Thursday, August 27, 2009

Women in Refridgerators and female friendships in comics

[EDIT- I am referring to DC comics here as that is pretty much all I read. Should have made that clearer in the original post, but I wrote this about a week ago and knocked it out late at night. The shame.]

The WiR phenomenon -

I've been scrolling through the old WFA posts and came across this one by Kalinara dealing with the Women in Fridges phenomenon. To quote a few choice phrases:

it's not about them being women. It's about them being a love interest.....The problem is that there needs to be more female (or gay) heroes who have male love interests who can die/be brutalized just as effectively. The problem is that there needs to be more female heroes..... ...(GL Kyle's girlfriend) Alex was created to die. Marz saying this has been cited as an example of his misogyny. Which is idiotic. She's *backstory*. Just like Martha and Thomas Wayne. Just like the Flying Graysons. Janet Drake. Ted Kord's dead mother. Jor-El of Krypton. J'onn J'onzz's wife. Hell, even Abin Sur. Her death is a motivator and inspiration for the hero. That's it. The sole difference is that we actually got to see them interact for a few issues before her death. But you know what? That's actually *respect*. ...The thing is though, we can't shy away from killing female characters just because they're women. That's sexism as well.

I've posted about WiR before, I know I have. Initially I thought it was an example of sexism. Now, I'm more inclined to second what Kalinara said. The reason for these characters deaths are that they're the love interest, they're the significant other, the close family member or the friend. We're supposed to empathise with and feel for the hero who gets it all taken away. It's something I quite enjoy as a plot device, because I'm a fan of tragedy. It makes me emote.

I've come to realise that i'm far more bothered about fictional women's lives revolving solely around men, or about spine twistingly bad art, or ridiculously impractical costumes. I think those types of things are far more indicative of sexism than the WiR happenings. And, as Kalinara said, if we had more women superheroes then we'd (hopefully) have men being killed off to further the women's chaarcter/plotline.
Then again we'd probably start off by having the male significant others beocme as important as the women and then we'd have plotlines revolving solely around the women's romantic lives..but you can see how it would eventually turn out to be a good thing.

Which brings me nicely onto my next point...
Female friendships in comics -
(This is of course a reaction to Simone's reaction to Cry for Justice #3, wherein she points out the lack of female friendships in comics)

I can think of a few. One is Kara (Supergirl) and Cassie (wonder girl) but of course that didn't last very long, I can't quite remember why now, but I think it was to do with Cassie admitting that she only stayed friends with Kara because Kara was a link to Connor. Thereby making it all about the mens. Again.
Number 2 is Power Girl and Terra's new friendship - started in the Terra mini and continued in Power Girl number 4. Hopefully this will remain an actual friendship.
Number 3 - Fire and Ice in the days of JLI.
Number 4 - The original Batgirl and Supergirl. Or so I've been told.
Number 5 - Linda Danvers Supergirl and Mattie (non powered doctor friend).
Number 6 - Selina Kyle and whatshername from the Frank Miller Batman book..the prostitute.

5. In the history of DC comics I can come up with 5.*

Let's try male friendships:
Supes and Bats
Booster and Blue Beetle
Flash and Green Lantern (Barry and Hal, Wally and Kyle, Jay and Alan)
Green Arrow and Green Lantern
The Atom and Hawkman
The Flash' Rogues Gallery
Green Lantern and Green Lantern and Green Lantern and Green Lantern (Hal, John, Guy and Kyle)

In half the time it took me to come up with the women's list, I came up with half as much again for the men.

Wait, how about Harley and Ivy. But I could argue that a lot of their relationship is built around Harley' destructive relationship with the Joker (or, I could be wrong as I ahven't read much of Harley's series). As for Selina Kyle and whatshername..their lives were still based around men, both the good and the bad.

Who is Lois' good female friends? Who is Wonder Woman friends with?

Oh I just thought of another - Spoiler and Cassandra Cain.

So, there is a case for there being a fair amount of female friendships in comics, but they don't seem to be as long lasting as the mens. Part of this is due to the fact they are newer characters, or the characters were killed off. The list of male friendships feature far more iconic character and the relationship seems to be embedded much more deeply than the women's friendships.

Part of this may be due to the comparative lack of women superheroes, and within that group, the lack of truly iconic women superheroes. Then there's the old chestnut that women are still being written in terms of how they relate to men - i'm sure by now you've all heard of the Bechdel test, google it if not.

Sam at Retconing My Brain has just written about this very thing (her post inspired mine, actually) and in that post she writes about how women in sexual relationships with each other is still a rare thing, and how she would like to see more of it.

Which goes hand in hand with what Simone was saying, I think. Simone wants more rounded female characters and relationships, ones that don't focus on or relate to men. Well, writing a true lesbian or bisexual relationship between two women would do that. I don't mean writing something cheesecakey, ooh la la, nudge nudge wink wink, phwooar isn't she hot type of thing. That would be about the men, the male readers. I mean writing about women in relationships with each other as a real thing. I have a personal investment in wanting more (any?) bisexual people (women) in superhero comics of course, because right now I can't think of any bi characters. if you readers know of any, please tell me in the comments.

We need more real women characters in comics. It will make the artform better.


*I realise the lists are completely unscientific and generated off the top of my head. I make no claims to objectivity.

12 comments:

cerebus660 said...

Pai, are you just talking superhero comics or comics in general?
Have you ever read Love & Rockets? The Hernandez brothers have created dozens of female ( and male ) characters who are complex and realistically flawed, from the on/off romance of Maggie ( bisexual ) and Hopey ( lesbian ), to the outrageous Luba and her complicated, extended family. And no need for masks or capes...

Bookwormwithanattitude said...

There was actually a post on female friendships on NSD a while back and there were a few more examples than your list- for instance, good friends of Wonder Woman are Etta Candy, Black Canary (this isn't focused on much, but Gail just did a two parter about their friendship) and Julia Kapitelis.

The prostitute Selina Kyle is friends with is Holly Robinson, and they've been friends for the entire Catwoman run and are still friends.

We also have Babs and Dinah and Helena and Zinda. Also, Donna Troy, Starfire and Raven.

Oh, and btw, Kara and Cassie are friends again. They made up in Teen Titans, Cassie apologized and said she was freaking out and wasn't sure about her identity, and Kara forgave her.

I'll find the list- we linked it on WFA actually:

http://community.livejournal.com/noscans_daily/132907.html

A lot of the list is in the comics.

Anway, I absolutely agree that there are a lot less female friendships than male in comics- and that they are often marginalized and forgotten. Also female mentors- see how easily Babs skipped from mentoring Cass to Charlie to Steph. (Though I'm hoping Miller won't forget Cass and Charlie- the fact he said Cass will come back eventually and that the board said Charlie will show up- and that he seems to be a decent writer- gives me hope). I think Gail does and pretty good job trying to establish them at least- and hopefully things will get better for female friendships in the future. Right now, it's a sad state of affairs.

Bookwormwithanattitude said...

Oh and Simone DOES write lesbian relationships- Scandal and Knockout in Secret Six (Knockout was bi, as well- but of course, DC killed her). Scandal has a new girlfriend now, and there's hints Knockout might be back.

Bookwormwithanattitude said...

Oh, and for my first post in the sentence after the link to nsd...I meant in the COMMENTS, sorry.

Saranga said...

cerebus: Shit, I meant superhero comics, specifically Dc as that's all I read. will go back and edit now, sorry to not be clear.

Bookworm: Secret Six has a bi relationship? Really?! I'm *thrilled* at that! ok, that will go on my trade list.
I didn't mean to infer that Simone didn't write gay relationships. maybe should have made that clearer. Simone does write very good relationships for everyone, women in particular, and should def be appreciated for that.

James Ashelford said...

I agree with you... erm, 95% let's say, I'll stand up for Selina and Holly's friendship.

True, at the beginning under Miller their relationship was based around men but as Holly got older (I'm thinking specifically about Brubaker's Catwoman run here) their relationship became much more about mutual support and each other's personal issues rather than outside relationships.

Also, Holly scores several million more points than Kate Kane by having a girlfriend she actually kissed on panel... a lot.

Saranga said...

Fair point. Critiques and disagreements always welcomed :)

Bookwormwithanattitude said...

I didn't think YOU didn't think Simone couldn't write gay relationships- I was just under the impression you didn't know she had written a very good one involving a bi woman.

You should definitely get the Villians United and Secret Six trades out now. They're really good, and Scandal and Knockout's relationship is adorable. And if you like it, there's a top notch ongoing coming out about those lovable rogues now that needs more love in the sales! Seriously, it's one of my favorite books.

Saranga said...

yeah you're right I din't know that.

i'm gonna have to start making a list of trades to buy.

Menshevik said...

My favourite DC female friendship actually was that between Wonder Girl and Arrowette (Cassie and Cissie) in "Young Justice". Actually, that title was quite good in general in portraying the friendships between the various girls in the cast, but C&C also had the wonderful additional "mom dynamic".

Re. the WiR thing: It is strange how more complex things can be even in a series with a male lead, such as Spider-Man. His original motivation came from the murder of his uncle, and during the 1960s two male characters - Betty Brant's brother and Gwen Stacy's father - were "fridged" to affect Spidey's female love interests and their relationship to him. And while Gwen Stacy is a prominent item on the "Women in Refrigerators" list, what people tend to overlook is that the effect of her death actually was much more profound on Mary Jane Watson than on Peter Parker (Peter essentially remained the person he was, but Mary Jane became a more mature and caring person after Gwen died).

Anonymous said...

The 80's X-Men (while flawed) had:

Storm and Kitty Pryde- a foster mom/daughter relationship that disinegrated over time

Kitty and Magik- best friends, not affected by Kitty's breakup with Magik's brother

Dani and Rahne of the New Mutants- best friends, although their closeness seemed to come from Dani's powers

Storm and bit-player Yukio- debatable; they teamed up for one really fun story, and Yukio inspired Storm's famed street-punk-with-mohawk persona.

Destiny and Mystique- lovers as well as friends. Mystique's interplay with their daughter Rogue was also nice.

Saranga said...

Thanks for all the input guys!

@ the last anonymous: Destiny and mystique were lovers? can you recommend any issues featuring this? particularly the ones where we first see them as gay?