SHOWCASE PRESENTS: Sexism In Comic Books

(Editors Note: All editorials are solely the opinion of the author, and do not necessarily reflect  the views or opinions of DC Comics News or its staff.)

A Necessary Introduction

Before I get the ball rolling on this one, I’d like to point out that I’m a guy. According to many women I know, that means I’m incapable of having an accurate perspective on this issue. And, honestly, to an extent, I kind of agree.

I’m a minority. I look like the kind of guy who would blow up an aircraft or monument. As a result, I think a lot of my white peers don’t understand a lot of the issues I face on a daily basis or how I feel about them. I think affirmative action is insulting. And I think it’s messed up that I have to be completely clean-shaven in order to get through the airport without any major hassles. I still got body-scanned four times in a row while trying to board a plane this weekend. But I don’t hate the TSA agents scanning me. Because, the fact is, the people who do blow up buildings and planes do tend to look like me. S**t’s complicated.

So, when I bring up this issue, I know there might be some backlash. From men. From women. From life-long, die-hard fanboys. From people who have never once picked up a comic book. And, I want to make this abundantly clear: I’m writing what I believe but I am aware that I don’t know all the facts, that I don’t have the most viable perspective. If you comment on this, I just ask that you put some real thought into your responses. Things like “you’re a man so you just wouldn’t understand” (something I’ve heard entirely too often when dealing with this issue) will not actually help me understand. I’d really like to.

I mean, really, why even HAVE a zipper?

The Actual Article

Generally speaking, due to different cultural and societal standard for male and female “beauty,” men and women are portrayed differently in comic books. It is important to realize that this is not an issue exclusive to comic books. While the portrayals of strong female characters in movies and television have had a chance to grow and evolve, women are still regularly objectified (see: every Michael Bay movie ever made).

The people who make movies and television, rely, largely, on “tried and true” tropes, unwilling to take major risks that could potentially cause financial woes down the road. Business is business and if a financially viable formula is found, you can damn sure bet it’s going to get replicated more than Hugh Jackman in that one movie about magicians. The comic book industry is a fringe subculture, really only gaining mainstream appeal recently, and even then, while comic book characters have become popular at the box office, actually reading comic books honestly hasn’t. This makes comic book companies, from a business standpoint, much more averse to change.

Remember, it was only recently that DC allowed a black character (Cyborg) to be repositioned as one of the most important characters in the DCU who wasn’t a legacy hero (like Green Lantern John Stewart). And, even so, he’s basically Batman’s bitch and doesn’t even have his own title.

You know what the weirdest part is? Technically, Tamaranean’s are descended from cats. So those are cat nipples you’re not seeing.

That said, this is not entirely the fault of the industry. After all, we are the ones who buy the comics. For 75 years, we’ve been telling comic companies that we don’t want a progressive universe. We want the same characters who never age and never (really) die. They just get rebooted over and over and over again, always preserving the status quo.

At the same time, it’s not entirely true that we vote with our wallets. See, we’re stuck in a cycle. We can’t buy books from mainstream publishers about strong female or minority characters who aren’t exploited or objectified because there are none, because we’re not buying them. Supporting indie publishers is our only avenue at the moment.

The reason I decided to write this article and put it up on a DC fan site is simple. Yesterday someone asked me a question that I couldn’t answer: Can you name five strong female heroes at DC who aren’t legacy characters, aren’t objectified or have their decisions largely determined by a male character? I got as far as “Wonder Woman… kind of… at least in the New 52… most of the time.”

Contrary to popular belief, Batwoman does in fact have superpowers. Her breasts defy physics and her nipples are like diamonds.

So I did a little research. Here’s a list of the top ten most searched for female characters at DC:

  • Wonder Woman – As I said above, she kind of answers the question, though recently more has been made of her relationship with Superman than anything else. Which is unfortunate since her ongoing title is easily one of the strongest to come out of the reboot. I’ll give her a pass based on her solo title.
  • Catwoman – More an anti-hero, but I’ll let that slide. What really knocks her out of the running is the objectification angle. She has yet to figure out zippers. Fails the test.
  • Harley Quinn – She’s a villain and every non-comic appearance she’s ever had has revolved around her love for the Joker. Test failed.
  • Lois Lane – Her only appearances in current continuity seem to revolve around how she’s not dating Clark Kent/Superman. Fail.
  • Supergirl – Legacy character. And that’s not even mentioning her costume. Fail.
  • Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) – Again, a legacy character. And I thought she was stronger as Oracle anyway. Fail.
  • Batgirl (Stephanie Brown) – Legacy character who no longer exists despite being awesome. Unfortunately, fail.
  • Batwoman – Legacy character… kind of. Though not objectified… Y’know what? I’ll give her a pass.
  • Zatanna – She no longer wears fishnet stockings which is a big step in the right direction. I’m not currently reading Justice League Dark but I haven’t heard anything terrible about her portrayal so she gets a pass, too.
  • Starfire – Objectified to the extreme. Fail.

So, at final tally, that’s Wonder Woman, Batwoman, and Zatanna who answer the question. DC’s ten most popular female characters and I ended up with three who pass the test, but only with a bunch of asterisks attached to their names. That’s a damn shame.

Can any of you answer the question any better?