CHANGETHECOVER! The hashtag that circulated in response to a (now retracted) variant cover for The Batgirl comic which depicted an event from The Killing Joke comic. The cover depicted a smiling Joker holding Barbara Gordon, a.k.a. Batgirl at gunpoint as she sheds a tear of terror.
From what I understand, the main outrage over this centers around the fact that it shows Barbara’s worst trauma, and not the fact that it was on the cover of a comic that is aimed at ages 12+. She was paralysed from the waist down when Joker shot her, apparently stripped naked and then photographed lying in a pool of her own blood. A morbid photoshoot that was broadcast to Commissioner Gordon, her father, in an attempt to drive him insane.
I’m not entirely sure what was at the core of the outrage, as the pitchforkers cried out many reasons, sidestepping the logical one. Trivialising sexual violence, disempowerment of women, some sort of promotion of misogyny… I’ve also heard comic book fans speak out against the hashtag, one twitterer had tweeted at DC Comics that Barbara’s ability to overcome this monumental trauma (She learned to live with her paralysis and adopted the alias Oracle and if I understand correctly, she began to serve as a coordinator to superheroes.) served as a wonderful inspiration for women.
One of the things I find difficult to understand about the outrage is that people seem to think that the Joker is acting out something that the author and artist condone. They seem to miss the tiny detail that Joker has supervillain written all over him, unapologetically, and that the things he does are, in fact, traits of being a supervillain.
That’s right, if the Joker commits sexual violence, it’s because he’s a villain, and sexual violence is a villainous thing to do.
But Sarkeesian also failed to understand this. She critiqued the story of Dying Light, in part because a female protagonist was reduced to the status of an object to be competed over by men. She was referring to the line “Last time we met, you took something of mine. Now I took something of yours.” This line was spoken by the villain of the story, who captured the female protagonist.
In her campaign to show this as some kind of societally condoned sexism, she completely bypassed the fact that it was the villain doing all that. The bad guy. The big evil. The mafia boss. The one with the broken conscience.
It sounded familiar. This complete lack of understanding of the division between a madman and society wasn’t new, but where had I heard it before?
“Teach men not to rape”.
When you think about it… It’s the exact same thing. “Teach men not to rape” operates off the assumption that the person about to commit rape is actually responsive to social stimuli and/or has something that resembles a conscience about their actions at the time. They don’t.
RAINN, the Rape Abuse & Incest National Network, hit the nail on the head: “Rape is caused not by cultural factors but by the conscious decisions, of a small percentage of the community, to commit a violent crime.”
It’s a conscious decision to do a bad thing. Rapists aren’t responsive to society around them. Can you really imagine a rapist turning his life around just form a stern talking to?
There are people that don’t make sense. Their minds are twisted and broken. They commit crimes. They commit fraud for millions. They hurt innocent people. They set homes on fire. They kill innocent people. They rape.
They do this because their minds are completely different from ours. They find justification no matter the crime. Or they don’t seek justification at all. They can just accept that what they do is absolutely disgusting or depraved. Or worse, they revel in it.
Take another good, long look at that variant cover. The madman on it is not a man who can be persuaded not to drag Barbara through hell and back, simply by telling him that it’s wrong to do so. It’ll only encourage him. He -wants- to do something terrible.
He’s a villain. It’s who he is. He’s not a normal human being.
Neither is any violent sex offender. We have to make peace with the fact that we cannot better some people. We can’t mend all broken minds. Best we can do is be vigilant, and guard their prospective victims from them.
The best thing we can do is be a Batman.