A little while back I heard someone complaint about the lack of women of colour in the geek industry. I do not remember whether the person in specific (some blogger somewhere) meant this in a specific media or genre. In any case, the comment stuck in my head for a while, and made me actually put an effort into finding women of a non-white background, in my comics and TV series, particularly women of ethnic origins with darker skin – leaving the Asian far east for another occasion. And I don’t know if it was serendipity or fate, but almost as soon as I started, these girls started cropping up. And let me tell you, they are all kickass!
My first point of reference was obvious. Any browncoat would immediately call Zoe into action for that. What more could anyone want than Zoe? Clever, disciplined, reliable, honourable, knows to handle her guns, fights for what is right. She may be a woman of few words, but when she speaks it is to be heard. But, of course, Firefly and Serenity are not the most updated data on the subject. Yet, it didn’t take me long to find an example everywhere I looked. Following the sci-fi train, I soon enough met Dutch: the fearless badass main character of Killjoys. Dutch is no lady, she is a killer, a trained assassin, a renegade princess. Guns (and Johnny) are her best friends. She is bloody-minded, not scared of using any of her charms and skills to get the job done. But she is also fragile, has a lot of baggage and issues. Yet, at the end of the day, Dutch always delivers. Her wild looks remind us that, in an age ruled by fear of terrorism, people from the Middle-East are not just the messed up criminals you see on the news – they can be dystopian saving freedom fighters too; the good guys, or girls in this case. But that was almost an easy find: you all knew about Killjoys presence in ManaBurnt before this right? Well, let’s give you some other examples of non-featured before series:
I finally got some me time and managed to read Monstress, which I has really been looking forward for a long time. And let me tell you something: it was better than what I wished it would be, what I had read it was, and what it could potentially be. I mean every word.
This is not just a story heavily powered by the third wave of feminism, and a pretty bleak commentary on earlier feminism: this is a comic written and drawn by women, about women, but not necessarily just for women: Monstress is a Warning. Monstress is about what lies inside and you don’t want to know about, and fight to keep within. Monstress is also, the crudest example of – please excuse my vulgar terminology – “bitches be crazy, bitches be powerful”. I do not think there is a single male character in this volume that has more lines than a female one. And I guarantee you every single one of them passes the Bechdel Test. In fact, I do not think a single woman talks to another about a guy…People are dying here! There are far more important things to talk about. There is magic, mystery, conspiracy, politics, idealism…But mostly Lies. Pretty much everything that drags the argument forward is a very deep and elaborate lie someone created for their convenience – and yeah, that someone seems to me always a woman. Again, I could sit here and tell you how the dialogue is brilliant, how the narrative combines elements of Western and Eastern storytelling. How the art work is with is the prettiest steam punk/fantasy/art decoish thing you can buy currently…But Why? You don’t need me to tell you that. It is Obvious. You just need to open and look at a page.
Okay, little moment of scholar hat on. As some of you may know, I am doing a PhD that deals with representations in comic books – particularly focused on the Vikings, and women. Doing some research, I came across a student written article that made me 1)seriously question the peer-reviewing process of the article, 2)the actual intention and motivations of the author, as well as the 3)incredible bias, and 4)lack of quality analysis. As a student, of any discipline, rule number one is, leave your judgement home, understand, contextualise and THEN criticise where is due. Well…the article is publicly available for those interested by the way:
Gender Differences in Clothing Worn in Current Popular Comic Books
I appreciate it is a student written – undergraduate – text, but it has some severe flaws. The actual initiative of the project is great, as students should be sharing their work and those who do write gems should be praised. Particularly in the arts or in modern media like comic books where the is so much stigma to be removed and so much work to do to create a comprehensive field, I praise them for the effort which is absolutely remarkable. But the actual article itself has some issues that any avid comic reader – Without The Need of Being a Scholar – could flag up.
The comic book selection is not very representative of the actual state of the comic book industry these days: we are at the peak of the most prolific and diverse publishing environments ever. The Comix authors from the 70s/80 would have considered themselves lucky of having such a scope of possibilities – admittedly not all of them are straight forward, or easy to get in to, but it has improved! These titles selected for the article are in essence mass marketing for a mass audience – they transcend the original medium of the comic book for the comic book collector. Like the article says – yes they are best-selling comics – which are comparable to the Barbie magazine for kids in the 1990s. That is the degree of marketing we are talking about. The actual content and conventions that are relevant for the sphere of comics have been minimized and milked to an absolute bare minimum. This is a very similar strategy used in video games these days. You all known them: think of all those Facebook games that are identical, same key game dynamics that are not actually designed for the any other purpose in what is known as the “gaming industry” but for marketing, mass appeal – and to a degree, creating addiction. In no way, shape or form, this is a statement against their quality – not what I am getting at – just categorisation and context.
So, an appropriate and thorough audience analysis would have been useful. Sales are all good, But Who Is Actually Buying Those Pieces and Why? Nowhere to be found in this article. In addition, genre identification has a huge impact into what the person was looking into. “Popular Comics” is not really a genre. It is, once again, a sales and marketing division, representative of nothing but money movement and mass consumerism. The only factor that has been used to identify these comics as useful for these piece is the fact that the represent some women and that they sold lots – there is somewhere a statistics student crying because of this degree of reductionism. Those aren’t enough parameters to establish a useful, valuable comparison.
Probably the bit that gets me most is the degree of hypocrisy applied to the concept of revealing skin being sexual…As if you even needed to reveal skin to sexualise an image? I mean, let’s take Black Widow as an example, okay? How much skin does her outfit reveal? Her face, that’s it. Is her image sexualised? Considering that one of the supposed sexiest women in Hollywood impersonates her…No skin showing though! Therefore…we will completely ignore that. As a very popular female comic book character, due to the recent marvel releases, it would have been an easy point of reference, yet neglected. More importantly, this is condemning the image of women in our modern society. I mean what is this? The Victorian period where if you showed your ankles this was some sort of social controversy? Of course clothing can sexualised, but so can anything! If we cannot see the world past that lens…We are doomed. By the way, I have mentioned I am a woman right? It does not insult me that representations like these exist. I do not feel pressurised to look like them. I understand they are for fictional, and relative to conventions of specific narratives. I mean, are we going to start criticising the Greek and Roman sculptures for their portrayal of naked bodies in a praise of the beauty of mankind? No one tells those statues to cover up, and those were publicly visible by the way, you didn’t even need to buy a comic to see them…
It concerns me that this was approved for publication with no further comment or the option to even give feedback on the subject – until now, that is. Unfortunately this is a typology that repeats itself so frequently within popular/geek culture. The sexist criticism: usually coming from women and aggravated by both women and men. This degree of victimisation when convenient needs to stop. Otherwise we will never be able to move past it and remove the stigmas associated with the genre…More importantly, we will never be able to create a safe and welcoming environment for members of all genders, and backgrounds to feel safe as part of a fandom. I have argued for this in one of my recent papers (Spring Symposium, Center for Gender Studies, University of Winchester, 03/03/2016). Starting old fires will not help the situation. We should rather be putting them out and beginning alternative lines of dialogue.
Geeks united will prevail. Female acceptance within geek society would become so much easier if we would stop holding to past preconceptions and removing these stigmas, not perpetuating them.
Peace out – and to the author of the text, although I cannot agree, at least thank you for sharing and voicing your thoughts!
I have been thinking about how to approach this post for a while. I wanted to write about Dark Angel and Dollhouse, two series that I enjoyed thoroughly. Yet when I ask most people about either of them, I usually get the “You what?” look and the conversation ends. For some unknown reason most Sci-Fi fans I know have never heard of them or have shown little interest in having a look for themselves. Why? Well, I am still trying to come to terms with it, but there may be several reasons to this issue.
Starting with Dark Angel – this was Jessica Alba’s big hit on TV. Yet after a couple of seasons the show met the fate that us Sci-Fi fans know all too well: cancelled! How could a show created by James Cameron end up failing so hard? I mean for once FOX seemed really keen on a sci-fi show, the first season was received with a positive mental attitude…So what went wrong? Well, seemingly the fact that FOX changed the show to Friday nights and certain plot developments during the second season lead most viewers to drop completely and forget about Max and her bio/cyberpunk corporate dominated world. So what, people didn’t like that the female lead got her presumed love interest in trouble after breaking out of Manticore and fought hard to expose the evil corp to the world? Perhaps we are far too cynical to appreciate science fiction when fiction becomes too close to reality – I don’t really know. Perhaps the audience rejected Alba’s more proactive role, where her character was prompted to think and react rather than just posed epic for the camera and run around trying to figure stuff out in her bike. Who knows. Maybe I am missing something…In any case, somehow, somewhat a loved and acclaimed series and an audience favourite stopped being so and the fans had to just deal with its legacy. Thankfully there was an arrangement to produce a video game for the Play Station 2 and to publish 3 novels written by Mark Allan Collins to continue exploring the universe Cameron had created. And yet…