Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Problem with “Mewling Quim”

One of the more memorable parts of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was the surprise appearance of Tom Hiddleston at the Thor panel in Hall H. Hiddleston appeared on stage in full costume as his villainous character Loki, and addressed the audience in character, which of course sent everyone there in a fan frenzy. As I am but a humble and impoverished fan, I could not attend Comic Con in person, but simply watching, from my laptop, Tom Hiddleston strut the stage as Loki and getting the die-hard fans riled up and excited made me incredibly happy.

There was, however, one minor issue that I had with his performance, at around 1:23 in the video below:



This was the only part of that whole otherwise entertaining bit that “diminished my life’s joy” as it were. It slanted my smile a bit and I thought, “Aw, why’d he have to go and do that?”

Truthfully, I already have a pretty good idea as to why: a lot of people, including Hiddleston apparently, don’t seem to fully understand why “Mewling Quim” is a problem. In this particular context of glorifying the phrase at a con, it’s even more of a problem.

“Mewling Quim”, for those of you who didn’t see the Avengers last summer, is a Middle English slang term that basically translates as “whiny cunt”. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki hurls the medieval insult at Scarlett Johannsen’s character, Natasha Romanov, a.k.a Black Widow. “Mewling Quim” (along with other references like “shwarma”) became a pop culture buzzword that circulated after the movie’s initial release and got a bit of track in Internet discussion. Joss Whedon also received a bit of praise for his use of “mewling quim”; nods and winks were given at his cleverness in using Old English to hide a profane term in a PG-13 movie.

Here’s the scene in question:



Mewling Quim is a gendered slur violently targeted at the only female member of the team. It perpetuates a common theme seen in TV and movies where women are singled out solely for their gender and met with a specific type of violence that directly targets them for being female, i.e. rape threats and being called a “bitch”. Mewling Quim sustains the idea that violence against women is just a thing that happens, and even if you’re a superhero you still have to endure insults simply because you’re female - insults you’re male cohorts will never have to tolerate.

Now, the counter-argument to that is, well, of course they’re going to show women dealing with that crap, that’s how the real world works! Even if you go with that argument, I still have a hard time buying into the fact that we can suspend our disbelief with inter-dimensional travel, gods who summon lighting, and whatever the hell this thing is, yet we suspend our disbelief at irrelevant sexism.

Furthermore, Black Widow already had an scene earlier in the movie where a group of bad guys underestimated her for being a woman. Her introductory scene had a third-tier bad guy claim she was nothing more than a pretty face...and she kicked his ass and the asses of the five other bad-guy subordinates who surrounded her. Do we really need another scene in which she gets insulted for being a woman? Especially considering the men never have to put up with that kind of crap in the movie at all (granted, they have to put up with different kinds of crap, but nothing that specifically targets their gender)?

People will also argue that Loki’s the main villain, so of course he’s going to be sexist - he couldn't be the bad guy without it! Kick-Ass creator Mark Miller made a similar sort of statement when defending his using rape as a plot device in his comics...and he has since been called out for it.

The counter to that argument is yes, Loki’s the villain, but why does he have to be the sexist villain? Villainy presents itself in various different ways in storytelling. There are villains who do dastardly things but still hold a certain respect for their enemies. There’s nothing necessary about sexism; this is especially true for a villain like Loki, who starts out as a sympathetic character and as a result has a huge fan following, a following that can glorify and idolize some of the more awful things about that character.

This ultimately leads us to the heart of the matter. When Tom Hiddleston referenced Mewling Quim out of context and used it as a joke, everyone cheered. Fans of Loki will carry this enthusiasm outside of Hall H and continue to use Mewling Quim as a fandom joke, because sexist slurs against female characters is apparently hilarious. The use of the slur at Comic Con this year is an example of the consequences that stem from using gender violence as a plot device or character development

Yes, you can make the argument that fandom reaction is not something you can control Yes, you can argue that sexism can be a part of a villain’s repertoire. Yes, you can show a female overcoming sexist expectations as something positive. But, when you throw around that slur at Comic Con for fun, and you encourage it to be thrown around for fun, what are you trying accomplish at that point?

The way I see it, right now, we have a choice: we go down this same, tired path of women being singled out for violence and threats for the sake of ~drama~ OR, we use the power and influence obtained from a successful franchise and try to do better.

Yes, this post is a little late to the game, because it’s referencing an incident at San Diego Comic Con…but, I still need to talk about it. Just because the Con is over doesn't mean the issues that stem from it will be over anytime soon.

1 comment:

  1. I didn't mind that the phrase was used in the movie, because I found it so effective. I am shocked every time I hear Loki say it because of the violence of the words (and the violence with which he delivers them). I thought it said a lot about the character.

    I only partially agree with you about how Natasha was the only one who got criticized for her gender, because she plays with the stereotype to fool her opponents and accentuates her perceived weakness.

    I wonder how sexist Loki really is, as he grew up in an environment with Sif, who fought just as well as men. On the other hand, he mocks men (in particular Thor) for his excessive "sentiment", but never with the venom as with Natasha.

    I agree with you that I don't find it a particularly that the expression is now a catch phrase for the fandom.

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