I am almost caught up to the present issue of Y: The Last Man. Kalinara
just wrote about how people assume she would like the series and she is not interested in it. I have been pondering my attitudes toward Y for some time; they are decidedly mixed, and braided with my feminist outlook on comics and media in general. Bear with me while I wax intellectual.
This is not a simple issue of good versus bad portrayals of women. It is possible to argue that a work like Y is problematically sexist despite having widely recognized "good" portrayals, whatever that means. Nobody can agree on how they want their group to be represented. It's a fact of the politics of representation: there's no consensus on the images that "should" be presented, nor is there agreement on who should get to make the representations in the first place. It is agreed, however, that peoples' privileges are inescapable and influence their work. Brian K. Vaughan is a man, and despite ideological and artistic intentions, his male privilege (the unspoken benefits of being male, invisible to people who grow up as men in our society but highly visible to those who do not have them) makes it inherently biased.
My intention is not to roundly condemn Vaughan as sexist; that would be counterproductive and he does not deserve the label, at least in the conventional sense. However the issue of representation and privilege really bothers me in the case Y and the "unmanned" scenario. The idea of a society without men has long been a staple of feminist philosophy as well as speculative fiction. I'm going to bet you can't name any work that deals with this. Yet most readers of this blog know about Y; it has gotten huge attention within the comics community and from the media at large. Vaughan is always posting in his blog about the latest plug for his ongoing series (Ex Machina and Runaways too...but that's another essay entirely) in magazines like Jane or Entertainment Weekly. He is an excellent writer. It is a well put together series. The apparatus works. I read it. But it still makes me furious. A man gets media attention and fame for writing about a world without men. I know Pia Guerra is the co-creator and artist. But she does not get nearly as much attention for her work on the series as Vaughan does; maybe if she drew tits a little bigger she could get some work on Witchblade, but I'm not holding my damn breath.
Vaughan uses an old trick to diffuse this situation within the series itself; Yorick Brown, the man, actually talks to another character about how ironic it is that a man is still the center of attention even after the world is now entirely run by women. By acknowledging that a narrative situation is weird or improbable, it feels less
so to the reader or viewer. It's something I've heard many times as a screenwriting student, and it doesn't work on me.
And yet, as furious as the series and the hype surrounding it makes me, I have more than once cried with emotion from reading it. It tells a really engaging story about characters that resonate with me, Yorick most of all. Catholicism is actually a very prominent theme in Y, and as a nice Catholic girl with social justice sensibilities, I can relate to the story of a nice Catholic boy with social justice sensibilities who just happens to be the last man on earth. The subject is treated seriously and with respect; what do you do as a Catholic when there are no priests left? Does your God cease to exist? Has the tie been severed? I feel like Vaughan and I would have a lot to say to each other about the idea of someone keeping their faith close to them even when it seems ludicrous to do so.
Yorick Brown is obnoxious and wonderful. He makes obsessive pop culture references and dreams that he is a science fiction hero, yet he is deeply troubled by committing violence. In an inversion of the fantasy-journey narrative of strapping hero, frail wizard, and naive princess, he is definitely the princess, while female companions are strapping and arcane, respectively. He is a male survivor of sexual assault and he believes in true love. He used to write Knight Rider fan fiction and described himself as having a punctuation fetish. He has been dismissed by some as a typical "lovable loser" character; but what does it mean to be a loser? What is the difference between a "loser" and a "real man"? This is Yorick's dilemma.
Ultimately, Vaughan is using the unmanned scenario to explore manhood and masculinity through a character who is decidedly not the American ideal superdude, who is a composite of anxious shortcomings thrust from being a guy to not just being a
man but the
man. And ultimately, it serves feminist purposes to reevaluate and reflect on the meaning of masculinity. It has been a tenet of transfeminism and gender activism in the last decade that gender roles are not only oppressive to women. And Y will certainly get read more widely and taken closer to heart than many gender treatises I can think of.
I retain my righteous anger that women should be the ones to write about what women would do if left to their own purposes in an unmanned world. There's definitely a part of that anger epoxied to my own frustrations as an unpublished woman writer. Call me jealous; I am. Some part of me hopes that a series like this will open the doors for women to write brilliant transgressive gender fantasies, be published by a DC or Marvel imprint, and get loads of wonderful shiny press. Another part hopes that this will be written by me.
I'll spare you any more details or confessions. It's time to go to bed.