I have never been a big fan of comic books. Not a remarkable fact necessarily, but given that I have wasted countless hours traversing across the pixilated lands of Hyrule, attended 1 (or maybe 10) cosplay conventions, and devoted a good part of my teenage years imagining I was a character in Sailor Moon (shut up), one would think I would at least have a light affinity for the genre.

Unfortunately, no. Something about the dark, gritty imagery, half-naked girls with improbable proportions, and typecast, often hyper-violent heroes, just turned me off.

http://astro.temple.edu/~alower/ww/

Little known fact: Wonder Woman’s weakness is being tied up by a man. No, I am not kidding.

So when I recently read Mark Millar, comic book writer, commenting that “…comic books are not meant for women” and “It [rape] is the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy,” I was disgusted, but not surprised.

Apparently I am not alone.  Female fans of this genre are starting to graciously put down the more popular comics – giving up all together or looking for smaller, independent publications. Laura Hudson, editor of Comics Alliance, even commented that years of reading the hyper- sexualized portrayal of women as a guise for their subjugation might have finally broken her.

So what’s DC’s response to all of this? They run a competition where fan can submit pictures of Harley Quinn naked,committing suicide.
Splendid.
After the obvious public outcry, Marvel promotes it own contest. This time the epitome of brains and beauty, Natalie Portman urges girls 14-19 to interview empowered women who work in the STEM field in conjunction with her Thor character, Jane Foster.
What?

These two attempts at pandering to the female fan base seem to be opposite sides of an unrealistic coin. DC and Marvel are trying to sell women something, but whatever they are selling does not align with most of the actual female population. What are our two choices here? Naked, suicidal villain or buttoned up super scientist?

I know that many think comic books are meant for cheap entertainment, but they are more than just that. They are a media form that functions as a window into the world we live in, and I worry for that world. I imagine that in 2013, major comic book companies can see the value in being entertaining without being insulting. Or how about just not stuffing a woman into a refrigerator for awhile ?
If these companies are pandering to their fan base – which is mostly male – does that indicate that most fans are comfortable immersing themselves in a story line that contains women only to murder, mutilate, and maim in order to promote the hero’s agenda?
If that is so, I will be content looking through another window.

Hmmm, what's for dinner tonight?

Hmmm, what’s for dinner tonight?

Once the major comic book companies learn that women are not just an audience to be manipulated with cheap gimmicks, but a community but part of the whole fan base, maybe they will start developing some real ways to lure women back into the fold.

Written with StackEdit.

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Join the conversation! 9 Comments

  1. There’s a lot I could say on this topic. Comics are my mindless entertainment to unwind from more serious concerns. Most fall short, though when done well they can be quite good. But by this point I’ve been inured to their conventions. The other day though, my wife had occasion to flip through one of the books, and her first response was, “Well, these women are all ridiculously proportioned.” So to the uninitiated this is one of the first things that they notice. The more you learn about the comics industry the more you realize how ingrained a general objectification and low-level misogyny is in the business. It’s disheartening considering what it could be.

    Reply
    • Agreed – there is so much that could be done, especially considering the creative, interesting people who are part of the writing and overall creation of comics. However, I think comics, in a way, are not just an escape from the world, they reflect it and the people who reads them. Guys want to see girls with perfect, silly proportions because they are not allowed to openly demand that in their real lives for fear of being deemed a misogynist in their real lives – maybe then, it does come back to being an issue of escapism ?

      Reply
  2. I’m kind of curious what makes you think of comics as “cheap entertainment.” Sadly, in regards to luring women back, most comic companies are staffed overwhelmingly by men, and they write male fantasy characters. Which is not to say that is an excuse, which some male creators offer when asked about women readership. Women characters are often killed, pointlessly, to give the male counterpart impetus to go out and take action. And regrettably, many women working in comics have been accused of sleeping their way into success or something along those lines.

    Reply
    • that was an over- generalization. Though I am not a big fan, graphic novels such as Watchmen changed my life because of the deeply complex message about society- and even there, there was a big outcry because of the rape scene. I am just saying that “many” people view them that way and that the prolific use of comic violence and overblown story lines gives them the feel of cheap entertainment, throw away, and not worth the time of analyzing.

      Reply
  3. I think that a major issue is drawing a line between fantasy and exploiting the female characters. Both male and female characters are drawn in a sexual way (huge muscles etc.) to attract attention and readers, but you do not see close up pictures of Batman’s privates similar to the double D boobs pictured above. In researching this I came across a Change.org petition (http://chn.ge/GF5ZFv) urging Marvel to expand the presence of female superheroines. The creator Lucas McLean explains, “Rarely do these superheroines, no matter how mind-blowing their powers may be, are able to sustain a solo series. And when they do, they can be hideously objectified, transforming each issue into a sexual fantasy rather than a compelling crime-fighting adventure”. Why would Marvel want to continue to move closer to pornography and stray further away from the adventure based plot and storytelling when a large audience is begging for it? Most companies have to search for a new audience to target, but it is clear that a large group of female readers want to be that audience for Marvel.

    Reply
    • thanks for the link – surprised I missed that in my own research. I found it also pretty telling that when I was looking for info on this topic is was very hard to find overly sexualized portrayal of men. There was a lot of skin tight suits, but that was about it – Some even had very boxed out, ambiguous lower regions (cough cough) – impractical for the tightness of their clothing. I am sure this is done as to not “weird”‘ out the male audience. I was thinking that Marvel to appeal to women, might want to stray away from the typical story line. Maybe that’s not what women want to read. I have my own feelings as to why that is.

      Reply
  4. Tom already addressed what I was going to say about mindless, cheap entertainment.

    Consider, though, that many of the comics that took smart approaches to characters and story ended up banned or poorly critiqued. Sandman is the first that comes to mind (partially because there was just an exhibition on Sandman and banned literature, partly because Neil Gaiman is heavily involved in the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund).

    Reply
  5. I don’t have much experience with the comic book genre, in fact, I literately know nothing about it, but your post is really insightful and raises a lot of good questions. Just the images you present here, examples of comic book covers with a drawing of Wonder Woman with a chain around her neck and a bruised and black and blue eye and shoving a female in the refrigerator would appeal to virtually no female- whether she is interested in this genre or not. These images scream misogynistic, abusive, and downright frightening. Thank you for calling Marvel out on this- there should be more of an uproar over this if there isn’t already.

    Reply
  6. It’s really funny because the exact blonde superhero that you have in the first picture is more popular these days. One day as a joke I was walking down the toy aisle of Walmart and came across the superheros. Low and behold her action figure is there posing with an immense amount of cleavage. A plastic toy has to have that much cleavage? No wonder kids are getting crazier and crazier! Your post was very well backed up I feel. I have never been okay with the immense violence towards women in any form of media. There is a certain line that is frequently crossed to where it is just way too offensive. I’ll admit, many stories are made stronger where the protagonist is wounded…there is just a whole different message presented when it is a woman being hurt.

    Reply

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