I’ve never once criticised the work of another blogger in public, so why start now? Yes, Gene Phillips’s Making a Dirty Breast of the Matter (parts 1 and 2) are appallingly written pieces which express irredeemably ill-thought through and chauvinistic thinking, but the net’s sadly saturated with such sorry fare. Indeed, Phillips’s work is so shockingly out-there, so repeatedly isolated from any reference to either informed academic debate or common civility, that it surely deserves nothing but pity if not contempt. This is, after all, a man quite capable of linking without any apparent irony to a self-composed piece in which Nietzsche is respectfully referenced as an insightful authority whose thinking can apparently help explain why “superhero comics, like many other adventure-orientated genres, are likely to always have a dominant appeal for male audiences”. There’s clearly no reasoning with such beyond-the-event-horizon, chauvinistic points of view, and any attempt to do so inevitably runs a serious risk of uselessly provoking the kind of highly-charged and futile bun-fighting which Godwin’s Law describes. I’ve always believed in simply ignoring the work of those folks capable of imagining that the words of syphilitic 19th century sexists, no matter how brilliant and fascinating in their own terms, can add anything of deciding worth to our century’s discourse about sex and gender, unless, of course, it’s to sign up the bad examples from the better. (Nietzsche’s work is many things, but a debate-closing authority on the psycho-social reproduction and reinforcement of gender roles, it’s surely not.) And so, I’d normally be quite happy to sit back and let poor Mr Phillips embarrass himself with shoddy thinking and reactionary politics. It’s every citizen’s right to make a fool of themselves in public, and given that I’ve often taken advantage of that same opportunity myself, why should I concern myself with the woeful Making a Dirty Breast of the Matter?
But then, my problem isn’t so much how Mr Phillips represents his own beliefs, although he does so with a mixture of incompetence, prejudice and ignorance which both astounds and depresses me. No, the problem lies in the despicable way in which he’s opted to organise both parts of Making a Dirty Breast of the Matter around a mean-spirited, mutton-headed misrepresentation of the content of both Kelly Thompson’s article No, It’s Not Equal and the general feminist critique of sexist representations in comics. It’s not exactly clear quite how insulting and reactionary Mr Phillips intended his piece to be, for his English is often opaque and his reasoning consistently ill-judged. But whether we subscribe to the cock-up or the conspiracy theory of history here, Mr Phillips’s pronouncements, which claim to be discussing “logical fallacies” in Ms Thompson’s piece, repeatedly distort her work while consistently pouring what amounts to a sustained campaign of contempt upon her integrity and intellect. With his smug tone of pseudo-academic superiority matched with his disastrously poor debating skills, all he’s managed to achieve is associate Sequart not with the free and fair expression of a broad variety of opinions, but with a sexist’s snotty sneering at a blogger who at the very least deserved the courtesy of far, far better. There will now be folks who know nothing of Sequart beyond the fact that it’s a site where Mr Phillips had the opportunity to launch not one but two full-blooded charges at Ms Thompson’s beliefs and work, and although the company’s reputation is a far lesser concern than the unfair treatment meted out to Ms Thompson, it’s still a deeply regrettable business. Sequart has always been a publisher which has offered space to a variety of political and critical stances, but that platform has, to my knowledge, never, and never should have been, extended to such unpleasantness, such haughty and belittling bigotry.
It’s telling that Ms Thompson’s work should begin in a generous and transparent fashion, whereas Mr Phillips’s critique is marked by neither of those qualities. No, It’s Not Equal opens with a straight-forward explanation of its author’s beliefs and intentions. Comic books, she argues, tend to represent female but not male characters in ways which are profoundly sexualised and sexist. It’s an argument which Ms Thompson seems to have felt keen to present in its most basic and inclusive fashion; her purpose appears to have been to open up a debate so that everyone could involve themselves without being excluded through the presence of unnecessary theory, irrelevant point-scoring terminology and so on. Indeed, Ms Thompson seems so set on trying to limit the scope of her piece that she makes a point of stating, for example, that she’s not trying to argue that readers can’t express a preference for the presence of objectivised women in the comics they enjoy. When she does add a touch more to the spine rather than the detail of her argument, it’s simply to openly add two straight-forward contentions. The first she openly frames in terms of her own opinion; sexist imagery in comic-books is harmful to women, and young women in particular. The second she presents as fact without supporting evidence at the conclusion of No, It’s Not Equal; comics should appeal to a broader audience than they currently do, and a way to do that would be to present “representations of men and women in superhero comics” which are “a bit more equal”. In short, Ms Thompson makes it absolutely clear that her work is feminist in its theoretical roots and concerned only with certain specific examples of comic-book representations.
There’s nothing clear or welcoming about the beginning of Mr Phillips’s own argument. He certainly doesn’t start off with a statement of the fact that he stands in direct opposition to the central tenets of Feminism, although you might think that he owed it to his readers as well as Ms Thompson to make his position as clear as possible from the off. Instead, his first paragraph refers obscurely to “anti-pulpsters”, who supposedly oppose, in one way or another, the presence of “extravagant sensationalism in superhero comic books”. Then he goes on to refer rather mysteriously to a deleted forum which “opposed such sensationalism—particularly of the sex-related type”. Finally, his opening burst ends with a statement that “that’s certainly not the only possible justification for opposing the proliferation of adult pulp.” What’s immediately obvious is that Mr Phillips has no interest, or perhaps lacks the capacity, to make his work clear. Instead, it seems that he’s actively choosing to keep the meaning of his work as well as his ideological convictions as difficult to initially grasp as is possible. He doesn’t define his terms or spell out his intentions, and the terminology he chooses to use is often self-generated and impenetrable. What does he mean by “the sex-related type”, what is this “adult pulp”, who are the “anti-pulpsters”? Why has he mentioned a deleted forum which the reader can’t access? So keen is Mr Phillips, it appears, to determine the context and the detail of his argument that he consistently chooses to ignore the debates and terms typically used to frame discussions of sex and gender in the world beyond the inside of his own head. In fact, you’ll note that even the simplest words such as “sex”, “gender” and “objectivised” are quite missing here. Even the word “comics”, it seems – although I can’t be sure – has been replaced by “pulp”, which may indicate, or may not, comics supposedly produced for adults. Who can say? Similarly, instead of “sexism”, we appear to have “sensationalism”, and so on. Where Ms Thompson was keen to exclude no-one from the debate she was attempting to inspire, Mr Phillips is from the off apparently set on the opposite. Indeed, his work gives every impression of being concerned only to exclude Ms Thompson’s contentions from being considered worthy of attention. In order to do so, he presents us with a rag-bag of prejudice, arrogance, unpleasantness and contempt. Anything, it seems, is permissible in Mr Phillips’s arguments as long as he can maintain his pose of superiority while he sets about damning Ms Thompson’s feminist principles.
And it’s important that we shouldn’t make any mistake about the phenomenal degree of misogyny to be found in Making A Dirty Breast Of The Matter. As I’ll discuss, Mr Phillips’s arguments rest on the belief that there is no sexism in super-books, and that any claim that such exists is the result of women imagining the problem because of their unavoidable, and therefore presumably natural, tendency to resent what he calls “female display”. Given that there’s not a shred of evidence for any such innate or even socially constructed female quality of self-deception and mutual loathing, Mr Phillips’s tilt at Ms Thompson’s work is founded upon the least valid and most bigoted assumptions about women. Whatever else his work may be, it is not logical as he claims, and it cannot be fair, since he’s arguing from a point of view which presumes that most if not all women respond to the comic-book medium, and to female “display”, in exactly the same way. To say that both the science and the social science of the situation would demolish his assumptions is to state that which is obvious to all but the likes of Mr Phillips, but then, that’s what’s so interesting and despicable about his writing. He’s not interested in the evidence at all, coming as he does from the malecentric circle of the faith-based community.
However, the reader doesn’t receive an absolutely clear sense of Mr Phillips’s arguments at any point, although he does produce something of a summary of his beliefs at the very end of the second part of Making a Dirty Breast of the Matter. Having spent his time attacking Ms Thompson’s work on a host of often quite-irrelevant details rather than building up a coherent argument of his own, he suddenly springs a bald statement of his platform. It’s as if his constant belittling of her article has brought him to a point where he feels that whatever he chooses to say has to be considered worth listening to simply because her piece is so supposedly poor. And so, we’re rather abruptly faced with the following key sentence, which logic would demand should have kicked off his pieces and been constantly referred to and supported throughout. It is, after all, a statement of the beliefs which have underlined everything that has come before;
I will suggest that it’s a constant that the majority of males will always want to see females on display, while the majority of females will always condemn said display, no matter how “athletically” a given female is portrayed.
So confused and confusing is Mr Phillips’s work that it’s then necessary to track back from this strangely tacked-on conclusion in order to deduce exactly what it is that he’s arguing in response to Ms Thompson’s contentions. What follows is, as best I can manage, a summary of what appears to be Mr Phillips’s view on the issue of the reform of sexualised representations in comics:
- Women who disagree with the way in which their gender is represented in comics aren’t actually responding to any objective problems on the page. There is no sexism in comics, there’s only sexism-perceiving women. (Mr Phillips calls these problems “perceived objectivication”, because any and all problems exist only, it seems, in the minds of female observers.) Because sexism is a problem which is invented in the minds of women, men cannot object to misogynistic representations in comics because (1) men can see that the problems don’t exist and (2) it’s only the female of the species who are is programmed to believe that they do.
- Both men and women are in truth represented equally on the page as nothing more and nothing less than sexually attractive characters. (“… so the male representation is not more “idealised” than the female.”)
- Those who object to “perceived objectivisation” are women responding negatively not to sexism, but to the challenging presence of representations of attractive females. (“But it’s long been my observation that many women resent any icon of female desirability”.)
- Removing sexualised depictions of women wouldn’t bring any more female readers to comic-books, because it’s not the non-presence of the non-existent sexist representations which is keeping women away. Women are staying away because they don’t want to look at the charms of other women, and that problem would remain regardless of whatever form was chosen to represent their gender in comics. (Quote: “I’ve witnessed a couple of women cavil at the charms of 1960s icon Emma Peel, and if any feminine icon had a less “porn star” body than Diana Rigg, I don’t know.”)
- So, women would always object to any “icon of female desirability” and continue to unfairly and irrationally “condemn” comics even if the representations they falsely believe to be objectivised were removed. Therefore, Mr Phillips argues, Ms Thompson’s contention that more equal representations would sell more comics is a “logical fallacy”, because women will never buy comics with anything other than undesirable women in them. (Quote: “However, no-one should pretend that this in itself is going to … reduce the amount of protest over perceived objectivication.)
A quick glance at the above reveals that his critique of Ms Thompson’s work is grounded in nothing but a spit-ball of bigotry, arrogance and ignorance. His data is nothing but the laughable anecdotal observation that a few women who he knew apparently made petty, slighting references to Diana Rigg matched with his long-standing belief that women “resent any icon of female desirability”. He pays no attention to anything from the social sciences of the past one hundred years and more which discusses the social construction of gender identity, although he does, as I mentioned in part and passing above, link to a piece of his own which references Nietzsche and de Sade. In fact, so colossally uninformed and chauvinistic is his argument that it’s actually hard to criticise it, because to do so would mean beginning with the most fundamental, secondary-school concepts of methodology and theory, of reliability and representativeness and validity. Put simply, Mr Phillips doesn’t seem to be able to tell the difference between a reasonable and an unreasonable opinion, between prejudice and evidence. From the implication that men won’t ever oppose the objectivisation of women in comics, to the argument that blokes will always opt for “display”, whatever that might mean, his work is not so much hilariously poor as pitiful.
Yet even the most residual trace of pity soon dissolves when Mr Phillips goes on to rather pointedly state that (1) his belief that male characters are sexualised doesn’t mean that (2) comics inculcate “homosexuality”. Well, we couldn’t have that, could we? Though Mr Phillips believes that male characters are every bit as sexualised as females are, and despite believing that the audience for these sexualised male characters is naturally one with XY chromosomes, the male characters aren’t there to excite male readers. Oh, no. Although the majority of super-people are blokes and the majority of their readers are blokes too, the supposedly sexual male superheroes are actually there, he argues in an astonishing example of wild thinking, to appeal to the women who, according to his other arguments, won’t ever read the books in the first place. Or; there’s nothing gay about the superhero book, just as there’s nothing sexist either.
It’s clear that Mr Phillips’s reasoning has little to do with reason, but it’s still important to note how he bolts together his arguments. There’s more than just a touch of irony in the fact that he constantly accuses Ms Thompson of faulty reasoning while presenting little but exactly that. In the absence of any compelling objections to her beliefs beyond the tenets of his own prejudices, his strategy tends to be to avoid the core issues of Ms Thompson’s argument while quibbling about the details of her debate. And so, Ms Thompson has chosen to compare what she calls the “athletic” appearance of male superheroes with the “porn star or supermodel” representations of their female counterparts. In doing so, she sets out the conditions for a simple, debate-opening comparison between one and the other. But that deliberately limited purpose isn’t one which registers as valid with Mr Phillips, who isn’t interested at all in debating in the terms set out by the person whose principles he’s determined to challenge. Accordingly, he largely ignores the central importance which Ms Thompson gives to comparing the objectivised qualities of female characters with the lack of such in male super-heroes. Instead, he invests a considerable amount of time in trying to establish that male super-heroes actually have the body-types of weight-lifters rather than athletes. The fact that this doesn’t change anything of substance at all in Ms Thompson’s debate is something which Mr Phillips clearly either doesn’t grasp, or doesn’t want to. After all, the issue is obviously not one of whether male superheroes look more like athletes or strongmen, but whether the sexual meanings which the representations of women carry are different and more iniquitous than those associated with men.
It’s something which Mr Phillips never manages to come to terms with, and never, it seems, ever tries to. To him, the idea that the men and women of America’s comics might represent different notions of sexuality and power is one that’s simply not worth engaging with in any detail or depth. Instead, he simply and baldy claims that visual representations of comic-book men and women are equally sexual in their meaning. No evidence is offered, no evidence is considered. What he calls “indicators of maleness”, such as muscles, are simply defined as carrying the same meaning as indicators of “femaleness”, such as “outsized breasts (and sometimes butts)”. Because Mr Phil;ips doesn’t accept that muscles and breasts can and typically do stand for different kinds of sexual identity, they apparently don’t. The opinions of others, the evidence of decades of research, are entirely uninteresting and unconvincing to him. In this, his argument comes down to the fact that Gene Phillips knows best. How does he know best? Because Mr Phillips knows that a bicep and a breast mean no more and no less than exactly the same thing; a form of apparently benign and equal “sexual idealisation”. What could be more futile than debating such an obvious point, despite the fact that Ms Thompson’s work, which he’s supposedly criticising, focuses on little but that?
It’s interesting to consider what does pass as “evidence” for Mr Phillips in those situations when he chooses to offer proof to us.. A single photograph of a single gymnast is presented, for example, as inarguable evidence that male superheroes aren’t typically represented as athletes on the page. (Whoever would have thought that a single picture could describe all possible athletic body-types?) Then, said gymnast is compared to a single cover starring Daredevil as drawn by Gene Colan in 1967, and the conclusion is generated that Daredevil, and therefore all superheroes now as then, are actually represented as body-builders rather than athletes. “Thus if one agrees that this depiction typifies most male superheroes in, say, the past twenty years”, Mr Phillips argues, presenting the reader with a dysfunctionally reductionist argument which also manages to suggest that Mr Colan’s cover was actually from 1992 rather than 25 years before that. The ill-logic doesn’t stop there. Four Colan panels of the Black Widow from the early ’70s are then used to “prove” that super-heroines aren’t presented with hyper-sexualised bodies either, although Mr Phillips does concede that Ms Romanoff may have untypically big breasts for a dancer, though, importantly it seems, “it’s not beyond all possibility”.
Finally, this bonnet-to-bumper car-crash of barely-connected and entirely invalid contentions reaches the point at which Mr Phillips suddenly tries to justify using such decades-old and untypical examples to discuss today’s superhero comics. Why is it that he’s relying on nothing but two examples from the work of a single idiosyncratic artist from the Sixties and Seventies in order to discuss the super-women and men of 2012? “The visual tropes of superheroes being followed by current practitioners were established roughly around the same time that Gene Colan drew them, the Silver Age” he offers, without reference to any inconvenient facts to help him establish such an obviously ridiculous statement. Who could possibly contend that the representations of gender today are the same in form and meaning as they were in the period from around 1956 to 1971? Who could imagine that there existed a single and fixed code of representations which informed the product of the industry all the way from Eisenhower to Nixon, from Boring to Adams, from Infantino to Winsor-Smith? The evidence simply doesn’t bear any such an idea out, let alone support a claim that the various porn-inspired creators of today are actually presenting Silver Age visual tropes.
We can see the same process of absurd suppositions masquerading as facts elsewhere in Making A Dirty Breast of the Matter. To try to prove that women have no preference for less hyper-sexualised representations, Mr Phillips attempts to establish that there is a considerable female audience for films which feature actresses with “porn-star” bodies. His “evidence” for this comes from the single observation that Charlie’s Angels was a commercially successful movie. He offers no evidence of who did and who didn’t go to see it, and of course he entirely fails to explain how he can correlate the general commercial success of Charlie’s Angels with an aspect of its audience’s approval or not of a body type. He certainly doesn’t convincingly explain why the women who did go to see Charlie’s Angels – whoever they are, whyever they did so – didn’t disapprove of the “display” on show in that film, since an essential part of his argument is that any form of such “display” alienates female consumers. In this, as elsewhere, Mr Phillips’s own solipsistic reasoning ties him in knots, though he never seems to realise it. After all, his argument relies on women being at the very same time both alienated by “display”, so that they can’t ever be considered potential consumers of super-books, and yet also supportive of the body types of the likes of Diaz and Barrymore and Liu, so that women can’t ever be portrayed as being alienated by objectivised superheroines. What mechanism are we offered to explain this paradox? When are women alienated and cavilling, when do they regard “display” as representing their own tastes? The only explanation comes when Mr Phillips suggests that Charlie’s Angels “presented its female stars with a full-fledged ‘porn star’ aesthetic, but in a jokey enough tone that female audiences could tolerate it.” Suddenly “jokeyness” is the key variable which governs female perception and decision-making, an out-of-the-blue revelation which suggests that female of the species would surely love contemporary superbooks if only comics were, well, more “jokey”. Yet looking at Hollywood’s action/adventure movies and concluding that women prefer “porn-star” representations as long as they’re presented in a “jokey” light seems to be as valid as arguing that the content of North Korea’s TV broadcasts prove its people have no interest in democracy. Mr Phillips’s seems to have no concept of the fact that the media can shape as well as mirror its audiences tastes, and so regards the very institutions which help reinforce hyper-sexualisation as honest brokers merely delivering what the people, and the women among them, want. Such a belief is as daft as presuming that what exists on the screen can be interrogated without methodology or research data in order to immaculately reveal what an audience’s tastes, thoughts and feelings are.
What other techniques does Mr Phillips put to use to try to bolster his case and undermine the appeal of Ms Thompson’s? One of his many remaining tricks is to state that her work implies things which it clearly doesn’t. For example, Mr Phillips argues that Ms Thompson’s work suggests that the only reason why creators would choose to reduce the level of objectivisation in their work would be to further their own financial self-interest. Yet Ms Thompson explicitly states that the moral dimension associated with representations of gender is of vital importance, meaning that she’s actually implied that there’s more than just finance that’s relevant to what gets published on the page. It’s Mr Phillips and not Ms Thompson who’s suggesting that the only motive for change amongst creators is a monetary one, unless the former is arguing that writers and creators have no morality at all. The phrase “putting words into someone else’s mouth” comes to mind. Such misrepresentation goes on and on, and it’s important to mention because it creates the sense of death-by-a-thousand-cuts which his article creates. There are so many problems, he keeps arguing, and all but the folks who have the will to trudge through his daft and dull work in detail run the risk of thinking that there really are a great many problems with No, It’s Not Equal. And so, Mr Phillips has a repugnant habit of suggesting that he’s nobly choosing to think well of Ms Thompson while at the same time implying that she’s not to be entirely trusted. For example, he says, in response to her statement that the furore over sexism would decline with a decrease in objectivisation;
I believe that Ms. Thompson is entirely truthful insofar as she speaks for herself… However I don’t believe she can speak for the entirety of female fans…
It may be that it’s Mr Phillips’s wretched English here which is letting him down, for it seems that he means that Ms Thompson can only speak with any surety for herself. Yet he doesn’t end up actually saying that, and instead seems to declare that he has been good enough to decide that she is being partially truthful. What a kind man he is, to offer his belief that she is sort-of telling the truth when there was never any issue that she was actually lying in the first place. It’s not the only time that disdainful terms are associated with Ms Thompson. To call her “self-interested”, for example, because she’s arguing according to her own beliefs, is a mean-spirited way of describing an individual’s principled ambitions, regardless of what they might be. Similarly, it’s simply misleading to state that “Thompson’s real objection” is to “sexualised representation”, because the reader will struggle in vain to find any attempt on her part to hide such a concern. But Mr Phillips is fond, it seems, of implying that Ms Thompson is either expressing herself dishonestly or ineptly, and that results in a progression of statements which unjustly create an impression that she’s not only a stupid woman and a poor debater, but mendacious too.
In conclusion, I can well imagine a visitor to Sequart casting a disbelieving eye over the length of this piece and wondering, with an understandable sigh, why anyone would care to write this huge litany of complaint against Mr Phillips’s work. After all, even if he has been unfair and stupid-headed, aren’t I just doing the same, and at even greater length? Why would I spend so much time writing something which is neither entertaining nor illuminating, for that’s certainly how things seem as I reach the end of this particular piece? Yet there are two simple and straight-forward reasons for my writing this. The first is that I wanted to try to illustrate why Mr Phillips’s two pieces were, according to my own beliefs, so incredibly unfair to Ms Thompson and her work. To consider just a few aspects of the pernicious weaknesses in his arguments would be to ignore the cumulatively unpleasant effect that the various carping aspects of his work create as a whole. The effect if not the purpose of Mr Phillips’s argument is to attempt to crowd out Ms Thompson and her beliefs from any kind of respect. The most important aspects of her work are effectively dismissed with a sneer, while its details and some entirely imagined qualities are dwelled upon in an attempt to recast her modest and humane purpose as a fool’s mission.
Of course, the implications of Mr Phillips’s work go far further than just a nasty series of swipes at one woman’s opinions where the issue of sex and gender and comics is concerned. For Mr Phillips is arguing, as we’ve seen above, according to an archaic and insulting definition of women which defines them in the most chauvinistic of terms, and he’s does so without regard for any aspect of the debate which might get in the way of his expressing his own prejudices. As such, Making A Dirty Breast Of The Matter appears to be an unreconstructed sexist’s attack on feminism as well as a protracted mockery of a single female writer who’d dared to express a moderate feminist critique of the superhero book. Insult was added to contempt, meaningless argument added to hair-splitting, irrationality and ill-formed debate all mixed together into a shit-storm of what becomes, as one pseudo argument follows another, nothing else but contempt for both Ms Thompson and her politics. From its ideological underpinnings to its lack of even the most basic courtesy, this was a rotten-hearted, stupid-headed, smug-schoolboy attack on a writer who Mr Phillips neither represented accurately or courteously. In that, it’s not that any one or two of the techniques which he used were so disturbing, because we’re used to sexists arguing with such unpleasantness. It’s hard to be too disturbed when faced with the prejudice of a self-regarding dullard. No, the problem is that it’s easy to under-estimate the cumulative effect of the continual haranguing that makes up the content of his two articles. Though most of us are used to engaging in individual points raised in misogynistic work, it’s regrettably easy to ignore the fact that one effect of such faux-debate is to wear down the opponent’s spirit with wave after wave of unreasonable and therefore unchallengeable disdain. In short, it’s an ugly, hectoring, dismissive way of denying a target the space to defend themselves, and simply responding to the technique, as I hope to have shown here, requires a disproportionate amount of time and effort. In many ways, Mr Phillips wasn’t debating with Ms Thompson, but shouting her down.
From beginning to end, his work is nothing more than a protracted barrage of irrationality and sexism, and I’d strongly contend that it should never have appeared on Sequart in the first place. To publish these pieces was to enable not an enlightening and inclusive debate, but a one-sided sneering match. By all means, let’s have the broadest range of opinions represented on Sequart, but only if they’re expressed in the form of work which is fair, accurate and respectful, which responds to the evidence and operates in the context of an informed debate.
Of course, it’s not my intention to be racing to a rather pathetic faux-chivalrous defence of Ms Thompson here. I’ve noted her doing far more than just holding her own in the sometimes-bear-pit that’s the comments at Comic Book Resources; she no more needs my defence than she needs an extra set of shoulders. Although I feel it’s appalling that she should have been subjected to what Mr Phillips wrote, I’ve no doubt that his attempts simply bounced off her skin, and that she’s pushed the whole matter to one side as just another example of what happens when certain boys get upset about that whole business of sexism and fairness.
No, my concern is a far more simple, and far more selfish, one. I haven’t written this to educate, entertain or even vent my feelings. In truth, I’ve found the whole business a deeply dispiriting one, and I have no illusions about anyone reading these words after I’ve posted them. I know what a dull piece this is, and researching and writing it has reduced me to torpor and despair. Believe me, time spent staring at Mr Phillips’s work has been, to co-opt that Nietzsche chap myself, time spent staring into an abyss which soon stares back. But what I did want to do was sign up a clear indication that what Mr Phillips wrote and expressed has nothing to do with me. I too write for Sequart, and I have a huge degree of respect and affection for the bods who run it. I’m profoundly grateful for the chance the organisation has given me to express myself here. But I’m also egotistical enough to worry that anyone might mistake the presence of my name on these pages as an indication that I’ve anything but contempt for the way that Mr Phillips thought to express himself at Ms Thompson’s expense. That was an appalling business from start to end, and I want nothing to do with it. An informed discussion about sex and gender is more than fine by me. A smart, civil discussion presented from a well-informed misogynist could be well worth the reading and debating with. But that wasn’t what Mr Phillips was up to, and I’d be ashamed to be in any way associated with him.
By the same token, should I ever happen to pass Kelly Thompson in a corridor at a convention or whatever, I don’t want to be ashamed to look her in the eye. In that, I’m perhaps all too aware of how I myself have felt when such “critiques” of my own work have sprung up without reference to evidence or good manners. I still come across folks whose knowledge of “Smith” extends only to what some unfriendly and unfair soul has written about me. It is not, I will admit, something which has made a warmer human being out of me, and may explain something of why this whole situation has so aggravated me.
You see? It’s all me-me-me.
So, here’s to you, Kelly Thompson, should you ever scan your way downwards through these turgid words of mine to this point. You and your work deserved far better than Mr Phillips’s sad-sack attack, and not just because of the generous, insightful, and principled nature of what you’d written. In the end, you deserved better because everyone deserves better than to be treated in that way. Isn’t that a great deal of what feminism is about anyway?
NB: I’ve had my say here, and at great length too. I’ve no intention in engaging in any further debate on the issue, I’ve said everything I have to say. I’ve spent so long trying to make this wretched piece work and I’ve had enough of it all. I’m sure my own methods and words will have caused folks to be at the least disappointed, and since I’ve had my say, as Mr Phillips had his at the expense of Ms Thompson, I’m happy for anyone to say what they like. Go on, punk, make my day, since, er, I’m off anyway. I’ll let my own flaws – inevitable and no doubt substantial flaws – damn me in my own turn.
My regular Tuesday pieces will return next Tuesday, if Sequart will have me. Gosh, that’s exciting too, isn’t it?