Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Open Letter To Aaron Diaz: Stop Hiding

Web comic artist Mary Cagle, known on tumblr by the handle cube-watermelon,  recently posted the comic above, poking fun at the phenomenon of many male comic artists that self-identity as some form of progressive or feminist ally where they will draw cheesecake type pinups or costumes and scenarios that appeal to them specifically, but then try to dress them up (no pun intended) as not just pleasing to look at, but that the art is somehow "empowering" or transgression.

She concludes her post with the bon mot, "Sometimes I think it's okay to just admit you like looking at certain types of bodies naked, and that's okay."

While Cagle most likely wasn't surprised at getting some push-back from some people on tumblr, she was definitely surprised by one response: Aaron Diaz, the writer and artist of transhumanist science fiction web comic Desden Codak. He sent Cagle a note on tumblr:

Hey, how about not being a passive-aggressive shit next time, eh?
To which Cagle published the response:
I would think that you, who spend so much time pointing out the flaws and problematic areas in other people’s work, would be able to take one silly comic directed at your work and others like it. Normally I wouldn’t respond to this kind of thing publicly, but I’ll make an exception since you called me a shit.
Diaz has done many examples of comic and media criticism, notable among them being his redesigns of iconic DC Comics super heroes and concept art he made of Zelda as the lead character in a video game inspired, he said, by Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games. And while Cagle parody comic wasn't specifically aimed at Diaz, it most certainly was inspired by a tumblr post (since deleted, see cached copy here) by him where he said "Inspired by some amputee photo shoots, I decided to try my hand at some cyborg-themed pinup sketches with Kim, a sort of celebration of the female form and taking agency over one’s body." Which is pretty ridiculous in the face of it, more so when you see the pin ups and his justification for drawing them (and that's leaving aide his kind of creepy "being disabled is totally an opportunity for the transhumanism movement). That fact that he deleted it shows that he recognizes that he messed up somewhere along the line, but instead of addressing it, he just vague-tweeted about it for a while.

In response to Diaz's actions, Magnolia Porter, a fellow web comic artist and friendly acquaintance of Diaz, published an open letter to Aaron Diaz:
There’s a place for everything, and an artist has the right to create whatever they want to create, for whatever ends they choose. What I have a problem with is that your comic is not presented as a science fiction comic with a dash of sexy thrills, but rather as a feminist narrative in support of powerful independent women. You've made it clear on many occasions that you don’t consider your work to be objectifying or sexist. I have a problem with cheesecake-style art being presented as something feminist, empowering, enlightened- something made “for women”, when it’s clearly made for men.You’re allowed to make art with male gaze. But please call a spade a spade... 
I don’t think I've seen a single page of Dresden Codak that doesn't feature a woman posed in a male-gazey way, with loving focus on her ass or cleavage, or wearing a sexual costume, or in some situation that puts her in a compromising position (like the most recent page in which Kimiko's clothing is burned off of her body, which has happened at least twice in the series’ run.) I have a very hard time believing that these details are accidental. 
...Aaron, you can do whatever you want with your own comic. However, if you really do care about female characters in media, or care to know why so many people seem to be angry with you about it, I would do one of two things. If you don’t want your comic to present its female characters in a borderline-erotic light, then stop doing that. If you don’t mind that, then by all means continue, but please just admit that you like drawing t&a and that it’s not particularly empowering, or feminist, or a celebration of personal agency. As a woman, I resent being told that men’s eye candy is actually meant to uplift me and that I should celebrate it.
Honestly, I don't have any sympathy for Aaron Diaz, nor do I have any sympathy for his position nor his reactions. He got called out for his messed up behavior and has fired back with sadly-all-too-typical defensiveness.

I've seen it happen so often, it's become distressingly familiar. A woman points out that a character or story or the way something is presented is sexist. Men insist that woman is seeing things that aren't there or otherwise reading too much into things because it doesn't come across as sexists to them. This is something I've done before, myself. As men, we are often taught that our perspectives are the default. We end up taking our perspectives and assuming that's how it is for everyone.

Commenter divined by radio at metafilter said it pretty well, I think:
So men who adamantly refuse to believe that their own gender privilege may have resulted in a variably-applied resistance to accepting a woman's objection or approach as valid -- to believe a woman when she speaks, to allow that what she is saying is true, even if they have not experienced precisely what she has experienced -- are displaying, at best, a touch of willful ignorance. They are privileging their own feelings and desires over women's truths, lives, stories, and experiences. And the end result doesn't tend to be very flattering.

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