Occasionally events align in such a way that they offer a particularly powerful window into our world and seem to capture the Zeitgeist in an especially disturbing way. This is true of this week in Washington and the launch of Man-Easters #1, written and created by Chelsea Cain, with inks by Kate Niemczyk, colours by Rachelle Rosenberg, and letters by Joe Caramagna. The comic is both hilarious in its satirical take on gender politics,** but also deeply unsettling in its portrayal of society’s attitudes towards women and young girls who show any signs of not accepting the role assigned to them by conventional norms around femininity.
The central theme of the comic, namely the politics around reproductive rights, is set up in the opening page where we see the young female protagonist, Maude, appropriately attired in a pink women’s march hat acting out a superhero story with two tampons, one of which she’s named Tampon Woman. The comic’s main story involves a mutation in the parasite toxoplasmosis–a variation known as Toxoplasmosis X–that lives in cat faeces and turns young girls into giant-size, wild cats that kill anyone they come across; and continuing the theme around reproduction, the mutation only takes effect during the onset of menstruation, so hormones blocking ovulation have been put in the water.
The artwork is strong and direct, requiring a few re-reads to spot all the wonderful references (including a lovely nod to another Image comic, Bitch Planet), and is arresting in its stark depiction of menstruation-based hate. The writing, as you’d expect, is sharp and to the point, and the story moves very quickly without ever losing the reader. Too often first issues fail to ignite, but this own explodes, cutting to the core of the millennia-old discrimination rooted in the simple issue that men can’t come to terms with the fact that women can give birth. So, the comic immediately gets to the very heart of a visceral fear about women’s bodies.
In terms of the Zeitgeist, the comic came out shortly after news broke that Marvel had cancelled Chelsea Cain’s mini series on The Vision, just as they had cancelled her brilliant deconstruction of the genre in Mockingbird, but even more disturbing is that the comic came out in the same week that Christine Blasey Ford was forced to testify to a Senate Committee over allegations of sexual assault against SCOTUS nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Not only did the hearing look like something from The Handmaid’s Tale, but it wonderfully encapsulated the gender politics that Cain examines.
While Ford was expected to be quiet and controlled, helpful and respectful, despite being the alleged victim, Kavanaugh was allowed to shout, rage, interrupt, insult, attack and cry. Of course, if a woman had done any of this she would have lost credibility and been seen as hysterical, but Kavanaugh was applauded for his awful behaviour because, we’re told, it was the righteous indignation of a man falsely accused. Aside from this, however, what was at stake is the fact that a self-confessed sexual predator with a series of sexual assault accusations against him was supported by the Republican Party and is now President of the United States. This man then nominated Brett Kavanaugh, a man that three women have claimed sexually assaulted them, for a lifetime position on the US Supreme Court with the explicit task of taking control of women’s bodies by overturning Roe vs Wade as soon as he gets there.
So, this is the situation, and no doubt Cain will be criticised as some crazy, deluded feminist, and yet what went on in Washington this week is far worse than the nightmare Cain paints. She’s let us off lightly.