Sexist depictions in comics will continue to appear because there will continue to be moments when the creators involved will commit to a sexist act. It happens. People are human and are prone to each and every “ism” that has plagued our society for centuries. And each “ism” is promoted and strengthened in the art we consume—for what we are seeps into the art we create, which then seeps back into us as we sit before screens and speakers and leaflets of paper.
This image, were it just one in a sea of images where women were depicted in myriad ways and from an inexhaustible supply of viewpoints, each getting a similar amount of attention, would not be a problem. This is not a problem of images. This is a problem of access and distribution.
We have a medium where white, straight American men from the ages of 25 to 65 are allowed and encouraged to dominate a market in all aspects save for the consumption of goods. For decades, one particular viewpoint has obliterated all others. One viewpoint has had access to national distribution. One viewpoint has enjoyed access to key editorial and creative positions of power. One viewpoint has been selected to give voice to all people. One race, one gender, one sexuality, and one class has dominated an entire creative medium! We have a method of storytelling where only one type of person is given the power to create stories heard by the masses and told about the masses. This is the problem.
I can count the number of current mainstream writers who are female, non-white, or gay on one hand. Women are crowded into assistant editor positions with no hope of advancement and no power to implement change for fear of severe retribution. We can’t pull other women and minorities up the ranks because we are still tottering on the first rung of the ladder—and the trap door in that glass ceiling is only big enough for one.
The women upset about this image aren’t merely upset that Starfire has been reduced to a vapid, emotionless object for the visual pleasure of men. Fanservice ain’t gonna end the world, folks. Tits happen. However, the repeated promotion and distribution of these images and stories to the masses coupled with the lack of opportunities for women to give voice to their own viewpoints—and more importantly, have those viewpoints seen (shelf space) and heard (PR)—is infuriating. We’re depending on men to tell our stories for us because we are not hired to tell our own. Forgive us for being a little agitated when you use that power to depict us in a way that makes us look like morons. And collect a check and health insurance for it.
Several nationally distributed tales of a white man who is shown to be a slovenly idiot is not going to have negative repercussions for white men because they have the power to refute those images (and do) by bombarding the market with positive images that are also widely seen and heard. Several nationally distributed tales of a black woman who is shown to be a slovenly idiot is going to have negative repercussions for black women because there is only one black woman in a position to refute them and even she does not have the power or money to bombard the market with positive images. So, lo and behold, a stereotype is born decades later and very real women suffer the consequences for it in their personal lives.
We all have our biases. Luckily, bias sans power is toothless. I don’t want these images to go away. I don’t even want to scold those who enjoy them. I just want to strip the power from them.
Fight Starfire with Starfire.