I have not yet checked out Wimmen’s Comix, the all woman, feminist, underground comics anthology that ran for twenty years. Twenty years and I haven’t read a single issue! Well, it was out of print for ages. In September, Fantagraphics will publish a beautiful deluxe edition of The Complete Wimmen’s Comix, and... there goes my autumn.
A GamerGate-associated group named "Honey Badger Radio" crowdfunded an appearance as exhibitors at CalgaryExpo, in part to sell pro-GamerGate merchandise, and in part to disrupt panels with a feminist angle. As a result of their disruptive behavior, the group has been removed from the convention. This has many GamerGate supporters shouting "censorship" and "misogyny" at the convention, though the convention acted within the bounds of its rules of conduct and for the good of its attendees.
Cartoonist Ronnie Richie has a great piece up at Everyday Feminism that explains what makes a portrayal of a woman empowering versus objectifying. It seems like there should be an easy answer to this question, and Richie offers one, but they also make clear that creators and consumers still really need to think seriously about individual portrayals and depictions in order to understand the distinction. There's no one-size-fits-all answer to what makes something empowering rather than objectifying, because there's an eternally shifting dynamic in each situation: who has the power.
I’m not a perfect feminist. You’ve never met one; they don’t exist. Any feminist theory worth spit will tell you that we are all products of a misogynist, patriarchal society which has gotten its hooks into each of us in one way or another. As a friend of mine lyrically puts it “The poison’s in us all”. Everyone on Earth is a recovering sexist, classist, ableist racist, including you, and including me.
Given we’re all at risk of perpetuating patriarchy, it stands to reason that we ought to take a very serious look at the question of reform and rehabilitation. What do they look like, and how do they come about?
There aren't many decades that brought as much change for women as the 1960s. The roles and rights of women changed and the world met second wave feminism --- and yet, especially at the beginning of the decade, women were still often expected to fill only the role of a housewife and mother.
This is where Joëlle Jones and Jamie S. Rich's Lady Killer comes in, set in 1962. Lady Killer's heroine Josie is exactly the housewife and mother that the times demanded she be, and a focused career woman who happens to make a career out of assassination. It's a book that carries a lot of weight as a story about a woman in a time of great change. It's also a book that's easy on the eyes.
Who is Wonder Woman?
Is she a being of love adrift in darkness, as portrayed by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang in their recently ended run? A dowdy wallflower, eternally at war with her own glamorous alter ego for Steve Trevor’s affection? George Pérez’s goddess of truth? Robert Kanigher’s wannabe wife? Greg Rucka’s diplomat? Gail Simone’s savior? Robert Valley's hot rod heroine? The Justice League’s secretary? Superman’s girlfriend? Batman’s girlfriend? Lynda Carter in satin tights? William Moulton Marston’s herald of benevolent matriarchy or the sexed-up uberbabe I met as a comics-curious child? Or, in the most macro sense—the one that most of the public operates on, when it comes to Wonder Woman—is she merely the century’s most generic t-shirt symbol of girl power?
Barbara Gordon is for girls. This truth has been obscured over the years, most notably in the Batman: The Killing Joke, in which the classic Batgirl was shot, sexually abused and paralyzed by the Joker and taken out of costume for decades. But just as Superman stands for unimpeachable hope and Batman for rigid justice, Batgirl stands for girls doing what the hell they want. From the moment she debuted as part of the classic Batman TV show of the 1960s, this was clear: she was a librarian, she rode a motorcycle decorated with chiffon ruffles, and she did not give a damn that Batman wanted her to hang up the glittery puple cape and cowl. She was no sweet-tempered Kyptonian cousin, no kid sister, and no swooning girlfriend. As Mike Madrid detailed in The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines, “Batgirl is a female Batman can actually regard as a brilliant peer and a partner in the war on crime, the same way he would a male.”
“If the harassment is so bad, why don’t women just report it?”
“I want to believe these women, but if they’re not willing to come forth and put their name to these accusations, I just can’t.”
“These claims of harassment are all so overblown. I never see it happening.”
I have been a woman in the comics industry for a few months now. It has been wonderful. It has also been terrifying.
Terrifying in a way I’m used to, though. When you grow up enveloped in the miasma of “tits or GTFO,” “attention whore,” and “fake geek girl,” fear becomes the price you pay to enjoy your hobbies. You don’t even think of it as fear most of the time. Sometimes you join in the fear mongering yourself, enjoying the a**hole glamour of not being too pussy to call another girl a slut. Sometimes you hide in woman-heavy spaces, which go maligned elsewhere (“Tumblrinas!”) but do a pretty solid job of keeping you safe. The fear comes back eventually, though, as a slew of graphic rape threats or a simple joke about “feminazis” you are expected to chuckle along with. It might be in response to a screed worthy of Andrea Dworkin—or maybe you just tweeted something about disliking Guardians of the Galaxy. What matters is that you were a woman with an opinion on the internet, and now you must be punished. You must be made to fear.
Sailor Moon is inescapable. There’s the new anime of course, and the new musicals, the merchandise, and the retranslation of the manga. But it’s the emblem of a wider renaissance as well, a resurgence of love for mahou shoujo, or magical girl anime and manga — a movement led by women well out of their childhood years. A quick stroll through Tumblr reveals Sailor Moon cupcakes, punky Sailor Moon jackets, heartfelt essays about what the portrayal of lesbianism in Sailor Moon meant to the reader, dozens of artists working together to reanimate an episode of the anime, Sailor Moon nail art tutorials, cats named Luna, Beryl, Haruka and everything in between, hand-sculpted figurines, ornate embroidery projects, and an endless avalanche of fanart. Sailor Moon as an Adventure Time character. Sailor Moon cheekily clutching a Hitachi Magic Wand. Sailor Moon as a vicious biker chick. Sailor Moon protesting the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling.
Sailor Moon fans have not so much rediscovered their love for Naoko Takeuchi’s sword-and-sparkle epic as they have elected her queen mother of their imaginations and ultimate aspirational self. She is, simultaneously, symbol, cause, and leader.
This resurgence is animated by more than typical fannish passion. This is a need to return to a world where young women are in charge. This is an anger at the pabulum of Good Role Models for Girls, at boob windows and “fridging" and “tits or gtfo.” This is 15-year-olds covering their notebooks in “MERMAIDS AGAINST MISOGYNY” stickers, yet also gravely serious grad students applying bell hooks to Takeuchi’s use of Greco-Roman myth. This is a collective invoking of spirits, made more potent in their absence — Usagi Tsukino and all her friends as saints and saviors, carrying the light of childhood optimism to an adulthood in sore need of it. This is nostalgia as a weapon. “Pretty soldiers” indeed.
DC has a Wonder Woman problem. Or perhaps more accurately, Wonder Woman has a DC problem. The idea of Wonder Woman as a feminist icon is so imprinted in her history, and in analysis of the character, that separating her from feminism should be near impossible. But that hasn’t stopped people trying.
Much has been written over the years about the ebb and flow of feminism in the Wonder Woman comics, the relative feminism of her appearances on the small screen, and her role as an icon for the movement. A recent interview with the new Wonder Woman creative team of Meredith Finch and David Finch has brought the topic back into focus.