Last summer, Mac and I were talking about Comic-Con, because that’s what geeks do. And he asked me, “You know that Women in Marvel Comics panel at Comic-Con? Is that feminist or sexist?” (I’m paraphrasing here.) This was my long answer to him.
So your question about the Women in Marvel Panel is really trenchant and it cuts to the heart of the debate that roils in the heart of feminist theory.
First, let me say that I am me. I speak for, you know, ME. Not for all third-wave feminists, certainly not for all feminists. You will be able to find people on all parts of this issue, who will argue passionately that they are right. But really, I think most feminists, third-wave ones at least, will tell you it’s complex question with a complex answer. I’ll give you my perspective on it.
Second, let me say that for a guy who hadn’t thought seriously about feminism just two years ago, that shows a hella an intuitive understanding of the issue.
So, let’s imagine Perfect Feminist Utopia (PFU, for short). In PFU, all panels are half male and half female (see footnote). The characters, the artists, the writers, the fans, the producers and publishers — all half and half. In PFU, a Women in Comics Panel would be an interesting panel, no more or less fraught than any other panel topic. The panel would have about a fifty-fifty split, so would the audience. It could be held right before or after a panel on Capes: Good or Bad?
Wait. No. I’ve changed my mind. In the Perfect Feminist Utopia, there probably wouldn’t be a panel on Women in Marvel. It would be too huge of a topic. Imagine “Men in Marvel” as a panel discussion. That’s just… dumb. “Superhero Origin Myths” is fine. So probably a “Women in Marvel” panel would have to be broken out into subpanels. So… “Steampunk Influences on Women in Comics,” or “How to Design Practical Costumes for Female Superheros” or whatever.
Regardless, we don’t live in a PFU.
We live in a world where, in family movies, there are three speaking males for every speaking female. Less than that in comics. And in non-G-rated movies, females are usually presented as sexual objects (prostitutes or love interests) or maternal figures. They are often victimized, submissive, passive, and usually used as plot devices to motivate men’s story lines. That’s nowhere near the PFU.
As such, I think Women in Comics panels are necessary. They provide a space to discuss the issues associated with Being a Woman, either as an author, artist, fan, or character. Because we’re such a tiny minority in the artists/writers/characters, it’s a really vital space for having that conversation.
But, and this is hugely important so please imagine me flailing my arms when I say this, this panel can’t become a ghetto
. If a con has lots of panels and most of the panels only have one women on them (or no women at all), no one should use as an excuse, “But we have a Women in Comics panel!” We need to work towards parity, towards the PFU. Women don’t make up 50 percent of the comics fans right now, but they do make up about 40 percent
. So, at the very least
, we should have about 40 percent of all panels being female. That’s not happening right now and I’d like to fix it. (Women do, in fact, make up almost half the gaming population
and we get even worse representation over there, so… yay Marvel?)
So, really, I come down somewhere in the middle.
Aaaaaand, because nothing in feminism is simple, we need to talk about safe space.
So, there’s this thing that happens when women want to talk about feminism out loud. We get attacked. Not just “Make me a sandwich you fat slut” and “stupid cunt, suck my dick” and other, worse things. We get death threats, rape threats, bomb threats, actual physical violence. We get our accounts hacked, our private information revealed on the net. They track down our kids at school and take pictures of them and send us copies with targets painted on their heads. Men will take our photos and ‘shop our heads onto porn and then email it to our bosses.
This happens. A lot. Over and over and over again. I will send you the links if you don’t want to believe that. It’s frankly hard to believe. But it’s true. It’s particularly true in geek, gaming, and atheist/rationalist circles.
So, sometimes, we need to create a safe space to talk about feminism where we don’t have to worry about rape threats. And, frankly, most men won’t go to a Women in Comics panel. So it is often a safe space. (I went to Vericon last year with an all-female line up and the audience was 99.7 percent female.)
(There’s also the issue of women who have been violently assaulted and thus Have Issues with men. About 1 in 5 women will be sexually assaulted in their life time. Many women who have been assaulted are anxious around men. They are unlikely to have a forthcoming conversation in a room full of DudeBros who, upon seeing a picture of Scarlet Witch, shout “Show us her TITS!” Women in Panels are a good place for them, too.)
That’s a really really long and nuanced answer and, like I said, you’ve cut right to the heart of the debate in feminist thought right now. My opinion is not the only opinion. On the extremes, you can find women who insist that any “Women in” panel is a pink ghetto and we need to demand immediate parity. You can find women who say that men are incapable of understanding and need to be excluded. On the less extreme side, you can also find this
, which is snide but not inaccurate.
So, there’s your weekly massive dump of complex feminist theory. Any questions?
* footnote: So… gender is a fluid non-binary and most feminists feel strongly that we should acknowledge that. Saying “50/50” is a really rigid way of looking at it. In the PFU,everyone is represented in the comics and on the panels: not just biosex women and men but also trans* people, third-sex, androgynes, intersex people, and all the other complex and subtle iterations of gender. But we’re going to ignore that for the purposes of this discussion because it’s sorta graduate class level Feminist Theory and I don’t want to freak you out. I didn’t freak you out, did I?