Perhaps the most irritating thing about the gender argument is the fact that the people that always seem to be doing the arguing are either a) extremely irritating b) misinformed c) extreme and entirely unwilling to even consider anything outside their argument (Editor's Note: Wednesday's Child feels that he is none of these things.) Unlucky for me, the Representation of Women in Comics panelists were all of the above. Moderated by Abby Denson, Chris Butzer of Rabid Rabbit, cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki of Skim fame, Robin Furth, who adapted Stephen King's Dark Tower for Marvel, and a couple others not only decided to use the hour for their own self-promotion, but danced around the already vague and predictable questions Denson posed. Sorry guys, but the fact that some women find a 36-24-36 blonde bombshell in skin tight latex offensive is nothing new.
As Denson asked questions like, "What comes to mind when you think of 'the representation of women in comics'?" and "Do you think the portrayal of women has progressed?" I watched as audience members became (if they weren't already) totally uninterested. I couldn't help but feel like these shallow, unaffecting questions had been scrawled out onto a napkin on the hike over from the food court. Not only did they fail to establish any sort of dialogue from the panelists, but they also didn't allow any room for audience members to open up a discussion of their own.
Most irritating about the panel (aside from the complete lethargy) was the hypocrisy found therein. The driving point reiterated over and over throughout the hour by each of the panelists was that females have progressed in comics because of the shift in their positions of power. ORLY? Denson mentioned- several times- her current project centered around Aunt May stealing Peter Parker's Spidey Suit to go fight crime, unbeknownst to him. She emphasized how she felt the character of Aunt May has always been so "dated", wearing "unfashionable clothes" and "staying at home all day twiddling her thumbs". Denson said she felt compelled to transform Aunt May's character into a strong, modern woman. This really made me raise my eyebrows. So the only way Aunt May is able to be "strong" is by putting on a male character's suit and going out to "fight crime"- the traditional male "action role"? So older women who "sit at home" and exhibit any sort of femininity can't be strong, since strength is apparently still being equated with stereotypical masculinity? So not only are you perpetuating gender stereotypes, but you are recreating gender boundaries? Well that's great. Thanks so much Denson! I'll be sure to wipe off my nailpolish the next time I decide to shotgun a beer.
A response, by Paul DeBenedetto:
While I did not attend this panel I agree with Chelsea here, insofar as a lot of argument regarding strong women protagonists is that it's important to prove that women can do what men can do; the problem with this is that you're making men the barometer. By saying "I'm just as tough as that guy; see?", you're basically setting yourself up to fail, because essentially saying this perpetuates the idea that, overall, men are "better" than women- that is, if there's such a struggle for women to prove themselves to men the implication is that men are something women should aspire to be like.
Ultimately, rather than try to "masculize" women in comics, why not accentuate their inherent femininity? It's like my friend Thimali once said to me; she's a woman, and she knows there are clear differences between her and a man. Not weaknesses or strengths, just differences.If she were in Aunt May's shoes, for example, she wouldn't need to dress in that Spider Suit to prove she can "hang with the boys". Yes, generally men are hopped up on testosterone, but aren't women more emotional animals? Paraphrasing her (probably butchering her real comments, actually): "once a month my emotions are thrown for a loop. I am happy, I am sad, I am angry, I am moody. And thus by definition I am more in touch with my emotions than a man is." And this is true. Men and women experience different things, are built differently, and thus act differently.
This is not to say that female characters CAN'T be traditionally strong or tough. Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Powergirl, Batgirl, Batwoman, Echo, Ms. Marvel, Elektra; all of these characters are physically strong, and it's in character. Aunt May? Not so much. Incidentally, you know who else is "dated" and wears "unfashionable clothes"? My grandmother.
Yes, throughout history masculinity and the "Alpha Male" have been dominant, whether it be on television, in literature, or even in the workplace. But isn't the answer to rebel against and reject THAT idea, rather than to ostensibly play into it?