Last week The New Republic ran an article on comic book creator Mark Millar (Kick-Ass, The Authority) in which they both praised Millar for his avant-garde writing and criticized him for his blatant hypocrisy and sexism. The next day, in a panel promoting PBS’s documentary “Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle,” comic book creators Todd McFarlane (Spawn, The Amazing Spider-Man), Len Wein (Swamp Thing, Wolverine), and Gerry Conway (Punisher) got on quite the soapbox about why sexism in comics is totally justified (or something).
To summarize the stated philosophy of these male comic book creators: comic books aren’t for girls. They’re for boys. That’s how it’s always been, and that’s how it always should be.
Since MyDearPeabody over at io9’s Observation Deck already did a bang-up job of breaking down exactly why these male creators’ aversion to more diversity and women in comics is patently ridiculous, I’ll spare you the feminist rage of another indignant female comic book fan. I’ll also spare you the requisite touting of comic book nerd credentials which seems to be part and parcel of any article on comics written by a woman (pics of my collection available upon request, boys).
Normally in these situations my philosophy is something along the lines of WWWWD? (What would Wonder Woman do? Answer: lay the feminist smack down with a combination of noble dignity and righteous fury). But in this case, I feel a more demure approach is called for.
Because really, I’m hurt. Here I am, a female of the species who has enjoyed comic books since before I was distinguishable from a boy, and I’m being told by the creators of the very comic books I love to just go away. Worse: they’re telling me that I don’t count and they don’t value me as a fan. They’re erasing my very existence as a woman comic book nerd when they say “comic books aren’t for girls.” They’re treating me like trash.
I feel like I did when I was 8 years old and my big brother and his friends wouldn’t let me join their secret club, even though I was well-versed in all the mudpie-making, treefort-building, grasshopper-catching rituals necessary to join.
So in light of my hurt feelings and delicate feminine sensibilities, I have a polite question for Millar and company:
Male comic book creators, why do you hate us?
You keep saying “comic books aren’t for girls” and I can’t help but conclude that your subtext is “we do not want comic books to be for girls.” For why else would you keep trying to drum it into our heads that we shouldn’t be interested in your medium when the fact of the matter is that 36.7% of comic book fans on Facebook are women? And if you don’t want us to read comic books, is it because you’re trying to protect us from what lies within them? Or is it because you just really hate the idea of women reading and enjoying what you read and enjoy?
I don’t understand why you don’t like women, male comic book creators, but I can read the writing on the wall: every time you say “this is not for you,” you are just reinforcing the message that you would prefer we never darken the doorway of your good-old-boys club.
Economically speaking, there’s no reason for comic book creators to specifically ignore the existence of women among their potential readers. Women represent an entire demographic of consumers to be tapped. Why wouldn’t an artist want to increase their readership by taking into account criticisms that they may be alienating that potential audience? Why wouldn’t they incorporate feedback that would give their work broader appeal while still maintaining the integrity of their stories?
Comic book stores at least seem to understand this. At Mile High Comics, the largest comic book store in Denver (and my personal favorite), the male staff is never less than friendly, helpful, and delighted to see me. They’re in the business of selling comics, and as I am there to spend money on comics, they understand that it’s in their best interest to cultivate my love of comic books. So why don’t the creators of the same books feel similarly compelled to cultivate the dedication of their female fans?
While I’m sure there are some women who are happy to buy comics that are specifically marketed to alienate women, I am not. And I’m not alone. I’m way more likely to pick up a copy of Captain Marvel than Avengelyne. I’ll give you three guesses as to why.
When comic book creators not only dismiss us publicly, but treat our gender like blow-up dolls and accessories on a superhero’s utility belt, what other conclusion am I to come to but that they hate us? The Women in Refrigerators phenomenon is embarrassingly rampant in the work of male creators, and violence against women is treated with remarkable insensitivity (Millar compared rape to decapitation). Perhaps that’s why they keep saying comics aren’t for girls: because they don’t want us to witness just how badly they treat us in their stories.
So here I am, a lover of comic books, ready and willing to spend my money on work that doesn’t objectify, erase, or belittle my gender. And yet McFarlane and his ilk want nothing to do with me.
They show no desire to change or even acknowledge that they might be completely wrong when it comes to the relationship of women and comics. “It’s always been this way,” is the constant refrain of the close-minded and comfortable. It is the battle cry of those in positions of power who refuse change that might benefit others less fortunate than themselves. It’s what cowards say.
So now I will ask it: What would Wonder Woman do? She’d stand up to the cowards and keep fighting.