The fedora is fairly well-established as a symbol of the “men’s rights” “movement” (aka misogynists) and I think that’s great. It’s convenient to have a cultural shorthand for such things, not to mention having a specific uniform to tip you off to dudes best avoided. But MRAs are only one kind of misogynist douchebag, and I think that we should have a similar identifier for self-identified “male feminists” who use the language of anti-opression to hide their sexist, objectifying motivations.
Fortunately, such a shorthand readily presents itself: waistcoats. A certain subset of men sees waistcoats as a fashionable yet somewhat quirky garment, something to express how much they’re “not like other guys” while staying within the strictures of masculinity. This reflects their core motivation: the desire to appear open-minded and approachable to women without needing to examine or address their privilege.
It’s worth noting that when I met Aaron Diaz at Webcomics Weekend 2010, he was wearing a waistcoat.
Dresden Codak started out as a spiritual successor to A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible, carrying the torch of surreal philosophical humor and lushly painted landscapes after A Lesson’s death. In many ways, early Dresden Codak was better than its predecessor, wasting less time on misogynist tropes in favor of science-based puns and visual gags. A lot of it was genuinely funny, each page being a relatively self-contained story about some bizarre idea extrapolated to a comically ironic conclusion. The problems came later.
Now, there’s a lot of wankery around the internet about how unreasonable it is for Diaz to ask for donations from readers when his update schedule is notoriously erratic. But pay him they do, and to be frank that’s a relationship between a terrible creator and his terrible fans and I don’t care to comment or get involved with it. That’s not the problems I’m talking about. Mostly there’s really only one problem actually: Diaz’ boner.
As Dresden Codak went on, his protagonist – the brilliant and socially anxious Kimiko Ross – went from being a high schooler to something vaguely older, and that progression was marked by an increased sexualization of her. She had always been, erm, buxom, but Diaz, clearly a subscriber to the Masamune Shirow school of female empowerment, turned her into a full-on tiddy girl, dressing her in increasingly revealing clothes and coming up with more and more excuses to get her out of those clothes. This shift was a welcome one to the horny otaku in his audience, but I found it both male-gazey and profoundly out of character. Presumably encouraged by positive feedback from his readers(‘ libidos), Diaz only accelerated this progression in later chapters.
Now listen, most people get horny. It’s not wrong to be horny. People can jerk off to whatever, I don’t care, it’s fine to wanna look at a boobs girl if that’s what you’re into. But Diaz famously asserts that his portrayals of Kimiko and other female characters are, in fact, feminist and empowering. This is a classic dodge, the claim that a fictional character has the ability to own and control her sexuality, as if the author has no say in the matter and is in fact being literally strongarmed by her into drawing her naked.
That would be bad enough, but in the ongoing Dark Science storyline, we’re also getting an uncomfortably close look at Diaz’s helpless-disabled-girl fetish! I know I just said that I don’t care what people jerk off to, but I feel like a little kinkshaming is in order when you put gross stuff on the internet for public viewing – while trying to pass it off as feminist to boot. Does it make me uncomfortable that he uses Kimiko’s amputations and/or the periodic destruction of her prosthetic limbs to put her in distressed, sexily-vulnerable positions? Yeah. Does it strike me as fetishizing of certain kinds of disabilities? Yuh-huh. Do I think that maybe Diaz should keep this sort of stuff in his own private wank stash? You’re god damn right I do.
There’s also the matter of Kimiko’s racial identity. The daughter of a white mother and a Japanese father, she’s listed on the cast page as being “uncomfortable with [her] Asian heritage”. Multiracial folks certainly face a lot of complicated issues around family and belonging, prejudice and passing, but it’s clear that Diaz is not interested or perhaps even capable of addressing those issues competently. His handling of Kimiko’s race has two modes: one is exploring Kim’s angst over her dad leaving, though the story stops short of examining what effect this had on her identity; the other is Kim having lines like “Don’t forget that I’m half Asian, which allows me to wear a Pendant of Laozi!” Yikes dude.
It’s too bad, because he’s not an unfunny writer or an unskilled artist. I honestly was a fan of the early comics, and there are still moments where his cleverness and originality shines through, as tainted as they are by smugness. I always thought he had the potential to grow into a true master of the medium.
Instead, he just grew up to be a damn waistcoat.
The verdict: Transhumanist boys love this comic, which may be warning enough to stay away if you know many transhumanist boys. If you like boobs, there’s plenty. Just don’t be tricked into thinking they’re feminist boobs.