Girl-Wonder.org President and Blogger Karen Healey responds to a recent op-ed piece by Dirk Deppey of Journalista.–
For reasons of space, I have responded to Mr Deppey’s editorial in sections, and have excised much of his material in order to concentrate on what I see as the most important points. You may read his full editorial at Journalista. I am not so much interested in arguing with his opinions of Girl-Wonder.org, which seem clear, and to which he is entitled, but his factual errors in presenting his argument.
1) The “Girl Wonder crowd”.
I wish to first correct what I see as Mr Deppey’s most erroneous misconception, which is the continual reference to something he dubs the “Girl Wonder crowd”. For example:
It’s possible to feel some sympathy for this state of affairs, and had the debate been framed along these lines, it’d be easier to discuss the subject without the resulting fanboy backlash. Alas, “Give something to the existing female fanbase, too” is an argument that doesn’t offer the Girl Wonder crowd much in the way of bargaining power, nor will it, so as long as they keep buying the comics regardless of their perceived offensive content.
Mr Deppey links to a number of items by different Girl-Wonder.org members, but he also, bafflingly, includes links to posts by DevilDolland Pink Raygun without differentiating them and associates this “Girl Wonder crowd” with Lisa Lobacinki of P.O.W.E.R in Comics in his footnotes. I have read and enjoyed material by these authors, but their sites are in no way associated with Girl-Wonder.org.
Indeed, while Girl-Wonder.org’s volunteers are proud of the site and its accomplishments, I do object to the characterization of a “Girl Wonder crowd”, wherein, it seems, we may lump in any female-written cybertext which has the temerity to protest the depiction of female characters in a fashion that Mr Deppey finds objectionable or comments on things that he finds trivial. Girl-Wonder.org is a site with plenty of variety and contains many viewpoints, but it does not pretend to speak in one voice, nor to represent the feminist comics movement in all its vital, factional glory.
As a brief perusal of our official media page would reveal, we strive to emphasise this point even within the organisation: “There cannot be said to be any single viewpoint or opinion which all participants have in common beyond the site’s core goal of fairer treatment for women and girls in mainstream comics.”
Mr Deppey persists in maintaining the existence of an easily demonised “Girl Wonder crowd” throughout his piece; both his comments and my responses should be read with this in mind.
2) Project Girl Wonder
Into this breach steps the Girl Wonder crowd and the utterly demented campaign that bears their collective name. Project Girl Wonder aims for nothing less than the lofty goal of… getting a display cabinet. In the Batcave. For a minor character. Who briefly and ineptly served as Robin in DC’s comics. Oh, and have I mentioned that they’re framing this as a feminist cause?
Since the male Robin II (Jason Todd) died and was remembered, and the female Robin IV (Stephanie Brown) died and was not, and the infliction of the wounds that lead to her death were furthermore depicted in a manner reminiscent of torture porn, the maintainer of Project Girl Wonder – which does not constitute the whole of Girl-Wonder.org, nor ever has – regards the lack of memorial as gender discrimination.
Gender discrimination is certainly a feminist concern. Mr Deppey may disagree as to whether discrimination took place here, but if one accepts the basic premises of Project Girl Wonder’s objection – as its creator does – then one may certainly view it as a feminist cause.
3) The “movement” is uninterested in outreach or support.
Given the astonishing number of problems facing the Direct Market and its inability to appeal to women in any significant way, why is this — or the production of a limited-edition statue unrelated to the comics themselves, or the painting of a nude model as Wonder Woman in a men’s magazine unrelated to the comics themselves — one of the central campaigns of this movement?
Simple: Because it isn’t about making the New York City corporate-comics industry a better or more equitable place for female creators, and it isn’t about attracting new and younger female readers into the scene.
By “this movement” I assume Mr Deppey refers to the feminist comics movement, so my response draws from the projects of that movement. I do not here seek to argue the offense or lack thereof of the items he mentions, since those arguments have been well-made elsewhere, but merely to refute the implication that the supposed “Girl Wonder crowd” is uninterested in supporting female creators or attracting new readers. I have limited myself to a sample of organizations, rather than individuals:
Girl-Wonder.org currently hosts three webcomics, which are created or co-created by women. Girl-Wonder.org representatives recommends comics for young readers at conventions and on the message boards. Girl-Wonder.org members speak at convention panels, from the audience and from the dais, in support of female characters and creators and addressing the issues of making comics more friendly to female creators and readers alike.
Sequential Heart (run by Girl-Wonder.org treasurer Rachel Edidin with artist and board contributor Dean Trippe) donates comics to homeless young people.
Women’s Work is a collective of women who work in and around the visual and literary industries. They declare, “We are creators and storytellers. Art before housework.”
The long-established Friends of Lulu, dedicated to the development of women in comics, has published How to Get Girls (Into Your Store), a book available in pdf form that “includes helpful hints for attracting and keeping new customers, as well as tips for choosing products that appeal to women and children, presenting comics and other products, working within your community to build good relationships, and retailer networking.” It provides an email mentoring programme for those who wish to become comics professionals. FoL’s New York chapter, among other projects, “[holds] discussions featuring prominent female writers and artists in the NY area, [and maintains] a continued presence at local comic book and related media conventions.”
P.O.W.E.R. in Comics lists comic shops run by women and minorities. It is a community “of sharing, where creators can help those looking to become creators attain their goals and where artists and writers can find each other and team up; also where creators can come to promote their works. Here blogers can post links to their blogs dealing with issues important to POWER members. Here artists and writers can post samples and get opinions. Here podcasters and video makers can post segments to get reviews, opinions, and support.”
The Ormes Society provides networking for black female comics creators and includes a Useful Resources section in their forums, and its Livejournal community Torchbearers spotlights black female characters in comics/manga, collects links on the topic of race in sequential art and provides news on the doing of Ormes Society members.
And female-run Sequential Tart, of course, monthly publishes a webzine with the mandate to “increase the visibility and raise the awareness of the participation of women in comics as both creators and fans.”
If we assume a lack of mendacity, either Mr Deppey feels these efforts are not sufficient (for which Girl-Wonder.org and, I imagine, other organizations can only plead limited time or resources) or he was unaware of these contributions to comics culture.
4) Market forces render feminist protest meaningless.
Currently, female readers would seem to make up ten percent of the current marketplace at most, and even if they all rose up and boycotted Marvel and DC’s product at once, it wouldn’t seriously affect either company’s bottom line. Remember, publishing makes up a relatively small fraction of their respective bottom lines, and the big income-earning division — licensing — isn’t affected by the comics’ actual content in the slightest, since nobody but the hardcore fans are reading them to begin with.
My personal position, and one shared by several others on the Girl-Wonder.org team, is that Marvel and DC should refrain from sexism, not because such restraint might reward them financially, but because sexism is wrong. I suspect Mr Deppey agrees that sexism is wrong; I suspect also that he might substantially disagree on what, precisely, might constitute sexist material in modern superhero comics culture. That being a matter of opinion, I shall merely note that we are not obliged to take market considerations into account when considering the ethical content of a work.
5) The “Girl-Wonder crowd” objects to all sexual content.
Moreover, while the smarter, more rational Funnybook Feminists are careful to frame their arguments in such a way as to reassure their male compatriots that they’re not trying to “take away the sexy” — they just want to make things more equitable and see more books targeted toward their tastes rather than an exclusive diet of the Tits Ahoy superhero baseline — the vision posed by the Girl Wonder crowd and allied adherents is less compromising, and more absolutist. As the statue and Playboy skirmishes demonstrate, they aren’t merely interested in discouraging the production by Marvel and DC of anything containing an excessively sexual component, but a thorough cleansing of the fan culture created by and for the genre’s hardcore adult-male fanbase in its entirety, and anything that might ever intersect with said culture.
While again, I cannot speak for the whole of Girl-Wonder.org, nor does Girl-Wonder.org speak for the feminist comics movement (or “allied adherents”), I cannot comprehend how a site that includes a section for pornography in its recommendation section, a thread dedicated to the appreciation of sexual imagery, another considering Jenna Jameson’s Shadow Hunter, another debating the sexiest female characters in comics, and, most recently, a favourable review of Garth Ennis’ The Pro could reasonably be considered to espouse an uncompromising and absolutist aim of “taking the sexy away”.
I do not, personally, object to sexual content in my comics. I object strongly to objectification, misogyny, misandry and the lazy repetition of narrative and visual tropes that degrade women and minorities. To these things, I certainly hope that my opposition is absolute and uncompromising.
6) The “Girl Wonder crowd” claims that they want to make superhero comics safe for 13-year-old girls, but this claim is a hypocritical disguise for fan entitlement.
If the Girl Wonder crowd were really concerned with making superhero comics safe for 13-year-old girls, they’d be arguing over far, far more than statues, Playboy, or Stephanie Brown. They’d be arguing that their favorite comics should again be written exclusively for children. They’d demand a return to (and stricter enforcement of) the Comics Code Authority, that a sharper line of demarcation be drawn between kiddie comics and those for the existing fanbase, and that virtually all of Marvel and DC’s main line of product be placed firmly on the children’s side of the line. They’d demand an end to decades of continuity, so as to allow new readers every opportunity to jump onboard. They’d demand more female comics creators and more women in management, and assurances that women have a voice on the board of directors for the CCA. In other words, if “think of the children” really were at the core of this argument, an authentic feminist agenda would be centered around actually thinking of the children, and not their own tastes and inclinations.
Outside the specific recommendation list created for their hopeful enjoyment, Girl-Wonder.org has never claimed a particular concern for the children, and I am baffled as to how Mr Deppey could have come to the conclusion that we have. We include the children in our wider aims of criticising sexism in comics and encouraging the depiction of well-rounded female characters; we believe that the children will also benefit from a world with less misogyny and misandry and with more female characters portrayed as persons instead of objects, in comics as in all media. We are happy to let the children think for themselves.
Perhaps Mr Deppey is referring to someone else.
I speak, as ever, as a fan, as a feminist, and for myself. Like every fan, I certainly do want comics made for my own tastes and inclinations. I also want comics that do not casually endorse sexism, because I believe that sexist material does not merely cater to a taste I do not share, but is ethically reprehensible. I cannot recall ever claiming otherwise.
In conclusion, then, Girl-Wonder.org does not represent feminist comics fandom, nor are its participants homogeneous in their own positions. Project Girl Wonder, nor various objections to misogynistic imagery, do not constitute anything close to the entirety of feminist fandom’s projects. I acknowledge that Mr Deppey’s views on what comprises sexism may not accord with mine, nor with those of any other person, but marvel at his assumption that I or others might be primarily motivated by market concerns. Girl-Wonder.org largely objects to objectification, not pornography per se, and Girl-Wonder.org does not hypocritically claim to be championing the children.
Mr Deppey’s opinions regarding Girl-Wonder.org’s projects (and, it appears, the projects of other sites not associated with Girl-Wonder.org) are uniquely his own, and I am not especially interested in debating them. His factual errors, however, I hope I have here clarified.