here is my to-read pile. The books on the far left are books I'm currently reading off and on; the books in the stack next to it are books I've read (that for whatever reason I've not yet found a permanent home for; actually I might be giving most of them away here in the future); and the books on the right two stacks are books I've still to-read.
But I need to say this, for myself. And I say it with as much belief and force and vehemence as I have ever said anything in my life.
Watchman is the most appallingly misogynist book I have ever read.
To the point where I could barely finish the final volume. To the point where I am saddened and disappointed that I have been repeatedly told that I will find enough of value in this book that the misogyny will somehow be made okay for me.
To the point where I am angered and hurt that whenever I hear about how great this fucking book is, I am not also met with "but you have to be warned, because of the violence against women." I mean, I can't hear Twilight mentioned anywhere without it launching a heated discussion of how horrible this book is for women, and sure, Twilight has issues, but NO, WATCHMEN IS THE FUCKING BEST COMIC EVER, NO, REALLY, and yet none of the zillions of discussions I've heard prepared me for this.
And it hurt to go into this unprepared. I mean, I knew it was dark. I knew that it had a very questionable treatment of rape. And, sure, I know that this whole genre is misogynist and has lots of violence against women, and that for Alan Moore it's almost a trope. I know that basically through general cultural assimilation. None of that made this any more bearable for me. It didn't prepare me for the extremity of Watchmen.
And, you know, I really wanted to like it. I was fully prepared to look past the violence and see the overall brilliance of the structure, the narrative, the symbolism, how straight-up cool Rorschach is, how cool the whole story is in so many ways, how visually breathtaking it is - how at some panels I even gasped, they were so well-done. Even up til two volumes before the end, I was prepared to let my hurt go.
But ultimately, the narrative didn't bear anything out for me but my pain.
Initially, I had downloaded my copy because I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to buying it because I am very wary of extremely violent stories and dystopic stories, in general. So I started reading - and the copy I had downloaded stopped at volume 6, literally halfway through the series. And I read it all in one sitting last Saturday; and when I came to the truncated end - at that point I was so deeply into it that I was literally shaking, it was that intense. It was like 3am and I almost went to Wal-Mart and bought the rest on the spot. I didn't *because* it was so intense at that point. My need to know how it ended at that point, to have some resolution, and above all, to try to rid myself of this blackness that had overtaken my soul, was that great. I say that unsarcastically and without irony - you know when you're deeply in the middle of a book or a movie that's so disturbing that it leaves you cold, or lingers with you long after you're done: it was like that. And that's how it was supposed to be, I know.
At that point I was - it was a very gripping, absorbing read. And I loved Rorschach. I desperately wanted to know what happened next. And I... was despised and repulsed by the story. Specifically by the misogyny in it, the unending, blatant, repulsive, appalling misogyny.
Then a week passed. Upon realizing that my personal laptop, which is broken, would be gone longer than anticipated, I bought the book this past Saturday and finished reading it.
And I... ultimately, I feel like this story didn't change my life. It only made me a little darker than I'd been before.
Because when the entire plot functions around the redemptive action of a man we've seen commit rape and shoot a pregnant woman in the stomach, both for no reason other than bloodlust? You had better have something FUCKING GOOD to sell me. And Watchmen didn't.
So this is what I wound up with:
A man rapes a woman and shoots another woman who is pregnant with his child, in the stomach, for no reason other than bloodust. That man's actions, and the psychology that led him to do those actions, are then redeemed REPEATEDLY by the book.
A) redeemed by virtue of that rape/resolution becoming the plot mechanism through which his daughter convinces Manhattan to return to earth;
B) Redeemed by other characters repeatedly affirming his ultimate wisdom in distancing himself from society, in resorting to violence and brutality while standing back and laughing at it, because clearly he knew better than any of them what the world was really like;
C) Redeemed through the affirmative act of childbirth resulting from his relationship with his rape victim;
D) Redeemed by the subjugating nature of women in this book, by the way at the end even his own daughter is using his own language, saying that his mother and father "both pulled a gag on me" - she's using the same distancing joking mechanism her father did because, as we've been told repeatedly, he was right all along.
and, worst of all, I think,
E) redeemed by the fact that his own rape victim fell in love with him, redeemed because the last thing we see a woman do in the book is lovingly kiss the photograph of the man who raped her.
And that's not all I wound up with. I wound up with:
- one woman being rejected and shunned from her peer group and being brutally murdered because of her lesbianism, all offstage, all retold by the same people who rejected her and only expressed vague regret about it later on
- a female kidnapping victim being brutally raped and murdered offstage, and fed to dogs, presumably the catalyst for Rorschach to snap out of a thwarted desire to protect her; and a fictional (within the narrative) woman brutally raped and murdered offstage, also the catalyst for the fictional protagonist of Tales of the Black Freighter to snap out of a similar thwarted desire.
- a woman dressed in a sarong lovingly addressing her lover, never fully showing us her face, always turned lovingly towards him, waiting upon him, even and up until moments before her death, when the last thing he did was protect her and shield her from the knowledge of her fate
- Laurie's mother Sally saying that she feels "partially responsible" for her own rape, and having several male characters imply that her skimpy costume probably had something to do with it.
- Laurie only fighting when a) forced to do so by surrounded by a gang of male thugs threatening violence against her, or b) when dragged into it by Daniel, who incidentally tells her that his dressing out in the old costume makes him feel protective of her.
- Laurie's basic function in the story being that of a glorified muse, a catalyst to inspire men to action by sleeping with them, a role she plays out willfully, if resentfully, and finally seems to completely embrace ("sleep with me because we didn't die.")
- another, later, lesbian telling her girlfriend "I want to be straight, and I want to be DEAD," just before she starts to beat the crap out of her (and shortly before dying), because the only way for a woman to attain any type of catharsis in this world is through violence, because this universe is a man's world, and violence is the only way through it.
And, you know. I can do it. I can stomach my pain. I can deal with a violent anti-feminist critique of a male-dominated patriarchal society left to run its extremist course to eventual destruction, where the only possible way out is through an even greater and more earth-shattering act of violence. I can cope with that. I can cope with the violence against women. I can cope with the questionable treatment of rape.
I can cope with not one but four *brutally murdered* dead lesbians in the course of twelve volumes, and by the way that's 100% of the non-heterosexual, *outed* populace of this world that we see.
Moreover, even one woman who survived and remained strong and empowered, uncompromised and unpatronized, throughout the course of this narrative would have made me able to cope with all of the things I have mentioned above; but that woman wasn't there. She didn't exist. And I could even cope with that, by itself.
I can cope with a story that paints a world so dark that succumbing to violence is the only way out of it. Where the Comedian tries to safely stand outside of it and numb himself to the horror only to succumb in the end. I can even cope with a story that attempts to say that everyone in that universe is so deeply entrenched that there is no ultimate way out, even though one character arguably gets a full redemptive narrative of completion and self-awareness that's denied to every woman in the entire fucking book.
I can cope with that narrative, and I can cope with a story that postulates that what we're supposed to be left with is a sense of ultimate horror. It's not like I haven't seen Apocalypse fucking Now or the Bicycle Thief or read Heart of Darkness or Turn of the Screw or McTeague or any of those tales that leave me with a sense of ultimate horror. I can take all of that.
But I cannot cope with all of those things at once, in one story that could have delivered on its ultimate premise without also subjugating, demeaning, degrading, violently sexualizing, patronizing, victimizing, and ultimately silencing every single woman in its pages.
I did have a reaction, a very strong, still-abiding, and gutwrenching reaction of horror, to Watchmen. But it wasn't a reaction to the thing you wanted me to react to.
And right now, I feel, very strongly, that the glorification of this story hurts women. And I'm not saying that everyone should agree with me; but I would ask, very earnestly, as someone who is still hurting, that when you talk about Watchmen, you also acknowledge the misogyny. That it's there, and that it's a mine field, and it's potentially hurtful, potentially regressive - because it is. (And let's not get into the fact that this is a book written by men for men, and who picks and chooses what is considered excellent among the comic genre? certainly not women.) I realize that there's probably been 20 years of critical analysis of the misogyny in Watchmen that I've missed before this, and this may be old news to most people. But that doesn't mean that the importance of talking about it, given what is essentially an entirely new audience for the book, goes away: and I know that I'm not the only one who has read this novel and felt this level of deep repulsion and hurt.
So please, please, while we're talking about how great it is, can we also talk about the women?
I welcome discussion about this; I welcome everyone, especially women, to respond and tell me why they love Watchmen. But I retain the right to disagree, because this one, for me, was not about disagreeing with the technical brilliance or the structure or the coolness or the multi-media aspect or the wry humor or the badassness of Rorschach (loved and rooted for him the way I was supposed to, pretty much, and somewhere inside me there's a whole essay comparing him to L and comparing Watchmen to Death Note), the three-dimensional characterization (although, actually, there's a whole other watchmen rant somewhere inside me about how "three-dimensional characterization" necessarily equates to "this character is unexpectedly violent and willing to kill people," because isn't that just such a cheap male-dominated way of pasting characterization onto a plot in the name of building a dystopia, at the expense of allowing other alternative narratives, maybe female-proposed alternatives, to live in their place).
But please don't tell me that I'm wrong. You are free to tell me that there's more to Watchmen than this, that I'm missing other extenuating pieces of the narrative, and I will listen. But there are a hundred ways Alan Moore could have told this story without enacting this much violence and loss of status upon every female character in sight. I am not okay with that, and I shouldn't have to be.