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Sexism in Comics is Not New--Here's What You Should Do about It

The industry will eventually realize that depth is more valuable than cheesecake, and believe it or not, you can make a difference.

The release of DC's 'new' 52 books has led to some rather interesting yet controversial opinion pieces ranging from how much these characters have changed with the relaunch (we've done several articles on the subject) to whether or not many of these books are simply pandering to male fantasy and exploiting female characters. It's a discussion that has left me, as a a female reader rather uneasy; mainly because to a certain extent I agree with the sentiments of my peers; and its just so damn discouraging.

'Red Hood and the Outlaws' #1
'Red Hood and the Outlaws' #1

However, as much as I agree with the arguments over the portrayal of women in these books, (albeit I don't agree with all of them) it's hard not to get tired of the negativity. I know there are female characters being exploited in comic books and I'm sure it's no surprise to you either. You, who are reading this right now already know that there are overly gratuitous interpretations of women in these books. Yes, it's sad. And it makes me depressed. But it's still exhausting to go over the discussion over and over again, even though it's the last thing we should stop doing. But there is more that we should be doing to combat sexism in comics than simply ranting about it.

== TEASER ==

This morning I came across Eric Stephenson's blog and it really resonated with me. Eric is the publisher at Image Comics, and Image publishes some really fantastic books. Eric addressed the debate over sexism in comics in his latest blog stating that this isn't a new concept, and that if you have a problem with these books and the portrayals of these characters, you should stop reading them.

I feel the whole practice of reading some of these comics is akin to whacking yourself in the hand with a hammer and then screaming that it hurts. There is most definitely a sexist element to how certain female superheroes are portrayed in comics, but it's not a secret. You don't look at a character like Power Girl and wonder, "Hmmm, could it be that tawdry costume she's in has a purpose other than drawing attention to her ridiculously enormous tits?" (And in case you do, here's a hint: No.) By and large, the types of comics creating all this uproar practically celebrate what they're doing. Meaning, it's not at all difficult to ignore them. And if you're offended by the portrayal of women in these comics, that's the best recourse: Ignore them. Starve them out. Stop supporting them.
Read me, instead!
Read me, instead!

With a struggling industry like comics, it wouldn't be hard to see some real change if everyone that hated the interpretation of Starfire never picked up another issue of 'Red Hood and the Outlaws' again. That's how change happens. Speak with your wallet, not just your words. Then, take that money you've worked so hard to earn and put it towards a title you can really appreciate, because at the end of the day, comics should be fun. They should make you feel good; and there have been plenty of female characters who are for more interesting and have a lot more depth than the interpretations of a few of the women in the books we've seen lately.

In the uproar, I really feel that a lot of comics that feature female characters in a positive, empowering light have gone overlooked. They have been overshadowed by so much hostility towards two titles and that is unacceptable. Yes, it's easy to get upset and rant about how angry you are at the interpretation of a character, but that won't help bring positive awareness to some really good books that deserve some love. Not enough people are talking about how powerful Wonder Woman is in this new relaunch, or how fantastic it is to see Kate return in 'Batwoman.' How these women really are kicking so much ass and taking names, and how excited people are to read their upcoming issues. And there's absolutely no reason for that.

Good characterizations of women in comics do exist, which is something we need to acknowledge; even if it can be hard sometimes; and if we are going to stand up and say that something is bad, then we should also stand and admit when they are really good. Yes, we are overloaded with gratuity for the sake of gratuity, and sexism for the sake of pandering to fanboys, but good comics with strong, interesting, intelligent women are out there; we just have to make a greater effort to talk about them, too.

409 Comments

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the_stegman

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Edited By the_stegman  Moderator

nice article, and yes, i really am getting quite annoyed by people complaining over something that's existed since comics themselves, it''s making a mountain out of a mole hill

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slick23

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Edited By slick23

Good read.

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mrzero1982pt2

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Edited By mrzero1982pt2

i read batwoman and LOVED it. i can say that it is the first female led superhero book i have EVER purchased. and i want batgirl but it is always SOLD OUT. tomorrow i am getting the batwoman trade. i speak with my wallet.

wait, i read morning glories and it is led by a female, so that is TWO books i have purchased.

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The Impersonator

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Edited By The Impersonator
No Caption Provided

Don't worry, Batwoman. I'll check you out for a while. :D

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Jonny_Anonymous

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Edited By Jonny_Anonymous

Finally a post about the DCnU females that makes sense 

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deactivated-5a98cd905fc97

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If possible, speak with polite, hand-written letters as well as your wallet.  That way, the comic producers actually know why there's a slight drop in sales.
 
I loathe seeing overly sexed images of men or women in comics.  It seems not only insulting towards those genders, but to me as well.  It's the oldest trick in the book and I'm not falling for it.  Like you say though, there are alternatives.

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SC

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Edited By SC  Moderator

One step better I think is to try and support indie comic book titles when they do such things as gender balance well. I think DC and Marvel can get confused with attributing success with books, because there are so many different complicated and mixed, clashing, aiding, reasons to attribute success and failure to a book. 

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Om1kron

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Edited By Om1kron

I was depressed to grow up and realize not all women have double d breasts that defy the laws of gravity and bra's and are in the skimpiest of shirts, have the ability to make sandwiches, lift cars, save kittens from fires. Never have bad hair days, always look great with just red lipstick, and have pupils instead of weird plain white eyes. And are not always in cut off daisy dukes or a sheet of cloth when not in their business suit.  
 
And lets not get me started on how Anime has completely turned me off from asian women. They totally don't look like the cartoons I grew up watching in real life.  
 
LOL! Seems like DC is hurting to sell some of their more BORING titles by adding fan service to them. Really all they had to do was put wonder woman back in the stupid ass grandma panties and that would've solved everything. No need to relaunch every book.

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originalhomeslice

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I don't read the comic that appears in this article, but reading the section cropped out of it, it doesn't seem like a male fantasy with any glimmer of intelligence -- it seems dated, uninspired and dumb.

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GrimoireMyst

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Edited By GrimoireMyst

I wasn't thinking of picking up the second Red Hood anyway. Starfire was not the way I remembered her. I still liked the Catwoman #1 though and will continue.

P.S: Cool short comic on the subject. http://geeks.thedailywh.at/2011/09/26/comics-commenting-on-comics-of-the-day/

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hitechlolife

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Edited By hitechlolife

Good advice that I'll be acting on by staying far away from Red Hood and Catwoman next month! Batwoman was amazing and yes people should be praising it more. It's not like she's some sexless paragon or anything, but here's a character that owns her sexuality, displays it even but it is in no way the deciding factor in who she is. I'll take a smart, witty, rockabilly, artchick batperson over some bint in an improbable bikini any day.

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gmanfromheck

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Edited By gmanfromheck

@hitechlolife: I still haven't read Catwoman even though it's sitting in our office.

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danhimself

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Edited By danhimself

@Babs: this article has made me fall in love with you....prepare for my mating ritual of peeking in your windows and doing burnouts in your yard at 3 a.m.

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CrimsonTempest

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Edited By CrimsonTempest
@The Impersonator said:
No Caption Provided

Don't worry, Batwoman. I'll check you out for a while. :D

Co-sign. And if people are that hugely up in arms still, go check out Kick-Ass 2 #4. That issue makes both DC books (Red Hood, Catwoman) seem like child's play.
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deactivated-5b749253880e5

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"Sexism" is America's new "Communism" apparently, people just throw around that word without regards of meaning and implication, just as a quick cop-out for the inability to take an art work for what it is.

To start with, we are talking about fictional characters. Really, to think that this is equivalent to rape, sexual harassment, and other real forms of sexism, is to have no regard for the suffering of those who actually suffer it. And by the way, most media, like soaps, also portray me in a "sexist" manner, like men are walking ATM machines, is it a real issue or is it a medium directed to what the female mainstream wants to see? Are we really going to censor fiction just for an unjustified sense of indignation?

My advice, if you don't like it, don't buy it. And if you want to empower the character, write comics, get good at it, and make your stories, and you might even get them published.

It is also laughable to expect this out of a medium that is mostly produced and consumed by male teens and adults (and I am not taking here into consideration the great quasi-feminist works of Joss Whedon, Martin Wagner, Daniel Clowes, Terry Moore, Chris Claremont, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman... which girls are not seeming to mind).

It's ridiculous to complain about how this fiction is handled, seriously, if you don't like what you are getting, just don't buy it, it's the first rule of consumerism. Why would want to ostracize the medium? Humans are sexual by nature, and believe me, in the history of art, sexuality has played a huge role in an artistic work, not to mention this actually is very conservative in comparisson (no that that is any sort of merit).

Sexually progressive cultures gave us mathematics, literature, philosophy, civilization and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust. -Alan Moore

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pspin

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Edited By pspin

Isn't Starfire from a planet where that kind of openness about sex is normal? 
 
But yeah if you want some thing like this to stop, money talks.
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WARLOCK2792

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Edited By WARLOCK2792

Verbal portrayals are the only things that tend to rub me the wrong way.  If a chick has a giant chest though?  That doesn't bother me at all. 

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ForbushBug

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Edited By ForbushBug

So if we're supposed to stop supporting sexist comics per Eric Stephenson's suggestion then I guess I'll stop picking up Bomb Queen minis... which are put out by Image. Let me guess... he'll probably say that's different because BQ is supposed to be satire so it can show as much T&A. Nope, doesn't work. Skin is skin. Sorry, Eric... you don't get to bash another company's character for have a cleavage window when one of yours has her boobs actually falling out of hers. And don't get me started on the output of their partner, Top Cow. But thanks to Eric's hypocrisy I will stop supporting a company that panders to its audience... Image Comics.

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Lonestar88

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Edited By Lonestar88

The fact that Starfire was promiscuous did not bother me at all.  The thing that bothered me was her utter lack of any personality. With no personality, her promiscuity became her defining trait. Not only is that sexist, it also makes for an incredibly uninteresting character.

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pixelized

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Edited By pixelized

@spikevalentine said:

To star with, we are talking about fictional characters, really to think that is equivalent to rape, sexual harassment, and other real forms of sexism, is to have no regard for the suffering of those who actually suffer it.

HUH?

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Wattup

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Edited By Wattup

I hope Roy Harper and Jason Todd pick up some kind of Tamaranean gonorrhea.

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Troilus

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Edited By Troilus

I'm annoyed by all the articles about sexism in comics. People are complaining about only 2 books out of DC's 52 that have actual sexy women in them, that i can tell. And just because they are sexy does not make it sexism. Women are sexy, if you try to draw them differently its a lie. Both of the titles in question are both rated appropriately too. If you do not want to see scantily clad females, don't read them.

It feels like an unjustified crusade to all out eliminate sexed up artwork of women.

I never see articles complaining about overly beefed up men in comics shirtless or etc.

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Tempest55

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Edited By Tempest55

Yeeeeeeeeeeeep

No Caption Provided
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Wattup

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Edited By Wattup

My lit agent sent me this funny link:

http://io9.com/5844355/a-7+year+old-girl-responds-to-dc-comics-sexed+up-reboot-of-starfire

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Edited By pixelized

@White Mage said:

Verbal portrayals are the only things that tend to rub me the wrong way. If a chick has a giant chest though? That doesn't bother me at all.

That's part of the reason why I've never touched a Vampirella comic. There's that lingering stereotype out there about comic readers being these nerds that can't get girls so we settle for our fictional ones, and I feel like supporting that would just be reinforcing those notions.

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hitechlolife

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Edited By hitechlolife

@G-Man said:

@hitechlolife: I still haven't read Catwoman even though it's sitting in our office.

That last page man, it can't be unseen.

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Nefilim927

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Edited By Nefilim927

I was even taken back after reading Red Hood & the Outlaws, more so due to the kind of treatment Starfire was receiving not so much the amount of skin. I feel like the character treatment is much more damaging. Catwoman had some graphic images as well but because we know her as a stronger character we don't mind it as much. This was a good part of last weeks Podcast too...

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deactivated-5d1828448d5f0

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I've been saying this, forever.

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Darthmat

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Edited By Darthmat

Personally, I was offended by The Savage Hawkman. He was totally nude for a couple panels, and clever angles is all that prevented me from seeing his privates. Such nudity isn't needed and is only done to pander to sexual fantasies!

I'm just kidding. But I think it's interesting that people bothered to mention Wonder Woman's and Batwoman's changing scenes but not the instance of male nudity.

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No_Name_

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Edited By No_Name_

@Wattup said:

My lit agent sent me this funny link:

http://io9.com/5844355/a-7+year+old-girl-responds-to-dc-comics-sexed+up-reboot-of-starfire

When I read that I was pretty disappointed. I couldn't believe that woman exploited her 7 year old daughter by exposing her to the comic she knowingly did not agree with just so she could get an article out of of. It just felt wrong.

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movieartman

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Edited By movieartman
@pspin
yes but the sex isnt the problem its the fact that they gave her this whole memory loss thing witch caused her to loose her traditional loving careing personality  
without it the sex just makes her seem like the male characters living sex doll 
im strongly holding out hope that this is an intentional plot point witch will be sorted out in future storylines as her character grows
and babs i truly can appreciate your strong feelings on this subject u are a very strong and intellegent woman but honestly the way this whole article comes out is that men Should not at all enjoy attractive female super heroes kicking ass and being sexy YES they should have deeper characterazations than just that but they should have thoose qualitys too for gods sake and telling us to boycott books just cus they have an over aboundence of cheesecake is far and away overdoing this
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obscurefan

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Edited By obscurefan

About time the community finally realized this. Every single time I go onto a website and see hundreds of comic fans sitting around a forum or group shouting and complaining about how much they hate a book I just think "you know you could stop that real quick, you don't have to spend money on stuff you don't like just so you can go online and complain about it."

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movieartman

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Edited By movieartman
@Troilus
i strongly agree with this statment
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Rudyftw

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Edited By Rudyftw

UGH. I hate these feminazis always trying to butcher things! Yes we get it. Men are pigs and women poop rainbows. I can easily say male comic heroes are overly exposed with muscle bearing tights and oddly cut attire for the few female/gay readers, BUT I DONT BECAUSE ITS RIDICULOUS. There are other ways to see hot women (who are real by the way). And the dude working for Image Comics needs to stop talking or writing. I have seen PLENTY of women in their comics belittled.

I got a solution. To everyone who dislikes how women/race/sexuality in comics is portrayed, please do stop reading them. Maybe that way, we won't have to continually hear the same crap over and over and over again.

*END RANT*

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Psykhophear

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Edited By Psykhophear

I dig sexy comic chicks but it's a matter of the writers and artists to know their limits. Seeing Starfire asking to have sex with some dude is way too much. That should be in an M-rated comic, not in a DC comic. Sexism in comics is fine but there must be a balance to it so that it doesn't offend anyone.

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No_Name_

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@movieartman said:

@pspin: yes but the sex isnt the problem its the fact that they gave her this whole memory loss thing witch caused her to loose her traditional loving careing personality without it the sex just makes her seem like the male characters living sex doll im strongly holding out hope that this is an intentional plot point witch will be sorted out in future storylines as her character growsand babs i truly can appreciate your strong feelings on this subject u are a very strong and intellegent woman but honestly the way this whole article comes out is that men Should not at all enjoy attractive female super heroes kicking ass and being sexy YES they should have deeper characterazations than just that but they should have thoose qualitys too for gods sake and telling us to boycott books just cus they have an over aboundence of cheesecake is far and away overdoing this

I'm sorry that's what you interpreted from what I wrote, but that's not at all the message I was trying to convey.

I never, ever said that women can't be both strong and sexy.

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stambo42

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Edited By stambo42

It is unfortunate though when a writer or an artist with a nasty sexist streak takes over a book with a character you really enjoy and care about. I tend to like the way Emma Frost has been written in the past decade and change (though I've been reading less the past five years so perhaps things have changed) but I'm often put off by the ways she is drawn. This woman is loaded, and brilliant. Being sexually manipulative is certainly part of her character... but dressing like a hooker are or a porn star isn't. When you have that much of a poise, confidence, and arrogance, dressing cheap is out of character. There are ways of dressing provocatively without being half naked. This woman is a teacher, after all.

Using economics for a change is a good tactic, but I can understand fans wanting publishers to treat their characters with more dignity.

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the_stegman

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Edited By the_stegman  Moderator
@Lonestar88:  
 
 

The fact that Starfire was promiscuous did not bother me at all.  The thing that bothered me was her utter lack of any personality. With no personality, her promiscuity became her defining trait. Not only is that sexist, it also makes for an incredibly uninteresting character.

i really REALLY don't think Dc is stupid enough to make vapidness Starfire's new permanent personality, my guess is, as the series progresses, she's gonna learn how to care more for those around her and act less alien...pun intended, it'll probably play out like Terminator 2, i mean the Terminator didn't really have a personality, but in the end he learned at least some form of love.
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WARLOCK2792

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Edited By WARLOCK2792
@pixelized said:

@White Mage said:

Verbal portrayals are the only things that tend to rub me the wrong way. If a chick has a giant chest though? That doesn't bother me at all.

That's part of the reason why I've never touched a Vampirella comic. There's that lingering stereotype out there about comic readers being these nerds that can't get girls so we settle for our fictional ones, and I feel like supporting that would just be reinforcing those notions.

She's dressed like Ultimate Scarlet Witch/Morgan Le fay
Only without the vag and butt cloth/drapes/flaps to make her look a hint classier.  Although personally I think she looks hot.  
 
Besides, it's still similar to looking at Cyclops'/Black Panther's ass and realizing just how out of shape you are.  I've come to terms with the fact that they aren't meant to make me feel happy about the typical human figure. 
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movieartman

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Edited By movieartman
@stambo42
i cant recall to a time when she dosent dress as she does now
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charlieboy

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Edited By charlieboy

the only problem i have with starfire is that it was not her at all. she seemed really different.  
but i do think it is funny that when a female character is portrayed enjoying her body and enjoying sex that it is sexism. why is it not sexism every time we see thor, bruce wayne, or nightwing shirtless and getting busy with some chick? i have seen way more shirtless men in comics than i have shirtless women. i think this topic is silly. if you don't like the oversexualized nature of some comics. then don't buy them. i am a gay male and it does not offend me at all for starfire and catwoman to be having some fun. sex is a part of the world. sex sells. it is not just some evil horny men writing these books for evil horny comic book geeks. sex is an everyday part of life and i think everybody should just stop being prudish.
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RainEffect

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Edited By RainEffect
@Babs: I tip my hat to you, Sara. Seriously, this was the most mature blog I have read in a long time. You perfectly analyzed why in fact this entire issue is being absurdly spotlighted in recent days, because it is absolutely nothing new. Women can be powerful and sexy, as that's how they were intended to be. Mothers are strong-willed and fiercely protective, as well as being physically beautiful. 
 
Any time someone tries to start a debate with me about how horribly portrayed women are in comics, I show them Birds of Prey #6 where Huntress stands up to Lady Shiva. That's one scene I'll never forget.
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pixelized

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Edited By pixelized

@White Mage said:

@pixelized said:

@White Mage said:

Verbal portrayals are the only things that tend to rub me the wrong way. If a chick has a giant chest though? That doesn't bother me at all.

That's part of the reason why I've never touched a Vampirella comic. There's that lingering stereotype out there about comic readers being these nerds that can't get girls so we settle for our fictional ones, and I feel like supporting that would just be reinforcing those notions.

She's dressed like Ultimate Scarlet Witch/Morgan Le fay Only without the vag and butt cloth/drapes/flaps to make her look a hint classier. Although personally I think she looks hot. Besides, it's still similar to looking at Cyclops'/Black Panther's ass and realizing just how out of shape you are. I've come to terms with the fact that they aren't meant to make me feel happy about the typical human figure.

Pffft you would.

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RedheadedAtrocitus

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Never have had a problem with 'cheesecake' in comics just like I've never had an issue with it in any other medium. This article really is essential to any and all people that are complaining about the so-called sexism and its implications. In the end, it is there because as consumers we allow it to occur. And to those who don't like the supposed sexist theme and want to see it stricken from the comic panels, don't buy the comics themselves or even pay your money for them. Actions speak louder than words people. It is as simple as that. In truth I do not see anymore over-sexualization in some female characters in the New 52 than I saw in DCU's ancien regime. Its straight across the board people. If you're gonna complain about Kor'iander in DC then complain about others. What of Lady Death? Purgatori? Any of a number of females that made up the roster of Youngblood? Seriously people, you don't like it, don't pay your money for it then. As for me, I rather like pleasant cheesecake with my story and see no reason to complain.

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WARLOCK2792

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@pixelized said:

@White Mage said:

@pixelized said:

@White Mage said:

Verbal portrayals are the only things that tend to rub me the wrong way. If a chick has a giant chest though? That doesn't bother me at all.

That's part of the reason why I've never touched a Vampirella comic. There's that lingering stereotype out there about comic readers being these nerds that can't get girls so we settle for our fictional ones, and I feel like supporting that would just be reinforcing those notions.

She's dressed like Ultimate Scarlet Witch/Morgan Le fay Only without the vag and butt cloth/drapes/flaps to make her look a hint classier. Although personally I think she looks hot. Besides, it's still similar to looking at Cyclops'/Black Panther's ass and realizing just how out of shape you are. I've come to terms with the fact that they aren't meant to make me feel happy about the typical human figure.

Pffft you would.

Hell yeah I would!   A drape here, and a drape there, and she would look like Kaileena
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Aeroman

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I'm thankful for reading batwoman because of this article

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gangly

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Ever since this "discussion" started last week, I've just been getting more and more aggravated as people jump on this bandwagon only to completely miss this important point. If they think that DC is shoving T&A in their comics to make money, the only retaliation is to stop giving your money to those titles.

But the point made here is the truly important one. There are countless people out there who want to read well-rounded female characters, but they don't buy comics because they think that doesn't exist. If all of those people start buying the great books coming out now, the companies will notice not just a decline in sales (which they probably expect for these more "adult" titles anyway)but a huge increase in sales of books which will make them want to make more of the good stuff.

The sad part of the "let's-yell-a-lot-on-message-boards" tactic that has spread like wildfire since last Wed., is that I'm sure thousands of people picked up these two infamous titles purely because of the controversy.

We have the power people, vote with your wallet!

(and thanks so much Babs for being reliably intelligent and level-headed!!!)

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JoseDRiveraTCR7

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@pixelized:Someone wrote an article the other day on one of the big comic books sites (forgot which one) comparing the sexism in comics, which is mostly just fan service and unrealistic portrayals or women, to spousal abuse.

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I'll give you Red Hood and the Outlaws, that was a bit wild, and Voodoo was quite promiscuous, but I think lots of people are SEVERELY overreacting to Catwoman. Because Catwoman wasn't exploited. She was in control. A tease here and there lowered her enemies' guard, and she proved that she's a very strong and capable woman. Is there a reason for Power Girl's 'boob window' other than to draw attention to her tits? No. But was there a reason for all the sexiness in Catwoman other than to sell it with sex? ABSOLUTELY. Catwoman was full of deeper complexities that utilized the eroticism. Starfire was pure cheesecake in Red Hood, and Voodoo probably went a little overboard, but Catwoman was perfectly fine. 
Also yes, Batwoman was simply amazing. Batgirl was excellent too, and didn't have even the tiny hint of cheesecake Batwoman did. 

@Om1kron said:

Really all they had to do was put wonder woman back in the stupid ass grandma panties and that would've solved everything. No need to relaunch every book.  
You mean, exactly what they DID do?
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Lonestar88

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@The Stegman said:
@Lonestar88:  
 
 

The fact that Starfire was promiscuous did not bother me at all.  The thing that bothered me was her utter lack of any personality. With no personality, her promiscuity became her defining trait. Not only is that sexist, it also makes for an incredibly uninteresting character.

i really REALLY don't think Dc is stupid enough to make vapidness Starfire's new permanent personality, my guess is, as the series progresses, she's gonna learn how to care more for those around her and act less alien...pun intended, it'll probably play out like Terminator 2, i mean the Terminator didn't really have a personality, but in the end he learned at least some form of love.
Oh I definitely agree with that, I don't think Starfire will permanently be this way, but for this issue, her lack of a personality made things a lot worse. Your terminator reference is fitting because she was portrayed as just a sex robot.  I don't think her promiscuity would have been as big of a controversy if she actually had a personality.