While browsing through a gallery of cosplayers from New York Comic Con I found a particular picture of a woman dressed as Emma Frost, and while she most definitely pulls off the costume much better than I could, it drew my eye to a problem that comics have had for decades.
How we portray women in most superhero comics could be, at best, described as juvenile. And while like most red-blooded, red-meat-eating American Men I enjoy looking at attractive ladies, I always get this weird feeling like the writer/artist/director is sitting next to me saying “Hey yo man check out that girl’s ass”.
There’s been a rumor floating around for years that artists/writers would slowly increase the size of Power Girl’s breasts each issue to see if anyone noticed. Power Girl is a really good example of a woman drawn for men, by men, and the amount of creepy things found when Googling her is a reason to avoid doing so. It was hard to find a way to describe her without sounding creepy, so I’ll allow Wikipedia to do it whilst I clear my search history.
“The character is consistently depicted as a large breasted young woman, and her physique is one of her most recognizable attributes—-to the extent that various writers have acknowledged it in both serious and humorous ways.”
There is a really good quote she has on her ridiculous “cleavage window” that goes like this. [the costume "shows what I am: female, healthy. If men want to degrade themselves by staring, that's their problem, I'm not going to apologize for it."
That’s all well and good, and more power to her for her convictions, but the fact is that she’s a comic book character and the men staring at her aren’t feeling like they’re degrading themselves. The men who drew her weren’t thinking about sending a message of strength or something like that, but something more along the lines of what will sell to comics’ premier demographic.
It seems like it’d be hard to be a girl and be a fan of superhero comics. If you’re a 10-13 year-old girl who likes superheroes, what are you reading? This is a legitimate question and if there is an answer I’d love to hear it. If nothing is being written for you, then what are you going to read? If you’re not reading, then who will be writing in the future? Comics are already a boys club, and it might be nice to have more women writers on staff to explain why showing Batman and Catwoman in a thoroughly unpleasant sex scene or making Starfire a skank was a really bad idea.
I’m a firm believer that comics are for everybody. I don’t mean that every comic should be for everyone, but I do believe that there should be a comic out there for anyone who wants to read them. When I look at mainstream titles I find myself wondering what isn’t being written for 14 year-old boys or people who are already ardent fans. The people reading comics now will be the ones writing them in a few years, and what they read will have a profound impact on what they create. If all we show them is this I can’t help but be a bit afraid for the future of the mainstream superhero comics.
If you’re going to have women heroes and villains, get some female writers. It’s really that simple. There is one man who can write women well, his name is Joss Whedon, and he’s busy with Avengers stuff so find someone else. There are many talented female writers and artists out there who would love the opportunity to write one of their heroines, so maybe instead of giving Geoff Johns another book give one of them a chance.
All I’m really saying in all this, and what I say in pretty much everything I write, is we need to stop writing for adolescent boys. We need to write for everyone if to grow our market and make something people will love. This doesn’t just apply to comics but to games as well. Look at almost any fighting game and how they portray women. You can say it’s supposed to be funny until it actually is, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s incredibly creepy.
If we keep designing things for fourteen year-old boys then we’ll end up only having Rob Liefield, Michael Bay, and Call of Duty and that’s an incredibly bad thing. By adding in new creators and new perspectives we grow as a medium and as a culture rather than continuing to stagnate like I’d argue we are. If we want to keep degrading ourselves further, then steady on.