So, I was skimming various blogs today, and came across a post (I forget where at this point, but I'll link to it if I find it again) which decried "Batman: The Killing Joke" for being misogynistic.
Now, I can certainly see the elements in the story which would cause someone to make such an argument. What I'm having a problem with, though, is sorting out what element in particular justifies the claim, and the reasoning behind it. Because I'm running through the various scenes in my head (it's been awhile since I read it, so I could be forgetting something), and nothing quite seems to hold up for me. I don't mean to sound crass or anything, I'm just honestly trying to figure out where this argument is coming from.
I guess, what I'm really trying to understand, is "when is fictional violence toward women misogynistic?" Is it when the violence leaves the victim obviously maimed, as with Barbara's paralysis? Is it when the violence is coupled with sexual humiliation? Is it when an otherwise strong character is turned into a damsel in distress? Is it when the violence is committed solely in service of some other plot?
The first instance is a strong case, probably the strongest of the four I've listed. But Barbara's paralysis did not need to be a continuing character trait. It was only because later writers chose to run with it, rather than subject her to any number of comic book "outs" from such a condition, that it became a permanent fixture. I can think of half a dozen ways right off the top of my head that could easily have been used to undo what the Joker did, from a skintight exoskeleton to experimental surgery to a character with healing powers or magic. It seems difficult to condemn someone for giving a lasting change to a character, when the very next writer could easily reverse that change (and given the state of comics, is quite likely to do so).
The second is strong, but bothers me on a number of levels. The first is the obvious one, that sexual humiliation is often a real-life component of violence toward women. That real-life violence and humiliation may certainly be classified as misogynistic, but when one tells a story about such violence, and said story makes it clear that this is a bad thing, can we reasonably call the story or the writer misogynistic? It's one thing if it's the hero going around being a sexual sadist and treating women as garbage (yes, Frank Miller, I'm talking obliquely toward you), it's quite another when it's the villain.
My other problem with that line of reasoning is that it seems to ignore Commissioner Gordon's similar ordeal in the same story. The Joker took naked photos of the injured Barbara Gordon, and may have done other things to her, clearly in order to humiliate her. But then he also drugged and stripped Jim Gordon and put him in a dog collar to be beaten and led around by insane bondage midgets. Is that misandry? Doesn't that suggest a more equal opportunity sort of offense?
The third line is similar to the second. I'm not sure about Barbara's character in the early '80s, but I'm hoping there was something of a distinction between it and the dainty damsel of the recent Showcase volume. Assuming that by the time she took the bullet, Barbara was a take-charge butt-kicker rather than the "typical Silver Age female," the violence certainly left her in a less-than-powerful state, atypical of the strong independent character we've come to know. But, again, the Commissioner was put in a similar situation: a strong character humiliated and placed at the Joker's mercy, in such a state that he had to be rescued. Granted, his ordeal didn't leave the obvious scars and consequences that Barbara's did, but that's less the fault of Moore and more the fault of later writers.
So, what of the fact that, in more ways than one, the violence toward Barbara wasn't the point of the story. From an outside perspective, it was done to underscore the Joker's dangerousness and psychosis, and to demonstrate the vulnerability of the Bat-family to such attacks. From within the story, it was done as part of the Joker's larger plan to drive Jim Gordon insane. In either case, it was merely means to an end. Yet, if it had been the focus of the story, wouldn't that have made this a "you touched my stuff" tale, and equally open to criticisms of misogyny?
Like I said, I'm really trying to figure out what specifically marks this story as misogynistic. I understand that it's something of a fuzzy area; we can all recognize the blatant, outright misogyny, and that's why I'm trying to figure out how people distinguish between the more subtle misogyny and plain old violence.