Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Women In Comics: Yet Again, into the Stereotypes!

Over at the blog, Stuff Geeks Love, the post Strong Female Characters Who Actually Aren't has generated at least three different responses, one at Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader? and two at The Mad Thinker's Blog, and, despite real reservations to this, I'm jumping a little into the fray. (And in the interest of keeping the focus, I'm not going into the "rape origin" discussion.)

First, thoughts on the original post. While the blogger makes some points that I agree with in discussing stereotypes, I disagree with the dismissal of some of the characters that were thrown under the bus in the name of stereotypes. Starbuck is a perfect example. Relegated to the "wo-man" stereotype:
The wo-man is a male character who happens to also have breasts. She is written exactly as the male characters are, shares all the same interests of the male characters, and has all the same problems of the male characters. Other than the breasts, her only other signifier of being female is that she will be in a relationship with one of the male characters. In addition to Zoe, the Firefly character mentioned above, other notable wo-men characters are Dana Scully from The X-Files and Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica.
Unfortunately, the whole "wo-man" stereotype as defined by Stuff Geeks Love, dismisses just about every interesting female character that isn't a) a whore with a heart of gold or b)the innocent virgin. Here are a couple of my givens: that interesting characters are by definition not perfect. They have flaws, they make mistakes, then they deal with the consequences. Another given: that not all women have the same set of "womenly" traits, just as not all men have the same set of "male" traits. What does this leave us with? That there are women who can be mothers and go kick ass like me do. That there are women who can be loving and callous. That there will be women who can have sexual appetites as indescriminately as men, and that those same women reserve the right to change their mind if they want later.

Using Scully and Starbuck as examples of the "wo-men" pretty much invalidates her arguement already. Scully naver moved into the "man with breasts". She was smart, loved her own family, did her job, was, in general, a rather multifaceted character. If Starbuck, a woman in the military who is a trained fighter pilot, comes across as a "man with breasts" for being a killer pilot with a sexual appetite, then I'm sure that the real world should take a look at all the female soldiers that exist in the real world. How many mothers and wives deployed in Iraq would love to be called a "man with breasts" for doing their job?

Sadly, the real world is messy, and the best characters have their own rough edges in fiction. And I totally agree with some of the original post: if I see another whore with a heart of gold in fiction, I'm going to hurl the book against the wall. The next prostitute that shows up in one of my stories will be a cold hearted bitch, just to play against type.

And I do think that "Irony" was lost on the picture of all the different slave Leias posing with Jabba in that picture. Carrie Fisher did have a long discussion, that I cannot find the attribution to, with George Lucas over whether Leia would wear underwear in space on the set of the original Star Wars. She does bounce a lot coming out of that trash compactor.

Are You A Serious Comic Book Reader? veers into the realm of male comic readers becoming uncomfortable with the depiction of, gasp, penises on their beloved heroes. (Which, after all, ties into the sexuality of female characters and is somewhat parenthetical to the rape discussion: if too many of the female characters have been raped, then we would assume that the men have sexual equipment as well). A quick internet search on the Alex Ross Sgt. Steel cover, one that i blogged on back in 2007, should reveal the depths of homophobia that the average comic consumer seems to have.

Scott's Mad Thinker blog is one that I'm not a huge fan of. I've popped over to the blog a number of times and I tend to think that his posts just jump around way to much for me. Its clear that he's thinking about things, but the writing doesn't always gel with me. That being said, he at least thinks about things, whether I agree with him or not. He took the time to do research on the female characters who have been raped, as well as taking the time to annotate some of the lists that he found. He very accurately identifies that fuzzy thinking behind the original posts problems with Buffy, and I completely agree with his case for the men in Buffy being the ones that can't handle sexual power. The women in the series use and have sex according to who they are: evil and good in equal measure.

I think that I have to disagree that simply listing the number of female characters who haven't been raped to get a statistical analysis for the percentage of women in comics is missing the point of the arguement for the data: Comics have primarily been a boys club, and there are years and years worth of negative stereotypes to overcome, especially to a traditional male audience that is generally no known for having fairly enlightened views of sexuality. When the rape stereotype comes up, it can stand out a bit too much like a sore thumb, or at least lazy writing. As the comics ahve become targeted to a more adult audience, the suggestion of the sexual assault have moved from the inference to more concrete, and thus, has become even more disturbing. As a father of two girls, yes, it bothers me tremendously, and while you could argue that that makes the rape an effective dramatic device since I do have an emotional reaction to it, I'm tired of it. Just as too many years of off-off-off-Broadway plays in New York made me hate the "every male is gay, they just won't admit it" plot line constantly written by gay off-off-off-Broadway playwrites.

Give me something else.

There, I'm done. The flames can begin.


Kid Sis said...

Carrie Fisher on space underwear.

samuel rules said...

thanks for posting a link to your response on our blog, sometimes these things never get back to each other!!

Eden said...

I had problems with that original post myself, but you articulated them better than I ever could. There are certainly plenty of problematic female characters out there, but sometimes you have to take the good with the bad, if that makes sense.

inkdestroyedmybrush said...

eden and sam - thanks for taking the time to read. I've not dived in to the gender wars in a while, but i couldn't pass this up.

We'll see how some others take the post. i'm sure that i"ll get flamed at some point or another.

Also, please note that Kid Sis did the homework to find the Carrie Fisher quote!

Scott (The Mad Thinker) Anderson said...

You'll get no flames from me, but I'll probably respond on my blog. Overall, I thought that was a thoughtful piece.

James Meeley said...

As the comics ahve become targeted to a more adult audience, the suggestion of the sexual assault have moved from the inference to more concrete, and thus, has become even more disturbing. As a father of two girls, yes, it bothers me tremendously, and while you could argue that that makes the rape an effective dramatic device since I do have an emotional reaction to it, I'm tired of it.


I was planning to write a huge reply about this to you (not a flame though), which was to show that those of us who stand against such outlandishly silly claims, like "80% of all female characters in superhero comics have been raped", aren't as far apart on the issues with you as you think. But then, I saw Scott's blog post response to you and just figured I'd put the main thrust of it here, as I feel the exact same way he does on it. Just read what's below, in regards to your quote above:

"This is the argument against rape in comics that works. This is true. And it is the only argument necessary. There is no need to clutter it up with intellectualization about feminist or literary theory.

The argument that there’s lots of rape in comics fails because it always comes off as an overstatement. Far less than 1% of comics have rape in them. Most writers have written zero rape stories and few have written more than 1. The argument that rape is lazy writing fails because comics are built almost entirely on big, obvious threats that could just as easily be considered lazy writing, but it is for those big, obvious threats that we tend to buy super hero comics. But saying that you just don’t like rape stories works. There is no arguing against it and it seems to be true of many readers, and their real motivation for speaking out against rape in comics."

All I need add here is a hearty "'Nuff said", I think. :)

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