Mike Carey: “Well, there’s no denying that the visual presentation of female characters in mainstream books tends to be all of a piece: eye candy for a predominantly male reader. The voices and characterization vary a lot more than the look, which for the past six or seven years has been cemented more and more immovably into place. Speaking as a writer, I view it with a certain amount of bafflement. I don’t know anybody who uses comics to masturbate (or admits to doing so, which might not be the same thing), but there’s this soft-porn gloss on everything as though that’s precisely what comics are for. In terms of plot function, it’s harder for a solo female protagonist to carry a book, which maybe can be explained in terms of a mostly male audience looking for imaginative identification with the lead character. But I think things are better than they used to be in terms of female representation on team books. The X-Men (name aside) have a lot of very strong women: they’re vivid and fun to write, and they’re in the thick of the action. The killing blow in both Messiah Complex and Second Coming was struck by a woman - and a different woman each time. The short answer is yes. There’s still a lot of sexism in comics, just as there’s still a lot of sexism in all popular media. But the honorable exceptions are many.”
I like that Carey’s not excusing sexism, but is kind of encouraging people to support and celebrate the better cultural content out there.
Gail Simone: “I don’t care if a character is sexy, but objectification can be a lot more problematic because it reduces characters to less than they are supposed to be, less than what the readers have a right to expect.”
Exactly. What does anyone know about the new Catwoman other than the fact she’s a thieving hoebag?
Brian Clevinger: “Most American superhero comics tend to be sexist, yes.
I’m not saying the creators are sexist. That’s a different beast altogether. Much more likely, most creators are just guys and gals who possess a lifelong love of comics. It doesn’t occur to them that the comics they’re making are sexist because their comics look like all the other comics. But since those tend to be sexist too, it becomes an echo chamber of a self-fulfilling sexist prophecy that goes on to inform the next generation of creators and fans.
All it takes is stepping out of the echo chamber for a minute to see that’s what’s happening. These images and scripts don’t appear as if by magic. People work on them. For hours and hours. Everything that happens in them: every act and pose and image and thought of every one of those fictional constructs is the result of choices made by real human beings. Starfire doesn’t choose to dress in a battle bikini, to pose as provocatively as possible, and to have lots of meaningless sex with whatever warm body is around. Starfire isn’t real. She chooses nothing. Real human beings chose those thoughts and actions for her.
And it’s disappointing because those real human beings could have just as easily chosen for her to not be that way.”
All I have to say:
Alexander Zalben: “I do the subway test. Not the sandwich shop, though they’re very good, and you should check them out. The test is, ‘Would I read this comic on the subway?’ And for a lot of them, no, I wouldn’t, and it always comes down to how women are dressed – or undressed – in comics.”
Jeff Parker: “This all kind of started in the 90s with what were called ‘Bad Girl’ comics and they spread out of their niche into the bigger books. We’re in the second decade of the 21st century, let’s let that drop already and welcome our women readers in.”
Neal Adams: “I come from a generation of very sexist portrayals of women in many sexist ways, and much of that has changed. Did we make it all the way? Hmmm, too close to tell. I see the analogy in wrestling. When I was a kid, female wrestlers were… well… ugly and barrel-chested. Pretty-sexy girls didn’t wrestle. Was that sexist? Sure, in a twisted way. Now beautiful, sexy, strong, athletic girls wrestle. Why? The Economy? The BIZ changed? I don’t think so. Women’s lib liberated women to do whatever the hell they wanted to do. And…”
Matt Sturges: “I knew a girl in college who worked as a stripper and was perfectly happy to have men put money in her underwear. She believed that this in itself was empowering, and perhaps her intention in that context made it true (I’ve heard arguments on both sides), but I’ll kick the question down the field and leave it for female readers to judge.”
J.M. DeMatteis: “I think mainstream superhero comics are all about exaggeration: The male characters are often ridiculously over-proportioned and exaggeratedly macho, with little connection to reality, and the same exaggeration applies to the women. It’s the nature of the beast and, for the most part, I don’t see it as sexist at all. (Adolescent perhaps, but not sexist.) That said, I do think the exaggeration the form encourages sometimes goes farther with the female characters. And that it can lapse into realms of bad taste and just plain sleaze. But this isn’t just a problem with comics, this is a problem in our popular culture as a whole…”
Terry Moore: “So, give the industry credit, it is changing and trying to stay current. That said, it’s still a male dominant industry selling male action fantasies, so come on… if all the men can be ripped and muscular, you can expect the women to be over-shapely as well. I don’t think the skin vs. skin ratio is equal, but that’s okay with me… I don’t really want to see Reed Richard’s saggy butt cheeks anyway.”
My two cents:
Catwoman, Red Hood, and what I saw in Voodoo were pretty horrific, as are a lot of the character redesigns for DC comics New 52. (The new Harley Quinn being the worst.) And I find it incredibly disappointing that even Wonder Woman was introduced in the nude.
Comics have the potential to have amazing, interesting, strong and thoroughly actualized female characters. (Like Batwoman!) And they can also be “sexy.” (Or rather as “sexy” as an illustration can be.) Wonder Woman, She-Hulk, Rogue and M (from X-Factor) are some examples that come to mind immediately. They all kick ass, but still show skin and curves. And you even have characters like Emma Frost, whose boobs hang out, but you know what is okay with her revealing costumes? People know and love Emma for her personality… as much as they know her for the cousins.
Anyway. I am clearly with the camp that thinks “mainstream” comics are still inexcusably awful to women and minorities. To have people wonder if I like seeing all the T&A present in comics when I say I like them is honestly the only reason I don’t really bring it up. Being called a geek? Who cares? I’m 25 years old. Being called a sexist pervert? I’ll pass on giving that impression.
Maybe things are better than they used to be, but who cares when it can still be pretty bad? It is hard to find women, people of color, or members of the GLBTQ community in leadership, solo, or even just prominent supporting positions where they are portrayed positively. And when they are present it is often as if they are there just to be the character that gets thrown down the stairs to spare a more iconic white, heterosexual male character. Granted nothing really “good” ever happens to heroes for long, but there is a level of brutality I always find disturbing, so it is hard not to think the creatives behind the books have some deeper bias - perhaps unbeknown to them - against whatever group it is taking the punch.