As I was browsing The F Word a few weeks ago I became involved in a discussion about a mannequin that had appeared in UK store New Look (here). The comments discussion then got somewhat off topic and a few posts were exchanged between myself and another commenter (named Jen) about women in comics.
I just wanted to highlight a couple of comments from Jen:
“This mannequin - it's interesting. I'd see it as a key, as a set of signifiers, as part of language - definitely not a reason to boycott a shop”
“I don't love her [She-Hulk] because she's empowering, she's not one of the many things that inspire me to do weight training, but she is fascinating.”
She’s got a lot more to say, so I’d recommend reading it, but the above two sentences caught my imagination.
I hadn’t thought of the T+A aspect of women in comics as being part of the language of comics before. When I come to think about it, I think the idea has some merits. It’s true that not all artists focus on T+A, several seem capable of drawing women as people, not wank material, but I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the majority of art does have a certain T+A element to it.
If that’s the case, if that style is a set of signifiers, is it worth complaining about it? Or does it just serve to make the complainers feel better – we’ve done our bit sort of thing? Jen has more to say about this in her comments on the thread. I mean, if you change the language and the way something is framed, that doesn’t necessarily change the underlying reasons and feelings that led to the offending article being produced in the first place. And if the underlying ideas don’t change, then another offensive product will surely surface at a later date. So what will have changed?
Well, I think that if you change the way the language works you end up with a finished product that doesn’t alienate or discriminate against people. That is a good thing. I also think that the way you can express yourself has an effect on the way you think. I realize that this is probably due to reading 1984 at a very impressionable age. Are there any linguists out there who could tell me more about this?
If you no longer produce such sexist and offending material, if we do not see it in nearly every media article we pick up, then surely the general belief of women only being worth as much as their looks will not be as deeply felt in society. Obviously there are many many other ways in which this message is promulgated, but to change the way and manner in which we currently discuss and refer to women, to make it less oppressive, less one dimensional, would be a good start.
The other thing that came to mind when reading through Jen’s comments, was the idea about comics being empowering. That again is not something that I’ve recently experienced. Mind you, I am not too keen on the word ‘empowering’, mostly because of it’s connotations with pole dancing and lap dancing. It’s funny how anything marketed as empowering generally means adopting traditional roles and ways of being sexy for men. (Wear lipstick, it’s empowering! Wear a wonderbra, it’s empowering! Learn how to lap/pole dance, it’s empowering!*).
I may have felt empowered when reading something when I was little, in the sense that it opened my eyes to the different direction my life could take, the different things I could be. The media that we consume, as much as the people in our immediate vicinity, teaches us about life. It teaches us how people act, what is right and what is wrong and different ways of living. So yes, when I was little I probably found Cheetara quite empowering, I probably found Julie or Katie Power empowering. I probably found the one girl child on every kids TV show empowering – it said to me this could be your place, this is what you could achieve; you can win and be involved in adventure like the boys. Being a girl doesn’t have to hold you back**.
Does anyone out there find comics empowering? Do you get a sense of victory when reading about some female character kick someone’s ass? If you don’t feel that way about comics have you ever felt that way about other fictional characters in any media? What was it that resonated with you and why?
I’d be truly interested to hear about your experiences.
*Not to imply that women never feel empowered by these activities, but I am skeptical of the marketing machine when the word is attached to something that would have been pretty much universally decried as sexist 20 years ago. Where are the adverts saying get a degree, it’s empowering! Leave that violent relationship you’re in, it’s empowering! Get some financial security, it’s empowering! Instead, empowering seems to be shorthand for some (straight) male view of sexy. Blah. I hate capitalism.
**Now, just as soon as I develop those mutant wings I’ll really be able to have adventures and visit other dimensions.