First things first.
An old boss of mine once told me never to assume malice where ignorance could be at play. It’s one of the single best pieces of wisdom I’ve ever been given. Throughout this post, I will assume ignorance is at work. Furthermore, I will not assume that ignorance is intentional, nor will I assume that any harm is intended, even if harm is an outcome.
In short, I will assume - for the sake of this post - that it’s all inadvertent, the sort of thing that, when it’s brought to light, makes people sit back and say “I didn’t know” or “I never thought of it that way.” In short, the sort of thing that helps us better understand each other. I both hope and ask that you will read this post in the same spirit - even if or when it seems difficult to do so, whether because of someone’s actions or comments or your feelings about this whole thing.
It’s official that DC is restoring Barbara Gordon’s ability to walk and that Gail Simone will be writing the character. Jill Pantozzi wrote an amazing piece responding to that announcement, explaining why Oracle is such a profoundly important part of the DCU and why she holds such an important role in comics in general.
In reading over comments added to reblogs of my On disability and visibility … post, I kept seeing the word kyriarchy appear in tags. I didn’t know what it meant, so I looked it up on Wikipedia, because as we all know, Wikipedia is the be-all, end-all source for perfectly accurate information on the treasure trove of facts that we call the Internet.
To put it in the most basic terms I can, and if I understand the idea correctly - and please, correct me if I don’t - kyriarchy means that someone can be both part of a minority and a majority at the same time, or part of a social group which can oppress others as well being part of another social group which can be oppressed.
Using myself as an example, I’m a disabled white dude. Although I really hate using academic jargon and rarely do, please forgive me for slipping into it for a moment to break down kyriarchy and make sure I’m getting it (seriously, please correct me if I’m wrong and explain it to me - I love learning new things).
Being white means I’m part of a social group with privilege. Being male means I’m part of a social group with privilege. Being disabled means I’m part of a social group without or with less privilege, or that is de-privileged, or whatever the particular jargon is.
Breaking it down further, Oracle is a disabled white woman with red hair. With respect to this discussion, while I’m partly experiencing the debate through being male and white, I’m certainly experiencing it from my perspective of being disabled. Gail Simone experiences this character much more than I do as a white woman with red hair. And I think any reasonable person can understand exactly why Jill Pantozzi is experiencing Oracle the way she does as a disabled white woman with red hair.
Both Ms. Simone and Ms. Pantozzi see themselves reflected in Barbara Gordon - Ms. Simone saw herself in Batgirl, while Ms. Pantozzi sees herself in Oracle. They’ve both made statements to that effect. I think Ms. Pantozzi’s statement that the real world should be reflected in the DCU’s fictional worlds is vastly more compelling than Ms. Simone’s excitement about getting to write the character who sparked her interest in comics.
Ms. Pantozzi’s comments cut directly to the heart of this matter. While another book anchored by a strong, capable independent woman is always welcome on the shelves, in this case it comes at the expense of one of the perhaps three or four visibly disabled people in all mainstream and most independent comics. Furthermore, it comes at a time when that character was the most visible of them all, considering that - as of the last X-Men trade I read - Charles Xavier was walking.
Now, that begs an interesting question in that I don’t recall such an outcry when Chuck started walking around again - why not? Do we simply expect less from Marvel? Is it that Professor X has gotten up and walked around before? Is it that, as Ms. Pantozzi noted, Dan DiDio noted at Wizard World Philadelphia in 2008 that Barbara Gordon would not walk again? Did Marvel never make a promise like that?
More interestingly, it seems that many of the people who are most concerned and most vocal about this change to Oracle are women. I’m aware of arguments that keeping Barbara Gordon in a wheelchair while countless heroes and heroines return from the dead is effectively a continuation of the violence done to her in “The Killing Joke” (or refridging). The outcry supporting Oracle seems to suggest that at least some readers feel differently about it.
At this point, we have two red-headed white women identifying with Oracle, one of them able and the other disabled. We have a disabled white dude trying to puzzle through feminist interpretations of Barbara Gordon’s ongoing disability in a world where people come back from the dead almost every year but doctors are unable to heal her spinal injury even though Bane broke Bruce Wayne in half and he’s back on his feet. We have people who think that keeping Babs in the chair is effectively reenacting the violence every time she appears because of the injury that put her there and that removing her from the chair will heal that psychological wound (i.e. defridging), we have people who applaud how she grew as a person and hero from that moment …
In short, we have a lot of compelling arguments, all of which are based in profound emotions and stuff that makes people who they are and shapes how they see the world. We’re talking about long-held fandoms that brought people into something they love, and reverence for characters.
And a lot of it seems to deal with how often people see people who look like them in TV shows, movies, etc. (representations of self in media for people who prefer a more academic way of putting it). And all of it is affected by the blinders we all have, just like the ones horses wear to keep them from getting distracted by stuff on the periphery of their perception. We may not wear them by choice, we may not be and usually aren’t aware of their presence, but it’s ostrich logic to think that because we don’t acknowledge them that they don’t exist.
I mentioned in a previous post that I’m disabled. My little girl’s mom identifies as a lesbian these days and half of my little girl’s family is Jewish, some orthodox. My little girl stayed here last night and we talked a bit about this stuff this morning.
My little girl has always been a source of change for me, ranging from writing Tony Hawk directly to inquire why players couldn’t create female characters in certain versions of the video games that bear his name to suggesting non-violent collections to Star Wars Galaxies developers because she wanted to know why I was shooting baby deer. She has helped change the way I see the world and removed blinders that I wasn’t even aware of.
For her part, she gets mad when she doesn’t see girls in comics, games and so forth. To her, it isn’t fair and she puts it as simply as that. This is gender disparity analysis from a 9-year-old. It’s pretty solid and reasonable and I think a lot of comics creators could learn from it.
Anyway, we chatted about the change to Oracle. I asked several questions working up to it and she didn’t see what the big deal was about not seeing disabled people, or LGBT people or people of color. Her mom is gay, and she didn’t see a problem with not seeing LGBT folks on TV. And then I asked her how she would feel if she didn’t see girls, and it suddenly all fell into place for her - she remembered how she felt when she couldn’t play as a woman in a Tony Hawk game (and, on a semi-related gaming side note, Brink offers 100 quadrillion different appearances - more than everyone who has ever lived on this planet combined - and not one of them is a woman) and she seemed to understand - at least intellectually - how it all cascades … how seeing girls is as important to her as seeing GLBT or people of color as heroes is to others … and that this, in turn, extends to disability.
Poof. Blinders gone.
And this is where we come all the way back around to the beginning, and first premises.
Like I said, first things first, do not assume malice and I’m not assuming malice. I’m assuming ignorance, and not willful ignorance - I’m assuming, as I noted, the sort of ignorance that dissipates when someone calmly and reasonably points these things out in plain, simple language. I’m assuming blinders that people aren’t aware of.
And this outcry? This is a good thing. It may be too late to change DC’s editorial direction with Barbara Gordon, but it’s a positive step that this discussion is occurring and that it’s happening in places where it normally wouldn’t, that it’s making people aware of their blinders, and it’s especially positive if it eliminates those blinders to any degree.
And what if … and I’m just thinking out loud on a blog here … what if all of us disabled comics fans and disabled people with a few extra bucks to spend picked a day and time and all went to buy comics? What if we all talked to our local comic shop owners about the importance of accessibility and accommodations for the disabled as we were giving them money? What if we all voted with our dollars that day and made not only our physical presence but our economic presence known?
Good for disabled people. Good for LCS owners. Potentially good for the industry.
Just a thought.
I meant to write about Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory that bluejaybirdie loosely referred to in her post about a Batgirl picture with a caption that is either sarcasm or poorly done trolling, but I’ll have to do that later. See, I’m out of spoons now … read the Spoon Theory article if you aren’t familiar with it. You’ll understand.