Sexism and comics: Enough is enough

girl and dog

Girl reading Mickey Mouse comic in 1947. Photo by Carnegie Museum of Art

The old wise tale that comic book fans are exclusively the geeky, socially inept Sheldon Coopers of the world is, quite frankly, ridiculous. Though some love to deny it, comic book fans come in all shapes, sizes and fascinatingly, genders. Females have been fans of comic books since their conception and gradual rise in popularity around the 1940s.

Women are fiercely underrepresented in the marketing of comic merchandise and comic themed movies. Though there are many female heroines in comic books themselves, many are often marred by grossly over-sexualized representations.

Female heroines are often depicted in unrealistic, promiscuous positions that sometimes aren’t even physically possible. Artists manipulate, contort, and emphasize the female anatomy simply in order fill in the proper quota of ‘money shots.’ Sex sells, and this was never more evident than in this industry.

Overly-sexualized posing is just another example of how desperately the comic industry attempts to cater to the male audience. Female fans are often writtenoff as ‘fake geek girls,’ a derogatory term used to invalidate and devalue their interests. Woman who wear comic book themed shirts are often interrogated by random male fans. They are harassed and put on the spot, often forced to answer detailed questions about the characters or comic book universe represented on their garment. If the woman happens to not know one of the answers to this pop trivia quiz, she is ridiculed and labeled as a ‘fake geek girl.’ This is a show of genuine sexism and could be deemed harassment in certain cases.

Someone’s def missing here. Photo by @kristenrapp on Twitter.

For such powerful industries such as Marvel and DC, their lack of self-awareness is profound. An estimated 44 percent of comic-related film movie-goers and comic-related merchandise consumers are women. Yet females still don’t appear to be a thought on any corporate mind.

Fans of both genders were outraged over the marketing approach of The Avengers and most recently, Guardians of the Galaxy. Though the movies themselves offered strong female role models in the form of Black Widow and Gamora, neither of these characters could be found on a single piece of merchandise beyond the original movie poster. T-shirts, cups, toys, backpacks and more decorated shelves in all major retail stores, yet a woman could not be found pictured on anything. Despite being a major part of their respective teams, the female characters are always excluded from the featured ensembles.

Beyond leaving women out from the merchandise itself, the products sold were directed heavily at young boys. No Marvel or DC items could be found in any of the female departments. Many outraged fans began tweeting complaints about the unjustness of female exclusion, using the appropriate hashtag #wheresgamora.

Who wore it better? Photo by The Hawkeye Initiative.

Men and women who are tired of sexism in comics are banning together and taking a stand. Cleverly titled “The Hawkeye Initiative,” a popular online community has formed in the hopes of stopping these sexist trends. The blog uses Clint Barton (a.k.a Hawkeye) as a poster child for their equality movement. Various artists draw Barton, and occasionally other male heroes, in the same sexual, graphic poses in which female characters are portrayed. This beautifully sheds light on just how ridiculous and impractical some of the comic pictures can be.

Are comics’ target demographic really creepy, middle-aged, basement-dwellers anymore? Was that stereotype even applicable or slightly believable in the first place? Instead of tailoring these characters to be simple objects of pleasure, it would be certainly nice to see them for what they really are: Strong, powerful, complex heroines.



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