Sinfest and Feminism
I need to make it clear that I don’t hate it when authors bring up the issues in our society regarding how women are portrayed and treated, especially in the media. It is an important topic and one that should be talked about. I personally find it quite disturbing how people will attack an author for even mentioning that the problem exists. And I am a big fan of Sinfest, I think Tatsuya Ishida is one of the best writers and artists on the internet. He has given us some excellent characters and some great, heartfelt moments. He can even make Satan himself sympathetic.
I think the main source of vitriol comes from the fact that despite the idea of feminism being about breaking down gender barriers so that men and women can truly be seen as equals, most people are likely more familiar with straw feminism, in which the movement is portrayed as women trying to dominate the world by enslaving men. This is because it’s the version that gets portrayed more often in the media as it is an easy story telling trope with more opportunities for drama rather than the reality of women just wanting respect and to feel safe.
This is why I have issues with the Sisterhood in Sinfest, they are much closer to the straw version than the real one. However Tat has made it clear that he is trying to support women’s rights, not mock them. But he still uses inaccurate methods to do so. An actual feminist strip would be something like Xanthe and Crimnee talking about the hardships women face as equals. It could be a Sunday strip where they have an in depth conversation, make intelligent observations, point out some misconceptions, and then God pulls out a hand puppet to mock the inevitable shipping.
Instead, we get what Tatsuya has always produced, propaganda. And while he does hit on some good points, it can be hard to take someone seriously when they make everything literally the devil’s fault.
There is also the problem of willful ignorance rather than admit to fans that his views are seen as narrow minded by other people. One of the things is how Tatsuya portrays Third Wave feminism, which is about the inclusion of all women, no matter their race or social standing. He did bring it up, but only to dismiss it as ‘regular misogyny’ by having a straw man character, a literal pig, misinterpret it, only focussing on the ‘pro-sex’ side of it, despite that part of the idea being about how a woman should be free to express herself sexually or dress how she wishes without being thought of less.
This is why, and please allow me to explain before judging, I don’t think Tatsuya has ever truly believed in any of the political issues he mentions in his strip. His comics on real world issues have always been very black and white, with clearly defined heroes and villains while remaining vague on specific topics. Despite presenting Barack Obama as a hero, Tatsuya never once mentioned anything about the man’s campaign platform beyond the generic ‘Change’ slogan. Sarah Palin is presented as a cross dressing pig, but why did that make the republicans a lesser choice? And besides that, Tat has always loved his conspiracy theories, making comics about how the government is spying on us.
These strips are, as I mentioned above, closer to propaganda. They are incredibly over the top with the opposition almost always being a tool of the devil while our hero is either the trodden down under dog who refuses to give up, or the invincible bad ass whose noble cause prevents them from coming to harm.
I’m not saying that by having Xanthe be nearly unbeatable she is automatically a bad character. Far from it, I actually kind of like her. Sure, she could learn to be more polite, and maybe gain a little more positive depth (Which could be achieved by something as simple as the Sisterhood having a friendly game of basketball) but she really isn’t that bad a character. And the reality of how hard it is to change the system seems to be seeping in, in a way, making Xanthe more sympathetic. It’s just that she seems more like Tat’s power fantasy rather than someone created to be a strong female character. The cynical side of me actually wonders if Tat has only gone on with this arc so long because he’s finally found a conspiracy that actually exists.
Because when you examine these strips, what do you get? You get feminists who brow beat their opinions and refuse to hear otherwise while the men are morons. This is not forward thinking, this is patriarchal humour from the guy who tells us not to think that way.