Women and Modern Comic Books Must Mix
Alyssa Rosenberg takes on the question of whether women should just dump comic books in general or if they should continue fighting the marginalization and objectification of women in comics.
For those who don’t know, there’s been a very loud row over the relaunch of the DC Universe “New 52” comic books, many of which continue the gratuitous depictions of female characters in ways that serve only to arouse male readers and ogling gazers that comic books are well known for. Instead of taking this opportunity to change the paradigm to a more modern take sensitive to these concerns, the new lineup has ended up giving us more of the same, albeit in more colorful and starkly graphic ways.
This is a very good article explaining the many problems with the new comic books, but I’ll skip to what Alyssa has to say:
It’s worth it to keep nudging even as I totally understand the reasons why it might make more sense, strategically and emotionally, to walk away… [However,] it’s much better to have folks around explaining why it doesn’t work… so there will be clear, articulated reasons why people saw the relaunch as a failure to produce something genuinely different. And second, even if the industry doesn’t change, there should be voices in the background when folks read these books pointing out their problems. The key is getting folks who really just want to see, say, Catwoman bang Batman and nothing else to hear those critiques and to find a way to engage with them constructively, which is really, profoundly difficult. But I’d rather live in a world where people who don’t want to hear the works they like criticized have to work to shut them out, rather than leaving them to relax into the blissful sounds of silence.
This issue is not merely about comic books, though. This is about the much larger issue of how women are treated like a minority which is either tangential or orthogonal to men, a supplement or a compliment instead of an equal. It’s one thing to have sexual imagery and plot points in comic books (And for those concerned with kiddies seeing this kind of imagery, remember: comic books are for adults as well.) but if it doesn’t really serve a purpose and purposely objectifies women in a modern setting, it is a failure to care to capture the female demographic.
Female comic book readers do not so much mind their characters looking sexy, but not to the point where they look like chicks in chainmail. Comic books and popular media in general, need to weigh their content and make sure they serve all sexes a wider number of demographics and stop marginalizing them.
I should note, however, that this is a tough issue for media companies to tackle. DC Comics decided to not even bother trying to balance risque content with trying to attract both men and women comic book fans. You can do that and still have strong sexual content that is relevant to the world in the story and adds content and context to character relationships.
Alyssa isn’t new to this topic, at all. Read her piece on A Song of Ice and Fire and Sady Doyle‘s very myopic piece criticizing the show producers and G.R.R. Martin of being sexist for adding gratuitous sex and violence against women in the story.
Alyssa takes the other side of the coin, arguing that there are situations when seemingly gratuitous sex and violence, and even rape, can add to the story because _these things can serve a purpose in the overall story. If it adds definition to the characters and helps build the world the story exists in, then it’s lazy to argue that it’s gratuitous. That defies the very definition of the word.
As I said before, it’s a touchy subject and it’s difficult to balance it. I agree with Alyssa: women should just give up on comic books. They’re a resurgent part of modern pop culture that’s not going away even if women break off. It’s always better to speak out against inequality and violations of respect instead of disappearing from the great debate.