Saturday, January 06, 2007

Yes. Another sexism and comics rant.

I’ve been thinking about writing this since December 28, when I saw the link to the Cenizas’s editorial “De Feministas y Fangirls: La ironía en pleno” at When Fangirls Attack. My first impulse was to groan and check the date. December 28 is the equivalent of April 1st here, so it could be a joke. But it had been posted on December 26, no luck there. My second was a lengthy answer to the Cenizas’s guys asking exactly why they were addressing the points made in Girls read comics (And they’re pissed) assuming they were from WFA, and how could they simply not get the point. I erased that answer, and then I realized that the reason why it made me mad was because GRC (And the entirely of Wonder-girl org) are mainly English speakers. Even if they found the Cenizas’s link, which of course they did, they wouldn’t quite understand what they were saying. Which of course takes the dialogue part of it out of the window since there’s not going to be a debate.
So I thought about translating it. And tossed the idea right out of the window too since, frankly? I don’t think the world needs yet another ‘if you don’t like big boobs, you shouldn’t be reading comics anyway’ rant in English. Does the world needs another ‘it’s not about the big boobs, damn it!’ rant? Probably not. But I’m going to put it in English and in Spanish, so… what the hell.

Anyway, among all the things I read at Cenizas, there were two that jumped out from the whole text. The first one was “The tits and ass are the only thing that justify that the geeks of spandex wearing superheroes aren’t seen as gay”. The second one was their closing statement, in which, bluntly, they state that if you’re a feminist, you have no business being a superhero fan girl, because to complain about sexism in superhero comic books is the same as “being a vegetarian and taking the meat out of the tortilla in the corner’s taqueria”.

I have issues with the first statement because it perpetuates the comic book geek stereotype. The guy living in his parent’s basement, wondering how is Jean Grey’s sex life, incapable of talking to a real, three dimensional woman. I have issues with it because it objectifies the female characters even more than the superhero comics we’re discussing, and demeans the male readers. There’s a lot to be said about that, how suddenly reading superhero comic books is inherently childish, but I was going to talk about sexism, so I’ll stick to sexism.

The second comment brought the attention of Karen Healey, the actual author of Girls Read Comics, and in her journal there came a discussion of how people can eat tacos without meat, which brings an interesting cultural difference. In Mexico, if it doesn’t has meat, it’s not a taco. So what the guys at Cenizas are saying is that if you haven’t got sexism on it, it’s not a superhero comic (I’m hoping they were limiting themselves to superhero comics, although the mention of the Sensational de Traileras, a pretty known soft porn comic book from Mexico makes me doubt it) and I have to disagree. Yes, Tits and Ass are required in soft porn and hard porn comic books. They’re porn comics for a reason. I don’t think anyone in the anti-sexism group wants the T&A to disappear from sex comics, because being anti-sexism is not being anti-sex. Yes, some T&A is expected to be found in comic book where half of your cast is dressed in spandex, but no one expects Power Girl’s breasts to disappear –in fact, many feminist blogs I’ve read love PG’s curves. But T&A is not the problem. The problem comes when the characters are treated like nothing more than furniture, shock value, and window dressing. The problem comes when female characters are raped, killed, maimed and torture just for torture sake (And, before anyone jumps, it’s the same thing when male characters get raped, killed, maimed and tortured. It’s just that usually? When a male character is tortured, it’s not just to spike sales with very few exceptions)

Now, not every single woman who has been brutalized in a comic book is a sign of misogyny. Not every single gay character who is mistreated is an example of homophobia. But when you pile every single time it happens, the picture it shows it’s a bit disheartening. Yes. There is sexism in comic books, everywhere. Yes, it started quite early, when girls were there just to be rescued. But as things have changed in the world, they should change in the industry. Not all superhero comic books are sexist. Runaways is a perfect example. Young Avengers is another. X-Factor has a wonderfully diverse cast and the women in it are strong, three dimensional woman. She Hulk is a riot, despite of the covers. I haven’t read Birds of Prey, or Manhunter, since currently I’m not buying any DC comic, but I’ve heard wonderful things about them both. Spider-man is not sexist (Aunt May kicks ass). Superhero comic books are not inherently sexist, and they do not need to be sexist to be superhero comic books.

Actually, scratch that. Nothing needs to be sexist, not even porno comic books. Because having a woman prancing naked on a book doesn’t mean that the comic is sexist. It can be sexist, but it doesn’t need to be.
Because, well, let’s remember one thing:

Sexism: 1.- Attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.
2.- Discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; esp. such discrimination directed against women.

So, killing a woman character because a character had to be killed =/= sexism. Killing a woman character because it is a woman = sexism. Having a woman character fight crime in swimsuit and high heels = / = sexism. Having said female character do nothing except pose and being captured by the villians= sexism.

Hey, when all it’s said and done, Manga is more inherently sexist than superhero comic books. But then, Japan is a country culturally more sexist than the US or Mexico. Which brings us to cultural differences. Mexico and the US are very different countries, with different stories of feminism. Feminism there meant a very different thing and is a very different movement than what is here. They don’t have a Ciudad Juarez, for example. Yes, there’s sexism everywhere. But now it is illegal to fire someone based on their gender.

The old ‘there’s sexism everywhere, what are you going to do about it?’ excuse doesn’t work anymore. Yes, there’s sexism everywhere, and everywhere women and men are working together to stop it, to make it disappear, for true equality. Who says it can’t disappear from comic books?

And please, remember. Disappearing sexism doesn’t mean making the T&A disappear or adding even more shots of Nightwing, Green Lantern and Batman’s ass. It means treating all characters equally, which, in the end, will only lead to better stories and isn’t that what we all want in the end?


ben valle said...

I would lie if I said I didnt like power girl's breasts. Do her breasts augment my love for the Justice Society of America? Absolutely not. The most important thing for me is the story. When I was a kid I loved a comic for it's art. Now, it has to be a good story or I drop the book.

You mentioned Runaways in your post; BKV does another Y the last man with very strng female characters.

I think we are in a fantastic time to read comics. There is a lot to choose from. Some sexist and others that truly respect the role of the woman.

I really like how you addressed this issue. And truly respect your opinion. Looking frward to having you as a friend in Comic Space.

Ami Angelwings said...

You make an excellent point when you say that if we accept the argument that a feminist reading comic books wanting them to be less sexist is the same as a taco without meat, then we accept that comic books are inherently sexist. XD

And honestly, if you phrased it like that, most comic writers will say "hey now, no we're not!" So either sexism is a big part of comics, or it's not and can be removed.

Neways, I rly liked what you wrote :)

Adalisa said...

Ben, that's the whole point, and thank you for mentioning it. I haven't read Y: The Last Man yet (I'll admit I'm a bit wary of stories that leave the main character as the 'only' of anything) but since I love Runaways, I'll give it a chance next time I have a few extra pesos when I'm at the comic store.

And I added you at Comic Space. I still have no idea what I'll do with that page, but you're added ;)

Ami, I'm very glad the idea got through. Unfortunately, the language barrier -for me, and the guys at Cenizas on one side; everyone else on the other- makes this things really difficult. And the most virulent feminists in my country, the ones that truly believe that women, for the sake of being women deserve some sort of special treatment, make things even harder when you're fighting for equality.
But hopefully, soon enough we'll make people understand that the problem is not the T&A.
And welcome to this little blog.