Recently my Twitter replies were doused in gasoline and set alight. It’s been both somewhat alarming and interesting. (Uncontrollable, raging fires usually are.)
I wrote this tweet in the lobby of a hotel in downtown Seattle after I’d had a day. An exhausting, emotionally draining day filled with some of the more intense stuff you can deal with in a family dynamic (I’ll just leave it at that). I was waiting for Rand, and leaning with my head tilted back against the wall, and just trying to hold it together.
Have you ever been there? Where your entire body feels like it’s made of wasps, and if someone just jostles you the tiniest bit, they’re all going to come streaming out and it’s going to be a mess because there will be yellowjackets everywhere?
(Maybe not. Maybe I’m the only person made of wasps here.)
But I was doing a good job. Keeping the wasps in. And trying not to think too hard about my dad, and what it was like when he died, and what it means to say goodbye to people. How you can say it a thousand times and try to ready yourself as much as you can and nothing will prepare you for the gut punch that is losing a parent. How when my mother’s house burned down not too long ago I realized how close I was to losing her, and I realized how I’d lost so much of what I had left of my father (the letters, the photos, the tiny Russian nesting dolls he bought me when I was little), and how I was just desperate, desperate to hold on to some part of both of them. (Like I said, it was a day.)
These were the thoughts that were buzzing in my head and in my chest as I sat there, holding it all in because damn it, I’m not messing up good a good winged cat-eye at 4pm. Nope. Besides, I knew: once the wasps get out, you can’t put them back in.
And some guy walked by, some nondescript middle-aged man in a suit, and he saw me, sitting there, my face chiseled from stone itself, and he just had to say something, because lord knows a woman can’t be left alone with her thoughts. And so he shouted — SHOUTED — across the lobby to me.
“Awwww, that’s way too serious a face!”
Now, I should note: this comment alone would not have been enough to release the swarming nest. One comment, dear reader, is never enough, and I’m sure you know this well. But there is always a breaking point, there is always a final comment, that thing that happens that causes a buzzing hoard to come spilling out. When they do, it is the culmination of days or weeks or years of this trash. It is every time we’re told to smile when we feel like shit, every time that we have our own jokes or experiences explained back to us because we’re apparently too stupid to understand them. Being told to smile when you’ve had a fucking shit day, and maybe a shit year is just another example of how, for some men, our bodies aren’t really ours. They are things that are supposed to be pleasant to look at. And a woman whose eyes could bore through concrete is not that.
I did not unleash the wasps on him. I just scoffed, as he doddered past, and thought about how my compulsion in that moment wasn’t to smile, but to laugh. Not happily, not coherently, but madly. An unhinged sort of laugh. And then I did imagine releasing the wasps. I mean, of course I did. What else are wasps inside your chest and brain for?
And all of this made me giggle a little as I sat in the lobby of this hotel, while the yellowjackets hummed inside my rib cage.
So I wrote a tweet about the Joker. It was meant as a joke, of course, but also as a commentary on all the shit that we as women deal with. How we’re constantly told to smile. The microaggressions that add up on a daily basis. How if you are a woman of color or disabled or trans or any of the places where those Venn diagrams intersect, you deal with this shit exponentially more. And how it’s just enough to make you fucking lose it and, I don’t know, take over Gotham’s water supply.
I wrote a couple more tweets, and it was clear that my Joker wasn’t really a villain. She was more of an anti-hero, a delightful metaphor, an allegory for being driven mad by misogyny and trying to regain control as a result. How everyone thinks she’s unhinged but really, she’s just fucking tired. of. this. shit.
I didn’t intend for the tweet to go viral (I’ve been on Twitter long enough to know that’s not how virality works). Most people got the joke. They found it funny. And some people … well, they did not.
This is not new to me. I’ve had my mentions flooded like this before, had to mute the replies to countless threads because Twitter had just become unusable for me, because wading through graphic images of mutilated bodies (which people like to reply to my tweets with for some reason) or comments about how I’m a fat ugly aging whore become a little tiring after a while.
And while the comments themselves were not that different this time, it felt different for me. It may be that I’m finally getting used to being sprayed with the shit fire-hose that is my Twitter replies. It may be that unlike so many other tweets I’ve written that have gone viral, this one felt less personal — most people who were angry were upset about the inherent notion of a female Joker, missing most of my point.
But as the replies rolled in — hundreds, if not thousands of them — I realized something: all of their hateful comments just supported and fed into my argument.
This bullshit is everywhere, and women deal with it constantly. I had people telling me that I was a fragile weakling for getting mad that someone had told me to smile, while they were positively losing their minds because I said that maybe the make-believe clown villain should be a girl.
My favorite was the guy who told me to get back into the kitchen, and when I replied with this, HE INSTANTLY DELETED HIS TWEET.
I was being accused of weakness by people who, when they had to deal with a tiny bit of clapback — a teeny tiny percentile of what I got in an hour- immediately ran into hiding. These idiots who were dishing out abuse wouldn’t survive a day with my mentions — with the bullshit and the death and rape threats. With the guy on a plane who, for some reason, yelled at me to “CALM DOWN” when I politely asked if he could let me by so I could go pee.
And to be clear: I have it easier than so many women.
The original origin story for the Joker usually involves him having one bad day. A whole lifetime of systemic misogyny is a much better reason for snapping. And just like that, my throwaway joke had shifted in my mind. I was now super invested in the idea of a woman so fed up with bullshit that she becomes the Joker.
People were quick to make the same arguments over and over again. I’ve replied to a few on Twitter, but it’s easier for me to talk about them here:
“We already have a female Joker! Martha Wayne was one in the Flashpoint series.”
Oh, wow, really, thanks for telling me, I haven’t heard this a thousand times. It’s amazing that there can be a half-dozen Batman franchises in my lifetime — all of them essentially the same, all of them sticking very close to the source material. Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Ben Affleck, Val Kilmer, Christian Bale, and now Robert Pattison. Christ, there isn’t even a blonde or a redhead in the mix. But god forbid we have more than one female Joker. Noooooo. That’s far too many. We’ll have to, like, buy extra tampons or something.
“The Joker is a homicidal rapist, I can’t believe you want a woman to be that.”
This references The Killing Joke, a 1988 comic by Alan Moore that was the basis for Christopher Nolan’s Joker arc (and while I realize that I don’t need to prove my comic prowess, because fuck you if you think that women need to prove themselves in this area, I should note that I didn’t need to look any of that shit up. I just know it.)
The refutations I have of this are many, but let us begin with this: I do not, and have never liked, The Killing Joke. The treatment of Barbara Gordon in that narrative is terrifying for a lot of reasons. Barbara getting shot by the Joker is canon (sometimes). Barbara getting raped by him, is not, in my opinion. But what bothered me most about it (I remember reading it probably close to 15 years ago, so forgive me if my memory is fuzzy — I’m not revisiting that comic), was that Barbara wasn’t really treated as anything but a prop. Her rape was simply used as a device for one man to antagonize other men, furthering the narrative that women aren’t really people unto themselves, and we should only care about them in relation to men. (Just think about how many times you’ve heard a politician say they care about a feminist issue because they have “a wife and daughters.” Maybe if you were unmarried and only had sons, you should still care, because women are people.)
So let’s be clear: if I were to envision a female Joker, she wouldn’t be a rapist. The Killing Joke was written by men, for men. It doesn’t speak for me. But you do need to ask yourself something: why are you okay with the canon male Joker being a rapist?
And before you say something like, “Well, he’s a villain!” then ask yourselves why you didn’t complain when he was in the LEGO Batman movie. Or when people dress up as the Joker for Halloween. Right. Obviously those Jokers aren’t rapists. It only comes up when we want to discredit the idea of a female Joker.
Secondly, the Joker has always been a rather pliable character. His sanity and cruelty have always fluctuated. Just fucking look at Caesar Romero’s Joker. (And for the record, I love Caesar Romero. I bring him up all the time in conversation, as my husband will attest. And I love that he refused to shave his mustache for the role and they were like, “Okay, whatever,” and just COVERED IT UP WITH WHITE FACE PAINT. I love him.)
The point is: characters are rewritten all the time. And nobody seems to have a problem with it, as long as those characters remain male.
“UGH JUST WRITE NEW STORIES, WHY DO WE NEED TO REWRITE THE OLD ONES?”
This argument is interesting to me, because it’s not a zero-sum game. New stories are important. New art is important. Celebrating the work of artists whose work has not been given the amount of credit or attention it deserves is a wonderful thing. And making sure we have more diversity in comics and movies and literature and music and art is hugely important.
So why can’t we do that AND reclaim old stories? Oh, right. Because some people don’t want us to. They don’t want female Ghostbusters. They don’t want a black Batman or a multi-racial Spiderman. Because they don’t like the idea of something they think is exclusively theirs suddenly including other people, like women and PoC. Because all of history has been about them, and they don’t want to share it. I remember going to see Tim Burton’s Batman in the theaters, and thinking it was magical — but also feeling somehow left out. I want that story to be mine.
Comic books have historically been very white and very male. And there are a lot of ways to challenge that. One is by telling new stories. And the other is by rewriting that history. We need to take a big diverse flag and stick in right in the middle of those old dusty comics — because they belong to us, too.
“This idea is stupid and not well thought out.”
Lol, bro it was a fucking tweet written while my chest cavity was full of yellow-jackets. There is no way you could have been half as coherent in the same situation.
ALSO, YOUR PARENT’S CONTRACEPTIVE PLANNING WAS STUPID AND NOT WELL THOUGHT OUT.
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