Reaching Out to Women

Lots of people have already talked about Eddie Berganza begging women to read Supergirl (DC Nation link no longer available). I can’t help thinking that Dirk Deppey had the best take on things, even though he was talking about manga, not this topic:

Do you think that perhaps they’re succeeding where we fail because they seem to be more concerned with the market that actually exists, rather than the market they’d like to exist?

That’s why girls buy manga instead of superheroes: they’re buying what they want, instead of what long-established boy-targeted superhero publishers think they should want. Don’t try to argue women into reading your comic because you think they should like it — figure out what they want first and give it to them. The factors you think are important may not be what they prioritize. Like the “hero’s journey”? Not for me. I want a kick-butt girl hero who doesn’t tie herself into knots over boys or her place in the universe. A strong woman who can hold her own. That means I’m clearly not going to be interested in their “she’s a real teenager” approach.

(I can’t help thinking that’s a bad idea. There are plenty of more realistic teenagers throughout manga and graphic novels for girls. Supergirl, by definition, is a flying alien blonde — that’s not necessarily fertile ground for “realism”.)

I know people like Eddie mean well. They truly believe that by asking, say, one woman whose paycheck depends on keeping them happy “what do women want?”, they’re attempting to address the issue. It’s hard, though, to approach situations like this with a truly receptive ear. The problem comes when they don’t want to hear the honest answers, or when they haven’t prepared themselves for true responses.

And there have been plenty of them. (Thus also demonstrating that no one woman speaks for us all. We are not a monolith.) Dean Trippe does a good job of summing up my issues with the title. To paraphrase, ditch the slutty costume, cut the DCU ties, and focus on her, not her supporting characters.

We complain about sexism. The answer is not in trying to create a boy-slut (who’s a pale shadow of how gratuitously the women are portrayed). Equal opportunity exploitation just drags everyone into the mud.

Treat her as a character first, a girl second — but don’t forget she is a girl. Write from her perspective as a person, instead of an object to be stared at. Hard, I know, but maybe it’d be easier if you didn’t keep looking at the same small pool of people to work on her. And maybe you could even hire a woman to work on the title!

Another site looks at the context of this request, blaming falling sales figures for the need to climb the soapbox. But you know, Eddie accomplished a lot with his column. He got people thinking of Supergirl as a book for girls. He got people riled up, which brings more coverage than you can buy. Here’s one example of the rage ( link no longer available), bringing in a bigger perspective than just one title:

Notice how Berganza doesn’t mention DC’s eliminating sexist portrayals of any of their other female characters, or that they’re on a company-wide initiative to eliminate cheap sexual come-ons and demeaning costumes and characterizations as a selling point. No, Berganza’s big idea is to somehow balance all of DC’s recent history out… with one “chest window” on a male character’s costume. Here’s a radical idea- How about eliminating bimboness instead of adding “mimboness?” How about writing quality stories with good art? How about eliminating the misogyny and sexism? The relentless negativity?

Can’t argue with that. It’s all about quality. What do women want? Good comics.

11 Responses to “Reaching Out to Women”

  1. The Last Visible Blog » Blog Archive » “Don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t feel super, Supergirl” Says:

    […] out” issues, but that’s for another day)” – while a similar analysis appears here, accompanied with an excellent  discussion on the idea of what you might want to consider if you […]

  2. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Jan. 31, 2007: Defend your beefsteak! Says:

    […] to be fought rather than a challenge to which creators must rise, suggesting (along with recent pleas for female readers from DC Comics) that heads remain firmly wedged in asses on both sides of the Atlantic. […]

  3. ~chris Says:

    My teen niece’s favorite Marvel/DC superhero is Kitty Pryde, not because Kitty is realistic or because my niece is Jewish (she’s not), but I think because Kitty matches your description of the kind of girl hero you want.

    And I think she wants a cat-sized dragon. :-)

  4. Johanna Says:

    Yeah, there are certain types of characters girls tend to fantasize about, so it should be possible to create or modify a character to tap into a lot of those. You have to be willing to learn and explore, though.

  5. Lisa Lopacinski Says:

    Excellent points, Johanna! You are absolutly right – they don’t need to portray her as a “typical teenage girl” when she is so far from typical!

  6. Dan Coyle Says:

    Most typical teenage girls, the kind Berganza is looking for, would find Ian Churchill’s art incredibly off-putting. Hell, most typical HUMAN BEINGS would find his work off-putting.

  7. ~chris Says:

    Actually, DC did get me to buy an issue of Supergirl. I picked up #12 yesterday when I found out that Amanda Conner drew it. What a concept– it was a fun story, enjoyed without having read any other current DC Universe goings-on.

  8. Vic Vega Says:

    I noticed the issue where Kara goes (back) to High School-and finds it a Hobbesan hell. Who want to fantasize about that? I know some teens were happy in high school. They might even have been nice kids too.

    I’m not as critical of the last several issues as you seem to be, but it does strike me that the book is written from a more jaded idea of what a teen is supposed to think like.

    You’d figure someone at DC has a teenage daughter, niece or something.

  9. Supergirl: Maid of Might Blog » Says:

    […] Reaching Out to Women […]

  10. one diverse comic book nation » THE SHORT STACK: Diversity On The ‘Net - February 4, 2007 Says:

    […] Reaching Out to Women (by Johanna Draper Carlson from Comics Worth Reading) […]

  11. Emily Says:

    Kitty Pryde has been my favorite since I was a teen girl. Now at 37, despite all the advances we have made into the field….why are women inkers/writers/drawers not producing the product that women want to buy? More importantly you have to cross lines and appeal not one demagraphic but as many as possible for the sales to be there. June Brigs? (Forgive me if I have the name wrong) Power Kids was a big break in comic standards but the audience wasn’t there. Conflict and drama sell, if a woman character is going to sell comincs she needs to be more like Strom of the X-Men and have long involved process of change and conflict. Happy, well-adjusted characters don’t last well in a series. Sometimes happy, always strong and mostly sure do better. But I feel your frustration, the problems exists and I don’t know the answer either.




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