Whilst at NYCC, there was a discussion that revolved around how women characters are often under-presented in the comic industry. Having looked more into this, I’ve discovered that at times, women characters have really been taken for granted, so in this article I am going to explore how these characters have paved the way for the demographic’s future while also noting why they may have been under-presented too.
Since the medium of comics began, women characters have been portrayed controversially with stereotyping. They have been seen as supporting characters, or as someone easy on the eye. The reason for this, I believe, is because, for most of their existence, comic book audiences have been assumed to be mostly male, therefore the female characters/superheroes were targeted towards a male demographic, rather than female audiences. This is why I believe that the female characters are seen as licentious during the early days, which I think does them no justice.
When you picture Black Widow, what she wearing? Probably a skin tight leather suit, Wonder Woman wears a revealing unitard and various accessories, so what I am trying to get at here, is that even though some female characters are leads and have their own stories, the fact that they are being so sexualised with these outfits, in some way takes away the importance and seriousness of the intended purpose in the comics. Like when you look at Captain America and Batman, you instantly think how cool they look with all their armour and gadgets, so why not allow this for our female characters? I know sex sells, but like I said, with these characters being over sexualised, it gives reason why they are falling behind their male counter parts, because without much clothing on, it takes any bit of responsibility away and the sense of them being guardians or saviours is lost.
However, as times change, so does fashion and the need for a sense of realism in comics. Female characters are a big deal. In a 1943 The American Scholar issue, Martsons Moultons wrote “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good as women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strengths of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman”. Now I think this is such an important quote on the image of female characters, and it is the beginning foundations of how the first female leads influence what we see today. Wonder Woman is a good example, introduced in 1941 in All Star Comics #8 with her attire containing not much whatsoever, which contradicts her purpose in the comics; she’s supposed to be an Amazon princess who’s made to be stronger and wiser than most men, yet when you put her next to Hawkeye, you’ll sense who is more of the hero.
But like I said about this changing through the ages, Wonder Woman’s costumes has transformed to the point that she now wears a suit made primarily of armour in her signature colours, leaving her hands and face bare, which gives her a true warrior perspective, thus making her look more serious as a superhero, creating more of a positive sense of awe in the character. It’s not just Wonder Woman whose her costume has progressed through time; there are others such as Captain Marvel and She-Hulk, who have all gone from wearing near-to-nothing, to full suits of armour, and a lot of female character are becoming very popular now, and this could be part of the reason for it.
Linking to what I said earlier, female characters are becoming ever more popular in today’s comics, which is due to the increase of female readership we have today, as more than ever women are becoming comic book artist and writers, and most of them have adapted and flocked to the independent industry, which has resulted in a feminization of the comic book industry. The Fantastic Four’s Sue Storm is a prime example for the evolution of influence the women gained throughout the comics.
Starting as the Invisble Girl, who eventually becomes known as the Invisible Woman, Sue went through an incredible variation of changes throughout the F4 history. During the early stages of F4, Sue Storm married Reed Richards and became pregnant and was seen as delicate and vulnerable; however, as the comics went on, she became more independent as character, she was able to balance a career and a family, and she was regarded as an equal to her male counterparts. Even though it’s cool that she was able to look after a family and still fight crime, this could be deemed as the stereotypical persona of the woman looking after the family. It shows her versatility and maturity that she has gained from that vunrable girl in the early F4 comics, to now balancing all the priorities as Sue Storm and Invisble Woman. With these combined aspects, you see how powerful she can be when she is the Invisible Woman as she is the protector of the group, just like how she is the protective mother to her child. You see the sheer importance and responsibility this female character has.
Like Sue Storm, another character who has developed considerably through the years is Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. Now as a character I love her development most, because not only do you see her going from someone who is deemed to have a ‘weak’ mentality to gradually becoming a strong influential character, you see her riding motorcycles and being as fearless as Batman, so it shows that the women can pull off anything that a man can do. However the reason why Batgirl is so important to the future demographic we see now is because, she is the poster-child for women’s liberation. Taking her cue from the women’s liberation movement during the 60s and 70s, Barbara Gordon evolves from a young librarian to a capable congresswoman within 10 years. This results in her going from this mousy, shy bookworm persona to a confident modern woman with a flair for politics. With this, Barbara shows that the female characters in comics can be as influential and headstrong as any male we see. It gives the female characters of the future the chance to be an equal dominant figure as men.
To conclude this, comic books should be taken seriously as they reflect the changes in society, and the female character give good evidence for this. As I stated above, we see how the attire of the women characters have changed over time due to women becoming as influential as men, so their visual representation is becoming nearly as equal as the men. As we are getting more female writers, we are beginning to see the women characters push the envelope and leave behind the stereotypes they once had, serving ever more important roles and responsibilities. Overall, it shows how far women have gone in society, gaining more rights and becoming a lot more important in their roles throughout their lives.
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