Girls Discover Wizard Sexist
Recently, a bunch of online commentators have been discussing how Wizard‘s how-to guide objectifies women.
At first, all this hoo-hah sounded to me rather like Claude Rains’ character in Casablanca: “I am shocked, SHOCKED to find that gambling is going on in here!” Who doesn’t know that Wizard is targeted at adolescent (in mind if not still in body) males? Of course their view of women is of unknown creatures only to be stared at, because that’s how teenage boys view females: objects of desire that they can never fully have or know.
But then I realized that every issue is new to someone. Ok, so they didn’t know. And when they found out, they felt left out, and that made them mad. It’s no fun to be reminded that something isn’t aimed at you and isn’t particularly interested in whether you’re included or not. Lots of times, it makes people work harder to get inside, just because they’re told they shouldn’t be. But superhero comics are not all comics, and while superhero comics are targeted at boys, there are plenty of other comics out there that aren’t.
The core of this argument seems to be whether or not superhero comics being for boys is a bad thing. Please note, I know that there are some women who read superhero comics and want those they can enjoy without feeling left out. I’m one of them. I also understand that there are some men who read romance novels. I’m not sure that means that romance novel or superhero comic publishers should spend a great deal of time and money trying to attract a group outside of their core audience when there are so many other options for that group.
Should Wizard expand to a larger audience? Maybe. But if they’re making the profits they want sticking to the niche they know, it’s hard to argue that they should take the economic risk. Wizard is a brand associated with juvenile boys; making the changes that would be necessary to break that connotation may drive away their existing audience without successfully attracting a new one.
Should teenage boys read better resources to learn how to draw? Yes, but… if your aim in life is to work for DC, Marvel, or Top Cow, then this is a fine resource that will serve that purpose for you better than Scott McCloud’s Making Comics. In this scenario, it’s not an art guide so much as a occupational handbook.
Is Wizard guilty of false advertising in the language they use? Probably, but no more so than when DC put out their Guide to Writing Comics. Instead of “comics”, they really meant “superhero comics”… but when even the critics make the same mistake of equating superhero comics with the medium as a whole, it’s hard to get too overwrought about this sin. (See, for example, the mad link above.)
Ultimately, I had to remind myself that those getting all het up over this were young and energetic, and that’s a good thing. They’re a new generation of comic fans, ready to challenge the world. It’s my history that I’ve already had any number of these conversations and arguments already. For them, it’s a new dragon to slay; for me, it’s a part of the scenery I can’t get too worked up over… because if I wanted no boy-specific material, I’d have a hard time defending my liking for and support of girly-girl shôjo.
I keep thinking of action and slasher movies when this topic comes up. Those genres are female-unfriendly, marginalizing or eliminating women from their worlds. They thus attract a mostly adolescent male audience. Should they not exist? Is any gender-targeted entertainment suspect?
One of the comments in the Newsarama Blog thread, in pointing out that male superhero comic fans shouldn’t feel attacked when people point out problems with the system, makes the key point that “it’s not always about you”. Similarly, female superhero comic fans (as I am) are a rare breed, and decisions shouldn’t necessarily be made for a sliver of the audience just because a few of them exist. There are plenty of other comics out there for all genders and races and every other subgroup, and superhero comics shouldn’t be asked to be for everyone. That’s what got us into the mess of the 1990s.
The problem with this part of the discussion is that the women carrying out the argument love to read superhero comics, and they think (as is human nature) that many other women are like them, or there would be if only the genre wasn’t so off-putting. I don’t believe that, but I know neither one of us will convince the other which way the numbers fall. Many of them don’t read or haven’t yet discovered other comic genres, or they’re only interested in this one genre (which may contribute to them confusing the genre with the medium).
On the other hand, I love the parody involved in this call to draw superhero men in the style of superhero women (link no longer available). I still think one of the best answers to “I don’t like what’s out there” is “make, buy, and support what you do like”.
By the way, this isn’t intended to convince anyone of anything. It’s just something I’ve been thinking about for a long while, and I wanted to try to set down some of my reasons why the cries to redo DC comics don’t always sit right with me. I guess it boils down to that I find the whole thing much less upsetting because I’m looking across today’s wide range of the medium, including graphic novels, bookstores, manga, comic shops, and traditional stapled comics. In that viewpoint, the meaning of a 25K-selling issue that’ll be forgotten in a month is much less important.