Racism in the comics industry? I’m out to attack it like a rabid pit bull. Homophobia in comics? I’ve got a rake and some piping hot coals at the ready. Religious persecution in comics? I’ve got my Docs laced up to stamp it out. Sexism in comics? There’s sexism in comics?
I can identify sexism in comics about as well as a man with cataracts can identify a needle in a haystack. Yes, it’s easy for me to locate it when I come across something that is blatantly unfair or offensive to women, but I am often blind to subtle forms of sexism. How can I easily spot other forms of subtle bigotry and yet be so blind to sexist incidents in comics? I just don’t see it. And that’s where the problem lies. As my fellow fans protest what they see as offensive images, I’m often left scratching my head. However, I’m more than willing to give my fellow fans the benefit of the doubt. And so I carefully pour over images and reread stories, searching desperately to find what they find. And yet I come up empty. I can’t help but feel frustrated.
Batgirl. Others have looked at this image and equated it with sexism. All I see are terrible proportions. After all, it’s rather ridiculous to draw a girl who is supposed to be a slim and silent weapon with bulbous breasts, beefy arms and a clunky utility belt. The character appears to be much too bulky for the type of slim, athletic build she is supposed to have. Still, unlike many others, I don’t have any other problems with this image. How often have we seen a male hero beaten and bloodied only to rise again ready to fight? It’s a common image in comics. It shows a character’s tenacity. Why is the outcome so different when the character depicted is female? Is there something I’ve overlooked? Many have also taken offense to Batgirl’s costume, which leaves me a bit bewildered. I find a female character that is actually covered in cloth from head to toe to be a refreshing change. And in a life or death battle with Shiva, tattered clothing is to be expected. Still, Batgirl is no Caitlin Fairchild.
I do have my own complaints though. The fact that the character is illiterate makes no sense to me. Who wants a fighter that cannot accurately process information? And to have a character that is slowly learning to become a hero and a well-adjusted human being suddenly jump on the villain bandwagon is confusing as well. And yet my concerns are very minor ones. Could it be that I am so pleased to have a character that is a member of a racial minority that I am blind to the blatant sexism before me? Why am I not seeing what so many others are?
Storm. Some have stated that the removal of Storm from the X-Books and the addition of the character to Black Panther are sexist tactics on the part of Marvel and writer Reginald Hudlin. I have to admit that I don’t understand how one could come to that conclusion. After all, many male characters have received the same treatment. Popular characters are often added to the supporting cast of a book featuring a character that is not as popular in an attempt to bolster sales and recognition. And I do not see how the removal of Storm from the pages of X-Men has diminished the character. Storm seems to be as popular as ever and the character is still actively pursing Xavier’s dream of improving human-mutant relations. As for Storm conceding to Panther in regards to political affairs…shouldn’t she? After all, he is the ruler of the nation. She is merely his spouse and advisor. And should a major event regarding mutant activism arise, I’m sure the roles would be reversed. Panther would remain in the background. Of course, we would still see the event from his point of view because he is the star of the book.
Perhaps that is what has others up in arms? That Storm is no longer part of an ensemble cast in the X-Books but is a supporting character in Black Panther? But should that matter when the character is still prominently featured in a number of high-profile Marvel comics? How could readers cry sexism when the character has been given more of a spotlight than ever before?
Is there something that other fans are seeing that I cannot? I have to admit that American comic book fans have morphed into a gigantic singular image of the boy who cried wolf to me. For years I have witnessed large groups of fans rake every black writer who has appeared on the scene over the coals, accusing each and every one of them of a wide variety of -isms and inferior craftsmanship. So when fans began to express their concerns about Hudlin in regards to Storm, I quickly dismissed them. After all, similar words were used to discredit McDuffie and Priest, who are now almost uniformly praised by fans. Why should I believe their first impressions of Hudlin to be free from the tinge of racism? Why should things be any different now?
Though could it be that years of enduring racism from fans in the comic industry have made me incapable of objectively critiquing black writers? Or is the boy simply crying wolf when there are none present once more? Could the answer lie somewhere in between?
Selective sight. So, why do I not feel the need to “rally to the cause” where sexism in comics is concerned? Why do I not put in a tenth of the effort into battling sexism in the comics industry as I do into battling bigotry against ethnic, racial, sexual, and religious minorities? After all, I am a woman. Why don’t I care as much? Perhaps it is because my race once prevented me from having to endure the same problems that women who do not share my racial background have battled. And because I did not have to endure those problems, it became hard for me to see why they were problems.
And so I laughed hysterically when female comic fans complained about artists continually depicting heroines in a sexual manner. Oh no! Men are drawing women as sexy! It was hard to take seriously because I never had to endure it. After all, the heroines being hailed as sex objects didn’t share any of my features. And after years of various forms of media telling me my skin, hair, and eyes made me undesirable, I certainly didn’t have much sympathy for those who complained about artists continually drawing heroines who shared their features as sexually alluring objects. If anything, they needed to simmer down and be thankful someone found their features desirable. They were lucky to even have characters who shared their features as heroines to begin with! I sure as hell didn’t.
Of course, my views changed as the characters changed. And I began to get more than a little uncomfortable with female characters battling in strips of cloth and high heels when the women stuffed into those outfits shared my hairstyle and skin color. Suddenly, it wasn’t as funny anymore. But I chalked it up to being a minor problem. There were much bigger fish to fry. And fewer people willing to fry them.
Though my views have changed, that clearly doesn’t mean my vision is now 20/20. I’m like a person who has sat in the shade for hours and finally decided to flip a light switch. I can recognize the basic shapes, but I’m still a bit fuzzy when it comes to all the details and nuances. But hey, at least I’m not sitting in the dark anymore. Or even worse, sitting in a brightly lit room with my hands tightly cupped over my eyes.