As a feminist, I am obligated and driven to fight against sexism and smash the patriarchy. And also as a comic book enthusiast, I constantly have to fight the urge to talk about the issue of the New Avengers where Iron Man, Captain America, and Captain Marvel encountered the reanimated evil robot Ultron and his campaign to change the world in his image. Luckily for both of those interests, the month of October has brought Dazzling DC Ladies Month. Currently for the month of October, many bloggers on Tumblr have started this celebration of the many awesome female characters featured in DC Comics with the tags #ddclm and #dazzlingdcladiesmonth (go check it out!).
For the past couple of weeks, comic book devotees have highlighted these women through blog posts and fan-art. The majority of posts featured several pictures of these women and presenting their biographies, abilities, and many of their appearances in issues, animated series episodes, and movies.
While a general Tumblr event is not an earth-shattering event, the fact is, comics are often filled with sexism and an incredible amount of female objectification. Female superheroes often have costumes including fishnet stockings or skirts as opposed to pants, bustiers instead of armor, and high-heels over much more useful combat boots. On top of that, while crime-fighting women are shown with protruding breasts while somehow simultaneously sticking their backsides in order to entice the male viewer (even though it’s impossible for a spine to work like that). Here I would love for you to bring the point home. Is it inherently objectifying or degrading for a woman to be fighting crime in a bustier? If so, tell us why. If not, tell us how these depictions are coded or embedded with sexist messages.
On top of being contorted into playthings, female comic characters are used by writers in order as plot twists or create development for male characters. One of the most famous examples happened in 1994, when Green Lantern Kyle Rayner found his girlfriend murdered in his refrigerator by his enemy Major Force. Wonder Woman writer Gail Simone coined the term ‘women in refrigerators’ in order to show how many women had been sacrificed or changed in order to ‘strengthen’ or add to a male characters story.
While this issue is most prominent in the comics, it wasn’t unlikely that it has since transferred into the lucrative comic book movies. For example, Marvel’s The Avengers had the highest grossing opening weekend in the United States at $207 Million, earned $623 Million at the domestic box office, and a total of over $1.5 Billion worldwide. This high-profile movie was for many their introduction to the Marvel female superhero Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson. During multiple interviews, while her costars were asked about character development or acting, the actress was asked about her diet and whether or not she wore underwear on set. And while her character had the third most screen time during the entire movie, Black Widow was represented in only 10% of the total merchandise. DUDE THOUGH scarjo was AMAZING at countering this kind of blatant sexism – i think itd be an oversight not to include a link or explanation to how she represented a dissenting voice against this sexism in a very public manner
Basically, comic books (like the rest of the world) are institutionally sexist and are biased towards both male characters and heroes. But the fact that a fan-made event like the Dazzling DC Ladies Month was created is significant despite these challenges. I find this significant for two reasons. First, the characters that are highlighted go beyond the archetype of prominent female superheroes.
At first glance, a celebration of DC Comics female characters often only includes Wonder Woman, Supergirl, or Catwoman…and if you’re lucky Black Canary. However, the women shown throughout DCCLM are not only the mainstream female heroines, but female supporting characters as well. Alongside the big household names like Wonder Woman we see Tomorrow Woman and Faith, two incredibly powerful female superheroes who were both members of the Justice League. And while everyone recognizes Lois Lane (wife of Superman) due to mainstream representation, fans remember other supporting characters such as Linda Park (wife of Wally West/Flash II), Wendy Harris (support staff of the Teen Titans and Titans Tower), and Bianca Reyes (mother of Jaime Reyes/Blue Beetle III). Characters from across races, class, ability, and status have been represented. And the majority of posts talk about how “awesome” or “powerful” these women are regardless of their presence in the DC universe.
The second significant aspect of DDCLM is the fact that this character appreciation is completely fan-driven. While making posts about superheroines is not brand-new, the fact is that fans are now celebrating the women of a company whose actions have over the years are both sexist and alienating towards their fan base. In 2011 DC Comics rebooted their universe with all brand-new comic books and storylines, and during this the number of female creators (writers and artists) dropped from 12% to 1%. When a female fan asked Dan DiDio, one of DC’s publishers, the reason behind this at San Diego Comic Con 2011, he angrily responded, “What do those numbers mean to you? What do they mean to you? Who should we be hiring? Tell me right now. Who should we be hiring right now? Tell me.”
If you think that public shaming of a fan’s opinion is rough, it gets worse. In September 2013, two separate and completely reprehensible misogynistic events happened almost simultaneously. First, the creators behind the current Batwoman comic, J.H. Williams II and W. Haden Blackman, left DC Comics after a dispute between their editors. Specifically the two revealed that those editors told them that Batwoman, a prominent lesbian in the DC Universe, was not allowed to marry her longtime girlfriend.
A couple of days later, a contest was announced to recruit new artists, and entrants were asked to draw four panels of the villainess Harley Quinn. However, one of those panels depicted Harley Quinn in a bathtub ready to drop several electronic appliances into the water. When public outcry surfaced over being asked to draw a suicide scene, the DC higher ups responded by saying fans did not understand narrative and admonished them for trying to recruit new artists. I think you get the picture that DC is not kind to its loyal fans.
Fans, including those on Tumblr, have made it known that they are not happy with these decisions. Yet despite these faults, fans still stick by the characters they love, many of whom have been forgotten by the publisher. But instead of supporting by buying comics, during Dazzling DC Ladies Month fans have stripped down to the core by highlighting characters that inspire and reflect all different types of women in the real world.