lot of time – probably too much time – thinking about all this stuff and it seems to me that women find men astonishing and that that’s what women are talking about when they aspire to being like men or want to be seen as being the same as men. They want to astonish men the way men astonish them. But it seems to me that a lot of what women experience of men is, well, repugnant. So, women come to see overcoming their own repugnance as a means of increasing their stature in the eyes of men – that being repelled by something makes them “weak” or “girly”. Can you see what I’m saying? Is there anything in that?

Alexa Tomaszewski: Some men are astonishing, sure. So are some women. It takes all kinds of course. But, men have been socialized to astonish – give them a bat, a calculator or a business suit – society ingrains certain things in men. It also ingrains certain things in women – sit down and watch Cinderella, take home-economics or buy your daughter an easy bake oven or Barbie. These things seem arcane but they are simply not. If you watch Treehouse, a popular kids channel, Barbie is just as sexualized in commercials and the toys in general are polarized between girls and boys.  Women are put on this earth to be mothers, nurturers, and to do all the jobs the men don’t want to get their hands sticky doing.There, I said it.

I don’t think women find men repugnant. In fact I think it’s something else, I think women envy the way men can act out. It is a classic case of double standards. I don’t think these double standards are changing either, I think they are becoming worse in some ways. Because now when I woman puts on a suit and holds a business meeting she’s not a business woman, to some degree she’s acting like a man to claim that position. And baby, it’s a man’s world. Women still are not paid equal wages.

I don’t see women as a void to be filled with baby. What’s that saying man giveth and woman taketh away? I bet that was thought up by a man. I think there’s a lot more grey area than we could ever imagine in this discourse. There are offshoots as thick and as high as a tree.

Dave Sim: Following up on my previous question, it seems to me that women get into that same competition with each other: who can shock other women the most. Tina Fey grafting her head onto a man’s body on the cover of her recent autobiography, Bossypants and Ariel Levy using a title on her book like Female Chauvinist Pigs. Who can be the most repugnant to other women? Who can be the most shocking? Given that I don’t really see that trait in men, is it fair to say that being intentionally repugnant as a means of attracting attention is a female trait?

Alexa Tomaszewski: Honestly Dave, I’ve seen about fifty commercials for that movie where Adam Sandler dresses up like a woman and portrays his sister, Jack and Jill. Just forget about the polarization between man and woman for a second. Everyone wants to be shocked.  That’s the key to the entertainment industry.

Certain types of men and women will act intentionally repugnant as a means of attracting attention. Furthermore I don’t really believe in specific male/female traits. Hormonally women and men may differ vastly, but I think any deep seeded traits are ultimately human ones, not to be defined by sexuality. I think we all want to see something inherently shocking in a day and age of complete over exposure.

Dave Sim: Having read all of Glamourpuss, do you consider me shocking? It’s something I’ve wondered about and – having been pretty much ejected from the comic-book field – it’s very hard for me to judge. Personally, I find it very difficult to parody fashion magazine. Every time I read a fashion magazine there are things I swear they must have made up because I can’t stop laughing. The impression that I have is that people are shocked by what I choose to highlight, a case of shooting the messenger. It’s right here on page such and such of this magazine. I didn’t make it up. I don’t know if they did, but I didn’t. ­­­

Alexa Tomaszewski: I don’t know if I would say shocking. I’ve established I grew up watching Britney, Baywatch and MAD TV. My generation has experienced the fastest pace of social evolution than any other before it. With the internet, video games, television, Facebook, Youtube, WikiLeaks and the immergence of citizen journalists all over the world, what’s really shocking anymore? I mean I saw Gaddahfi’s body used as a puppet and then photos of his bloody carcass being thrown around. It was shocking to me. The flooding of Japan was caught on camera from every angle and remains the most shocking thing I have seen to date.
Glamourpuss is the most fun thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a social commentary, a contribution to society. It’s so important. I have an anthropology background and I ultimately believe that works of art and culture like comic books, art, novels, newspaper clippings – all these things, they are a statement of where we are at and of who we are today as a society.

Glamourpuss is a statement. Maybe it’s specifically a statement but about women, or fashion or women in fashion, and how ridiculous that culture is, but it’s something. And it’s funny. Sometimes it's shocking, but like I said, that's what sells.

There’s also an educational element to your work that I particularly enjoy. I have a passion for history (which is my traditional educational background, anthropology came later) and you spin a history. You tell a tale. Some people may find this boring. Ok, Dave, I’m sorry, some reviews have called this boring. But I think it adds depth to an otherwise satirical comic-book. You don’t want this to be mad magazine do you?

Finally, what drew me to your work? Well, it was the clothes, the beautiful way that you take the clothes from the glossy pages from the magazine and transfer them to comic book form. The women's hair, their accessories, they all look magnificent transferred onto the comic book panel. My favorite game to play when reading is spot that designer. I read so many magazines I can often pick out your original inspiration.

This is a big, big deal as a female comic book reader. Do you know how many costumes I see and just cringe at? I mean if Storm is a goddess and Queen why the heck does she always have to look so skanky? Can we upgrade from full body leather suits yet? I must say the one creative thing comic book artists have nailed is the bathing suit – always creative. I’m never ceased to be amazed by how many different strips of fabric can be used to cover the body and then paired with only knee boots and a gun,? Come on! Any self-respecting super heroine knows the outfit comes first. Even Buffy. Especially Buffy.

So Dave, finally, tell me a bit about the clothes. Who is your favorite designer and why?

Dave Sim: It’s not so much the designer for me as it is the individual pieces in combination with the quality of the photography. When I was developing Glamourpuss in 2007, I went to L’Oreal Fashion week in Toronto for a day. It was interesting but it wasn’t what I was doing what is still images that I can convert to illustrations and using the fashion “intonation” to write humorous copy. You don’t get either of those with fashion “live”. There are designers that recur. Vintage Chanel makes itself apparent and is still a cut above everything else that’s out there. I prefer Ashley to Mary-Kate (classic versus costume). Nine West I think is a better value for the money – more bang for your buck – than Christian Louboutin. Stella McCartney had a couple of great seasons and then just seemed to fade for me. Greta Constantine seemed to come out of nowhere and can’t put a fashion foot wrong the last year or two. Michael Kors has probably had the most sustained momentum over the last three years I’ve been doing the book. I do my first run through the magazines very quickly looking for the absolute best designs and best photography. That isn’t always Michael Kors but it is more often than random chance would allow for. Kensie for a while where they had those amazing wispy blondes in wispy photographs. Burberry Prorsum was skyer-no-higher when I started and now just seems to have random “hits” here or there.

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