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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

DEFINING "PSEUDOFEMINISM"

For a man to win an LPGA tournament would be humiliating for the man. It would be like entering a children’s T-ball tournament and really tearing up the base-paths and smacking some major home runs. There isn’t enough money in the world to overcome the resulting humiliation of knowingly competing against…(pay attention, “ladies”)…

…inherently, self-evidently, inferior beings. -- Dave Sim, CEREBUS 293.

(Full essay here at CerebusFanGirl Site.)
 
 I'm not the first to toss out the term "psuedofeminism," but I do have a specific meaning for it which requires elaboration.
 
In my last essay I assailed a review by Evie Nagy, a writer for the Los Angeles Review of Books with said term.  What did Nagy say to invite this description?  It doesn't necessarily apply to everything she said, right or wrong.  The essence of my complaint with Nagy boils down to this paragraph:
The strongest superheroes, male or female, are those whose confidence, abilities, and sex appeal reveal themselves not through artificial projections of fantasy but through ideals that inspire creators, and therefore readers, to be better people.


A short review of a book-- in this case, a collection of Tarpe Mills' MISS FURY comic strip-- is not the best stage on which to discuss the issues Nagy raises, and she was IMO unwise to advance said issues just to flog a recommended book.  Certainly her assumption that quasi-realistic heroes, "male or female," are better vehicles for inspiring ideals does not stand up to close scrutiny.  In my youth as a male I can testify to having been inspired by ideals promulgated by any heroes I liked, regardless of whether they did or did not have super-powers.  I'm not able to testify personally as to whether female fans think essentially the same way, but when I read a female-authored fan-resource like Trina Robbins' GREAT WOMEN SUPERHEROES, I don't get any sense that Robbins is less inspired by Wonder Woman than by Sheena.  Clearly Nagy should have qualified her statement as her own personal taste, and nothing more.
 
Far more serious than her characterization of the process of inspiration, however, is her dismissal of "artificial projections of fantasy."  Nagy gives no reason for her dismissal, but I find it amusing that anyone professing feminism would argue that unadorned reality is the superior to the "projections of fantasy." 
 
Just ask Dave Sim.  As seen in the quote above, and elsewhere in the essay, he rails against the delusions of female athletes attempting to claim parity with male ones, as happened in 2003 when female golder Annika Sorenstam was invited to play in a Men's Open event.  In Sim's view, the idea of women successfully competing with men is no more than a fantasy: he calls this fantasy "the Charlie's Angels Syndrome" and explicitly compares it to the "implausibility of fairy tales."
 
Now, Sim's notion of "reality" means no more to me than Nagy's.  But Sim is basing his screed of female inferiority largely on one aspect of empirical reality-- that women are less strong than men-- just as did the very different philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, discussed here.  Schopenhauer sounds much like Sim when he says of women:
They are dependent, not upon strength, but upon craft; and hence their instinctive capacity for cunning, and their ineradicable tendency to say what is not true.
  
Given that so many anti-feminists have argued against female parity by extrapolating their arguments from empirical reality, it stuns me that any feminist would try the same gambit, or speak as if attentiveness to the ways of "the real world" were the essence of heroic nature, as Evie Nagy does here:

Even Marla’s physical victories are almost always made possible by a keen attention to detail that gives her the edge — she notices a fire hose that allows her to catch her fiancĂ©’s assailants off guard; she fends off the evil scientist Diman Saraf with a hurled metal basin, but only after explicitly calculating and anticipating his movements in her mind; she thwarts a group of smugglers when the police are at a loss because she deduces key features of a building that clue her in to their escape plans.
 A common theme for those attempting to hype their philosophical positions as true representations of "reality" is to claim that reality itself reflects the truth of their arguments.  Sim "proves" that women are "inherently, self-evidently, inferior beings" by asserting that women cannot beat men on an equal footing.  Hence fantasies of women kicking butt, in sports or in other forms of entertainment, are related to "the Charlie's Angels Syndrome," and further proof of women's inferiority.

Nagy's argument is less strident but she, too, is validating her concept of superiority as one rooted in the real world, and so she devalues fantasy as a mere "projection."

The amusing thing about both positions is that despite their attempt to align themselves with empirical and/or observable "reality," both Sim's antifeminism and Nagy's version of feminism are philosophical projections.  By empiricism's judgment both are unreal, in that neither can be proven empirically.

I believe that a feminism that cannot value fantasy is a psuedofeminism.  Such a philosophical position fails to realize how ideals work: that while ideals must be applied in "the real world," they too are fundamentally "unreal," in that they are "projections" through which human beings attempt to alter their circumstances.

Ideals, no matter whether they are of Nagy's or Sim's persuasion, are never demonstrable through "reality."  Reality is, rather, the opponent with whom ideals must eternally struggle-- though which one is Jacob, and which is the angel, is a matter I leave to the reader's interpretation.

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