Sexism and Diversity in Comics: a Heated Debate
The MindHut's resident comic book geek, Steven Romano, got fired up about the recent controversy surrounding the discussion of diversity and sexism in comic books. He's got an opinion. But so do you! We want to hear what you think about the matter after you read his take on it.
The Internet’s community of comic book devotees created a firestorm this week in response to answers given by a panel of veterans of the medium during a press tour for PBS‘ upcoming documentary series, Superheroes: The Never-Ending Battle. Speaking were Todd McFarlane (creator of Spawn), longtime editor Len Wein, and Gerry Conway (co-creator of The Punisher) and their responses were interpreted as sexist and bigoted in respect to the lack of diversity in comics. While the backlash from fans was passionate and immense, is it really contributing positively to the matter?
The triumvirate of comic creatives were asked plenty of questions throughout the panel, with Conway responding that the reason for this diversity deficit is due to the medium’s being influenced by society. In the defense of fans, Conway’s notion is erroneous. Compared to previous generations, the mindset of today is perhaps the most open to cultural and gender diversity. Granted, we still have a way to go, but it’s had such a profound impact on the comic book stories of today regardless. Never before have we seen such an abundance of heroes and heroines originating from so many walks of life, providing inspiration to the individual readers that identify with them.
Conversely, some fans nowadays have this inclination to allow themselves to get in a frenzy over something they shouldn’t even be getting mad about—even in light of knowing full well that diversity in comics does exist and progress is being made. And there’s the key word here: PROGRESS. As in taking time. You can’t say that we’re not an impatient lot. When we want something now, we want it NOW—this very instant or we’re going to boycott the publisher in question and write an inflammatory blog post or tweet! What we all really must do is stop, take a look around, and appreciate the diversity in comics that we already have now, with the knowledge that we’re gradually moving in a positive direction. In essence, the readership has to learn to allow things to take their natural course, our pushing to make it go faster only inhibits this forward momentum.
Following Conway, McFarlane then stepped up to the plate addressing the portrayal of women in comics, mentioning that—speaking entirely from his own parental empiricism—he doesn’t find superhero titles appropriate for his daughters or girls in general, as they're male-centric and (unlike other mediums) don't provide positive role models. Many maligned both McFarlane and his statement. However, it seemed he was more critical of the superhero genre as opposed to flat out saying girls shouldn’t be allowed to read comics. Yet what he and fans don’t realize is that the predominance of male characters is a product of the industry’s Golden Age when musclebound heroes were a standard—it was never done maliciously. BUT, this standard does not hold up relative to today’s sensibilities, as evidenced by the strong female characters that we’ve seen appearing over the years.
As per the course, we allow the rage-mongering spin of the media distract us from what we know ourselves. And for the record, a majority of these journalists covering this topic don’t even know the first thing about comic books and immediately jump on the “Comics Bad” bandwagon. But we digress. How many superheroines are out there? Ones that really serve as perfect role models for girls? Let’s see, there’s She-Hulk, Wonder Woman, Ms. Marvel, Zatanna, Spider-Woman, Black Widow, Batgirl—we can go on. Oh, the media acknowledges them, though it's a far cry from flattering. They have this grating audacity to denounce nearly every superheroine as sex symbols based on outward appearances alone. And this is almost always in the same breath as accusing the comic book industry of narrow-mindedness or discrimination.
Logically, what we should do is stop letting the disparity between the number of heroes and heroines take precedence and, as a nice change of pace, acknowledge the latter's heroic merits, how they stand on equal ground with the likes of Captain America or Superman. Believe us, female characters—strong in both the mind and body—are out there, waiting for someone to pick up their monthly series or graphic novels.
People have been and always will be vocal about the decisions and statements made by the comic book industry, but never in its history has it been this vitriolic and unwarranted. Our anger over trite matters is only perpetuating and exacerbating the situation, if not robbing the fun and fantasy from what was once an enjoyable pastime.
What’s your opinion on this issue?