A Glimpse Outside Non-Compliance in Bitch Planet Triple Feature 4

by Drew Baumgartner

Bitch Planet Triple Feature 4

This article will contain SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

Bitch Planet has always been about non-compliance, about women refusing to be denied their humanity in a system designed to do exactly that. For me, the real teeth of its social commentary lies in just how modest the infractions — and how strict the boundaries of compliance — are. These characters by and large are asking nothing more than to look the way the look, live the way they live, and love the way they love, and are imprisoned for having the audacity to do so. The “logic” of the fathers suggests that their lives would be so much better if they just chose to comply, though we’ve seen relatively little of what life is like for compliant citizens. Bitch Planet: Triple Feature 4 offers a hint at the larger world away from the penal system, following people who otherwise live within the strict boundaries of their world, but it sure doesn’t seem like life is any better for their compliance.

The first story, “Life of a Sportsman,” by Marc Deschmps and Mindy Lee, reminds us that the dystopian economy of Bitch Planet doesn’t just commoditize the bodies of women, demonstrating the havoc its morality can have on the life of an athlete. As social commentaries go, this one certainly feels timely, though I must question the choice to co-opt a world designed to comment on the exploitation of women in order to tell a story about a man. Deschamps clearly had to pick the subject very carefully in order to tell a story where a man’s body would be treated with such contempt, and I can’t help but feel that the commentary suffers from that choice. I appreciate that a treatise on the exploitation of the workforce in purely capitalist system might take more than the eight pages of this story, but I can’t help but feel that the story presented lacks nuance.

Then again, maybe nuance isn’t the point of a series called Bitch Planet. It certainly isn’t the point of Sarah Wooley’s “Bodymods,” which details the grotesque lengths compliant women go to in order to appeal to men. Wooley amps up the modifications to absurd lengths, going beyond the ballooning butts and breasts (which might not even phase us in a comic book), giving the women tentacles, fins, and wings in order to appeal to the ever more specific tastes of the men they’re chasing. It’s an interesting glimpse at how the world of Bitch Planet would affect issues of body image and cosmetic surgery, but Wooley doesn’t seem to have anything to say beyond presenting those issues to us. That may be a problem with the characters, who are too invested in their world to ever really question it, but it feels decidedly slight when held up next to the main series.

In that way, Vita Ayala and Rossi Gifford’s “To Be Free…” might just present the most pointed political commentary of the issue, suggesting that even knowledge of birth control is criminal in the world of Bitch Planet. That commentary is delivered in the tried and true Bitch Planet fashion of a woman breaking rules, but its success might just speak to why that’s such a winning formula. The protagonist, Ms. Lightly, is far more cunning and capable than any one man she encounters, but the sheer volume of men standing in her way ultimately leads to her defeat. It’s a stunning metaphor even without the somehow-still-timely detail of access to birth control, though that detail only gooses the message that the battle for equality is fought on countless fronts simultaneously.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

10 comments on “A Glimpse Outside Non-Compliance in Bitch Planet Triple Feature 4

  1. Is it weird that “Bodymods” felt a little out of place to me? The main title and all the other anthologies gave me the impression that the fathers had essentially taken the world back to the 50s, trying to fix everybody into Leave It To Beaver-esque gender roles no matter despite the advanced technology at their disposal. Body mods like this don’t seem like something the fathers would be encouraging, either men to pursue nor women to undertake, even to please their men.

    In that sense, I’d be more interested to see how society views these women — are they praised for being so complient, or looked down upon like so many “trophy wives” are?

    • I guess there are two forces that explain the world in Bitch Planet — one is the kind of social conservatism that sees women as little more than wives and mothers, but the other is the unrestricted capitalism that has turned them into a commodity first and foremost. I’ll admit that the techno-weirdness of “Bodymods” didn’t exactly feel like the world that I’d seen in the flashbacks of Bitch Planet, but I guess the first story in this issue primed me for the notion that economics may be as much (if not more) of an explanation for this world than conservatism is. Like, I’m sure there are folks in this world who look down on these women (though I’m not sure there’s anything women in this world can do to escape that), but I think there’s also a force that says “hey, if people want it — and are willing to pay for it — it should exist.” It’s definitely a weird corner of this world, but I do kind of see how cosmetic surgery, divorced from any notion of objectification or vanity being in any way bad, might run amok in this way.

      • I haven’t read the issue, as I’ll wait for the trade. But the weird thing about suggesting any sort of body modification is how carefully women’s bodies are policed. In a world where characters have been imprisoned for being too fat, why would they let women have tentacles? Isn’t being fat a just as legitimate way to find a man as tentacles? By the Fathers ‘logic’, wouldn’t they both be legitimate tactics to find specific niches?

        And Bitch Planet feels like a very weird book to go ‘capitalism can break patriarchy’s policing of women’s bodies’

        • You raise an interesting point — if such unusual body types can be fetishized in the way depicted here, then certainly being overweight shouldn’t pose such an issue. I tend to agree that it doesn’t really fit the feel of the world depicted in the main series, but I suppose we can’t rule out the possibility that the rules are more specific than “having an ‘atypical’ body type is good” or “having an ‘atypical’ body type is bad” — it’s possible certain body types or proscribed, even though there would otherwise be a demand for them.

        • Still feels slightly weird for Bitch Planet to do, considering how much of the setting is an intentional reflection of our world. Bitch Planet can have any rules it likes, but the strength of the book usually comes from how those rules specifically reflect our own world’s patriarchal rules. And I would argue that in our world, women are shamed for bodymods. Tattoos or dyed hair are often shamed – we’ve all heard the insult of the ‘blue haired SJW’, or similar insults towards those who dye their hair in imaginative colours. And plastic surgery carries a massive social cost. The idea of plastic surgery is often seen as an easy punchline, and those who have it are seen as an object of mockery

          I think there would be an interesting Bitch Planet story around the idea of women simultaneously being pressured into plastic surgery to became more like the ‘ideal’ version of beauty (focusing on things like boob jobs and face lifts, taken to satirical excess), and then being shamed for ‘needing’ it in the first place. A double standard style story where a woman is shamed for not taking plastic surgury, and then shamed for having it.
          And I can imagine another one about the way women who take exotic bodymods like tentacles are oppressed for daring to break from conventional standards of ‘beauty’.

          But regardless of the exact setting details, it feels weird to think of a Bitch Planet story where bodymods is encouraged by the patriarchy. Bitch Planet’s setting can be whatever the creators want, but it usually is scathingly accurate in its comparisons

        • Women in certain segments of society are shamed for cosmetic surgery, but I would not say that that’s the rule. I would agree that it’s seen as a negative where the costs of elective surgeries would be a burden on the individual, requiring a sacrifice of some more socially accepted luxury. But for people who can afford it without a second thought, cosmetic surgery is often treated as a matter of course. And this is true the world over, from the US to Russia to Venezuela — anywhere people can afford cosmetic surgeries, they’re being done and treated largely accepted. It really is a class thing — the prototypical “trophy wife” has some tens of thousands of dollars worth of cosmetic surgery — and I think this issue more or less gets that right. Indeed, it could be that the reason this idea is so foreign to the rest of the series is that we’re mostly seeing women in the penal system, so folks from classes who could afford neither cosmetic surgery nor a legal defense/social status/big enough bribe that could guarantee them freedom.

        • Except ‘Trophy wives’ are one of the easiest targets of derision there is. Especially because of the plastic surgery cliche. Are ‘trophy wives’ privileged? Yeah. But as Spencer said, they are also looked down on for their choices. They are thrown deep into the whore end of the Madonna/whore dynamic.
          And it isn’t just Trophy Wives who get this sort of mockery. I just read all of the Runaways books, and they had an arc shaming those who have cosmetic surgery (post-Vaughn Runaways… isn’t flash). And jokes around plastic surgery have been staples in sitcoms and similar for years
          These days there is little nonfinancial problem with access to cosmetic surgery, but there is a social cost. Woman who either have or look like they have cosmetic surgery are shamed for the choice. It is seen as an easy way to deride someone. How often have you heard people say things like ‘those boobs aren’t real’ without sounding like an insult or criticism?

          Cosmetic surgery certainly provides social benefits, because of how much of our society is built around the idea of women being ‘conventionally attractive’. But the idea of ‘cheating’ by using cosmetic surgery is seen as a failure, and something to be shamed for. They are either seen as too vain or whorish, because they chose cosmetic surgery.

          It certainly has its benefits, but it also has its social costs. That’s why I thought the dynamic would work so well for a Bitch Planet story

  2. Oh, and something else I’d liek to mention, from what you guys talk about. WHile youa re right that there is the risk of having men’s stories co opt women’s stories, I’m happy there is one story focused on men, and how the patriarchy/toxic masculinity harms men. Bitch Planet should tell these stories with restraint. I’m happy that there is only one male focused story in this issue, and that it is outnumbered by stories about women. And I think one male focused story will be too much most months.

    But toxic masculinity is an important feminist subject, and there is a lot to explore there. Done rarely, I think Bitch Planet could benefit from occassional forrays into toxic masculinity. Just give us two or three issues of solely female stories first

    • I guess what disappoints me about this particular story is that it doesn’t paint that portrait broadly enough. On the one hand, I understand the power of taking such a strong parallel to modern society, where even the least sensitive reader might agree that we treat athletes inhumanely. On the other hand, I think this story misses the opportunity to detail how the patriarchy negatively impacts any man who isn’t an athlete. Like, it broadens the list of victims of the patriarchy, but only enough to include “male athletes,” which is a pretty far cry from “all of society.” Showing how it negatively impacts the average man, or even a very successful, powerful man, would be a much bolder statement than we get here.

      • Except Toxic Masculinity is a massive topic, that requires much more than a short anthology story to explore, just as no other Bitch Planet anthology story is all encompassing in its particular area of feminism. And this allows a much more impactful story on that one particular element than

        You could make the case that Bitch Planet should have thought through an arc that begins with a general examination of Toxic Masculinity then drills down deeper later, but that kind of goes against the ideals of an anthology. That degree of creative control limits the best part of an anthology – going up to an exciting creator and saying ‘Do what you want with my setting. As long as it makes sense, it goes in!’

        I’d rather have the story, and then another story in a couple of months exploring another specific, slowly broadening the exploration of toxic masculinity through volume, than not have the chance to read this story because the author had to write their second choice story instead

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