We Don’t Live in a Patriarchy

In the spring of 2014, back when people still used Facebook, I came across a post from a male friend who was a grad student at a West Coast school known for its progressive social climate. He had put together a proposal for an event with a female grad student in his department. She sent the proposal to their department chair, who returned it with a brief comment saying that it was unprofessional of her to submit such a shoddy piece of work. My friend and his colleague therefore sat down together and rewrote the proposal. This time he submitted the papaerwork, and the department chair congratulated him and told him that their administrative assistant would be in touch soon to help set up the funding.

When my friend forwarded this response to the female grad student, she pointed out that, lo and behold, he had made a mistake and attached the first draft – the very same one that she had submitted the first time around.

My friend was upset, as he rightly should have been, that such an obvious display of sexism could happen at his Progressive Liberal™ institution. I replied with “I blame the patriarchy” as a comment on his Facebook post and then thanked him via DM for being a good ally and talking about this in a semi-public space.

I didn’t think too much about this exchange until I got a notification that someone had replied to my comment on his post. A white woman around our age, who was a grad student herself, wanted to let me know that she objected to my use of the term “patriarchy.” She threw the Merriam-Webster dictionary at me, saying that, if “patriarchy” is defined as a “social organization marked by the supremacy of the father in the family,” then we haven’t lived in a patriarchal society for a long time.

I literally saw red when I read that.

Within the space of ten minutes, I had posted more than a dozen responses to her comment, each of which cited and linked to accredited sources of statistics strongly suggesting the male dominance of various political, economic, social, religious, and cultural fields in the United States.

When I came to my senses, I sent a DM to apologize to my friend. He got back to me right away, saying that my responses were important and asking me not to delete anything. I thanked him again and then took a nice long break from the internet.

I was still upset a week later, though, so I copied all of the text from my responses to that comment on Facebook and made a zine that I called “We Don’t Live in a Patriarchy.” Several dozen of my friends (and friends of friends) wrote to ask me for a copy. I also took copies from three print runs to Quimby’s Bookstore in Chicago within the span of two months, and I sold out of all the remaining copies almost immediately after I put them on Etsy. I think I probably ended up giving away or selling more than a hundred copies of this zine, which I found surprising, especially given how quickly put together and cheaply made it was.

The world has changed since the spring of 2014, but not as much as you’d expect, and not always in a sane and reasonable way. I’ve considered updating this zine several times, but I always decide against it. The truth is that I dislike being angry. I feel like anger is a tool that no one person can hold for an extended period of time, so it gets passed from one feminist to the next like a baton. I made my angry feminist zine back in spring 2014, and now it’s time for me to step back so that the next group of young people can speak and be heard.

Horror Haiku

In the spring of 2014, I made a half-letter size photocopied zine that collected thirty horror-themed haiku. I had so much fun putting it together that I made a second issue the very next week. I was teaching at Notre Dame that year and driving to Chicago practically every weekend to stay sane, and I spent a lot of time at Quimby’s Bookstore in Wicker Park. I took a handful of zines to Quimby’s to ask if they would take them on consignment, and they agreed. This turned out to be an incredibly transformative experience for me.

I was expected to teach a course on Japanese cinema during the spring semester, so I spent the summer and fall reading recent issues of about half a dozen different Cinema Studies journals from cover to cover. There are a number of excellent independent theaters in Philadelphia (and Tokyo), so I’d watched a lot of movies during grad school. I was excited about movies, and I was excited about Cinema Studies. I was also high off the experience of having finished my dissertation, so I ended up being very productive and writing a handful of essays about horror movies, which I sent to the specific journals whose articles and general editorial voices inspired me.

Everything I wrote was rejected without even going to peer review. Because the editors felt no need to be anonymous, they told me exactly why they rejected my work, and I knew exactly who they were.

Basically, I am gay and I love monsters, and I was looking at horror films from the perspectives of Queer Studies, which was a major focus of my dissertation, and Disability Studies, which was just starting to emerge as a discipline at the time. What one older straight white man after another told me was that, while my essays were well-written and skillfully argued, I lacked the “critical distance” necessary to engage in serious scholarship in Cinema Studies. Also, because I was writing about East Asian cinema, DO NOT GET ME STARTED on the racism I encountered. (I’m especially looking at you, British academics.)

I should have pushed back or tried to reach out to other female and female-identified scholars who wrote about East Asian cinema, but what I ended up doing was crying. I cried kind of a lot, actually. I cried and watched movies and wrote a bunch of horror haiku, which eventually became these two zines.

When Quimby’s agreed to put my zines on the shelves of their store, it gave me the courage I needed to keep writing. It’s not that my work wasn’t worth being read; it’s that I was trying to get it past the wrong gatekeepers. Once I realized that a smug rejection from some narrow-minded older white man didn’t mean that there was something wrong with my writing or scholarship, I started submitting to different venues and, thankfully, getting my work published.

Zines have historically served as a platform for minority voices that have been denied expression in mainstream and more traditional venues, and that’s how they worked for me. Honestly, Quimby’s Bookstore probably saved my academic career. Be gay! Make zines!!

Both of these zines have long since sold out, but you can still find my old horror haiku (here).

Book Editing, Part Five

Today’s segment of responding to Reviewer #2 is especially frustrating. Not only does the reviewer want me to explain third-wave feminism, they also need me to justify it.

Despite occasional relativizations in the second half, the draft is inclined to generalization, clinging to fix (universal) rather than fluid (situated, positional) identities, which contributes to the overall impression of anachronistic methodology, if not a lack of information, for example with respect to theoretical posthumanism as allegedly male-dominated (omitting the central role of Rosi Braidotti and other female theoreticians in recent years).

Okay, sure. Let’s see, I have The Transhumanist Reader (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013) sitting right here at my desk with me. Let’s take a look at the names of the contributors:

Max, Nick, Anders, Robert, William, Andy, Ben, Alexander, Randal, Ralph, Marvin, Hans, John, Michael, Ray, Eric, Aubrey, Brian, James, Giulio, Mark, Dean, Ravi, Marc, another Michael, another Andy, Gregory, Ronald, Patrick, Vernor, David, Damien, Robin, yet another Michael, Russel, and Roy

Granted, there are also: Natasha, Laura, Rachel, Martine, and Wyre

Natasha Vita-More is one of the volume’s editors, but I think this is balanced out by the fact that many of the 35 male contributors have multiple contributions, while each of the five female contributors only has one.

The same goes for popular transhumanism. In To Be a Machine (Granta, 2017), I don’t think Mark O’Connell discusses a single woman. The last page of his “Acknowledgements” section (which lists the people he interviewed) and his “A Partial List of Works Consulted” are a big sausage fest. I mean, Mary Shelley gets a mention, but come on.

I’m not saying that either of these is a “bad” book, by the way. I enjoyed both of them immensely. This is also not to deny the value of the incredible work done by a number of female and feminist transhumanist writers and scholars. Rather, this is a simple observation that the conservation is dominated by men and has been for a long time. I don’t think this is controversial.

In any case, the fact that there is one woman in a room filled with (older, and mostly white) men does not make the space any less male-dominated. This is such a stereotypically sexist argument that I can’t believe I had to read this sentence from the reviewer with my own two eyes.

Jesus Christ, what’s next?

Science Fiction is regarded as a male-dominated genre, but this cannot be easily assumed.

Oh my goodness. Okay.

You know, it’s funny. Someone told Nebula Award winning novelist Dr. Joanna Russ this exact same thing, and she responded by writing one of the most influential and frequently cited books in feminist literary criticism, How to Suppress Women’s Writing (University of Texas Press, 1983). What Russ is saying is not that there are not any female authors (obviously), but rather that the historical dominance of men in the field has had a major impact on how female authors are treated.

It’s not 1983 anymore, of course, and things have gotten much better! Still, let me say that, as someone who devours a debt-inducing number of Japanese-language science fiction and fantasy novels written by female authors and has run a book review blog about Japanese fiction in translation for more than ten years, I would give one of my kidneys and a sizeable portion of my liver to see even a remotely more equal gender balance in whose work gets written about, promoted, and translated.

Again, this is not to say that there aren’t female authors and scholars in the field of science fiction, and it’s not to say that they’re not doing fantastic work. In fact, the reviewer seems to be upset because I’m quoting from and discussing their work instead of spending more time on male writers.

What’s especially frustrating about this comment is that the reviewer doesn’t have anything to say about my actual analysis in this chapter. What they don’t like is when I (a) point out in passing that there has been a historical dominance of men in certain fields, and then (b) talk about women instead. If these fields aren’t male-dominated, why do people get so upset when I talk about women? All I’m saying is that female authors tend to view female characters with a female perspective. This isn’t a complicated argument.

I know some people might be reading this and thinking something along the lines of, “Stop being so sensitive! Everyone gets nasty reviewer comments like this. This is normal, so just deal with it.”

But why? Why should I have to walk through a gauntlet of sexism in order to publish a book about female comic creators? This isn’t useful or productive, and its only purpose is to put up a set of unnecessary barriers to publication. Why is something like this taken for granted?

Anyway, I’ll deal with the “fix (universal) rather than fluid (situated, positional) identities” issue in the next post. If you thought today’s dose of sexism in the guise of intellectual critique was intense, get ready.

Book Editing, Part Four

I’m now on Day 3 of responding to the reviewer report on my book manuscript. It hasn’t gotten any easier, but there’s no choice but to keep going.

Despite the centrality of “genre” genre theory is missing completely. In addition, the first half introduces manga genres as demographically defined; the second half switches to thematic genres without explanation.

Genre theory is beyond the scope of this project. Jennifer Prough has already written a great book about this, and I discuss it in the introduction.

The concept of “shōjo” is taken for granted, its historical transformation overlooked.

A historical analysis of the sociopolitical concept of female adolescence is beyond the scope of this project. Deborah Shamoon has already written a great book about this, and I discuss it in the introduction.

The differences between Japanese and North American manga culture call for consideration (regarding identity politics and queer baiting, but also different relevance of Hagio Moto etc.).

A comparative analysis of manga cultures is beyond the scope of this project. Casey Brienza has already written a great book about this, and I discuss it in the introduction.

It remains unclear why manga is given the main role: because of the greater relevance of gendered genres in manga as distinct from anime and video games?

A comparative analysis of all forms of popular media that have ever existed is beyond the scope of this project.

I’m writing about manga because I’m talking about fan cultures, and there’s a huge international community of people in the world who have been inspired by manga to draw their own comics. A book about independent video games or independent animation would be an entirely different book. I do spend a fair amount of time discussing the interconnectedness of various types of media, but I do so in relation to specific works and forums of cultural production, not in an abstract and general sense, which is not the purpose of this project.

None of these comments are helpful, as they’re too general and vague to serve as a recommendation or strategy for revising the manuscript. There could be two things going on here. The first possibility is that the reviewer has a perfect book that they’ve written entirely in their mind, and they’re upset that a book that someone else has actually written on paper doesn’t conform to what they would have written if they actually wrote something. The second possibility is that the reviewer never intended for the author to see their comments, but my first editor sent them to me anyway because he knew he would be resigning from his position at Palgrave at the end of that very workday.

Either way, it doesn’t feel productive to have to respond to any of this, and I wish I could spend my time incorporating useful feedback into the manuscript instead.

Book Editing, Part Three

Once again I find myself wading into the mire of Reviewer #2’s comments on my book manuscript. Today’s topic is: But what about THE MEN?!?!?

The discussions of Azuma and Lamarre are sloppy and exhibit a lack of understanding for the central philosophical issues raised (especially with regard to database consumption vs. representationalism, and Heidegger).

A comment like this is unprofessional and uncalled for; but, if I have respond to this level of immaturity, I guess I will.

References to Azuma and Lamarre are minor components of my argument. I address the elements of their work that are relevant to the discussion, and I shouldn’t be expected to delve into “the central philosophical issues raised” by these writers if they have nothing to do with what I’m talking about. This is a book about contemporary female artists, not dead white male philosophers famous primarily for their Nazi sympathies and affiliation.

Listen, I’m just saying. Maybe “a lack of understanding” of Heidegger isn’t a bad thing.

My argument is essentially that women are not just fictional characters. Many prominent male theorists – Azuma among them – make grand sweeping claims about media production and consumption without ever considering female creators and fans. If we can accept that women exist as producers and consumers in the real world, then we can shift our understanding of these theories accordingly.

Ironically, the five or six pages I devote to a close reading of Azuma are probably the most rigorously peer-reviewed section of the entire manuscript. I published them first as a book review, which went through multiple drafts with the primary editor of a major journal in the field of Japanese Studies. I then published them as a part of my dissertation, which was also commented on by a number of prominent scholars in the field. I went on to publish that chapter in another major journal, and it went through an extensive peer-review process. And then, after all of that, I still had to field questions from senior (male) scholars at conference presentations and job talks.

I’m not criticizing Azuma; I’m just making an observation that the only women he discusses in the work that’s been translated into English and widely circulated in English-language academic circles are fictional. This is not rocket science.

All I’m saying is that female creators and fans exist, and I don’t understand why it upsets so many people to acknowledge the existence of actual women in media theories.

I’m tired of having to explain this, to be honest.

But wait! There’s more:

Surprisingly, Lamarre’s concept of “male/female mode of address” is not considered.

I have an even bigger surprise! This very concept is discussed for five pages in my second chapter! With a lot of quotes and analysis! Wow!! It’s almost as if it’s the reviewer’s report that’s sloppy, not my actual manuscript.

Lamarre writes in an infamously opaque style, but it’s worth summarizing what his “concept of ‘male/female mode of address’” refers to. Basically, within the artistic conventions of anime, men are active and associated with science and progress, and women are passive and associated with feelings and tradition. Lamarre is more or less basing this theory on the fictional characters in one animated movie, and he applies the general theory to a tiny handful of other titles. This sort of dualism is sexist by definition, and Lamarre really leans into it.

Again, my reaction is a friendly reminder that women are not just fictional characters but exist in the real world as media creators themselves. Lamarre discusses the anime series Chobits while treating women as abstract concepts and empty symbols, and my response is that it’s worth considering that the original manga was written by a team of four women and extremely popular with a female readership.

The entire point of this book about “Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze” is that women are not just abstract concepts in the minds of male writers and artists. This reviewer apparently doesn’t see the value in this concept and thinks I should spend more time talking about men.

I have to ask – why was a person like this chosen to review my manuscript?

This is generally why a press asks at least two people to serve as peer reviewers. If one reviewer makes an inaccurate observation – because we all do; it’s not like we’re compensated for this sort of professional service, after all – then the other reviewer can balance out their blind spots and biases. I think it’s fair to say that it’s a major failing of my original editor at Palgrave to only ask for the opinion of this reviewer.

I resent having to treat this sort of lazy sexism as a valid critique. It’s not productive; and, more importantly, it’s hurtful and dehumanizing.

Book Editing, Part Two

I’m going to respond to some of the comments on my book manuscript from Reviewer #2. This is partially because I need to get all the salt out of my system before I send a formal response to the press, but I also want to justify to myself why my perspective and the decisions I made are valid. Okay, here goes!

While it is important to clearly position oneself, the highly personal and subjective writing style (especially in the Introduction) runs the risk of appearing journalistic or social-networkish.

First of all, that’s a mean thing to say.

Second, did this person only read the introduction? I do indeed have a ten-page statement of positionality in the introduction, but the rest of the manuscript doesn’t employ an overtly personal perspective at all.

Third, god forbid that an academic book is approachable and accessible to a wider audience, right?

The reason I included a relatively informal statement of positionality in my introduction is because I personally dislike reading the literature reviews in the introductions to academic books, which tend to be theoretical quagmires that have very little to do with the content of the book itself. Because these literature reviews tend to discuss material in a manner that only makes sense to someone who has already read it, I don’t find them particularly useful, either. The convention that an academic book needs to have an unreadable introduction needs to be challenged, and I would recommend that this reviewer examine their own prejudices and be a bit more open to diversity in academic writing.

Rather than to be told that something is “unpleasant and, quite frankly, boring,” it would be more important to learn why there has been a shift from suffering to pleasure in female writing and reading, to which research field the project wishes to contribute (literary studies, Japan studies, fanculture studies, manga studies, gender studies?), and within which methodological framework assertions and judgments are being made.

I… I can’t even. Does this person want me to reinvent third wave feminism? Do I really need to spend more time explaining why my feminist approach in 2019 is different from academic feminist approaches in 1995? Really?

Okay, fine. I can do that. I can add another three or four pages to the introduction for the benefit of anyone who hasn’t read any feminist scholarship on popular culture in the last twenty years. I haven’t seen anyone attempt to justify a third/fourth-wave feminist approach in more than a decade, but sometimes I forget that the academic job market crash of 2008 resulted in a major generation gap.

I mean, I already have a good fifteen pages of methodological framework in the introduction, which is then built on in the introduction and conclusion of each subsequent chapter, but I guess I could signpost this in a more easily recognizable way. Instead of calling the relevant methodology section in the introduction “The (Super)powers of Feminist Textual Analysis,” I guess I could call it, um…

Actually, you know what? That’s a good subheading, and I’m keeping it.

That’s enough for today, but stay tuned for more adventures in the academic salt mines.

Manga Cultures Book Cover

When I was young and stupid, I included a critical comment about a book’s cover in a review I wrote of an academic monograph. Like the fool I was, I blamed the awful cover on the book’s author.

That book was published by Palgrave; and, now that I’m publishing my own book with Palgrave, I know a little more about how this works.

Palgrave has a policy of taking its cover images from stock photograph websites, specifically Getty Images and Alamy. I’m sure this is appropriate for some books, but it’s not particularly suitable for a book about East Asian popular culture.

Getty Images and Alamy are open for anyone to search. If you like, you can try your hand at finding a good cover for a book about shōjo manga and women’s comics in an international context. To save you the trouble, I’ll go ahead and tell you that there isn’t much there.

You’ll mostly find a lot of pictures – generally of poor quality – of manga magazine covers. Almost all of these photos depict manga magazines for boys and men, and some are adult magazines that can easily be interpreted as catering to fetishes that sexualize minors. None of these photographs is particularly visually appealing. Moreover, since many magazines rebrand themselves according to current trends, a photo like this is going to feel very dated very quickly.

There are also photos of people reading manga in convenience stores and bookstores, but (again) they mostly depict men, and their focus seems to be on “wacky Japan” street fashions. Given that this is a book about “the female gaze,” I would feel weird about a photo depicting an actual woman to begin with, especially if it’s a candid photo and the model hasn’t given her consent to have her face appear on the cover a book.

I therefore requested that we use an original illustration commissioned especially for this project. Since this is a book about women reclaiming the way they’re depicted in popular media, I think it would be cool to have a depiction of a female artist in an illustration created by a female artist. This would also be a good opportunity to have a colorful and eye-catching cover, and an illustration would avoid the pitfalls of gender politics inherent in the medium of photography.

This request met with really strong pushback from both my original editor and my current editor at Palgrave, and I had to push back with equal force to even get them to consider using an illustration drawn by a female comic artist for the cover of a book about female comic artists. I’m not going to lie, it was a super awkward conversation to have, and it lasted for months.

Now I feel awful about criticizing that scholar about the cover of her book. It’s so embarrassing, because I was so wrong. Academic publishing is just like this, I guess.

Anyway, I’ve been in touch with one of my favorite artists in the world about this book cover, and hopefully I’ll to be able to make progress soon!