It may be an understatement that white cis-hetero bros, en masse, haven’t always been the best allies of feminism. So when this comic from College Humor (also not particularly a bastion of social justice advocacy) started showing up EVERYWHERE on my dash I was…cautious.
While the comic is fairly entertaining – I definitely want to work “seriously cordial motherfucker” into a conversation someday and I hope we’ll all be wearing Hillary 2016 shirts soon – a feminist comic it is not.
Let’s break this down.
On the surface everything looks rosy here: you have stereotypical male characters attempting to embody the antithesis of their stereotype, rejection of rape culture and slut shaming, invocation of feminist language, all signals of decent feminist social commentary. But look a little closer and all those things seem to be just window dressing covering up another example of the recent trend of bros attempting to colonize the feminist movement while not actually doing anything against the power structures and cultural norms that privilege them.
First off, Hatbro walks up to a woman he’s never met at a bar, doesn’t ask her name, comments on her looks immediately, uses the infantalizing “baby”, and vaguely propositions her. That’s not exactly what I’d call “active social awareness”… Then, after her brusque response, Hatbro proceeds to lecture her before finally respecting her wish to be left alone.
Cue high fives and smug superiority.
For the moment let’s assume that the women here is a valid character and break it down from her point of view. Women get harassed and pressured and sexualized so often that it’s seen as normal behavior. Does Hatbro understand just how frustrating, exhausting, and frightening it is to be subjected to that? Daily? To be at a bar, wanting to be left alone, approached by some stranger in the same manner she’s likely been harassed or even intimidated countless times before, it’s no surprise she would dismiss him without a thought. Does that make her use of the word “slut” any less problematic? Absolutely not, but let’s not let that obscure the fact that Hatbro is not nearly the white knight he quite thoroughly believes himself to be.
More realistically though, let’s see the woman here as being a strawman specifically constructed so that Hatbro can prove his feminism by taking her[operative word] down based on rejection of ideals that the patriarchy itself created and enforces.
- Construct the idea that women’s value is based in purity
- Enforce the idea until women internalize their own oppression
- Mansplain to women why the things patriarchy taught them to internalize are wrong and problematic
All this combined with the fact that the comic is titled “The Pickup Artist” leads me to personally believe that this comic really only succeeds in conveying two things: 1) men should just police women on their language and “teach” them about feminism instead of empathizing and understanding/unlearning toxic social dynamics and 2) women constantly overreact to simple questions asked by poor good-guy menz.
All too often in pop critical feminism there is a fairly large discrepancy in who we hold up as the voices and saviors of feminism and who gets critiqued and it usually ends up with white cis men at the top of the heap. We see Joss Whedon as the most feminist director ever but what about Jennifer Siebel Newsom who directed Miss Representation? Or Amma Asante who just directed Belle? White feminists defended Hugo Schwyzer tooth and nail for ages even though he capitalizes on being a self-confessed sexual predator and attempted murderer and incessantly antagonizes feminist women of color. And yet the conversations the public wants to have (besides “look at all these great feminist men! We rely on their voices to affect our change!”) are “is Beyoncé truly feminist?” and “Omg did you hear what Shailene Woodley said?” This comic is just another example of white cisgender heterosexual men getting a pat on the back for showing the slightest bit of knowledge (not necessarily understanding, mind you) of feminism and it’s in no way subversive.
Protip: If you’re a man and your idea of feminism supports the socially constructed idea of your own superiority over women, do a better job.