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Wait, What Were We Laughing At?

Way back in the beginning of 2012 when I started doing this cover pose thing, the idea was to take the poses many female characters are contorted into for book covers, and to find a way to highlight exactly how ridiculous and impractical they were. And also to have fun. I definitely wanted it to be fun. I followed up with a continuation of the discussion, looking at the fact that yes, men are sexualized and objectified too, but not in the same ways. Men’s poses are almost always less physically awkward, more “action-ready,” and more powerful.

When I started the Aicardi Syndrome Foundation cover pose fundraiser, I saw it as 1) a way to take something fun and do more of it while supporting a great cause, and 2) a way to continue pointing out problematic poses on our book covers.

The trouble is, I didn’t spend much time introducing and contextualizing the Cover Pose Tradition at the start of the fundraiser. And when we did the first Scalzi/Hines pose-off, while I plugged the fundraiser, I didn’t provide any context at all for why we were doing this.

For my regular readers, that shouldn’t be a problem. But the Scalzi/Hines piece got a lot of press from places like Fark and Boing-Boing, meaning a lot of folks came in and saw two SF/F authors dressing up/posing like women for charity. And some of the reaction began to shift from, “I say, those poses seem remarkably impractical, and how exactly does one do that without dislocating one’s ankle?” to “Hey, guys dressing or posing like girls are both ugly and hilarious!”

This is on me. My blog, my fundraiser, my responsibility. It’s not like I’m unaware of John’s internet appeal and the likely results of our pose-off. (Though even so, the response was bigger than I could have imagined, and I appreciate that - thank you.) But I was caught up in the excitement of raising a lot of money for a good cause, and the flat-out fun of competing with a goofy and good-natured friend. So I didn’t think enough about how this might all come across, nor did I take the time to introduce and contextualize what we were doing.

I apologize for that mistake.

Both John and I had fun with this. Speaking for myself, I want you to laugh at the absurdity of these poses. Sure, one of the reasons I use props like butter knives and giant teddy bears is because I’m cheap and don’t want to pay for real props. But another reason is that I want to encourage the laughter.

I can handle good-natured ribbing, too. I know that when I post these pictures, I can expect an email from my brother asking me to reimburse him for another five years of therapy. I know where that’s coming from, and I’ll get him back soon enough.

But if you’re laughing because you’re a straight guy and therefore must declare all male bodies brain-searingly ugly? If you’re laughing because you think a man in a dress is funny and should be mocked? In other words, if you’re laughing because of various aspects of ingrained sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other discriminatory nonsense? Then you’ve missed the point so badly it’s not even funny.

For the record, John Scalzi is damned sexy. He’s a smart, funny, and yes, good-looking man. For me, what makes his cover pose pic great is his obvious humor and self-confidence. Do I want to hop into bed with him? Well, not really. For one thing, I’m straight. For another, his wife would kick my ass. (Or else she’d want to watch, and then there would be performance anxiety issues, and I’m dealing with enough pressure these days.) And of course, I have leg stubble that would probably make it less pleasant for both of us. But I can look at that picture, grin, and say, “Yeah, that’s a man who rolled well in the Charisma department.”

So please do me a favor. Step back and ask yourself what exactly you’re laughing at, and where that’s coming from. ‘Cause I’m starting to see some rather problematic reactions out there.

And for my part, I apologize again, and will work to do a better job introducing and contextualizing the rest of these poses.


Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 50 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 13th, 2012 02:37 am (UTC)
Both John and I had fun with this. Speaking for myself, I want you to laugh at the absurdity of these poses. Sure, one of the reasons I use props like butter knives and giant teddy bears is because I’m cheap and don’t want to pay for real props. But another reason is that I want to encourage the laughter.

THIS is exactly why I laugh. But then, I knew the context behind the pose off as well.

I can see why it would be problematic to those who didnt know the backstory though.}:/
Dec. 13th, 2012 02:39 am (UTC)
Yep. I make the same mistake in my fiction sometimes. "Wait, you mean the reader CAN'T read my mind and understand exactly what I meant and intended there???"
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Dec. 13th, 2012 02:38 am (UTC)
For me, it's in good fun, and it makes a valid point: these are not poses any protagonist could do, while trying to fight the antagonist. Some people must think that "dynamic" means "breaking your bone to pull off a pose while fighting" (i.e., what I refer to as random merchandising in the middle of the action).

And for my part, I apologize again, and will work to do a better job introducing and contextualizing the rest of these poses.

That's all anyone could ask. It won't stop some people, but forewarned is four-limbed.

Edited at 2012-12-13 02:39 am (UTC)
Dec. 13th, 2012 02:43 am (UTC)
And again, thank you for being a mentsch.
Dec. 13th, 2012 02:50 am (UTC)
You continue to remind me of why I admire you, and have you as a mental example of "how to be a man in our society without falling prey to consistent privilege-based jerkiness." The sad thing is, I thought at first that the context-free complaints were going to be about how problematic it was for men to dress up as women and appear to be mocking/parodying them... once again I overestimated the internet.

(And yes, that you included "transphobia" on that list is one reason I'm impressed.)

As ever, while the effort to provide context is admirable, you are equally not responsible for people and/or media outlets who prove to be impervious to it.
Dec. 13th, 2012 05:29 am (UTC)
You continue to remind me of why I admire you, and have you as a mental example of "how to be a man in our society without falling prey to consistent privilege-based jerkiness."

Yes, this. (I have "wins the Internet" as my tag for his blog.) I really appreciate the combination of humor and context sensitivity, the willingness to point out when jerks are being jerkish, and the thoughtful and high-hearted way that he works for change. And fun! It makes him one of the most enjoyable bloggers I read.
Dec. 13th, 2012 02:55 am (UTC)
Thanks for the post. I read enough comments last night to know where you are (unfortunately) having to come from here.

For what it's worth, part of why I have been enjoying these poses and the contest is the ridiculousness of the basis (weird contortions on covers), and a bigger part is the conversation that you start with your commentary about them. Honestly, the feminism of the conversation isn't the big draw. The ludicrousness of the poses is what starts the humor for me. "Dislocating my shoulder for charity," and leg cramp comments, and what a good sport your photographer wife is as you work to perfect horribly imperfect presentations are all the human interest / comedy that I want to read and support.

Regardless, I appreciate that you asked the question: why are we laughing. It's worth a quick second introspective poke.
Dec. 13th, 2012 03:05 am (UTC)
Hey, good point. I thought about linking the post on Facebook, but I realized it needed a lot of context for most people on that network, and I was too lazy to explain it, so I left it unlinked.

I'll say for the record that neither you nor John are hideous. You're both pretty cute, and personally I think that makes it funnier.
Dec. 17th, 2012 10:37 pm (UTC)
Dec. 13th, 2012 03:23 am (UTC)
Jim, just so you know, you've been misinterpreted even when you explicitly state why you're doing what you're doing.

Don't let it get under your skin.
Dec. 13th, 2012 03:49 am (UTC)
I know exactly why I was laughing. I know you and it was funny.

But I know the context too.
Dec. 13th, 2012 12:37 pm (UTC)
Exactly. For those who know the context, I think it's been 99% positive and good fun. But the further we get from the original context, the more that number starts to slip.
Dec. 13th, 2012 05:10 am (UTC)
I know it's no fun to get mocked at Fark. Please be aware there are simply massive amounts of trolls there and a sad number of folks who could roll their IQ with a 6 sided die. Don't let it get you down. I've also seen lots of links to your original post being put up by people in comment threads. And people defending you vehemently.
Dec. 13th, 2012 06:52 am (UTC)
You. Rock.

Also? TOLD you that those legs would get you the votes. (smug) Ha. :P
Dec. 13th, 2012 12:36 pm (UTC)
I just wish I'd been able to do this about six months ago, back when I was still regularly using the exercise bike! :-)
Dec. 13th, 2012 11:08 am (UTC)
Good post. (I tweeted you as effjayem as well).

And personally I have always been rather attracted to men in dresses.
Dec. 13th, 2012 10:51 pm (UTC)
Hear, hear!

And also, ditto.
Dec. 13th, 2012 11:29 am (UTC)
I read this right before I hopped into the shower. While there I had a lot of thinky thoughts regarding the challenge of societal gender perception and the things women (and men, I imagine) do to fit into that perception.

And I want to explore those thinky thoughts, but I have to leave for a BLS class in about fifteen minutes due to stupid bridge traffic. Hopefully these thoughts won't be edged out by chest compressions.
Dec. 13th, 2012 12:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks for this post. I really liked the first series of poses, last winter, and the related discussion here and elsewhere. This set felt problematic in ways I had trouble articulating. Thinking about it last night, I agree that part of it is a lack of framing, and part of it is the wider audience approaching it from outside the anti-sexist frame.

I think another part is that you're doing the poses in drag. When a man is doing drag for comedy, it's very easy for it to go wrong, for it to look like laughing at women in a sexist way. (I've seen drag that doesn't look like it's mocking women, but it's trying to laugh with, not laugh at. And most of it isn't trying for laughs at all.)

When you start out pointing and laughing at something that really deserves to be mocked, I'm not sure it's possible for any laughter you end up with to be other than mean. (Look how unrealistic! Look how stupid! Look how girly! Look how incongruous, with some high femme cues but not others!) I understand the temptation to use any tactics available to make an audience laugh louder, once you get them going. But you might want to consider the effect of costuming, for the next round.
Dec. 13th, 2012 01:23 pm (UTC)
Agreed with your whole first paragraph, here, and the drag aspect is something I hadn't fully thought about--possibly part of why I was uncomfortable with them, too.

(There is also the aspect of "people are paying for this"; cis women, for example, would not garner many donations if they set up the same fundraiser--or if donations did happen, it might well be from a misogynist perspective--so there's privilege in the fact that thousands of dollars have been donated to see Jim Hines, Scalzi, etc. in dresses doing feminine poses. With no overt aspect of "oh you're so hot", and instead an overt aspect of "oh you are so silly/hilarious/etc".)
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Dec. 13th, 2012 02:38 pm (UTC)
I see this as a Jane Hines thing. It could have been done by a woman to expose this artwork. But imagine what would have been posted about it, the comments. If you do it, it focuses on the issue, I think. That you're doing it for charity? Wow. You're entertaining people and they're opening up their wallets, too. Great!

It's funny, yes. It's horrific, yes. It's male competitiveness, yes. Has it become a bit bigger than the original context? Yes, I think so. But in a good way. You've really raised awareness for this charity, this condition.

Jane Hines is proud of you.

Dec. 13th, 2012 03:00 pm (UTC)
And, since I stupidly didn't mention it, you've raised awareness of cover artwork of women being not-very-realistic in a way that cover artwork of men isn't.

Win-win-win, as far as I'm concerned.
Dec. 13th, 2012 02:42 pm (UTC)
I was a little sad when you said something about washing the images out of our eyes, because to me that moved it beyond the realm of "look how unrealistic it is!" and into the realm of "laugh at how aweful it is to see leg hair and cute black dresses!"

I happen to like men in skirts, with or without shaved legs. One of the trageties of patriarchy is the limited selection of men in skirts.

Is there some fannish woman you could get to do the poses too? It might make it more clear that it's about the poses being ridiculous for anyone and not about laughing at the idea that men might wear clothing our society codes as feminine if the performance of the poses weren't gender-exclusive.
Dec. 13th, 2012 07:25 pm (UTC)
I happen to like men in skirts, with or without shaved legs. One of the trageties of patriarchy is the limited selection of men in skirts.

Yes! Men should totally get to wear skirts if they want to, and not just as drag. I remember the webpage of a man who went by "Skirtman", with a lot of very nice pictures of him wearing skirts and not particularly trying to look feminine. It worked quite well.

Someday. *sigh*
Dec. 13th, 2012 02:46 pm (UTC)
Beauty is skin deep, funny cuts to the bone! I can't think of two men who would be better than you two to represent 40 something white guys. I'm biased, being in the same category myself.

You're going to get mocked for whatever you do on the internet, it's part of the experience. Don't let it change what you do.
Dec. 13th, 2012 03:16 pm (UTC)
On a totally different track . . . I know that your "pose off" has a few other writers wondering how they might do something fun like this . . . well, not exactly this (smiles) to raise money for a favorite charity. Almost everyone has a passionate cause (mine is helping homeless or abused animals), and I've been wondering, "Mmmmmmmmm? Is there some way we could use the popularity of our Noble Dead website to raise money for homeless animals?"

So . . . you have people thinking down several different paths.
Dec. 13th, 2012 03:17 pm (UTC)
I think there is a post in this--the mixed signals we get re gender visuals, and how we react, culturally and individually. I don't think it's any mistake that the long, horrible long list of murders listed under Remembrance over at the Transgender site are former males who transitioned to female, and not the other way around.

Edited at 2012-12-13 03:22 pm (UTC)
Dec. 13th, 2012 04:11 pm (UTC)
Yep. I wear men's clothing all the time because it feels more comfortable and the worst I get is jerks* demanding to know whether I'm a boy or a girl.

If I were a man running around in women's clothing, I'd have no end of trouble.

*Or possibly just people who have been taught that it's okay to ask if you don't know even if that is perceived as an imposition by the person being asked.
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Dec. 13th, 2012 06:56 pm (UTC)
Really good post, Jim. (I'm so accustomed to your usual community that I found those posts really jarring! A [sad] welcome back to the "real" world, I suppose.)
Dec. 14th, 2012 12:06 am (UTC)
Thank you for clarifying. I look forward to the next poses.
( 50 comments — Leave a comment )


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