Friday, September 18, 2015

Pin-Up Mentality

After college I spent a few years experimenting with the idea of drawing graphic novels for a living. It was fun. I worked really hard and developed my mediocre drawing skills into fairly decent people-drawing skills. Not so much life drawing, but sketching little characters.

I was part of a forum (sadly now defunct) that had some big names as members (folks like Immonen and Francavilla) and I got a lot of excellent feedback and advice while I was there. But, in the end, I don't do well at drawing things. And I'm pretty damn slow at everything else.

For a while I thought maybe I would just focus on pin-ups; drawing women was fun and very popular and I could probably have made some money at it if I'd really wanted to. But I kept finding I wasn't especially happy with only drawing women as... sexy things. And I was still hideously slow so I turned to other pursuits.

Recently though, I've been thinking about pin-ups again. It started with a cartoon I saw on FaceBook (but cannot seem to locate for specific reference so bear with my word version of it.) On the left hand side was a (roughly drawn) woman in a chainmail bikini type costume. (It was generic, and poorly rendered, but it may have been supposed to be Wonder Woman or perhaps Red Sonja or maybe just a woman in a chainmail bikini.) And the caption was something like "When a woman wears this to ComicCon she's strong and empowered." And there was (I think) a voice balloon that said "You go girl!". On the right hand side there was a dude sitting in front of an easel with (essentially) the same sketch of the scantily clad woman on the left. And the caption said "When an artist draws a woman like this he's a sexist pig." And (again, I think) a voice balloon that said something like "Misogynist!". [I tried really hard to find the original to link to, but I don't know who drew it and Google searches under relevant terms were distressing. So, I am paraphrasing and leaning on my (sometimes) faulty memory.]

The obvious thrust of the cartoon was to imply that there's a double standard about how women portray themselves and how men portray women. Especially in SF/F. Especially in the visual arts.

And my initial thought was "This is missing the point." Because we all know that women are sexy sometimes. We are known to wear things that we think make us look attractive. (Even I, on occasion, take off my battered jeans and worn out t-shirt and put on some fancies.) But, and this is the missing thought in the above mentioned cartoon, we are more than just a sexy thing in a chainmail bikini.

The objection to artists who consistently draw women as first-and-foremost sexy/attractive is that they are reducing them, reducing us, to something to be looked at. Admired. Drooled over, even. Praised because of how sweet we look or how luscious our curves are. They are reducing us to objects. Again.

It feels like I shouldn't even have to point that out. But then I see things like Game of Thrones Women as Pin-Ups. (A Google search will turn up a lot more than just those five.) Or Disney Princesses as Pin-ups. (And there are a lot of those too besides the artist I linked to. He's just the most recent to get a write up.) And I see the previously mentioned cartoon and I realize it needs to be said again.

Women are more than just sex objects. We aren't just pretty things who are there for the Hero to ogle and take home as a prize after he saves the world. We are more than a bikini (chainmail or otherwise). More than a pretty smile.

Does this mean that no one should ever draw pin-ups? Or that men should never draw women in a way that suggests they are attractive or desirable?

Of course not.

It does mean that it behooves all of us (men and women alike) to remember that we are first and foremost humans. Sure, our dangly bits are different, but we are defined by more than just that.

"Fine," you say. "But I'm not an artist so why should I care?"

Because this is a lesson for all of our creative endeavors. There are still too many books being written in which the women or the PoC or the LGBTQ folk are just sidenotes - summed up into a single aspect of their humanity. Women as sex objects, PoC and LGBTQ as "other" and foreign and tragic friends who do not get to reap the rewards that the Hero receives. There are still too many books being written in which the Hero is likewise put in a box and distilled down to a handful of characteristics that limit his growth and depth by relegating him to a role which can only be those things which are not identified as a part of Women or PoC or LGBTQ characters.

And this doesn't mean that every book must represent all parts of every spectrum of humanity. Just as it doesn't mean that no one should ever draw pin-ups. But it does mean that consistently seeing a particular group in a specific way will limit the stories you tell and cramp (if not cripple) your skills to present characters that are fully rounded.

Depth of character means depth of skill, depth of perception, depth of understanding.

It means putting aside the pin-up mentality that turns every character with girl-parts into something to be ogled. It means writing not about the Hero or the Love Interest or the Queer Friend.

It means writing about humans. 

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