- Posted by Johanna on May 17, 2007 at 9:12 am
- Category: Meta
Just to get it on record, and because I seek mutual understanding and have a sometimes irrational hope for it:
I think superhero comics are, by a vast majority, written by men (with the token exceptions of Gail Simone and a couple of dabbling novelists), drawn by men (with the token exception of sometimes Amanda Conner… and really, if female artists are going to draw and/or ink the same boobalicious portrayals — I’m looking at you, Rachel Dodson — what does their gender matter?), marketed to men, sold to men, sold by men, and read by men.
I found it astounding that anyone would be surprised by or object to these statements. They are the way the world is currently, BUT saying “this is” doesn’t mean I’m saying “this always will be” or “this should be”. (Although I find it unlikely that superhero comics, unless they change so much the definition itself comes into question, will ever be attractive to the majority of female readers, because their classic themes and tropes involve adolescent male ideas of power and justice. As this discussion about the longevity of female-led titles shows, it’s also very difficult to separate the gender-based factors from other industry pressures.)
Also, superhero comics are a niche market within the much wider medium of comics. Mistaking the genre for the whole is a problem that’s been happening for at least 15 years, so I don’t expect to eradicate it single-handedly, but it still grates.
I’d be interested to see existing superhero comics change to be so girl-friendly that they’d have a majority female audience… but to get there, I think you’d have to remake so many levels of the current direct market (creators, superhero company executives, distributors, retailers) that the world would no longer resemble the one we know. And it’s easier just to publish something like Queen Bee (fundamentally a superhero comic) at a “real” book publisher and sell it through bookstores.
I did not say, nor do I believe, that women criticizing superhero comics for being sexist should shut up. Anyone drawing that conclusion from the above is responsible for their own logic; it’s not mine. I know women read superhero comics. There just aren’t enough of them for them to be an effective economic block within that particular niche market. So if they want to effect change, they need to find other methods than the traditional economic pressure, like raising awareness, as they’re doing.
Sexism hurts us all as a society. It’s worth criticizing on those grounds alone.
I sympathize with those women who are gun-shy and battle-scarred to the extent that they sometimes lash out at those who don’t agree with all of their points. I can also understand why some might confuse “If asked, I would advise a different course of action” with “you’re doing it wrong! you shouldn’t do that!” It’s a subtle distinction that easily gets lost in the overheated discussion of a topic that means so much to some. And frankly, I suspect I’ve been online longer than some of these girls have been alive (sorry, Alan, your guesses were way off), so I understand that we have very different perspectives (although I wish some wouldn’t shoot their allies). (I was glad to see some got what I was saying.)
Personally, I do think that so much energy and passion would be better directed elsewhere than criticizing the same comics for doing the same things month after month, but that’s my personal opinion, not a policy statement nor a condemnation. I was where many of them were once, and now I have different concerns that motivate me. I’m taking my own advice here: I’m not interested, so I don’t read them. This should go without saying, but they’re entitled to keep publishing and reading and saying whatever they wish.
(Although I would really like to see what some of them thought about Go Girl!, the only comic I know of that’s unquestionably a superhero comic made by women for girls. But we’re not really talking about superheroes; we’re talking about DC and Marvel superheroes, because many of those requesting more girl-friendly superhero comics want them with the familiar characters they have a love/hate relationship with.)
I do think that in the long run, it’s better for everyone (including the blog writers themselves) to focus on the positive (what books are worth recommending?) instead of the negative (that statue sucks!). I created and named this website to celebrate the positive, because I think you can achieve more good talking about what’s worth celebrating instead of bitching about the negative. I fail in that regard myself frequently, but I still aim to do better.
All that said, I think the most useful campaign to get some real change in superhero books? One to have Dan Didio and Joe Quesada replaced.
I leave you with a quote that resonated with me from Molly Haskell’s introduction to her From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies:
…sometimes it’s easier to curse the darkness than to light a candle, especially when the candles proliferate and vary enormously in brilliance, beauty, and illuminative power. Women directors have increased tenfold, but some are a good deal more interesting than others. Some are more feminist than others. And there’s no invariable correlation between the good, the true, and the feminist.
I really appreciate the way she describes herself as a “critic first and a feminist second.”