I’m Not One of the Gang

Oh, good, the overreaction to my comments about the audience for superhero comics has already begun. I’m “condescending” and “don’t know what the hell [I'm] talking about” and “offensive” and “talking out [my] ass” because I believe that some genres tend to be gender-identified, and superhero comics make up one of them.

(If 30 years of reading superhero comics and a master’s degree in popular culture focusing on fandom doesn’t give me some slack on “knowing what I’m talking about” in terms of the genre, I don’t know what will.)

I know why they’re reacting so vehemently: they’re afraid of being further marginalized. I say “superhero comics aren’t for girls”, they hear “so shut up, you shouldn’t like them”. Only I didn’t say, and don’t believe, that second part. They’re reacting to what I didn’t say out of fear and hurt from past experiences, I suspect.

Here’s the part I found funny: the commenters say “if you’re going to pick apart Ragnell’s argument or accuse her of hypocrisy, you might want to limit yourself to things she ACTUALLY ARGUED.” I guess you only get that courtesy if you toe the party line on the need to make superhero comics aimed at women. Thankfully, there’s one commenter (David) who gets it, although they ignore his point.

I just realized: the non-typical women want to shun me for being non-typical in relation to them. It really is a basic part of human nature, isn’t it, to form tribes?


30 Responses to “I’m Not One of the Gang”

  1. Livia Says:

    We want to shun you? We seem to be interacting with you quite actively, actually.

    Your entire post is a thinly veiled “Shut up” to the vocal female comics bloggers and fans who want less sexism in comics, but (as several commenters tried to point out) you completely misinterpret their goals.

    “… that doesn’t mean that …. they would have been more successful if they’d put in more content aimed at that demographic.”

    In other words: “Shut up, anti-misogynist female comics fans, comics are doing just fine without you and your demands.”

    I’m sure there are occasional males who read romance novels, too, but if one started blogging about how the genre needed to be overhauled to be made more attractive to men, they’d be giggled at… and rightly so.

    In other words: “Shut up, anti-misogynist female comics bloggers, or else you deserve all the mocking you get for *daring* to speak up about offensive content in a product you purchase.”

    I don’t think anyone’s “overreacting” to you at all.

  2. arielladrake Says:

    On the point about you not saying “so shut up”, you’re obviously aware of the rhetoric tied up with “superhero comics aren’t for girls”, so is it really surprising that if you fail to articulate your difference from that rhetoric, it’s more difficult for you to defend yourself against a charge you’ve obviously got the knowledge to anticipate?

    I mean, for example:
    recognizing gender-determined societal factors doesn’t necessarily mean liking or agreeing with them. It’s a subtle distinction, I admit, and so might not be suited for online discussion.

    It’s only not-suited if you’re somehow allergic to actually articulating your point.

    Honestly, my main issue with your post is that you seem to overestimate the extent to which the kinds of sexism and misogyny that appear in superheroes (as opposed to women’s magazines or fairy princesses, because most of it’s misogyny, it’s just differently shaped) can be separated from what supposedly makes them ‘not for girls’.

    And perhaps the most obvious point is that you seem to mistake the post you referenced, where kaylan is speaking against alienating women, and end up arguing against the idea that superhero comics should be aimed at women. So, really, for someone who’s going to get all uppity for someone misreading you in the context of a common rhetorical device that you failed to articulate, you might want to check how much you misread kaylan in a way much feminism is willfully misread.

  3. Johanna Says:

    Livia, you continue to build strawmen: you’re trying to put words in my mouth and then railing against them. And once again, you confuse “comics” with “superhero comics”. Comics as a medium has reached its recent heights of success only because of female readership.

    I support the fight against sexism in any comics genre. Your perception of attempted silencing is only in your own mind. You might want to take Kalinara’s advice to engage with what I said, not what you read into it.

    Ariella, I didn’t think expressing an opinion was the same as creating a debate position statement, so no, I didn’t feel the need to try and guess at every possible response and answer them. I still think of this medium as based on discussion, so I kind of hoped that people would ask questions instead of jumping to conclusions and trying to bash me on them. I should have realized otherwise, I suppose, given the vehemence of some of the likely participants.

    It’s interesting to see how not far we’ve come since I had this go-round in the mid-90s on Usenet… only there, the people calling me names were guys.

    As for “misreading” kaylan… I answered a direct statement of hers. Didn’t realize disagreeing with her on the bigger point made me “uppity”. Nice choice of words, though. That one also gives me Usenet flashbacks. I guess it’s progress that we’ve moved from “women who have opinions are reaching above their station” to “women who have opinions that don’t match the vocal fan-femmes are reaching above their stations”.

  4. Livia Says:

    Livia, you continue to build strawmen: you’re trying to put words in my mouth and then railing against them.

    Well, perhaps you could explain how I’m misreading you, then. For instance, are you now saying that you do *not* think adult female superhero comics fans deserve to be mocked for simply speaking their opinions? Please explain, what else did you mean when you said “if one started blogging about how the genre needed to be overhauled to be made more attractive to men, they’d be giggled at… and rightly so.” Were you actually NOT implying that female superhero comics fan bloggers are making unreasonable demands and therefore deserve, “rightly,” to be mocked?

    And once again, you confuse “comics” with “superhero comics”.

    No, once again I said “comics” instead of “superhero comics” because your original post *was specifically discussing superhero comics* and therefore I felt it redundant to keep saying “superhero comics” when we both know full well that we are discussing, specifically, superhero comics.

    Your perception of attempted silencing is only in your own mind.

    So again– you weren’t actually implying that women who blog about misogyny in comics should be mocked “and rightly so?”

    Because if that’s not the case, that’s sure what it sounds like, Johanna.

  5. Johanna Says:

    No, Livia, I never said female superhero fans should be mocked. I said they should realize that they’re in the minority, and as a separate point, by direct analogy with the phrase I used, women who ask for superhero comics to be overhauled to be more appealing to women might rightfully be giggled at for misunderstanding the target audience and creative aims.

    I’ve already clarified several times this morning that “more appealing to women” is not the same thing as “fighting sexism”. I agree with and support that battle in all media.

    I disagree with your elimination of “superhero” as a clarifying adjective. Too many people need the constant reminder that the genre is not the medium, in my opinion.

    As for your “now saying” — that’s what I’ve said all along. You jumped to conclusions, perhaps because of previous arguments you’ve had with other people. But I’m not them. I hope that you now understand what I said and can work with that instead of what you thought it “sounded like”.

  6. arielladrake Says:

    Johanna, I’m not talking about “every possible response”. I’m talking about how what you said is predominantly connected to particular rhetorical positions, which you yourself admitted you knew about. And given you’ve been around the traps as long as you have, I think it’s more than a little naive of you to think being clearer on that point is unnecessary.

    In terms of your misreading of kaylan, when she clearly states in the linked post that she’s talking about “not alienating women” and you start talking against “aiming at women”, it’s hard not to see a misread, there.

    And speaking of misreading, I didn’t say you were being uppity for disagreeing, I was referring to your snarkiness about being misread, when you engaged in some fairly clear misreading yourself in the first instance. Though you’re right, my choice of language was less than ideal. I’m sorry for that.

    But seriously, this “look, the evil feminist fan-borg are being mean to me” schtick isn’t particularly ‘far from the mid-90s’ either.

  7. arielladrake Says:

    Incidentally, I remember when “it’s all in your mind” and “you’re overreacting” was stuff that came from guys.

  8. Johanna Says:

    Then I guess we’re one step closer to gender equality, hunh?

  9. Scott Says:

    Johanna, you’re making sense–I’m following what you are saying, fine. Online forums are just prone to sniping.

  10. Kiki Says:

    This is slightly off-topic, but I thought you might get a chuckle out of this. I just tried to view the comments to the original piece and Netsweep claims it’s a site classified as “match-making” and won’t let me in. I guess your comments really are bringing people together. ;)

  11. Ray Cornwall Says:

    At first, I agreed with what you were saying, Johanna. My wife specializes in reader’s advisory services for librarians, and she routinely cites the research that people tend to read work written by their own genders. As a result, many genres are gender-specific, and superhero comics, have been mostly written and drawn by men for seven decades, tend to be male-centric.

    However, the great thing about new work is that it can break the patterns of what came before. Preacher, for example, can be viewed as a male-friendly romance comic. When you break superhero comics down to its components- a little bit of soap opera, a lot of power fantasies- there’s no inherent reason that an individual superhero comics has to be gender-centric. That doesn’t mean that Marvel and DC should start advertising its female-friendly comics in Women’s Day anytime soon; after all, there are decades of existing stories, some of which are quite good, that are aimed at a male audience. But there’s hope.

    And besides, you don’t have to choose the media you enjoy strictly based on your gender and sexuality. Gray’s Anatomy is the highlight of my TV watching each week. I’ve got a shelf or two of comics where I’m not in the target audience (Hothead Paisan, anyone?) By reading media that’s not aimed at you, you can learn a little bit on how the “other side” lives, and that can be a lot of fun.

  12. Johanna Says:

    Oh, yeah, I loved the “alternate reading” studies I read in grad school — my favorite example was the women who watched the Newlywed Game not to see who won but to enjoy how badly some of the husbands screwed up. :)

    And yeah, I agree with you that what something is doesn’t always define what it can be … except inertia is a powerful force. And the market dominance of superhero comics for decades means they’re far away from being a “pure” genre any more, having adopted bits and pieces of almost everything.

  13. ryan_cf Says:

    I would be curious to see the actual statistics kept by Marvel and DC’s marketing departments. Literary, feminist theory and personal consumer preference aside, you don’t have to go much past the advertisements displayed in ad-revenue driven periodicals to see who the periodical believes to be their primary audience. This dictates not only what is written (or shown) obviously, but what content winds up in the pages.

    I don’t think anyone is going to argue that with the rising age in comic readership, that the folks selling X-Ray glasses and recruiting kids to sell “Grit” made a mistake in pulling their ads, nor has anyone batted an eye that they’re now selling CARS in comics. While some of the ads could be construed as gender neutral, no print ad hits the page without some ad company hack having good reasons why the imagery and text fits the demographic of the market in which they’re spending their money.

    Just as sports shows know they have a female audience, they still broadcast ads directed at males (especially young males, or guys looking for youth). And just as soap operas no doubt have a male audience, they advertise for Oil of Olay, Dove and other “feminine” products. So do comics advertise video games, action movies and other “young male” oriented junk. That doesn’t mean that women can’t enjoy comics, or don’t.

    And, no, it’s not a self-fulfilling prophecy. Any responsible ad company tracks this stuff like crazy to see how effective their ads actually are. To suggest that the Big 2 aren’t continuing to target the market (or don’t know the market) to whom they believe their selling ad space to is disingenuous.

    I don’t even understand why anyone is throwing their arms in the air over this topic. There’s nothing wrong with being in a minority of an audience.

  14. James Schee Says:

    Wow, this topic sure exploded after I posted on it last night/early morning in a humorous light.

    Here is my take. How are those looking at Johanna’s comments with such passionate opposistion reading her posts? It seems from what I’m reading they are taking Johanna’s as saying girls shouldn’t be reading superhero comics.

    I don’t really see that, I see her as saying that their target audience isn’t girls. Which means you may have to work to find something you will like. Yet then heck I have to work to find something I like in them these days as well.

    I also don’t think she’s saying “shut up” when it comes to sexism. Anyone that has followed Johanna’s work for any length of time would know she’s been one of the leading voices at pointing out the stupidity others do.

    I do think she may be trying to offer words of advice from someone who has experience though. Because in a lot of ways DC and Marvel haven’t gotten any better, some might say they’ve gotten worse.

    Which isn’t a good thing or something that should just be taken. Yet is something that you have to look at and give thought to if it is worth the fight to you personally.

  15. Tommy Says:

    See, this is what happens when we let women read.

  16. Alan Coil Says:

    Tommy is getting close to getting a role on The Sopranos as Tommy Castrata.

  17. Johanna Says:

    I thought it was funny. And I appreciated someone else taking things lightly; it was a nice contrast to some of the zealotry.

  18. Tim O'Shea Says:

    For the record, when I want to be condescended to, I come to Johanna. :) I’m not really sure who Livia is, but (s)he just can’t belittle people’s opinions as well as Johanna. Yes, I was joking.

    Way to generate traffic, Draper Carlson…

  19. kalinara Says:

    Johanna, I made that comment to David because he was arguing as though a quote from your post was something Ragnell had said. Namely that action comics were for boys and romance novels were for girls.

    Ragnell did not mention either of those generalizations in her argument.

    No one’s attributing anyone else’s words to you but your own. If you don’t like the conclusions we’re drawing from them, please do clarify yourself. Otherwise, accept it. You spoke, we responded. That’s the way life works.

  20. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » May 11, 2007: Freakish outliers Says:

    [...] offers a reaction to the argument in a follow-up thread, then returns again with some demographic statistics from the genre’s final heyday in the [...]

  21. Johanna Says:

    Kalinara, interesting you should return to the concept of gender-identified genres, since I haven’t seen anyone actually address that point, or even say whether they agree or disagree. I’ve already repeated my clarifications multiple times because most of the responding women aren’t listening.

    Nice “lie back and accept it” style philosophy from you. I expected something else, given that I’m sure you’ve also experienced being purposefully misread for political reasons.

  22. kalinara Says:

    Honestly, Johanna, I’m not seeing what political reasons you’re picking up on here. It’s just simple disagreement. This happens.

    For the record, my style is hardly “lie back and accept it”. My style is more “Regroup and restate”. Text is tricky. Language is tricky. And a lot of what we mean to say gets lost in the shuffle. I’ve been misread, in response I either restate myself (which tends to work quite nicely) or I let it go.

    And I didn’t actually bring up the gender-identified genres, I brought up the mis-attribution of your quote as reason for my comment.

  23. Johanna Says:

    Mmm, no, I think this has gone beyond “simple disagreement” just in its scope. And having seen some of the more objectionable comments elsewhere, there’s much too much “attacking the person instead of the point” going on. When some start dragging out (their misunderstandings of) a job I had over a decade ago to try and explain why I shouldn’t be listened to, then obviously, I hit some major nerves.

    And I’m glad restating your point worked for you… me, I’ve done that five or six times now and I keep seeing people try to attack me on their misreading, regardless. Maybe they just like you better. :)

  24. kalinara Says:

    hmmm, I AM considered quite cute and sprightly in some circles. :-) It’s the antennae.

  25. Johanna Says:

    That’s it! I need to post more glamor shots! (gahh….)

  26. I Don't Think I Want to Get In the Middle of This... « In One Ear… Says:

    [...] May 11th, 2007 A small battle of words has broken out over this(and it’s follow-up [...]

  27. Ferrous Buller Says:

    I say “superhero comics aren’t for girls”, they hear “so shut up, you shouldn’t like them”.

    Actually, when people say “superhero comics aren’t for girls,” what feminist superhero fans tend to hear is, “superhero comics can’t be made for girls.” It is one thing to say a particular product is made by, targeted towards, and/or more popular with men or women; but it is quite another to say that product can’t be modified to make it more popular with the other gender. You may mean the former, but to a lot of female superhero fans (and male fans who are also fed up with the status quo), it sounds like the latter. And if they are leaping to conclusions beyond what you intended to imply, I hope you can forgive them; when enough people belittle your interests for long enough, it tends to make you a wee bit defensive.

    No one disputes that the overwhelming majority of American superhero comics are made by and targeted towards (usually white hetero) men. This genre-medium combo has been awash in male power fantasies for generations. And I don’t expect them to suddenly go away: if it sells, people will make it. What is in dispute – and what pisses off female fans – is the presumption (within the industry, among the readers, and with “outside observers”) that superhero comics can’t be made girl-friendly in the first place. Using the existing status quo to defend why the status quo can’t be changed is a weak, fallacious argument.

    As you say, fighting sexism and making things more appealing to women are not the same thing; but in this case they are related. I have no idea how many women could be drawn into reading superhero comics. But I am quite sure if the Big Two toned down the sexism of their titles and just told good stories with strong female characters, they’d attract more female readers – plus more than a few men who are tired of the current products. Would they draw more new readers than they lose for tampering with a time-worn formula (a la “new Coke”)? Would the number of female readers come even close to equaling male readers? No idea. But that won’t stop the feminist spandex fans from clamoring for what they want; and it doesn’t make them any less frustrated that change is so slow in coming.

    I know women who like action movies who wish they were less sexist. I know women who like violent videogames who wish they were less sexist. I know women who like superhero comics who wish they were less sexist. And all of them know other women who would at least consider trying action movies, violent videogames, and superhero comics if they were less sexist. And arguing that those medium-genre combinations are overwhelmingly male-dominated, so they shouldn’t bother trying to change them, doesn’t sit well with them.

    Johanna points to the sales numbers and says, “See? Girls don’t read superheroes.” The feminist fans say, “Well, if they made better comics, more of them would!” Johanna talks about how things are; the fans talk about how they want things to be. At this point, I think of George Bernard Shaw: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

    Or to quote a bumper sticker I saw today: “Well-behaved women never make history.” :-)

  28. Johanna Says:

    That’s an excellent dissection of the distinctions involved. Thank you. And I understand their defensiveness… I just feel like my parents at this point, muttering that you catch more flies with honey.

    I do wonder, as a genre argument, at what point a girl-friendly superhero comic stops being a pure superhero book… but that quickly becomes a definitional debate of what a superhero comic really is.

  29. Glaurung Says:

    Maybe all the controversy is because you haven’t distinguished between something that is, for cultural reasons, uninteresting to boys/girls (eg, boys are brought up to find romance novels totally boring), and something that is not marketed at boys/girls (action films are marketed to men, and most of the audience is male, but significant numbers of women can and do watch and enjoy them).

    There’s a world of difference between saying hero comics are for girls what romance novels are for boys (when male romance readers are rare as hen’s teeth), and saying hero comics are like action movies: aimed at and mostly enjoyed by males, but able to be enjoyed by women too, with a small-but-significant minority of female viewers/readers.

    I’ve posted more thoughts along this line at greater length in my blog: http://glaurung-quena.livejournal.com/4907.html.

  30. Irene Harding Says:

    Hey
    I got the gist, what bollocks, I read super-hero comics, Superman saved the world as did Spiderman and many others. Why has the series Hero’s been such a big hit (in SA just recently). Think super-hero’s play a huge role. Was actually looking for a text that I could use for explaining to my ESL learners the use of adjectives when I came upon you website. What better subject. That is all!
    Mwah
    I




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