Strangers in Paradise and "Man-Hating"

So my latest infatuation is Terry Moore’s comic Strangers In Paradise, which I discovered through the immensely fun Scans Daily Livejournal community. It’s well-drawn and well-characterized, and is erasing that reluctance to check out indie comics that the hipper-than-thou movie adaptation of Ghost World instilled.

What struck me, though, was a letter to Mr. Moore printed in the second issue of the first run, which asked:

I do have some criticism about the writing… is it me or do you hold a dim view of males?

[Spoilers for the first issue of Strangers in Paradise follow.]

Now, I’m assuming that these letters were published in the original printing of the second issue, which means that they’re responding only to the first issue. In that issue, we’re introduced to the following male characters:

Freddie: The boyfriend of Francine, one of the lead characters of the comic. At the beginning of the issue, they are fighting because Francine doesn’t want to have sex with him. She then catches him cheating on her, at which point he breaks up with her. Francine suffers a nervous breakdown, and injures herself crashing her car.

David: An art student who meets Katchoo, the other lead character of the comic, and goes out for coffee with her. When Francine crashes her car, it’s David who pulls her out of the wreck.

…And that’s it. Two men. One good, one bad. When the two are Batman and the Joker, nobody takes this as a statement on masculinity, but add women to the mix and suddenly a less than flattering portrayal becomes man-hating. (I do have a few issues with how being skinny, attractive and independently wealthy get mixed up with each other and with being “good,” but that’s a rant for another time and place.)

Now I’m still making my way through later issues, so I’m not yet sure what the overall portrayal of men in Strangers in Paradise is. But honestly, Terry Moore’s opinions on gender are not the point of such a letter, nor is actual “man-hating” the point of any of the accusations that get levelled. I’m convinced that the main reason such accusations are phrased as “hating men” – rather than making a more specific response – is to reframe. Instead of being about the comic itself and the behaviors described therein, the discussion is shifted to Mr. Moore’s own opinions and men as gestalt. It’s not so different from the pre-emptive defense that’s meant to make the respondent forgo criticism. The effect this has is to dismiss the criticism by applying it to “males” in general rather than a specific behavior; we can no longer see the tree for the rest of the forest that’s sprouted up around it.

Terry Moore’s discussion of the letter:

Basically I told him I don’t have a dim view of males, or of women. I do have a very dim view of the games we play with each other and so does Katchoo.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this: most charitably, it reads as “I don’t hate men; I hate the patriarchy”; but it has hints of “Women do it too” – i.e., of accepting the reframing. Freddie’s entitlement-minded behavior in the first issue is a very specific form of harm that deserves more criticism than simply being lumped in with “games” like waiting a day before calling a romantic interest back.

Still, the comic itself has a compelling story – I do like romances, even if I try to make sure I don’t take them too seriously – and I enjoy the art style, so unless something comes up that makes me want to throw the book across the room (I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin), I’m going to stick with it.

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2 Responses to Strangers in Paradise and "Man-Hating"

  1. If you’re anything like me, something is going to happen that makes you want to throw the book across the room, or at least, drop it.

    Strangers In Paradise was a wonderful book (and some of the early issues have my letters in), but at a certain point it became clear that Moore was going to perpetuate the (to me) least-compelling part of his story at the expense of resolving his characters.

    I’m being deliberately-vague because I don’t know how far in you are, but I can tell you there’s a gratuitious swipe at Ms. Clinton along the way.

    I’m not against swipes at Ms. Clinton, just gratutious ones.

  2. j says:

    Wanted to let you know I think your criticism is sharp and well-informed. Also well-written. I enjoyed reading this post, which I found by googling SiP. I’ve read the SiP series completely, and all over the past month! I find a lot I like in it, including a feminism I see in the story–which of course does not equal “man-hating”–but yeah, there are issues. The other reader is right about the Hilary swipe, something I just find repulsive and boring anyway. A current portrayal of a woman of a certain race/nationality pisses me off, but I’m hoping she was just acting or something…. :s

    Thanks for writing! Thanks for reading!

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