Saturday, June 22, 2013

Is feminism hurting comics?

The “Women vs. Tropes” video caused a major splash a few weeks ago. The basic question is whether or not video games are serving the interests of women gamers, and the answer was probably not. Whether or not that was a good thing depended on your perspective on the games themselves as the answer got a little complicated. Some of the same basic questions need to be asked when it comes to comics.

Let’s break this down to three issues, as these seem to come up the most: costumes, Women In Refrigerators, and women in second place. Although both men and women are dressed skimpily, our perspective on that changes depending on the gender of the character. With men, it’s a power fantasy, as men like to see powerfully built men and for women it’s because guys like to see scantily clad women. It’s interesting that the choices are based as if gay or female readers don’t exist; I understand the logic, as men are the majority of readers, but it just feels weird. And I definitely understand why the charges of skimpy clothing; there is no way you can convince any intelligent person that some of those costumes (Witchblade, I’m ogling you!) are anything less than exploitive.

However...There’s an interesting problem. Yeah, some costumes are exploitive, but that’s the point; if you’re going to have men use their charm and appearance as their power, you need to allow women to do the same. It’s also representative of a healthy sexuality to dress as the person desires, and we all know men and women that dress to make the most of their charms; that needs to be represented in our heroes as well. We need characters like Vampirella as well as Wonder Woman; some characters dress that way to seduce and others because they are just comfortable that way. Diana dresses that way because it allows her to fight more effectively just as Vampirella dresses that way because she bloody well can; both should be allowed to dress how it works for them.

I just think that women should be allowed to dress as appropriate for the character regardless of political correctness. By placing limitations on women’s wardrobes that we aren’t on men’s places creative limits on illustrators, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. I know it’s weird to argue that running around in skimpy costumes JUST LIKE THE MEN is something that needs to be allowed, but it is something that should be at least debated. Otherwise we’re placing restraints on women that we aren’t on men, and that just doesn’t seem fair.

Women in Refirgerators started off as a decent idea. Originally it was legitimately pointing out that women were being treated unfairly, and that women needed to be treated as more than mere objects. However, somewhere along the way it morphed into a listing of bad things that happened to women. When it did that, it morphed into something completely different; a number of fans asked how that supported women’s rights, especially when men suffered so much more. Sure, you can argue that women are raped, but so are men in the comics; the list of men that were sexually assaulted is not a short one. Even Spiderman was molested as a boy!

Having such a list has an unfortunate side effect: It has a chilling effect on what creators can do with women. Women can no longer be the target of an attack, or it gets listed on the website. As such some of the greatest character scenes would never happened, such as Batgirl becoming Oracle, and some characters, such as Jean Grey are simply impossible. This kind of list limits creators by limiting what they can do with their creations; they cannot do anything really bad to the women characters or it pops on the list and the creators become listed as sexist.

Now, if we had been debating this a decade ago, I would not be arguing that women characters are up there with the guys. I was debating ignoring DC for a moment, but it has the most problems. Wonder Woman needs to have her own movie, period, and they need to have more female lead characters. In an industry full of incredible, deep female characters, where women lead teams, have their own comics, and basically rock even in the movies, DC has so many issues when it comes to its female characters that it needs to debate its hiring practices. I know that there is a dearth of female creators and that definitely needs to change, but DC needs to have more women characters, and it needs to happen ASAP.

Now I’m not saying that feminists need to go back into the woodwork by any stretch; someone needs to start a fire under the collective butts of DC comics. And I agree that there is a lot of work to be done. But at the same time they do need to back off a step, or we’re going to have supers in nothing but committee-approved Victorian dress to insure that nothing ever bad happens to them. At the same time, I think that the gains that have been accomplished need to be strengthened. It’s basic tactics; every so often you need to stop charging down the mine shaft and build up the supports. We also need to find a way to encourage more girls to become writers and illustrators; we don’t have enough and that needs to change. The pressure just needs to be let up a bit.

And is anyone else smiling when you picture Gail Simone literally lighting a fire under the DC execs?

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