Dave Sim, Off At A Tangent?
Touching, but not intersecting
The above is the first definition for the word "tangent". A tangent is a line that touches a circle at only one point without intersecting it. In common speech, it refers to a line of thought that does not follow the course of the current conversation. In mathematics, it is the ratio of the sides opposite and adjacent to the acute angle in a triangle. In music, it is an upright pin that creates pitch in a keyboard instrument by stopping the string at a precise length. Each of these can be considered a variation of the "touching but not intersecting" idea.
The second definition of "tangent" is "irrelevant".
I wonder which one Dave Sim had in mind when he entitled his five essays "Tangent".
For those of you completely out of the loop, issue #265 of Dave Sim's self-published comic Cerebus came out this week. It not only concludes the 12-issue "Form & Void" storyline, but includes 20-pages of Sim's "summing up" of his conclusions on women, feminism, and society. The content of these pages has resulted in the resignation of two women who worked for Sim: Carol West, the Administrative Assistant, ("a very fancy feminist name for a very plain secretarial position: mea cupla, mea maxima cupla", says Sim), and Diana Schultz, Senior Editor at Dark Horse Comics who refused to proofread any more issues of Cerebus after reading this one. Sim expected that "Tangent" would cause as much controversy as Cerebus #186, where he described women as The Void trying to extinguish the male Light. He's waved all rights to the essays, provided that they are reprinted in their entirety or excerpted for "journalistic purposes".
I don't know if I qualify as a journalist, but for the sake of this article, let's pretend.
Before I sum up what "Tangent", (or rather, "The Five Tangents"), are about, I'd like to let you know where I'm coming from. I like Cerebus. I have the first ten volumes and every issue since 201 (it is currently up to #266, released this week – check out our review). I honestly think it's one of the best comic books ever made, and Dave Sim is a brilliant writer. I've come to see Cerebus as more than just a comic book. It has become an extension of Sim himself. Reading it is like talking with Dave for about an hour a month. As a result, I've come to think of Dave Sim as an asshole. I probably wouldn't want to spend more than 30 seconds with him in real life. I've thought of him as a paranoid misogynist, an expression I had to invent just to describe him.
As much as I am offended by Dave Sim the man, I love Dave Sim the artist. I long ago accepted the fact that such diverse dichotomies exist within people. I've learned to separate the person from their work, to hate one and love the other.
In other words, I'm a Cerebus fan, not a Sim fan.
Also, as both "The Five Tangents" and this article deal with the issue of women and feminism, it would be prudent to explain my experience with both. I do not date. That is, I do not go out with girls on romantic endeavors. The last time I did so was 1999 (I think). Since then, my only regular contact with women has been a classmate I see in lecture twice a week. We talk regularly, but not outside class. And as she has a history of mental problems, it would be unfair to use her as a model for all women and their behaviors.
My mother was a feminist. She was also a housewife. (Actually, let's change that to ‘homemaker'. 'Housewife' has such a negative connotation.) This may seem like a contradiction to many of you. Many modern feminists abhor the idea of a woman staying home, cleaning the house, and rearing, (not raising), children. And yet, my mother was a feminist. Why? Because she chose to stay at home. She did what she thought was best. She could have worked outside the home. Instead, she chose what I consider to be the hardest job in the world. I took her for granted for much of my childhood, but I came to respect her and what she did. Isn't that what feminism was supposed to be? A woman making her own decisions about her life? Earning respect based on her works, not her appearance? This is the kind of feminism my sister currently believes.
So, to recap, I like Cerebus, I hate Sim, and my mother and sister were feminists who didn't hate men. Are we all caught up now? Good. Now keeping all that in mind, here are my honest opinions about "The Five Tangents" and Dave Sim's ideas.
I find them frightening.
I'm frightened because he may be right.
You might want to go and read all five essays. You'll probably find them posted somewhere on the web, probably on this very site [Ed’s note: Not at the moment, but try http://www.tcj.com/ for a copy]. I'll give you my reactions to each of the essays in order, then to the work entire.
Dave Sim explains here that his ideas on women were formed mainly by interviews he conducted with them while researching the "Mothers and Daughters" storyline, (Cerebus #151-#200). He found that when he talked to a woman, (especially an unattractive one), without wanting to sleep with them, he found himself completely uninterested in what they had to say. Further, they didn't answer his questions directly.
They told stories to convey a feeling or to draw inference. Sim became aware of the interviews as being "emotional badminton". The women were expressing emotions, rather than following answering questions directly, (at least to his satisfaction, they weren't). This led Sim to conclude that women are emotion-based beings. Not emotional beings, but creatures completely ruled by emotions and feelings with no regard for reason or rational thought.
I find this to be impossible. I honestly cannot conceive of any creature as evolved as a human being completely ignoring, or even being incapable of, rational thought. It's pure madness! Now, I have noticed that women tend to tell stories in conversation, but I have not had such a lengthy conversation with any women for any length of time to draw conclusions on their collective mental state. On this point, I will say what my father has always said: "People are driven by their emotions". This I have found to be true among all genders. Yet to be completely ruled by them, to bounce from moment to moment, action to action, guided by nothing save one's feelings, with no thought to the consequences or the future of one's own actions? Is that even remotely possible?
The first Tangent also lists the first 14 in Sim's list of "Impossible Things To Believe Before Breakfast. Each of these things is a major tenet or goal of modern feminism. Sim explains why each is patently ridiculous. Maybe it was the way he phrased them, but I found myself agreeing with his point of view on these matters. They all sound illogical and downright crazy. Maybe it's just the way he words them, or maybe he's oversimplifying things. But, ultimately, these points are what much of feminism boils down to.
I do disagree with a couple of points. Point 5 compares a marriage with an equal partnership to a car with two sets of controls and pedals. Folks, I always assumed that marriage was the joining of two lives into one. Anything I would do as a husband would affect my wife, and vice versa. Therefore, I think a husband and wife should keep each other informed of what they're doing and what they plan to do. If it makes things work easier, responsibilities should be divided between the husband and wife. Let it be made clear that each partner has full authority at specific times and over specific areas. Yet neither is more important than the other. A man is king of his castle, but that castle has a queen. This was the kind of relationship my parents had, and it worked.
Point 7 says affirmative action makes society more fair and just by taking jobs away from men and giving them to women. Now, the whole issue of affirmative action has been a mess since day one. If we want true equality between the genders and races, then maybe we should change our focus. Instead of making every company hire the same numbers of women and non-whites, maybe we should give said groups the same education that most affluent white men enjoy. I would rather have people hired because of their qualifications instead of their ethnicity and/or gender. Sim comes out strongly against abortion. He suggests that the biblical quote used in marriages, "What God therefore hath joined together let no man put asunder", could be applied to the joining of sperm and egg cells. Sim says that a woman's "right to choose" should extend as far as choosing whether or not to have sex. If a woman does choose to have sex, then any pregnancy is the work of God. However, Sim does entertain the possibility that abortion may be something less than a mortal sin. (He also claims to have been a willing celibate for the last two years, which has made sex less important in his life.) Me? I'm pro-choice. I acknowledge the sad reality that there are times and conditions under which a baby should not be born. The decision to abort should only be made by the mother and father. On this point, I agree with Sim.
Finally, it is in this Tangent that Sim first expresses his belief that men are superior to women. This is as laughable as the idea of women being superior to men! Each gender is different, yea opposite, from each other. Yet each is necessary for the Natural Order. To say that one is greater than the other, that one excels in qualities where the other lacks, that one may not need that other, is to overlook the obvious place each gender has in nature. Men and women need each other. Men should not lord over women, restrict their physical and political rights, or denigrate them in society. By the same token, women should not do this to men. In other words, there is no good reason to have "The Man Show". (That may be a bit off-topic, but I think The Man Show pretty much sinks any argument about men being superior to women.)
Sim is not opposed to homosexuality as an idea or a lifestyle. Nor is he opposed to any sexual acts that are considered deviant by society. On the other hand, he is physically repulsed by the idea of what's going on behind some closed doors. He feels that some things should not be talked about in public, and certain lifestyles should be kept quiet. The recent alliance formed between feminists and homosexuals is part of a larger agenda to eliminate gender distinctions. Many gay-rights advocates say that one's gender identity and sexual preference is imposed by society and personal experience. Therefore, there is no real difference between straights, gays, or anything in-between. Feminists have taken this idea to the next level, saying that gender behaviors are imposed by society. Therefore, there are no inherent gender differences between men and women. Men and women are interchangeable.
Sim compares the attempts to teach people the above statements to totalitarianism, the expression of a single viewpoint to the exclusion of all others. He is perfectly willing, he says, to accept viewpoints other than his own. He just doesn't want his views to be changed to fit someone else's view of what's right.
In case you're curious, here are Sim's viewpoints:
“I firmly believe that feminism is a misguided attempt to raise women above their place, which I firmly believe is secondary to that of men. I firmly believe that homosexuality - not homosexuals themselves - belongs at the margins of society and behind closed doors. I firmly believe that it must be tolerated just as I firmly believe it should not be publicly celebrated. ‘In your face’ celebrated, I mean.”
Again, I disagree with the notion of women being second to men. I, too, have no desire to see gay men having sex. Nor would I like to know the details and variations of such acts. I'm sure that gay men (and women) are not interested in seeing or hearing about "regular" sex. Frankly, I think it's in bad taste to talk about what goes on in the bedroom to anyone except your closest friends and family. (Incidentally, I subscribe to the double standard of homosexuality that most straight men do. I'm turned off by gay men, but not by gay women. Lesbians can tell men anything and everything about their sex lives. Of course, lesbians won't do this because it degrades their love and lifestyle. But still. ..)
Sim says no one wants to be a woman, mainly because they get periods. And because women "bleed" once a month, they manufacture a version of the world where they are interchangeable with the "simpler" gender. I think I'll let the reader draw his own conclusions about that one.
The interchangeability of gender and sexuality proposed by women is now being extended to children. The idea of treating children like adults results in children not being raised by their fathers. This, in turn, leads to children who grow up without boundaries, do not learn any discipline, and contributes to the recent rise in Youth Crime. The Elian Gonzalez case is cited as a concrete example of a child being treated like an adult, an idea taken to a ridiculous extreme. Further evidence in how women see children differently from men can be seen in the genders' reaction to the Peanuts comic strip and the movie Looking Who's Talking.
Now, I'll be the first to voice the importance of a father in a child's life. I'll further state that the father may, may, serve best as a disciplinarian. A child does need boundaries, and a father, (at least my father), is very good at enforcing them. I do not think that women are incapable of also setting boundaries and showing discipline. I will also be willing to agree that this may not always be the case. Sim claims that since women are emotion-based beings, they interpret any expression of emotion to be a sign of intelligence. It doesn't matter if the being in question is a baby, a child, an adult, or even an animal, (more on that in Tangent IV).
This, again, is based on an argument that I cannot believe. And yet, women do show great affection for children, often elevating them to a status far above what they deserve. I believe that both men and women delude themselves into thinking children are more pure and innocent than they really are. Children, as we know from personal experience, have no morality. They have no concept of guilt, regret, empathy, or pity. They do what makes them feel good at the time. If someone gets hurt in the process, it's not important. In some cases, it's better that way. Children have no concept of good or evil, and thus can be monsters.
Finally, Sim advocates spanking children. My parents didn't do that, and neither will I. I'm opposed to hitting a child in any way. I'm also opposed to Sim's suggestion that women could benefit from the occasional spanking. I hope he was joking.
Sim really goes out on a ledge with this one. He extends his argument of women trying make genders, sexualities, adults and children interchangeable to include animals. He says: "Women quite literally don't know whether they are human beings or animals. Nature reflects and there is, to me, a fundamental danger to society in the underdeveloped, tactical, emotion-based female "mind", (his quotes, not mine), staring lovingly into the eyes of a feral beast which derives interchangeable pleasure from eating, sleeping, and licking feces from itself...and with that female "mind" identifying her-(it?)-self with that feral creature and persuading herself that she has more in common with a feces-licking creature than the opposite gender of her own species or seeing herself as having just as much in common with feral beasts as with men or seeing herself as a mediator halfway between man and beast or seeing herself as an ambassador to the world of men from the animal kingdom."
I think Sim is making a mountain out of an anthill, (they're smaller than molehills). Just because a woman speaks baby talk to her pets, or dresses them up in little clothes, or uses expressions like "animal rights", or even entertains the notion that her pet my have been a human in another life, it doesn't mean she thinks of herself as an animal! That would mean she really didn't see any difference between animals and people.
Oh shit. That's true.
How many times has a woman justified treating her pet like a human because, "animals have feelings too?" Whether or not an animal has feelings is beside the point. Perhaps it is a sign of something deeper going on inside a woman's mind.
In the last essay, Sim explains how Martin Luther King Jr lost control of the Civil Rights Movement by not keeping God and spiritualism at the heart of the movement. Instead, he was distracted by numerous affairs and the agenda of Marian Logan, a secular humanist.
Now, putting asides the sheer audacity of a white Canadian analyzing the collapse of the black American civil right movement, Sim describes a Dr King I never thought existed. Sim takes his information and quotations from Bearing the Cross, by William Morrow. He describes King as a man who thought he was chosen by God, that God spoke to him directly and gave him strength. That strength was sapped away slowly by members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference who, according to Sim, ultimately served the agenda of the then rising feminist movement.
I think a closer look into the sordid and private dealings behind the scenes of the SCLC may be warranted. And this view of Dr King, a passionate, yet conflicted man, is one that I find captivating. Yet to connect the secular aspects of the Civil Rights movement to feminism is Sim's way of defining the entire feminist movement as secular. I think Dave Sim is implying that feminism isn't just a misguided movement, or a futile attempt to overturn the natural order. I think he's saying feminism is an act against God, and fundamentally
I'm still having trouble with the "emotion-based creatures" idea. No way am I going THAT far.
Well, I think Sim has managed to piss off every woman on the planet, be they feminists or not. (According to Sim, all women are feminists.) And I still think he's an asshole for expressing these views so publicly and shamelessly. But he is right. On some points, at least. There is a strong trend in our society to let our feelings determine our actions. We have a tendency to not think things through rationally. Some of the policies where emotion has overridden logic include affirmative action, federally funded daycare, gay rights, and children's rights. The proponents of these policies tend to be, more often than not, women. And, from my limited personal experience, women do hold conversations differently from men.
But to call all women emotion-based creatures that want to believe everybody's the same because they secretly hate themselves for having a period? Well, when you summarize a 20-page essay into a single sentence, then, yes it sounds insane. But I'm going to be paying closer attention to what going on around me. I'm going to look and listen critically in how men and women speak and what they say. I'm going to see just what's going on in the world, with my own eyes. And I'm going to pray Sim's wrong. About women, about their agenda, about their influence over the world. Because if it's true, if the whole of society abandons all notions of gender identity, and rejects all traditional values, if everybody's reason is completely overridden by emotion, then civilization will destroy itself.
Don't believe me? Think that's too extreme? Another author had a similar viewpoint in the 1940s. Back then the fear was communism taking over the world. Yet the story dealt with the same basic issue of emotion versus reason. The story, and others by the author, formed the basis for a new philosophy based on reason. The book was Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. A philosophy based on reason, yet also depicted women as being secondary to men, created by a woman.
I'm not trying to be cute. I'm just pointing out facts, making observations, and drawing conclusions. Here, I conclude that no single statement can be true for all people. Human beings are too diverse and individualistic to categorize so easily. I'll admit to some characteristics and motivations being true for most people, but never all. Humans are too complex. They can never be fully understood.
Especially a man who works as an artist, and says how men are not ruled by emotions.
Got a comment or question about this Soapbox?
Leave at message at the Silver Soapboxes Message Board.