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Okay, I'm having to explain a fragmented discussion to so many people that I want to recap it in one place. I am probably going to get my ass kicked for this. I am trying to convince myself that I regret nothing.

I liked The Avengers.

It's cool that you adored The Avengers.

I am not trying to rain on your parade. I am not trying to be that person who tells you that everything you love is bad and you should feel bad.

I don't actually feel the need to go on and on about this, but I'd rather have it all in one place and get it all out at once. If nothing else, this is a way to explain to people who are curious as to what the whole foofaraw is about. I will not bring it up again after this entry.

The Avengers was a great movie that had one sour note in it.

SPOILERS: That note was Loki calling Natasha a "mewling quim." Maybe that whole monologue went by so fast that no one was able to transcribe it; I can't find the full quote anywhere. Basically, if you haven't seen the movie or you missed this scene, Natasha/Black Widow has gone in to trick the trickster and lay out her own vulnerability so he'll let down his guard and tell her what the team needs to know. We saw her do this in her first scene with Russian gangsters; we know this is her specialty, using her presumed weakness as strength. Loki turns her "I just want you to spare Hawkeye" ploy against her (possibly she meant him to?), insisting that she really feels guilty about all the bloodshed in her past and thinks that saving one person will erase "the red from her ledger," and it won't. My memory gets fuzzy about the progression of the whole thing, but at some point he starts snarling about how he'll mind-control Hawkeye into killing her in the most horrible painful ways he can think of, and Natasha will feel horrible about it, and then Hawkeye will feel horrible about it, and then they'll both die feeling horrible about it together, or something. Somehow, this monologue climaxes with Loki calling her a "mewling quim." Scarlett Johansson's acting seems to indicate (in my interpretation) that Natasha is shocked and taken aback by Loki reaching past the false vulnerability she offered as bait and reaching down to some real pain, but she keeps rolling with it, gets the information the team needs, and when she turns back around to face him, her face is completely calm and unemotional; she tricked the trickster, etc. I feel like she really did feel pain in that scene; her strength is not that she faked it, but that she kept going anyway. I actually thought it was a really cool scene, and that the way Natasha turns sexist assumptions around to her own ends was really interesting; I liked the character a lot more than I expected. And yet... something felt really ugly and unnecessary and unpleasant about the whole thing.

I know more about vulgarity through the ages than I probably should, and I immediately recognized the word "quim." My jaw literally dropped, in the literal sense of literally, when I heard it. I mean, not onto the floor or anything, but it genuinely dropped a good inch or so. In less fancy English, Loki called her a "whining c---," a gendered insult in American usage that even I don't like to write out, and I curse a good bit. My understanding is that the word quim dates back to the early 1600s, meaning the female genitalia; in the Victorian era, it meant the female genitalia and/or the fluids therein as well. It is largely British usage, not American. (Supposedly it's not even English slang these days, just Welsh. Brits can confirm or deny this.) Which is, I'm pretty sure, the reason the word was used by the filmmakers and allowed by the MPAA: they didn't expect a whole lot of people to understand it. The American equivalent never would have made it in, particularly because it's pretty much the last expletive in American culture that's genuinely taboo. Coyly archaic or not, "mewling quim" was a really unpleasant thing to say, in a matching tone of voice that gets the spirit across if not the precise meaning, in an otherwise all-demographics PG-13 family-friendly superhero epic, and I don't understand why it was necessary.

So I was surprised when I saw this in Joss Whedon's letter to his fans:

RDA: What do you feel is the greatest achievement of "the Avoiders"?

JW: Getting "mewling quim" out there to the masses. Also, Hulk.

He's... proud of that? It's not just something he kind of sneaked in and hoped no one would understand?

I... well then.

(I concede the Hulk. Mark Ruffalo was pretty awesome.)

We had a large sub-discussion within the huge general discussion of the movie this week (seriously, I don't know that I'm caught up on all of it yet). The line bothered some people, and didn't bother others. Jim Hines discussed with us as well, then posted his own thoughts about it. I read some of the discussion on both of his comment sections (his website and his LJ); through all of it, some interesting points came up:

1) "Quim," like the C word itself, has a more casual, less sexualized meaning overseas. Well, but I'm not sure why Loki would use the off-color equivalent of "wanker" to insult a woman he was angry at, then. So I tend to think that the more derogatory meaning was intended.

2) Oh, but that whole scene's a riff on Silence of the Lambs, sort of a critique/deconstruction, where the imprisoned sociopath actually does lose control because Natasha is such a strong, strong woman. Actually, I can argue this movie all day, because it's my favorite. There actually is a scene where the C word is used. And it's not used by the film's incredibly popular villain-turned-antihero. Lecter is actually the one who says, "Discourtesy is unspeakably ugly to me; I would not have had that happen to you." Sociopathic face-eating cannibal: better manners than a demigod. Odin is disappointed in you, Loki.

3) Villains do vile things. In terms of narrative, it's both their nature and a way to show just how evil/awful/vicious/insane they might be. Point taken: Loki basically said (again, can't find a transcription) that he was going to make Hawkeye kill Natasha in the slowest, most painful way possible, and then make him realize what he'd done, and then make everyone feel horrible about it right before they both died. That's pretty vile. It was way more intense than the other antagonistic interactions in the movie; it might be to show that someone can get to Loki for once, that he's not psychologically invulnerable, that Natasha is stronger than he is. Okay, it's characterization. But I feel like the threat itself gets that across pretty thoroughly without resorting to the insult. It was really disturbing, but I'm more "disturbing in a good way" on that part. Again: I get it.

4) However, a number of Thor fans expressed surprise in the comments--they didn't even feel that an insult like "mewling quim" was in-character for Loki anyway. Even considering that, here's the thing about writing something in or out of character: The Avengers was not a documentary. You can say, "Well, Loki would say that, that's just how he is, here's why he did that." Actually? "Loki" didn't do that. He doesn't exist in the real world. Joss Whedon wrote that. (Given how pleased he seems with the line, I'm inferring that he wrote it. No one has claimed it was an ad-lib or came from the comics.) Whether he thought people would recognize the word or not, why was that a sentiment he wanted in his movie? I don't know.

The question may come down to, is it Loki's sexism or Whedon's sexism? (ETA: LET ME REPHRASE. Loki's moment of intended sexism, or Whedon's moment of unintended sexism? WE CAN ALL HAVE THEM.) I know he's a feminist. A number of things he's written seem to walk that "have my cake and eat it too" line. Are we talking about critiqued/subverted sexism, or actual unintended sexism, or both? It's such a fine line that I can't even make that call in my own mind. I just know that I was watching this movie, and at one particular moment, I felt uncomfortable, and this line seemed out of step with the overall tone and the character.

Some commenters, both male and female, said they had no problem with it. I'm not saying you're wrong or stupid or "not getting it." You have a valid interpretation of why that line worked and I am totally okay with that. Joss Whedon's proud of it, and... good for him, I guess. I'm glad The Avengers broke records and made people happy. For the love of lofty Norse demigods, I liked the movie. I wasn't fond of that line. This is my explanation why, because people on Twitter wanted to know what was going on. That's all.

That said: I really appreciate the incredibly civil discussion we've had here the last couple of days (and always). I will do whatever I have to do, as a moderator, to keep it that way. Let's continue to have nice things.

ETA on Thursday afternoon: I'm leaving comments open and will continue to read and moderate, but I won't be discussing anymore. I'm discussed out. We're at 353 comments as of this writing, and anything after that won't get a reply from me. If civility continues to hold, anyway.

ETA: Our very first nasty comment showed up sometime after 400! It is late Saturday night and I am tired and I don't want to deal with this entry ever again. Thank you for being 99% cool, and good night.

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it said something about the way that Loki sees humans, and particularly human women - the weakest of the weak, a subcreature only good for its parts,

I am legit curious -- where there other parts of "The Avengers" (or "Thor," for that matter) where you got the feel that Loki views human women as "the weakest of the weak, a subcreature only good for its parts"? Because, for instance, in "Thor," he doesn't seem to have any extra particular loathing for That One Female Demigod BECAUSE she's female, or anything like that. I know she was a female demigod and not a female human -- but I'm looking in overall terms at Loki's general attitude towards women.

Because (and granted, I've only see "The Avengers" once and "Thor" twice, which is why I'm asking) I don't remember ANY other moment where Loki comes off as sexist towards women. He's "-ist" against humans in GENERAL, to be sure, that's all over "The Avengers" -- but I honestly can't think of any other examples of his character being particularly sexist and misogynist except for that one sudden, sexist slur.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

You are correct in that attitude is not in Thor, nor in the rest of the Avengers. It's never been in the classic Avengers comics or the scads of alternate universe Lokis (heck, half the time in those, he was in a woman's body). However, there's always been a trope in the comic book world of writers taking major characters and revamping them. It's been done to more effect in DC than Marvel. I'm thinking of Miller's "The Killing Joke," in which The Joker raped Barbara Gordon before shooting her in the spine. The Joker in other incarnations was a cheerful killer clown, and even a rather silly goofball. Not so with Miller. His Joker was nightmare-inducing.

Essentially, Whedon Miller-fied Loki.

On another note, the Norse were pretty free with the sexual insults. Hand to gawd, a documentable last name in the medieval period translates to "seal ****er." WTF?

(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

See -- I'll give you that writers revamp comic book characters all the time, but I feel like if Whedon was trying to revamp Loki as a misogynistic pig who sees women as lesser subcreatures, Whedon didn't do a very good job of it. One throwaway sexist slur does not add up to a revamped misogynistic character trope. It's just a line that comes out of left field, and that doesn't even necessarily fit in with Loki's character to me. (Loki hates HUMANS; why are we suddenly, and with no other context, adding shades of degrees to that?) If you're going to revamp, you have to _revamp_, not just throw in one line and then pass it off as a complete character overhaul.

I'm thinking of Miller's "The Killing Joke," in which The Joker raped Barbara Gordon before shooting her in the spine

WHOA did I not ever read "The Killing Joke" in that way. First off, the Joker shoots Barbara Gordon in the spine first thing (it's the first thing he does when she opens the door; he doesn't do anything to her beforehand). He does then undress Barbara before taking pictures of her, in order to further humiliate her. But there's never been any indication in "The Killing Joke," nor in any of the follow-up comics that I'm aware of (up to and including Simone's rebooted current work on "Batgirl"), that suggests that he then _rapes_ her. He had no REASON to rape her, because the Joker wasn't shooting her to hurt _her_, he was shooting her to hurt her father. I mean, I guess he could have raped her and taken pictures of him raping her to show Jim Gordon, to further drive Gordon over the edge, but the pictures only show Barbara naked and shot. I really don't think the Joker raped her. And the Joker wasn't doing it because the character was getting revamped into a sexual attacker; there was something of a revamping going on with the character with that graphic novel, but it had nothing to do with gender portrayals. (Unless there's a follow-up comic book where Barbara says something about being raped that I'm not aware of? But I've seriously never heard anybody anywhere on the 'net ever say anything about the Joker raping Barbara.)

"The Killing Joke" is actually Alan Moore, not Frank Miller. I'll give you that if Frank Miller HAD written "The Killing Joke," the Joker probably WOULD have raped Barbara. ;-) (Oh, MILLER ...)

Edited at 2012-05-10 12:20 pm (UTC)
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

For the longest time I would have agreed with you about "The Killing Joke" but after reading more of Moore's work and seeing how women are generally treated, I don't know. I wouldn't put it past him.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

Well, it's not so much that I think Alan Moore wouldn't ever write a story wherein the Joker rapes somebody (because I can see that happening, too) -- it's that I don't think he DID write it in "The Killing Joke." His problems with female characters aside (and "The Killing Joke" does have other problems with female characters), I still don't see any evidence that the Joker was meant to have raped Barbara Gordon in "The Killing Joke." That's all.

Edited at 2012-05-10 05:40 pm (UTC)
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

It was Alan Moore who wrote The Killing Joke.

You're right. There was nothing like that in Thor. I still haven't seen The Avengers but I don't like this at all. Then again, I don't know why I ever expected better from Whedon.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

I didn't see anything specific, but there were hints in the Thor movie about misogyny being present in Asgard, like Sif being the only warrior woman we see, and Thor mentioning that "no one believed she could do it". I think it's possible that Loki might hate women for being all up in his golden brother, as I imagine they were. And it might not even be entirely out of character, since Loki is a iteral trickster god of chaos and routinely changes his overall attitude and demeanor on a dime.

Be that as it may, I now think that line was totally sexist and unnecessary, as well as discordant in tone with the rest of the movie. Especially since Loki seems far too urbane and intelligent to resort to, as one commenter put it, "fratboy insults". Joss's comments just cement that claim.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

In marvel and norse canon Loki has, on several occasions shown himself to be a-not sexist-but fully mysogynistic asshole. His treatment of Sif, in particular, has never been good. Norse mythos has him cutting off Sif's hair while she sleeps (a move designed to humiliate her and bring her low, since part of her power was bound up in her hair--as well as being a rape metaphor)--and Marvel's canon has him permanently dying her hair black--again, while she sleeps and as a way of humiliating her/showing himself to be better/smarter/what have you and could be read as paying homage to the original rape metaphor.

Now, I don't know if the movie canon can be directly applied to the comic book canon, but I know that Joss would be fully aware of the comic canon, and that will influence his writing of the character.

I guess I conflate the norse and marvel mythos, so it didn't bother me--it is something I would expect a god like him to say. He IS a canon sexist asshole.
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

I have never in all of my readings seen anyone speak of the cutting of Sif's hair as a metaphor for rape, at least not the real Loki, as opposed to the Marvel Loki - where are you reading that?

I have seen some posit it as being symbolic of the harvesting of grain (which can be logical given Sif is seen as a summer/grain/harvest goddess). Now, is is likely true that Loki and Sif had sexual relations - Loki states quite clearly that he and Sif had sexual relations (and this may be how he managed to get close enough to her to cut her hair in the first place) in the Lokasenna. Odin also hints at Sif's unfaithfulness in the Hárbarðsljóð. But sexual relations does not equate to rape.

As for being misogynistic - seeing as Loki has absolutely no issues with switching genders multiple times, and not just for a few moments, but long enough to bear children, it would be difficult to believe he is a misogynist.

Edited at 2012-05-11 12:01 am (UTC)
(Frozen) (Parent) (Thread)

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