I thought as a writer, I really needed to get this off my chest. As fans and as people, we geeks/otaku/whatever live in a sheltered, isolated world, one in which we nurture and care for each other and band together when people start peering from the outside in. When we do that, we tend to circle the wagons and go on the warpath, because we don’t like our fandom, our passions demeaned. But sometimes we make mistakes and we end up hurting some of our own. And sometimes, we’re not even aware of it. And that’s why it’s gotta stop – or else we’ll end up with more like the above picture.
Unless you’ve been living in a cave for a while, I’m sure you’ve all heard by now the recent issues that DC Comics has had with sexism and chauvinism. I’ve already said what I needed to say about it, and I don’t feel the need to start a second round about it. But it does bring into view a concern that I have: why, in this modern day and age, are we putting an iron curtain between what men represent in sci-fi and what women represent? Men are powerful, to be admired or feared – one only needs to look at characters like Batman, Rambo or Magneto to see what they are: idealized representations of what is great (meaning larger than life) in manhood. Now, flip it and show the women’s point of view: you get sexualized (see: any female superhero) or victimized (see: women in refrigerators) or irrelevant (see: female fans). Even heroines that could be seen as powerful (Wonder Woman, Power Girl) are mainly played up for their looks and not as much for their more positive qualities. Superhero fiction has been called “a male power fantasy complete with veiled submissive women”, but let’s be honest. A lot – probably too much – in fandom is like that.
At this point, many of you are wondering what the hell I’m talking about…and the women out there are probably nodding their heads in agreement with everything I’ve said. And you’re not the only ones. Google up anything regarding fandom sexism and you’ll hear the stories about the girls being ostracized from comic stores, denied a fandom that “isn’t theirs”, being told that Star Wars is for boys. Then they turn around and instead of seeing strong, mature women that they can see in fiction as role models, they see T&A, women being killed and shoved into the Frigidaire, Catwoman getting her groove on with Batman on a rooftop. They’ve been stripped of their idealizations, told that Barbie suits them better than Magic the Gathering and that they should just go read the next Twilight novel instead of poring through D&D source books.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Personally? I think it’s too late to save comicdom – to me, it’s just such an inbred bastion of male fantasy that it will die off before things get better. But there are other examples, other lights shining in the darkness if you know where to look. Sometimes it’s just presenting a powerful, normal woman, who’s more defined by who she is than her measurements. The webcomic Grrl Power is a good example of this. Yes, the girls in it are hot – but they’re also strong, brave and (keeping in mind that this is a comedic webcomic) professional and serious. The webcomic industry is a good place to see where the tide is changing, and where the next generation of fans will come from…and where positive role models will be shown.
So why does it concern me? Yes, I’m a guy, but there’s no reason why this can’t be women’s fandom as much as men; it has to be that way. Ayne might not have been the artist for this series had she not had a supportive family that let her get her geek on rather than insisting that she go the Barbie route. Plus, I’ve always been partial to strong female characters: most of the characters I do are female, and all of them are capable – in Claude & Monet Claude may be the only male member of the team, but that’s not because we were planning to set up an anime-style harem adventure, he’s the only male member of the team because he’s the only male member of the team. All five members – Claude, Monet, Miki, Yin-Feng and Yun-Feng – are on the team because they perform their duties, not because they need someone sexy or weak. And that’s how it should be.
I’m not saying there’s no need for Barbie; there are plenty of girls who like it (and probably even a few guys.) But as My Little Pony has recently proven, it is entirely possible to provide great role models for girls while still engaging guys. Hell, if a show originally meant for young girls can rope in adult males, why can’t the rest of fandom? Somewhere out there is the next little girl who will create amazing things in fandom, if given the proper motivation…and let’s be honest, showing little girls that their chest size is more important than talent or that they’re doomed to the bottom rung of everything is not motivation.
Next week, I’ll go over another pet peeve that I’ve noticed webcomics are also doing well to overcome.