Comics Are for Everyone

If you didn’t see my post on Facebook, here’s what I had to say about an ongoing debate that to me is just crazy, that is, whether the girls and women who like comics are interlopers trying to horn in on an historically all-male pastime (which comics never were, by the way):

When I started reading comics, there weren’t any comic book stores. Drug store employees didn’t go in for gender bias when ringing up comic book sales. The other fans I met at the very first comic book conventions never once suggested to me that females had no place in comics fandom or that comics were a boys’ club. Yes, there were more boys than girls at the cons, but so what? I’m very sorry that the situation changed for the worse–and very happy to see signs that we’re getting back to comics being for everyone.

Let’s remember that none of us reading comics have superpowers, or roam the streets of Gotham City at night in response to the Bat Signal, so we’re all taking a leap of imagination by reading, relating to, or bonding with comics characters of any stripe. It’s not weird for a female to read about male heroes. You entertain yourself with what’s available, even if what’s available has some unpalatable aspects or isn’t a perfect fit. Comics are magical and beautiful and they tell stories in a unique and powerful way. We all have a right to this art form.


  1. I think superhero comics certainly used to be mainly male adolescent wish fulfillment fantasies, but if females enjoyed reading them too, what’s the harm? The MEDIUM of comicbooks is certainly intended for everyone, but certain TYPES of comics did seem to be aimed at specific genders. So superheroes were seen as being primarily for boys, and Millie the Model and Patsy Walker were seen as being mainly for girls. I don’t think the publishers ever cared WHO bought them ‘though, just so long as they sold. In this more ‘politically correct’ age, it seems that every kind of comicbook has to be for every type of reader, which I’m not convinced necessarily results in a good read. Sometimes, when you’re trying to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.

    • I agree with most of what you’ve said. What we tend to forget is that all of us are on a spectrum of femininity or masculinity, and what may appeal to one male may not to another, and the same for females. I thought Millie and Patsy were ridiculous. Still do. Some kids never want to dress up in a cape their mom made and run around the neighborhood being a superhero, and some kids do, and the gender of the kid isn’t a deciding factor at all in wanting to do it. The socialization of the kid might affect the decision to do it, but catch them young enough, and they’re blind to approved gender roles and they simply let their imaginations soar.

      Playing to a gender, or even trying to, isn’t the determining factor in pleasing an audience, either. I’m currently working on revises to a romance novel in which the behavior of the hero and the heroine tends to be accepted or hated by readers (all female) based on their generation, their socialization, and possibly even their geographical home base. I’ve entered it into many contests, and the essential plot situation has been viciously panned by some judges yet cheered on by others. It has won awards in three contests so far. Certain of the actions of the plot have to occur or there is no story, but what I have learned is that I’m less liable to antagonize readers if I start with a better plot instead of trying to make a bad old idea work. Maybe that’s an issue with current comics, too: bad old ideas.

      Political correctness has to do with the increased respect certain people now receive–or expect to receive–as compared to the past. I think that’s important in what female readers will tolerate in a comic, just as it’s important in what minority readers will tolerate in a comic. It’s not a matter of pleasing us all. It’s a matter of not offending us all. To again use the example of that romance novel, I have found that some people are offended both by the hero’s aggressive behavior and by the heroine’s passive behavior. They want men to behave better, and they want women to be stronger than I have portrayed them. Substitute in ethnic markers for hero and heroine, and you get a wider view of why political correctness is important to those of us who are not white men. The problem for the writer lies in acknowledging these newer visions of who people are and should be, while still holding true to essentials of human behavior. Many of us are blind to the differences between essential behavior and learned behavior, because we are brought up to see our socialized behavior as essential even though it is learned.

  2. Don’t you think ‘though, that a lot of what you call approved gender roles was following the pattern of seemingly natural tendencies? By that, I mean, if you put a doll and a toy gun in front of two young kids, more girls will gravitate to the doll and more boys to the gun. And even if not, surely, given the way that society worked, it was only natural that girls were perhaps encouraged to play at being mothers looking after babies, and boys encouraged to indulge in rougher, tougher pastimes. It was preparing them for what was going to be the pattern of their lives when they were older. Nowadays, of course, things have changed, but I’m not sure that society is necessarily a fairer or better place just because kids are allowed to play with whatever toys they want. Which, to a certain extent, has always happened anyway, because if a boy was determined to play with a Barbie, his parents may’ve raised their eyes to the skies, but they’d eventually just have let him get on with it. And likewise with a girl who wanted to play football (soccer) with the boys.

    I think that political correctness is more than just trying not to offend anyone; in fact, it’s just as likely to offend some people as it is to please others. For example, in Britain, it’s now frowned upon for comedians to tell mother-in-law jokes, or jokes about ‘an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman’ on TV, but most of them swear like troopers, using the ‘c’ word with casual indifference to the shock or offence it causes to some (perhaps even most) viewers. Political correctness has evolved to the stage where it caters to the tastes of vocal minorities (of various colours, religions and social status) determined to reshape society to their tastes, regardless of what the majority thinks. (And isn’t democracy all about everyone having a voice, but acceding to the will of the majority?) They make a noise about what they don’t like, finding offence in just about anything and everything – then the rest of society has to kow-tow to their wishes at the expense, often, of common sense. An example of this is when British lesbians complained about the use of the words ‘mother’ and ‘father’ in an NHS booklet on childbirth on the grounds that it made them feel excluded. The ‘offending’ words were removed. The fact is, you’re never going to please everyone or not offend anyone, so perhaps it’s better just to aim your novel (or whatever) at a specific audience (if it’s large enough to make your labour profitable), and let those who won’t like it find something they will enjoy.

    Anyway, I do agree with some of your points to a certain extent, but it’s probably too big a subject, with too many ramifications, to do justice to in a comments section, so thanks for indulging me.

  3. I don’t know how much is determined by heredity (instinctive, natural tendencies) and how much by environment and assigned roles (including parents trying to make the child play with the toy gun or toy truck instead of playing with the doll).

    I do think that a lot of political correctness is about target selection, rather than about sensitivity. In the 1930’s, there were a lot of racial stereotypes in the entertainment media: Amos and Andy on radio, Mantan Moreland and Willie Best in movies. Bad grammar, mispronouncing words, using words in the wrong context. Such stereotypes would be unthinkable today. But, by the 1970’s, we had characters like Archie Bunker (bad grammar, words in the wrong context…). So the stereotyping didn’t end, it just shifted focus.

    Plus, as Kid pointed out, there is the double standard. You can’t tell ethnic jokes or mother-in-law jokes, but you can drop F-bombs. If you are making a suspense movie, the villains can’t be Muslim extremists, but they can be Christian religious fanatics, or American military veterans.

    The usual justification is that “It’s OK to punch up, but not to punch down.” But what is “up” and what is “down”? It’s OK to ridicule Archie Bunker or Joe Sixpack, working his manual labor job and struggling to make ends meet, but if you make a joke about Obama (a college graduate with a six-figure salary), you are a racist. And it’s acceptable to make fun of some teenager working in a fast-food restaurant, but if you criticize ISIS (who now control an area larger than Great Britain), you are an “Islamophobe.”

    Re: comics, I believe that the superhero genre is basically a juvenile power fantasy. Such fantasies may be more common among males, but there is obviously no harm in girls reading them, too. (Or in boys reading Betty & Veronica, for that matter.) (Or in men watching Xena or Witchblade or Alias, or in women watching Hercules or Magnum.)

    On a side note, it may be worth noting that a lot of Silver Age DC super-teams (Justice League, Legion of Super Heroes, Teen Titans, Doom Patrol) had female members, who were generally (but, I admit, not always) treated as equal partners. Wonder Woman had her own solo series, and even the heroes’ girlfriends (Lois Lane, Iris West, Carol Ferris) were competent adults with jobs that they evidently did well. While, at Marvel, the women were defined as some man’s girlfriend or assistant, and even the super-heroines (Sue Storm, Scarlet Witch) were more like helpless damsels (constantly needing to be rescued) than helpful teammates. Portrayal of women was one area in which innovative Marvel was actually behind quaint old DC.

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