Geek girls have long been frustrated by the treatment of female characters in comics, who are usually employed strictly as plot devices or accessories for male leads. Comic writer Gail Simone even launched a website listing the atrocities inflicted on female characters called “Women In Refrigerators,” named for the character Alex DeWitt, the girlfriend of Green Lantern, who was murdered and shoved into a refrigerator by the villain Major Force, in order to motivate the male lead character to seek revenge. Simone’s list included every female character she and her friends could think of, who’d been raped, killed, depowered or mishandled in any form in a comic book, usually in the service of developing a male character.
For years, many assumed that this was a matter of ignorance– that the majority of comic book writers were men and didn’t take the female perspective into account when writing their books… for other males, who likewise made up the majority of comic book readers. Hopefully, once female readers (and sympathetic male readers) raised the issue, more writers would think better about what they wrote and how they handled female characters.
But no, it turns out these writers just don’t care and dismiss the very idea of females reading comics in the first place.
First, Mark Millar, the creator of ‘Kick-Ass’, dismissively described the use of rape in comics, stating “The ultimate (act) that would be the taboo, to show how bad some villain is, was to have somebody being raped, you know? I don’t really think it matters. It’s the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody’s a bad guy.” This statement completely glosses over the fact that a rape victim survives and must deal with the psychological damage of having been brutally assaulted and rendered completely vulnerable. Sure, getting decapitated… y’know sucks, too, but the idea of using rape as easy short-hand to illustrate that a villain is a villain is lazy and fails to acknowledge the real damage suffered by its victims.
Laura Hudson—former Comics Alliance editor-in-chief and Wired’s senior editor responded, “There’s one and only one reason that happens, and it’s to piss off the male character. It’s using a trauma you don’t understand in a way whose implications you can’t understand, and then talking about it as though you’re doing the same thing as having someone’s head explode. You’re not. Those two things are not equivalent, and if you don’t understand, you shouldn’t be writing rape scenes.”
Jen Bosier of the Examiner responded more passionately, “Wait, what? The most painful of physical violations that the victim has to live with for the rest of their lives is the same as having your head chopped off? Let’s not forget that in many places of the world women are still blamed for this violation, too.”
She further refers to a scene in Millar’s ‘Kick-Ass’ comic wherein a teenager girl is gang raped and challenges, “The burning question we, as consumers, need to ask Millar is: if this act is so trivial and meaningless, why is this an act only suitable for women? Why not show a male character brutalized in such a way? Instead of having Kick-Ass’s girlfriend violated repeatedly, why not have Kick-Ass himself suffer the trauma? Comic, movie and game writers often trot out rape as the instant tragic background/motivator for female characters, why doesn’t this street run both ways?”
She laments, “It’s clear that Millar’s opinion of women seems to be that we are little more than sexual objects, there for either desiring or avenging. We aren’t the audience he’s targeting, which opens a larger can of worms because he’s telling his ideal male audience that rape doesn’t matter and is a trivial act of violence. Which, I think we can all agree, isn’t the best message we should be supporting.”
In another interview in 2011, Millar dismisses claims of sexism. “I think it’s meaningless. A tiny storm in a tea-cup. And in ten years’ time I’ll copy and paste this again when the argument raises its head like it did a decade ago. The fact is that more women are reading comics right now than at any point in my life and they’re not picking them up because they feel they’re demeaning in any way.”
What’s especially ironic is that, for one thing, Millar is actually one of the best writers in comics, with a remarkably fresh voice, and even more so, he himself has created one of the best female characters currently in comics, Hit-Girl.
Millar isn’t alone, though. While speaking at the Television Critics Association, ‘Spawn’-creator Todd MacFarlane fell back on the old “male super heroes are just as exaggerated” excuse. He expressed, “As much as we stereotype the women, we do it with the guys. The guys are all good looking, not too many ugly superheroes. They’ve all got their hair gelled back. They have got perfect pecs on them. They have no hair on their chest. I mean, they are Ryan Gosling on steroids. Right? They are all beautiful. So we actually stereotype and do it to both sexes. We just happen to show a little more skin when we get to the ladies.”
This of course is ridiculous. Women are not only more scantily clad, but they ooze sex. Their backs are arched, their lips swollen, their eyelids droopy, their breasts and buttocks are always front and center, sometimes at the same time. Male characters, on the other hand appear centered, confident and powerful. There is almost never any attempt to “sex up” a male character. Most of the time, they’re not even particularly good looking, minus the muscles.
He went on to state, “I’ve got two daughters, and if I wanted to do something that I thought was emboldened to a female, I probably wouldn’t choose superhero comic books to get that message across. I would do it in either a TV show, a movie, a novel, or a book. It wouldn’t be superheroes because I know that’s heavily testosterone – driven, and it’s a certain kind of group of people. That’s not where I would go get this kind of message, so it might not be the right platform for some of this.”
Or how about changing the way YOU write comics?! Make them “emboldened to a female.” Girls DO like super heroes. Half the audience for every super hero movie is female. Girls have long supported super heroes that reflect them, from Wonder Woman to She-Ra to The Powerpuff Girls to Sailor Moon. That carries over to other media. ‘The Hunger Games‘ and ‘Divergent‘ could easily be comic books. And the fact is, there are super hero comics that appeal to female readers because they handle all of their characters as… characters. Fully-formed, opinionated, flawed, interesting characters, regardless of gender. A female character shouldn’t be approached any differently than a male and deserves all of the same attention to detail, warts and all.
At the same press conference, writer Gerry Conway attempted to defend the lack of female heroes as something that comes along with the genre. “It’s like saying, ‘Why are there no medieval stories about female knights?’ Because there was only one, you know, Joan of Arc. It’s not it’s an inherent limitation of that particular genre, superheroes.”
Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress countered, “The production of superhero comics is not actually a biological function determined by whatever bodies we’re born with. A lack of equality in the nobility’s ranks in the medieval military hasn’t kept Tamora Pierce from writing dozens of fantasy novels involving female knights, because that is a thing that you can do in fiction. If superheroes actually existed, and their ranks were exclusively male, writing fantastical fiction to consider how women might handle that sort of power, and how the world might react to their use of it would be a perfectly legitimate subject for superhero fiction to explore.”
She added, “The decision to stay within the narrow lanes of your own fantasies is a choice, not biological determinism.”
When Conway suggested that the lack of diversity in comics was due to readers not wanting to see such a “motley crew,” Rosenberg retorted, “They were suggesting that the failure of more diverse representations of superheroes was on readers, not on the companies that decide what kinds of images to promote and what kinds of artists they want to employ.”
I’ve said it before, but women are voracious readers. Check out the New York Times best sellers list on any given week and the chart is dominated by books that appeal to women. Look at all the “sensations” whether you like them or not… Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games… even 50 Shades of Grey! All have a strong female fanbase and for comic companies to turn their backs on such a large potential audience is simply stupid. They’re leaving money on the table as they say! All for what? To protect their adolescent male power fantasies?
What do you have to say? Does the excessive use of rape in comics upset you? Do you think women need to be better represented? Comment below!
Source: GMA Network