I Don’t Know You, Little Doll

What’s going on in this page of She-Hulk #15?
That’s not a trick question.
It’s pretty obviously a scantily dressed female cyborg specifically designed and to seduce and destroy getting on with the seduction and destruction. But in the context of a genre where all too often the unconscious presentation of female characters is that their attractiveness is far more important than their effectiveness, is this conscious wink at the revolting phenomenon good or bad?
Clearly, she’s Sexy, Sexy Danger. She exists to be Sexy, Sexy Danger, a character trope that panders to the dumbest patriarchal fantasies of female rage and violence and discriminates against both women (must be sexy! Even when evil!) and men (so dumb they can be distracted by sexy! Even when attached to evil!).
And at first glance Agent Cheesecake hits every one of those buttons. She’s scantily clad, in an abbreviated version of the otherwise fully-covering S.H.I.E.L.D. uniform; she’s wearing balance-upsetting stiletto heels; her male opponents are completely undone by her bodacious bod; and she manages to display booty while kicking ass.
But. But. BUT. It’s so deliberately over the top. She was, within the text, built to sex you dangerously. She is programmed for seduction. Her name is Agent Cheesecake. And she’s striding around a comic that is renowned for mixing pin-up poses and occasionally egregious cheesecake with sex-positive feminism.
So is the existence of Agent I-Seriously-Can’t-Type-That-Name-Again a great excuse to stick a half-clad fembot in there and pass it off as a joke by naming her something totally hilarious haw haw? Or is it a sly comment on the patriarchal worldview in which a sexy cyborg in half a uniform and high heels seems like a really good idea?
Is it saying ‘I’m so brash about giving you the Sexy, Sexy Danger that I can come right out and say it!’? Or is it saying ‘Look how dumb these guys are, to underestimate and downplay the effectiveness of a woman because of her attractiveness. Hey, comics creators! Sound familiar?’
Does this page perpetuate cheesecake, comment upon it, or condemn it?
That’s not a trick question either. I just can’t answer it yet.

On The Other Hand

This week, let’s have a look at some misandry!
Courtesy my favourite helper-monkey, I got hold of Connor Hawke: Dragon’s Blood #1. (In case you didn’t get the memo, Chuck Dixon’s secret subtitle is Connor Hawke: Not Gay.)
The first issue is mostly set-up and introduction archery contest! Ancient Chinese tale of dragon killed by an archer! Gee, wonder if it could be true! but it’s competent stuff. I enjoyed it very much until my stomach moved uneasily at the last pages, which featured Lady Shado.
Lady Shado is a skilled archer/mercenary/occasional assasin who embodies the Japanese spirit of the bow. In other words, she is exactly the sort of character for whom I fall head over heels, forever won over by her effortless kickassery.
So why do I hate Lady Shado?
Because she’s a GODDAMN RAPIST. We discovered this during a very special issue of Green Arrow where she talks about the paternity of her child to Black Canary (who apparently sleeps in a teddy. Uh-huh.)
Click here for the disturbing revelation!
That’s right. When Oliver Queen was wounded, sick with fever, and so delirious he thought he was making love to another woman, Lady Shado had sex with him (and conceived). Was he capable of consent? Did he consent? Clearly not to sex with her, the GODDAMN RAPIST.
The weirdest thing is that no one pays this much attention. Dinah, instead of beating the crap out of Shado, reluctantly accepts her help in rescuing Ollie from his then dire straits. Later, in Quiver, she includes this incident in a flashback collage as one of Ollie’s long list of infidelities. Ollie is indeed the least faithful man in the DCU but including his rape is repulsive. Jesus, Dinah. Victim-blaming much?
Even self-acknowledged expert Doctor Light, who now prefers to be called Doctor Rapist McRapity Rape, fails to pick it. Proof:

Shows what you know, Doctor Asshole!
So the rape of Sue Dibny warrants a mass mindwipe. The rape of Ollie Queen warrants… not a lot, really.
This ties in, of course, to horrifying misconceptions about sexual relationships between men and women. One of the nastiest misandrist tropes is that men exist in a state of perpetual horniness. They just can’t help it!
That’s why it’s up to women to say no and indicate they really mean no. That’s why men stare at breasts instead of faces and wolf-whistle. They are totally overcome by their surging masculine mojo. God, those poor guys.
And that’s why they cannot be raped by women, especially women they would otherwise find attractive. It doesn’t matter if they’re delirious with fever and unable to give consent, they still want sex with hot Asian bad girls.
Whether Ollie would have consented if he’d been in his right mind is another issue entirely. The fact is that he didn’t, and because of the cock-eyed DCU approach to men raping women (harrowing!) vs women raping men (never happens!), no one in that world seems to notice.
And that’s how we get to this, the world’s most disturbing cover:

Connor Hawke: Kissing Daddy’s Rapist.

In Fiction, No One Will Have You Fired.

I’m reading CardCaptor Sakura, or, as I like to call it, Magical Card Adventure Girl (With Creepy). Sakura remains a loveable and determined hero, persevering against all comers with grit and charm. However, I just don’t know how she’s getting anything done with all the love pollen in the air.
As of volume three, there are no less than nine romantic relationships or love interests. I was advised that I would likely find some of these entanglements disturbing, and so it has proven:
Not Creepy:

  • Sakura crushes on her brother’s best friend, Yukito.
  • Sakura’s rival Li crushes on Yukito.
  • Sakura’s brother crushes on Yukito.
  • Sakura’s best friend, Tomoyo, crushes on Sakura.
  • Sakura’s brother crushes on Sakura’s math teacher.
  • Tomoyo’s mother Sonomi crushed on her cousin, Nadeshiko (Sakura’s mother).
  • Sonomi crushes on Sakura (this appears to be more because Sakura is Nadeshiko’s daughter and brings that nostalgic love to mind, rather than any romantic interest in Sakura herself).
    Incredibly Fucking Creepy, Oh My God:
  • Nadeshiko, aged sixteen, marries Sakura’s father, who is Nadeshiko’s high school teacher.
  • Sakura’s ten-year-old friend Rika is described as having ‘an older boyfriend’. This is revealed to be their homeroom teacher.
    I realise that this is all a little tricky to keep in your mind at one time, so I have helpfully prepared a diagram.

I’m not at all appalled by kids crushing on their friends, older kids or adults. I’m only a little freaked out by the incestuous quality of Sonomi crushing on her cousin (and, as proxy, her cousin’s daughter) it wasn’t requited and there’s sufficient ambiguity as to its extent.
But those two red lines up there are really, really scary.
The marriage between Sakura’s parents is desperately icky on paper, but the creepiness is somewhat ameliorated by its presentation as a not unqualified success. Nadeshiko’s parents were horrified, and Sonomi still doesn’t approve, and not only because she feels her love was stolen, but because the age and power imbalance is squicky: ‘I still remember how you lived together in that tiny apartment! How you would walk to school together! The student and the teacher, holding hands!’
So, though the relationship isn’t textually condemned, and was a successful and loving marriage, it isn’t presented as entirely unproblematic. Still, I raise an sceptical eyebrow at it as a totally unnecessary plot point, and as an inappropriate topic for a book aimed at children.
And then I raise both eyebrows in stark horror and shriek at the unmitigated awfulness of the other reciprocated romance thus far, which is between a ten-year-old girl and her homeroom teacher.
Rika, who is described as ‘nice’, ‘pretty’ and ‘really mature’, has told her friends that she has an older boyfriend. After exchanging significant glances and blushes with Rika, the teacher gives her a ring, ‘as promised’, declaring, ‘I told the clerk that this is an engagement ring. Take care of it until it becomes a wedding ring.’
Perhaps I am especially disgusted because I teach at elementary schools, and a lot of my students have crushes on me they give me flowers and love notes and cling to available limbs, to the point where I have ascertained my maximum bearing weight is three first-graders, or two second-graders.
I naturally don’t return that affection in kind, and I would under no circumstances give any one of them a ring that would later become a wedding ring, because that would be incredibly fucking creepy, oh my god.
Unlike the relationship between Sakura’s parents, there is no intratextual condemnation whatsoever of this irredeemably fucked-up agreement, which is presented as a charming tale of romance, instead of latent pedophilia at work. It’s a sweet tale of wish-fulfilment that says ‘Hey, kids! If you fall in love with your teacher he just might marry you, and there’s nothing wrong with that!’
Shame on you, CLAMP! This is not a message for children (or for anyone)! It is downright irresponsible to suggest that a romantic relationship between an adult and a child is acceptable at all, much less a cute sub-plot. Shame, shame, shame on you.


Folks, welcome to MISOGYNY MEGASLAM! BOY do we have a slobberknocker for you tonight!
Yes, folks, today it’s a battle of the TITANS. In one corner, the much-mocked ninny of the nineties, the enemy of anatomy and the legendary leader of lateness, ROB LIEFELD! In the other, the readily-ridiculed replicator, the lover of the light-box and the prince of pornface, GREG LAND!
One thing’s for certain: it’s clobberin’ time!
The Champion: Rob Liefeld
One could go on at great length on the topic of Rob Liefeld’s excruciatingly awful art, but I think I can best sum it up with three little words:


‘Unh’ is right, Cassie, when every vertebra has shattered. And while Sue Storm-Richards might have child-bearing hips, you can tell why Valeria’s was a troublesome birth, since there was nowhere for her to gestate:

Which brings me to the point.
My theory on Rob Liefeld is that he’s the last survivor of an alien race that was dedicated to radical body modification. Adopting the Earthling obsession with men = strong; women = sexy but possessed of surgical techniques beyond our imagination, they soon passed even the most ridiculous of Earth standards and into the realm of the grotesque.
They removed ribs and internal organs, enlarged their thighs, and lengthened their legs. Neck tendons were made permanently tense; all fatty tissue on the face was relocated to the pectorals; and every strand of hair was replaced with an artificial polymer so sharp it could cut molecules.
Sadly, in the craze to reach perfection, every viable uterus on the planet was removed and destroyed. Realising this ultimate folly too late, the survivors detonated megatonne warheads, rendering their world uninhabitable. Only Liefeld, who had hidden from the body-wracking insanity of the endtimes, escaped, in an insanely detailed and really cool-looking spaceship.
Liefeld’s entire body of work is a work of grief; an extended lament for his dead people, and a terrible warning to us all.
I couldn’t tell you where the pouches come from, though.
The Contender: Greg Land
Land’s women are usually anatomically correct, which one would expect when they are based on photographs of actual women.
Sadly, instead of being the kickass warriors they’re meant to be Land’s women are often depicted as thinking that a battle scene is absolutely the best time to get down with their bad selves.

Dance, Emma, dance!

Dance, Ultimate Sue, dance!

Dance, Crystal, da-
Wait, that picture of Sue in the background looks awfully familiar.

It appears that despite being from different companies, multiverses and completely different families, Ultimate Sue Storm and Dinah Lance are identical twins. Huh.
And then, of course, there is the directly dreadful, where, regardless of what they are actually saying or doing, women and girls are required to flash their panties, adopt pornface, or both:

If you thought this was going to be a tie, pointing out that they are both so amusingly terrible at depicting women (haha, hilarious misogyny!) that it’s impossible to choose which is worse, you are wrong. For all Liefeld’s lack of skill, I consider Greg Land’s work to be far more offensive, not because he traces, but because of what he traces.
Yes, tracing is a sign of creative bankruptcy and, when using uncredited copyrighted images for non-satirical purposes, is actually, y’know, illegal. You’d expect one of the most lauded artists in comics today to actually make his own work, and it’s troubling that he so clearly doesn’t.
But since he’s copying other people’s stuff anyway… why isn’t it any good? Why are all the women determined to flash their thongs? Why are they continually standing like strippers caught mid-move? And what the fuck is with the pornface?
That’s not sexism through incompetence. It’s sexism through carelessness, lack of imagination, or intent, and I really don’t care which. Greg Land could be tracing women with expressions appropriate to the dialogue, or composing action scenes where women are acting, not posing. Instead, he is choosing to inflict this misogynistic fuckdoll dreck upon the tender eyeballs of his readers.
Ladies and gentlemen, your winner: Greg Land.
Sadly, this ultimately means that we all lose.
To alleviate the pain, may I suggest The Greg Land Caption Contest?

Bingo: The Callers Enclue You.

Hello, there!
You have been linked to the Anti-Comics-Feminist Bingo Card. Possibly, you made some arguments against feminist fans in your own blog or on a message board and got ‘BINGO!’ as a response. Possibly, you responded to a feminist critic speaking in her own blog or on a message board and got ‘BINGO!’ as a response. Or possibly that link wasn’t directed at you, but you followed it all the same.
Now you are confused. You made some arguments that seemed perfectly reasonable to you, but the critic or bingo player didn’t bother to engage with them. And now it turns out there’s a bingo card listing them. Why is that? Why won’t he or she discuss your points of disagreement?
Because your critic or bingo player has seen those arguments before. They are, in fact, clichés, and most of them are easily rebutted. Many of them are the province of trolls. Your feminist critic is likely heartily sick of saying the same things over and over and has given up on explaining the very basics to people in the interests of forging ahead into new territory. This is his/her prerogative, as it is not his/her role to educate you.
The bingo card was originally created for the audience of those critics, as a point of black humour look, we’ve heard these arguments so many times you can play bingo with them! not as an educational tool. That’s why, though some of the arguments are instantly recognisable as idiotic by every person with intelligence and integrity, some of the squares cause confusion. They’re shorthand for situations the original audience is familiar with, but can be baffling for someone who genuinely wants to know why ‘But men are drawn unrealistically too!’ is not a relevant rebuttal.
Fear not! Barring a few exceptions, it is entirely possible you are neither malicious or an idiot, but merely clueless. These explanations will serve to enclue you.
A few things:
1) This blog is, in general, not for amateurs. Some familiarity with the principles and theories of feminism will assist you. I’ve tried to make the explanations less shorthand than the usual contents of the column, but if you are seriously deficient in this regard, or find yourself confused by terms like ‘objectification’, then I recommend stopping in at Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog.
2) This blog is predicated on the belief that sexism is wrong. If you disagree with this, you are wasting your time. And also oxygen.
And now… bingo!
Just read manga like the rest of the girls.
Oh, deary me. First, you decide that manga, which is much more a style derived from a specific culture than a genre, is universally appealing to all women. Then, you decide that, this being so, women should stop complaining about sexism in superhero comics, because they have manga! Where things aren’t sexist… well, not all the time!
You are wrong on all points. Manga is not universally appealing to all women, many women love superhero comics and are tired of the big NO GURLZ sign on the treehouse, and anyone has the right to complain about sexism in anything whenever they see it. Superhero comics shouldn’t stop with the blatant sexism because manga offers some alternatives, but because crazy thought! sexism is wrong.
(More here.)
You’re only jealous because you don’t look like that.
1: How the fuck would you know? You’re on the internets.
2: The appearance of the critic makes no actual impact on the appearance of whatever they are critiquing. If the complaint is valid, it’s valid, whether the commenter looks like Vampirella or the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
3: Insulting the (imagined) appearance of someone who disagrees with you instead of their actual argument is so low and moronic a tactic that it is generally abandoned by ten-year-olds when they hit puberty. Yes sad but true you are that boy on the playground responding to ‘It’s my turn on the swing’ with ‘YOU’RE UGLY AND YOU SMELL!’ This is called an ‘ad hominem’ argument. Ad hominem is Latin for ‘you don’t actually have an argument, do you?’
So you want comics full of ugly fat chicks?
No. Most likely, your critic want comics full of women treated as realistically as men are, in the same manner, with as much variety in face and body type. Apparently, you find that threatening and have jumped to an exaggeration of their argument that also demonises fat and those who don’t fit the cultural beauty standards. This says nothing flattering about you.
If you don’t like them, don’t read them!
This is one of those arguments that reasonable people often make, unable to see why feminist comics fans spend time and energy discussing and deploring sexism in superhero comics when there’s just so darn much of it. Why not, the argument goes, simply stop reading? Give up comics altogether, or find alternatives to the superhero books that infuriate you so.
But that’s not good enough. Most feminist fans hate sexism, but love superheroes. I know that there’s something about costumed people beating the crap out of bad guys, invading alien armies and each other that makes my heart happy. If there are explosions, so much the better! And the fair number of books that get it right is evidence that it can be done.
But most importantly, your critic has every right to complain about sexism in comics because crazy thought! sexism is wrong, whether you think it’s a waste of energy or not.
That’s censorship!
No, censorship would be if the critic was heading a government body and inspecting each title before it came out, with the ability to prevent the publication of anything that violated the guidelines of that body.
Unless that is what the critic is doing, or proposing others do, what they are engaging in is critique, not censorship.
Personally, I’m not interested in censoring things. I want people to stop depicting women so poorly in comic books, but I want them to stop because they realise it’s fucking dumb, not because there’s someone with a rubber stamp hovering suspiciously above each page. If criticism contributes to people realising that depicting women so poorly is fucking dumb and I have an inbox says it does then that is awesome.
(More here.)
But doing martial arts in high heels is perfectly reasonable.
People making this argument fall into two camps.
The first believe this is genuinely true, in which case I urge them to submit video footage at once, and salute their courage.
The second believe that superheroes being unrealistic creations in the first place, it isn’t much more unrealistic to stick four inch spikes on female characters. But why is it always the female characters? Because high heels are gendered. Women in comics aren’t wearing heels because they’re super-agile; they’re wearing heels because the artist believes that’s what attractive women should do.
Moreover, many feminist readers have worn heels, and know first hand how painful they can be and how much they restrict movement. Seeing stilettoes on Black Canary draws not admiration of her dainty classiness, but a mental CRASH following the failing suspension of disbelief.
But super-strong women don’t need bras!
It is true that Power Girl is not likely to suffer the backaches that her similarly-endowed real world sisters must endure or have painful surgery to correct, but once again there are two issues here.
The first is the suspension of disbelief thing if you have large breasts, or even medium-sized breasts, you’re aware that they flop around and upset your balance and feel vulnerable when not constrained. For the male equivalent, please imagine a hero charging into battle in a kilt and a condom, with no other restriction on his own floppy bits. Now imagine that the things flopping around are about half as sensitive, but roughly ten times bigger.
The second is more an art/cultural thing, wherein the secondary sexual characteristics of women are held to be so hugely important that they must be emphasised. Bonus for obvious nipple action! If I have to point out why automatically reducing female characters to body parts is a bad idea, you are reading the wrong blog.
(More here.)
But she’s from an alien culture with no nudity taboo!
And the first time she appeared, that excuse was just barely enough to hoist one’s disbelief. After all, fashion is a pretty strange cultural artefact, and clothing only necessary in terms of if you’ll freeze without it.
But when she keeps appearing, with different names, still resembling a buxom earth lass who just likes to walk around naked just because! it gets icky.
She’s not real. She was created. Her no-nudity-taboo-alien-culture was created. And they were created so that there was an excuse, however flimsy, to objectify yet another female character.
But girls often wear skirts! Why wouldn’t they go flying in them?
Girls do wear skirts! Not, usually, when they are being soldiers or fire fighters or police officers or martial artists or athletes, which are our real world equivalents to superheroes. I’ll grant you tennis and netball players, if you grant me that most tennis and netball players are wearing shorts or spanky pants under those skirts, and probably wouldn’t be wearing them at all if there wasn’t such a huge cultural pressure on women to be ladylike.
Which, again, is the problem. Superheroic women must be female first, heroes after. Women wear skirts. Therefore, superheroic women wear skirts!
Moreover, like heeled shoes, skirts restrict movement. Excess material gets in the way. And while the excess material that forms Superman’s cape is there to make him look awesome as it billows in the wind, the excess material that forms Supergirl’s skirt is there because she’s SuperGIRL, damnit!
Some superheroes might believably wear skirts. But it’s an odd choice that requires in-text explanation to suspend disbelief.
(More here.)
But that costume suits her personality!
Again, reasonable persons often employ this argument. Your critic is probably fully in favour of costumes suiting personalities. That’s why she’s irritated that, for example, Huntress’ personality apparently switched from full-cover spandex to an exposed midriff that somehow magically failed to reveal her bullet scars.
Or, she could be wearily sick of the parade of comic book women who, like the attractive aliens with no nudity taboo, just happen to have personalities that require costumes emphasising their primary sexual traits.
This one really is a judgement call. The critic may think that Power Girl’s costume suits her personality, but balks at Emma Frost’s all-white fetish wear. You might think Emma’s clothes admirably suited to her elitist contempt, but be baffled by the infamous boob window.
If this is the only spot the bingo player has scored off you, fear not! You are probably not a moron. This argument, like all the costume related points, is really only offensive in combination with others. That’s why we’re playing bingo, not handing out a misogyny raffle.
No one wants realism in comics!
This is often used to assume a fantasy-get-out-of-misogyny-free card, so if you have employed it as ‘but comics are about men’s fantasies so it doesn’t matter if they’re sexist and demeaning so STFU’ I am afraid that this blog probably can’t help you. Possibly, nothing can.
However, if you are arguing that superhero comics employ unrealistic situations like people being able to fly and punch through solidified walls of time, and thus a lack of realism in the depiction of women is only to be expected, then your bingo player was right to send you here.
The thing is that we all want a certain amount of realism in comics. We want, for example, characters to be speaking something recognisable as language, preferably a language we understand. Unless you’re a huge Dali fan, I doubt you want Superman to suddenly become utterly surreal. (And if you are a huge Dali fan, hi! Me too!)
While superhero stories often feature wildly improbable physical storylines, powers and character origins, the characters themselves usually maintain some grip on emotional reality. They have to, or we wouldn’t want to read about them. Even the aliens are usually understandably human.
That’s why things like there being only one woman in a team, to fulfil the role of ‘the girl’, or lots of superheroines thinking skirts are a good idea, or the constant focus on sexy!!! gets to feminist readers. It has no emotional reality. It doesn’t ring true. And it’s skeezy and demeaning to argue that because it’s fantasy, it must be fantasy that objectifies women.
But rape happens in real life too!
If you used this in conjunction with the point above, you automatically fail everything.
In short: many feminist fans object to the rape of a female character as an origin story for her or as motivation for the actions of male heroes. It’s an horrifically overused trope that often goes for sensationalism rather than sensitivity. It also tends to underline that women need woman!reasons to become heroes or villains, instead of the multitudinous reasons that motivate the male powered types.
In long: Rachel Edidin’s Inside Out discusses this in a fabulous series of articles I highly recommend to all humans.
But men are drawn unrealistically too!
This is probably the bingo point that causes the most fuss. When otherwise enlightened persons use the argument and are consequently informed of their gaffe, they tend to respond, baffled, ‘But I’m RIGHT! They ARE!’
Yes! You are right! Nowhere but in comics or other carefully controlled media does one find such stunning physical specimens of manhood. Comic book guys often have symmetrical features, are well- (often over-) muscled and are generally good looking.
However, you don’t find many of them striding along in bathing suits and high-heeled boots, wrenching their backs out as they hurl their hips around and thrust their tumescent, massive penises and firmly rounded butts at the reader.
Why? Because that would look ridiculous. So why isn’t it ridiculous when it’s done to female characters?
No one would deny that the average superhero team contains more attractive men than you would find walking down the street anywhere but Hollywood. But there is a substantial difference between the unrealistic portrayal of men and women that relies heavily on gendered stereotyping of what is attractive. Men must be strong! Women must be sexy!
So when you say ‘But men are drawn unrealistically too!’, the bingo player reads ‘Men are drawn to look strong and handsome, and that’s why you shouldn’t complain about Frank Miller objectifying Vicki Vale’s talking butt.’
(More here, here, here and pretty much the rest of the feminist comics’ fans’ internet. )
Men can’t help themselves! Why are you punishing us for our biology?
Wow, and people say feminists hate men. If you genuinely believe men just have to objectify women, because it’s hardwired into them to regard those possessing vaginas as occasionally entertaining fuckdolls rather than people, and that objectification just has to ooze all over the pages of stories about good costumes vs evil costumes (plus explosions!) then you have a really, really low opinion of men.
I assume that since you have an internet connection, you’re not sitting in a tree eating a raw rat and grunting suspiciously at interlopers. I mean, I could be wrong. These are big internets, and there’s probably at least one person into that. But if you aren’t that person, and you make this argument, I feel bound to remind you that fully functional humans are totally capable of overcoming biological imperatives in favour of ethical standards and social justice and have been for hundreds of years. If you can’t be bothered to make the effort, then I’m not convinced I should consider you a modern human being at all.
Women just don’t get comics.
Yes. Our feeble pink lady!brains are incapable of mastering the subtle complexities of the sequential arts. Female fans and creators have been faking it all this time, with their in-depth discussions and dissertations and fan writing and comics making and industry experience! Oh woe, whatever shall we do? Sigh, gasp, swoon, etc.
If you don’t like it, shut up and write your own.
Oh, please. One, sexism is wrong and deserving of anyone’s disdain. Two, many feminist fans are also creators. Three, criticism is valid or not regardless of the creative skills or otherwise of the critic. No one dismisses Roger Ebert’s criticism on the grounds that he’s never made a movie. Criticism and creation are interlinked, but not interchangeable. Four, if ‘shut up’ is any part of your discourse, you fail cogent rebuttal.
Why are you complaining about comics when women in Muslim countries are oppressed?
The More Important Things Fallacy! I love this one, because it combines an utter cluelessness of the impact of cultural artefacts on our, y’know, culture, with the arrogant assumption that complaining about comics is as far as your critic goes when it comes to women’s rights.
Your critic is probably more than mindful of the fact that women are oppressed, abused, raped, murdered and viciously slandered worldwide. Don’t you dare assume he or she is not doing something about it! And don’t you dare assume that just because they’re funny books, the portrayal of women in comics doesn’t feed from and into deeply disgusting misogynistic tropes. Sexism is everywhere. Your critic is choosing to fight it in at least one place they see it. That’s admirable, not risible.
What are you doing to help?
(More here.)
This is just fanboy entitlement… from women!
And hence, presumably, even less attractive! Your critic may well have fan entitlement issues. They may also have feminist critique. Trolls often like to pretend one is the other, or else can’t tell the difference between ‘DC owes me a Blue Beetle/Catman mini-series!’ and ‘Holy crap, if I see another Frank Cho cover where a woman is presenting at the reader, I’m going to scream.’
Honestly? Judgement call. But be aware that just because you don’t think something is offensive doesn’t mean the critic has no valid argument to make, and if you’re combining this point with others on the card, you should probably sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.
There aren’t many women in mainstream comics because they’re just not good enough.
Wrong! There are hundreds of exceptionally talented female creators and administrators. I would hazard the following guesses substantiated only by observation and anecdotal evidence as to why the employment figures skew heavily towards male:
1) Significantly more men read superhero comics than women and thus more of them enter that fans-to-creators evolution stage.
2) Institutional sexism, alive and well in the superhero industry, privileges male creators as the default, and female creators as special interest weirdo outliers.
There is no special button in a boy’s head for ‘Good at making stuff with explosions’ that girls don’t have it’s social and cultural conditioning that will take a long time to come right, and shouldn’t be retarded by arguments claiming that women just don’t have the right stuff.
…I mean, because they’re just not interested.
BZZZT. Wrong again! If they weren’t interested, no one would be bothering to score bingo off you.
Sexism is a convention of the genre!
Well, yes and no. Yes in that it’s certainly conventional, by which I mean, everywhere. No in that it isn’t quintessential to superhero stories. Costumes are a convention of the genre. Explosions are a convention of the genre. Origin stories explaining superpowers or the development of special skills are a convention of the genre.
Sexism is not necessary. It’s just habit.
Are you calling me a misogynist??
No, but now that you mention it….
If your reaction to a feminist criticism of comics is ‘But I like comics, and I’m not sexist!’, good for you. I’m glad you’re not sexist. But since you’re not sexist, why would the criticism bother you? You don’t need to identify with it. It’s not about you.
If your reaction is ‘But I like it and therefore it cannot possibly be sexist!’ then you need to check out the concepts of ‘male privilege’ and ‘patriarchy’. In your own time, please, but some good places to start are listed at the end of this column.
My girlfriend never complains about this stuff. Or: I’m a woman, and I’m not offended by this.
Your girlfriend (or you) does not speak for all womankind. No one does.
It is perfectly appropriate to point out that women do not share a hivemind in the presentation of a dissenting opinion. It is never appropriate to use your sample of female friends, or yourself, as a trump card that triumphantly deflects all feminist criticism with which they/you disagree.
But male characters die too!
They do! Your critic is probably not calling for a moratorium on the deaths of all female characters ever, but a closer consideration of the circumstances of female character deaths, the manner in which they are depicted, and the relatively lower odds of their resurrection compared to their male counterparts.
Women die more often, die more often to further someone else’s story than as a solid ending (or continuation, this being comics) of their own, and come back less often.
And, most disturbingly, they often look really hot in the process. Seeing a brutalised female body laid out like a sexy sexy centerfold can be very discomfiting for some reason! Visual association between the female body and sexualised violence just tends to push those buttons labelled ‘grotesque’ and ‘the worst kind of objectification.’
(More here.)
Comics are never going to change. You’re wasting your time.
Goodness, how pessimistic! Your critic probably takes a more optimistic view that things are bad, but can be changed; that social justice is possible and worth fighting for; that poor depictions and objectification of women can and should be combated, no matter the odds.
And hey, if she’s wrong, is that any of your business? It’s her time to waste.
Unless you mean that comics are never going to change, and you don’t want them to, because you like the status quo right where it is. In that case, I cordially invite you to bite me.

  • – –
    So there you have it! Many stupid and some not-entirely-stupid arguments that come up over and over again and add nothing new to the discourse. Try not to make any of them unthinkingly, and you may discover new realms of awesome opening in your discussions of gender and comics. Refraining from their use also wards off scurvy*!
    More on the basics of feminism in general can be found at Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog. More feminist pop culture criticism can be found at The Hathor Legacy, the Shrub.com blog, Cerise, and many, many other places.
    Other useful sources are linked from this post. See also How To Write An Original Female Lead Character In A Fashion That Doesn’t Drive Karen Crazy and the complete Counterpunch archives for more on character creation and design.
  • Does not actually ward off scurvy.

Speaking About Speaking Out

Video Store Girl at Occasional Superheroine is Rethinking Feminism in Comix.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t appear to do a lot of actual thinking.
The column is a beautiful pastiche of all the ‘reasons’ people shouldn’t complain about misogyny in comics. All the classics were there The appeasement strategy! The appeal to the Almighty Market! The implication that all feminist complaints are on the same topics and are of equal worth! and this led to a quick game of what I have formerly dubbed Stupid Argument Bingo.
Stupid Argument the First: The Wimpy Qualifier.
‘Simply put, 1,000 posts griping about Power Girl’s breasts or the “misguided” male comic writer who had the audacity to write about rape has relatively very little power to change this industry.’
Oh, gosh, really? Guess we’d better pack up and go home.
The column is full of delicious little qualifiers and maybe-sos because if she came right out and said ‘You’ve got no chance of changing the industry whatsoever!’ she’d be buried in examples of instances where that wasn’t so. But by sticking in ‘relatively’ and ‘very little’ she can weasel out of those examples by saying ‘Well, the industry still hasn’t changed that much so what’s the point?’
The point is a) misogyny is wrong in any medium and I don’t actually care if pointing that out produces change or not because when I see things that are wrong, I like to speak up about them. It’s just my shrill harpy way.
b) it does, in fact, produce change, and any change is better than none.
Stupid Argument the Second: Biological Essentialism.
To create witchhunts against artists who draw overly buxom women is to work against biological reality.

To censor men for favorably responding to ample bosoms (or drawing them) is like beating a cat for playing with yarn.
(Actually, there are two Stupid Arguments there, but we’ll go with the more overt one.)
To wit, boys will be boys! They like boobs! They will always like boobs! WHY DO YOU HATE ON BOYS FOR LIKING BOOBS?
We are not our bodies. That’s, in fact, the essential argument of feminism that the female body is not the only thing a woman is, that she is also and more importantly an actual person.
I object not to breasts, nor to men who like breasts, but to anyone who objectifies women. Drawing women as permanently hip-tilting, breast-flaunting, sultry-eyed vixens reduces them to sexual objects.
This argument is also misandrist, as it plays the ‘Oh, teehee, those boys, they can’t help that they think only with their dicks’ card. Did you hear that, men? You are also no more than your bodies!
Stupid Argument The Third: The Rape Defence.
Now, we can say that the comics (and pop culture in general) are “teaching” men to make the sexist remarks, to grope, etc. by objectifying women.
Actually, shitty parents, alcohol, and imbalanced brain chemistry have done far more to create and nurture the groper, the rapist, and the “proactive misogynist” than any comic or movie could do.
We can say that! I do. Especially since it’s true.
Oh, but don’t forget, there are worse factors, which are totally divorced from comics and pop culture in general! I love the touch of ‘any comic or movie’, with the subtle implication of ‘any one comic or movie’, versus shitty parents, alcohol and the crazy.
That’s bad, but that’s worse! So complain about the worse one before you complain about the bad one, or better yet, isolate the single cause that contributes the most damage and complain exclusively about that.
And don’t forget, kids, works of art and cultural artefacts have absolutely no effect on you, your parenting skills, your attitude to alcohol, what you will do with your inhibitions weakened, or any of the social conditions that lead to misogynistic acts. This is the most important thing I learned in the course of my liberal arts degrees, and, like Video Store Girl, I’m happy to share my wisdom with you.
Stupid Argument the Fourth: The Strawfeminist.
And anyway, what is the answer? We have editorial restrictions on depictions and portrayals of women? What do we call it? What will be in it? Let’s come up with a theoretical one. We’ll name it the “Cassie Code.”
Awesome. Me and the rest of the strawfeminists will get together and enforce your straw censorship policy in a straw sec- OH WAIT WE DON’T EXIST.
She asks ‘what is the answer?’, answers herself with a censorship code I have seen neither proposed nor endorsed anywhere in the feminist comics world, and then condemns that code.
Oh, well done. That course of action you invented to look draconian and ridiculous is in fact draconian and ridiculous! Have a straw star.
Stupid Argument the Fifth: FREEDOM! OF! SPEECH!
You may have gathered that Video Store Girl is against censorship, which is maybe the only thing in this column with which I whole-heartedly agree. (Oh no, she thinks comics should stop sexualising teenage girls, which also gets a sincere ‘right on!’ from me). Anyone with half a social conscience is against censorship. Freedom of speech is an essential element of a free and equal society.
But that applies to everyone, and thus doesn’t gel at all with the central premise of the post that maybe people should just shut up with the boring clichéd feminism now because it’s not changing anything. This isn’t Animal Farm. It’s not ‘All comics lovers have freedom of speech but comics creators have speech that is more free than others.’
See also ‘Video Store Girl is entitled to voice her opinion that noisy opposition to misogyny in comics is pointless and silly, and I am entitled to voice my opinion that her opinion is based on stupid arguments and poor reasoning and is thus a total crock.’
Stupid Argument the Sixth: Straight Out Lies.
The only thing screaming about perceived misogynistic comix creators does is close off debate and send men on the defensive.
No, that’s two of the things it can do.
Some of the other things it can do are: build community; raise awareness; encourage women to take up comics; encourage men to take up comics; encourage people not to buy misogynistic comics (which incidentally plays into the Almighty Market Stupid Argument you can dissect in your own time); articulate thoughts people haven’t been able to articulate themselves; inspire people to email you rape threats; inspire creators to ask you for tips on how to write female characters; inspire people to write essays on comics; inspire people to make comics; inspire amazing art; inspire incredible T-shirts; inspire debate and disagreement and determination and the demand for more.
But apparently Video Store Girl doesn’t believe this meets the criteria for ‘real’ change, and has decided complaining about misogyny in comics is a lost cause. I suppose this means she’s not going to continue writing her own analyses of misogyny in comics.
It’s a shame.
What was she thinking?

Much Like ‘Where’s Wally?’, Except JLA Cleared That Up.

Today’s exercise for the reader is an answer to the question ‘Where is Onyx?’
However, for many readers, particularly those who aren’t interested in the Bat-books or Green Arrow, this should be prefaced by ‘Who is Onyx?’
This is she:


Onyx used to be in the League of Assassins, but she reformed. I love this origin. No rape, no child abuse, no special woman!reason to fight crime just a straight story of evil she’s done and a personal quest for redemption. Sometimes she reforms by beating the crap out of criminals and monsters, and sometimes she reforms by sitting in an ashram and meditating. I think the monastery thing is why she’s bald, but it’s also a good way of ensuring that at least no one will fuck up her hair.
Onyx is funny, bold, and very, very good at her job. She’s sparred with Shiva (and survived) and she held off both Batman and Batgirl for whole minutes it was a trick fight, designed to make her look dangerous, but she is dangerous, and she made it look real. (Afterwards, Batgirl asked if they could fight again sometime ‘just for fun’.) She’s aware of the wrong she’s done, but she’s not paralysed by it. She takes a certain delight in hurting those who deserve hurting, but she won’t kill again.
And she’s a black, female martial artist. That’s important, because non-powered, non-white-or-Asian heroes who will just kick your teeth through your skull are very rare in the DCU. Vixen (whose name is Vixen, guys, come on) has spirit-of-animal powers. Empress has voodoo (and where is she these days?). Steel has powered armour. John Stewart/Green Lantern has a fancy ring. They’re all great characters who have done fantastic work addressing and exploding stereotypes, but they’re all powered-up in some way.
Black people should also be represented by Bat/Arrow-style heroes, who don’t have superhuman powers, just guts and ability and a mission. The only non-powered black hero who easily comes to mind is Mister Terrific, and he’s chiefly known for being the ‘third smartest man in the world’ and those spiffy holographic spheres. And I can’t think of a single black woman in the DCU who keeps pace with the best of them armed with nothing but fists and feet and consummate skill.
Other, that is, than Onyx.
So she’s totally awesome, whenever we see her. But we don’t see nearly enough of her. Post-ashram, she worked as Orpheus’ bodyguard for a while, then after he died in War Games she worked independently in Gotham the only independent vigilante Batman allows in his town. She had a run-in with Jason Todd and then… she disappeared.
(Orpheus, being a man uninvolved in misogyny, would normally be somewhat outside the scope of this column, but his mission is relevant and thus I summarise:
Batman: ‘Who is this new man in town, with his fancy stealth suit and support from a mysterious organisation?’
Orpheus: ‘I am Orpheus. Note my jaw, which is uncovered, and decidedly dark. Batman, you do not represent my people.’
Batman: ‘Hmph! I protect everyone! You are an amateur! This is my town! Etcetera!’
Orpheus: ‘But you cannot inspire my people as I can. African-American people need visible heroes! I want to show the black kids of Gotham and implicitly those reading that they can be part of the solution and make a difference. My forthcoming adventures will include pointed meditations on the value of role models and the art of storytelling in inspiring a better future. Also, I am not an amateur, but a professional dancer turned producer who learned martial arts as well, thereby combating stereotypes of straight black masculinity.’
Batman: ‘My dour Bat!mien wavers in the face of your unassailable truth and undoubted ability. Let me help you set up as a Gotham gang leader, the plan being to reform or destroy the gangs from within.’
Orpheus: ‘Sure.’
{brief interlude while stuff happens and then War Games begins:}
Black Mask: slits Orpheus’s throat from behind, like unto slaughterhouse pig, just before he tortures Stephanie Brown to death
Readers: ‘Wow. I guess visibly African-American heroes can’t be part of the solution or make a difference after all.’
There, now you’re all caught up.)
Orpheus is tragically, stupidly dead, but at last glance, Onyx was still alive, and still with the Batman’s approval to operate independently in Gotham. She could still be there, inspiring those African-American kids Orpheus grieved over. Or she could be doing something else. But we don’t know, because we don’t see her, and we so easily could.
For example! Re-reading recent Birds of Prey issues, I was struck by how easily Onyx could have taken Judomaster’s position in the prison break storyline. Judomaster did nothing in that story but kick people in the head and make Mega-rod jokes; these are both activities of which I highly approve, but Onyx could have done them too, and added some ethnic diversity to the roster of heroes*. It’s just a thought, but one worth thinking.
People often sneer at the idea of creating deliberate diversity in comics, and I can’t fathom why. Making a conscious choice to include ethnic and other diversity in the cast of a universe as sprawling as DC’s is not tokenism; it’s a way for DC to fix a broken universe that’s excluded (often unconsciously, often unmaliciously) many types of people for far too long.
Orpheus was right. People need heroes who look like them, to show them that they can be part of the solution and make a difference. People need heroes who don’t look like them, to teach them that the world is wide and competence is not attached to appearance.
We need Onyx.
So where is she?

  • Comment on this column here.
  • Because I know this will come up: by my count, so far, there has been one woman of colour as a Bird of Prey Vixen, as an operative for one mission. Judomaster may be of colour, but not so as you can tell under her mask, Gypsy is Romani-descended, but is usually drawn as white (like Nightwing) and Shiva wasn’t a real Bird of Prey. I’m sorry, I know that last is an arbitrary judgement and your mileage may vary. But in my book, when you sub in for the Black Canary instead of being chosen by Oracle, and everyone on the mission hates you, and you abandon it partway through to go kidnap a child, and you’re still actually a ruthless assassin-for-hire, you aren’t a hero and you don’t get to officially be on that roster.

[Guest Column] Myth Is A Metaphor

The third GRC Guest Columnist is Willow E of Seeking Avalon , who while not related to Shelia E, does share some characteristics of a mixed heritage. She’s been reading comics since she was three, along with almost anything else she could get her hands on that was SF fiction or Mythology.
Myth is a metaphor for the experience of life.
Myth is the song of the imagination, infinite and endless.

  • Joseph Campbell.
    I started the People of Color in SF Blog Carnival because comics blogging helped me find my voice. And in listening to myself I heard a strong, black woman with something to say. It was as if I didn’t know how much I had to say, how much I’d noticed, how much I was pissed off, frustrated and yearning for more, until I started talking. I’ve sweat a little over this Carnival. I think I actually thought I wouldn’t find enough links, enough essays, enough anything. But the ball’s been rolling ever since I started looking for more thoughts/talk/discussions and it’s kept rolling. And as I look back to where it’s rolled from I find more and more people talking about the same thing.
    By the way, if you’ve heard and read all you want to ever hear or read about Heroes for Hire #13, then I suggest you skip right past this post, because it will come up.
    I’m tired of being invisible. I’m tired of being seen, but not seen. I’m tired of not being acknowledged in the mainstream, and in fiction and most specifically in comic books. I’m tired of wondering if comic book writers are following the saying ‘If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’
  • Being Black is about more than being darker than white people or having hair that kinks to the extreme and puffs out. It’s about more than rap music and braids and saying ‘holla at me’.
  • Being Latina, of Mexican or South American descent is about more than spanish language music videos, or being an illegal immigrant or cars that bounce. It’s about more than chola and big hoop earrings and saying ‘Pappy’.
  • Being Asian in America, especially at this time, post Virginia Tech, is about far more than having slanted eyes and very straight black hair. It’s about more than Mulan or being Buddhist, knowing anime and being exotic.
  • Being Native American is about more than buckskin and feathers and names that seemingly translate like ‘Red Willow At Sunset’. It’s about more than tipees and cliff dwellings, taxes and casinos.
  • Being of Middle Eastern descent; Persian, Lybian, Syrian, Egyptian (and a host of other countries and cultures) is about more than being Muslim or Coptic and having some religious ties, however thin, to people who drove planes into the Two Towers. It’s also about more than sand and brown skin and dreams of sheiks with gauze covered harems.
  • Being Polynesian is about more than bare breasts and grass skirts and volcanoes.
  • Being a Jew is about more than Channukah vs Christmas.
    There’s been a flutter online concerning the female dominated media fandom and a little (somewhat clueless and very patronizing) company called FanLib. Prior to that, there was a very interesting article on livejournal by user cupidsbow about ‘How Fanfiction Makes Us Poor’. In it she discusses a book by Johanna Russ; How To Suppress Women’s Writing. I plan to hunt down the book and read it. I suggest if you’re interested you do the same. However, based on the summary and cupidsbow‘s thoughts, I found myself meshing thoughts and doing a lot of thinking about invisibility for creators of color and characters of color; specifically female characters of color who end up victims of the particular trick of being unseen while in seeming plain sight.
    Have you ever heard how Perrault twisted the tale of Little Red Riding Cap? Check here or here or just Google Red Riding Hood/Cap, wolf, rope. See what you can find. I think you’re likely to hear about the original folk tradition where LRRH ends up resourcefully outwitting the wolf and saving herself. And then you’ll read how Perrault twisted the tale into something for the aristocracy and in it, LRRH became a pampered child instead of a blossoming young (wise) woman. Among the aristocracy a child could remain a child for far longer than mere peasant stock, who needed every hand, and every fertile year from its girls and women to produce those hands. In Perrault’s version, LRRH comes to a bad end. In the Brother’s Grimm version, taken up after Perrault, after being lectured to mind her manners and follow all the rules by her mother, LRRH gets eaten by the wolf, but is saved despite her wrong doing by the dashing woodsman. The old wives tale (folklore of women) gets turned from ‘See the cunning girl escape the trap’ to ‘See how women who don’t follow the rules must be saved’.
    But I don’t want to get into how the Brothers Grimm changed and twisted the old European folk-tales to fit their view of the times, and tried to promote how they thought women and men ought to be by influencing gender roles in their take on the folklore and by instilling Christian values into the tales. What I do want to try and discuss, is how male, mostly white, interpretation made the heroines of these tales invisible as heroes in their own right and subsequently turned them into damsels in distress / damsels in need of rescuing. And specifically, how, the heroines of color get faded away into almost nothing.
    Why am I concerned about this if I’m not a folklorist? Well, I’m black. I see comics as modern myth and modern folklore. And I read comics. Fanfiction aside, these characters are re-interpreted with every new writer, new artist, new executive editor, new head honcho at the head of The Big Two (or even independent hero comics). And black characters are exceedingly rare in this new American mythology, that is when they haven’t been turned invisible.
    Misty Knight is supposed to be a hero, a title carrying character, a strong woman and a warrior. She’s the type of woman who defeats the wolf. Moreover, she’s a strong black woman, who’s proud of herself and knows what she can handle. Black people know strong black women. Most of us have only to look to our mothers, aunts, great aunts, grandmothers, the church ladies looking out, the auntie who ran the street or the block or who just plain caught you being a fool and dragged you home by your ear. It’s a bit of a generalization, but I honestly believe that most black people know a strong black woman in a personal way. I can believe they looked at Misty and smiled at the thought of some relative with a gun and a bionic arm.
    There’s no strong black woman on the cover of HFH #13.
    There are no strong women there, period. And if you don’t believe me, I invite you to look at the original cover pictureand then look at this initial tweak by Lea Hernandez aka LJ’s Divlea and this even better refocusing of the women’s awareness and kickassness.
    Personally, I like the last version, because it looks as if Colleen can’t wait to reveal she’s was only pretending to be held at bay and cut that tentacle in two; Misty looks like she’s about to laugh in the face of whomever thought they were really captured and Felicia looks icked at having to let the tentacle near her while pretending to be weak.
    Maybe it’s all my personal interpretation, but that last tweak by Hernandez shows me a strong black woman. She’s about to put a foot up someone’s ass. She’s plotting and thinking and has a plan. She’s amused that some fool thought that her keeping her mouth shut wasn’t a warning sign. She’s entertained at being thought weak.
    She’s a hero caught in media res.
    She’s plainly not invisible.
    This is her Fairy Tale.
    In most comic works if a black protagonist is mentioned at all, the text might say she’s a strong black woman but the artist often doesn’t take the time to make the character look like a strong black woman; no broad noses, no distinctive hair, no full lips, no dark skin, no determination in her eyes or the quirk of her lips. I have a whole other rant about non-graphic novel books where the authors try to describe a black person as being ‘deeply tanned’ as if being black had nothing to do with a history of oppression, struggle and slow progress, economic and educational complications and the lost culture of a multitude of tribes and instead has more to do with being an avid sunbather. Right now, however, I’m trying to focus on how someone not me, not black, perhaps, can point to HFH #13 and go ‘There’s the strong black woman’, and not get that I don’t see her. They won’t get that there’s nothing and no one there.
    Misty isn’t the only character who somehow lost her ethnic background. All through 2006 and into 2007, I kept having to be reminded that Marvel’s Ultimate Wasp is Asian. You could have knocked me over with a spoon each time. All I saw was black hair, pale skin. Where was the Asian identity? Were there cultural references in the text? Was I supposed to notice her eyes? Though how do you tell if a female character is Asian, when they’re all drawn with ‘cat-like’ slanted eyes and dark shadows of eyelashes? How do you tell if a female character is Asian when just by being female a character is meant to be somehow ‘exotic’; when certain ethnic traits are reduced to a sexy factor and spread around to all the women, how do you tell if a character isn’t ‘exotic white’? How do you tell Storm is black, if you don’t know her, when she doesn’t always look it?
    I love the character of Storm in Marvel’s X-Men. But there were instances growing up where, depending on colourist, Storm with her white hair and blue eyes came across to me as more Afrikaner than African. And I began to assume they wanted to deal with the jungles and wide open plains of Africa for the exotic factor and they wanted a native character, so there was Storm. I couldn’t have explained my thoughts like that at the time, I was fairly young. But I wasn’t too young for my mind to somehow know that something was off. I wasn’t too young for it to be held in the back of my thoughts that Storm was African because Africa was exotic. And with each new interpretation of Storm, aside from the cartoon version in Evolutions Storm was not African, to me, because she was meant to be a strong, regal black woman. Her blackness seemed an incidental plot point, used for ‘a very special issue of’ or in relation to a ‘a very special crossover with’ and it almost always had to do with her being a living goddess to certain tribes; the untouchable and awe inspiring exotic.
    I think the writers and creators to this day don’t realize that by excluding that part of her character, they’re the ones who make bringing it up a ‘big deal’ and ‘issue related’. There have been rounds on livejournal between the majority white fandom and the fans of color, over how Black characters are treated as alien and other. Except in comic book fandom, it’s the creators who seem to think they can’t just treat a character as a character with their history and what’s generalized about their personality. If a character is black/asian/non-white ethnic, they have to be vibrantly stereotypically black/asian/non-white ethnic, or else exotic and mysterious and not easily understood. And in between those two portrayals, the only other option chosen is to treat them as if they aren’t ethnic at all, and forget the color of their skin, or the shape of their eyes or their possible life experiences and treat them as white. And thus the huge scope of their lives (themselves) as non-white (females) is ignored or forgotten and thus made invisible.
    If they just had her consistently darker than ‘tanned’; if they just dropped a few lines of Storm dealing with being Black in America; if they just showed The Wasp talking to her parents, perhaps, or fitting in in plain clothes among other Asian Americans; then there wouldn’t need to be ‘very special issues’ and if a plot point came up about their characters, it’d be more about them and less about Storm’s sometimes brown skin with blue blue eyes or Janet’s strangely submissive behavior.
    I’ve heard about how characters who are gay simply don’t get used in group team-ups when they’re obviously part of the team. And yes, that’s a form of invisibility. However, I don’t know if that version of invisibility is quite as kick-to-the-stomach as being told the person with a one percent darker pigmentation than everyone else, with caucasian features; blue eyes, long flowing hair etc, is meant to be you as the super heroine (the young Black girl reading). Or that the intelligent girl who doesn’t even look Asian, but is somehow playing the submissive Asian wife is suppose to be you (the young Asian girl reading).
    You can always imagine gays in the background, or seek subtext among the characters in the foreground. If you don’t draw, I’m not sure how you’re meant to re-style for blackness, the character that’s set up as ‘your’ hero. So at least in terms of self-identification, it’s more painful for me, to not see black characters fighting and winning and dynamic in comic books and I’m more likely to talk about that, than I am to talk about how unoriginal Katherine Kane is as a lesbian super hero. Because it’s not just that ethnic women are made more in tune with the dominant (white) culture’s concepts of attractiveness. It’s that everything that makes them not-white gets rubbed out, erased, re-drawn, ignored, There’s nothing there for young girls of color or grown women to see as themselves in a Fairy Tale or Power Fantasy. But then we’re told ‘But she’s right there, up in front! We’re telling her story!’’
    They erase her, put up a shell, fetishize it and then expect accolades.
    That hurts me more than the forgotten by the wayside Kate Kane (though I do have some serious ranty thoughts about lesbian invisibility and Renee Montoya walking around now without a face)
    In HFH, if you don’t know Colleen is Asian, how would you guess? If you didn’t know Misty is Black, how would you know? They lightened her skin, they messed with her hair, they ripped open her top to make her more of a sex object that a person, they thinned her lips and they took away the appearance of inner strength. If I didn’t already know who they were, I wouldn’t pick up the book. And in truth at first on seeing the cover I didn’t recognize them. Looking at that cover, I didn’t feel as if I belonged. I felt as if the power fantasies I want to see are nothing but the fetish fantasies of the creators. I couldn’t see the story of the cunning girl who’d trick and win over the wolf.
    I’m not invisible. I do exist as a fan of color. I am a comics and SF fan. I want to be seen. I want characters like me. I want them to be seen. There are black female soldiers in Iraq. There are Asian police women. There are daredevils of East Indian and Native American heritage. There is inspiration all around in everyday living, in most cities in America for powerful female characters of color. And if the bulk of the writers are in LA, Calif, or NYC, NY, then they really should know from a simple BART or Metro train ride that Latinas can speak perfectly good english and black hair isn’t straight in the front, puffy in the back, and sometimes the feistiest looking teenage female in the car looks to be from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong or China.
    Others can speak more eloquently than I about ‘whitewashing’. But I wanted my chance. Especially since I’m not too tired (yet?) to scream loud and long to make myself heard and seen.
    I want to see myself reflected in our modern myths, in these powerful tales of courage and wit, bravery, sacrifice and determination. I want my own heroes (those just like me through appearances, background or ethnicity) to be weaved into the general tapestry. I want the lessons learned and encouragements given to apply to me (and other women like me). I want to see aspects of my dreamings.
    After all, I am here, I am present and active and loving and strong and interacting with different human beings all the time. My life experience counts.
  • – –
    Interact here.
  • – –
    If you’d like to support creators and fans of color, here are a few links to follow:
    The Carl Brandon Society, if you want to get involved in increasing awareness and representing fans of colour.
    EAR: Entertainment Arts Research is a black owned gaming company, that participates in the The Urban Video Game Academy.
    The Urban Voice of Comics, a magazine stressing that they serve the forgotten multicultural market for comics and all things related.
    NewWave Comics, a division of NeWave Enterprises, which devotes itself to multicultural and ethnic entertainment comic books and related products.
    Gettosake A popculture production studio featuring people of color in short films, comics and cartoons mostly for commercial products and branding.

A Notice

Girls Read Comics (And They’re Pissed) is an archived blog; I don’t expect to make any further updates.
I’m still active on the forums and in Girl-Wonder.org. For more about my other work, including my young adult books (and lots of feminism, and occasional comics mentions), check out my website and my blog.
I remain incredibly grateful to all the many excellent readers who sent email, commented on the forums, or just sat and read what I wrote and thought about it. You people are fabulous; really, for two years, you regularly made my week. My special thanks to my guest columnists, for contributing such wonderful work, and to Betty, for wrangling recalcitrant internets.

Needs More Glitter.

Oh, hey! It’s been a while! You see, I was under deep cover in an undisclosed location.
By ‘deep cover’, I mean ‘the duvet’, and by ‘undisclosed location’, I mean ‘my bedroom’.
Anyway, I’m back, lured by the tantalizing scents of bad copy and casual sexism. Check this out: Marvel’s selling stuff to women now! Women!stuff! Only not women. Females.
The consumer products team at Marvel is thinking big when it comes to females.
That’s the first line. Who writes this stuff? (That is a question rhetorical: the WWD byline says someone called Julee Kaplan, who I will charitably pretend is really sad about the damage done to her perfectly articulate article by some confused intern.)
This one always gets me. Referring to women as ‘females’ is dehumanizing, particularly when it’s contrasted with the use of terms like ‘men’ or ‘guys’, rather than ‘males’. Both female and male are fine as adjectives, in moderation. However, when you want to use a noun to refer to female humans, ‘women’ is better, both stylistically and politically, as a recognition of that very humanity. If you want a description for both women and girls, then ‘women and girls’ is the way to go.
The fashion industry magazine in which this article runs was, by the way, originally titled Women’s Wear Daily.
The words ‘female’ or ‘females’ appear five times in the article, three as an adjective (twice as ‘female product’), and twice as a noun. Women turns up once, as ‘women’s apparel’. When men turn up, they are not ‘males’, but ‘guys’, in this truly wonderful quote:
‘Since our core customer has always been guys, we need to be very careful when we introduce female product so that we don’t alienate our core,’ said Paul Gitter, president of consumer products, North America, for Marvel Entertainment Inc. ‘What we have found through testing is that we haven’t alienated them, which gives us the OK to move forward with female product.’
That’s what he says. What I read:
One: When introducing things specifically designed for women, we must be careful not to alienate guys. Because when it comes to things for women, it is the opinions of men that are most important.
Two: Did I say women? I meant females.
Three: Also, our core customer is lots of guys, squished together to make one super-huge dude. Subject-verb agreement is hard! Let’s go shopping!
The actual products, of course, are the typical cutesy girl!fare lip glosses, T-shirts that express love for superheroes rather than identification with them, heart pendants. These things are not inherently bad. I personally love sparkles; I have a plastic wand with a star that lights up and twinkles and I adore it beyond all reason. I also note with no little glee that one of the twin heart pendants features Spider-Man and the Green Goblin. Their love is so volatile!
What I resent is more of the same gender-specific shit: girls don’t want to be superheroes, they want to love superheroes; ‘female product’ is about specific kinds of normative feminine, rather than ‘shirts cut with space for breasts’; before making anything for women, we have to be careful not to piss off men.
I’m aware that, broadly speaking, products marketed to be appealing to men can also be appealing to women, but the reverse is much trickier to pull off partly because of centuries of gender-specific marketing. Nevertheless, you’d think Marvel’s president of consumer products would have the grace and marketing nous to realize how ugly this sounds, and refrain from baldly stating so.
You don’t have to be a marketing expert (although the one I know agrees with me) to notice it’s pretty dumb to announce you’ve got big plans for selling to women in terms that are so insulting to women.