I get asked sometimes why I care so much about something as "minor" as feminist issues in comics. Why does it matter? Why don't you find something else? It's designed for guys! What would it be like if a guy tried to tell romance novelists that their men were portrayed badly?
Why can't you just ignore it? Why are you making a big deal about nothing? Why are you so angry?
And so on. And so forth.
I've realized, and this is not intended to be an insult, that most men have no idea what it's like to be a woman.
(DISCLAIMER: Despite the title, the following is not the universal experience of all women. This is very specific to MY experiences. We're not actually all the same.)
Let me show you what it's like for me. With a page from Flash #35. A page that was written by a man, even. Which doesn't make it any less true.
Click to read please. It's important.
See that woman there is Linda Park. Linda Park is an investigative reporter with a will and aggressiveness comparable to Lois Lane. She has a tremendous sense of self and doesn't yield to much of anyone. Her relationship with Wally has always been as much, if not more, on her terms than on his, and she's not afraid to reach for what she wants or to smack down an insult.
And see all those comments there? See what they're saying about her as they get her ready for a new position? See how she's upset, clearly angry, but she's not saying a word?
In fact. She never does say anything about it. She doesn't kick their asses. She doesn't put them in her place. She just goes to do her job, does it tremendously well, then goes undercover and saves Wally's ass. There is no retribution for being picked apart to her face.
That's what it's like to be a woman. Every day.
Every day, there are unspoken rules. For work. For home.
"Keep your hair and clothes neat, don't look sloppy."
"Dress professionally for business, preferably a suit." Those apply pretty evenly for both genders, right? How about these?
"Don't wear a suit with pants. Pants are mannish. Wear a skirt."
"Don't wear that skirt. It's too short. You'll look like a slut."
"That skirt's too long. You'll look dowdy and frigid. You have to be attractive to be listened to."
"Wear heels, they highlight the legs. But not too high. Too high is promiscuous. An inch or two. Never tower over the men."
"Hair shouldn't be too short. You'll look butch. Intimidating. Your co-workers feel threatened. Short and fluffy. Or long. But worn up. Long hair loose is unprofessional. It'd better be conditioned and blow dried."
"Wear make-up. No make-up means you look plain. No one listens to the plain girl."
"Too much make-up looks slutty."
"Don't be too pale. You look vampiric. Tan."
"Don't be too dark. Use powders, lighten up."
"Don't be too boring. Exotic is good."
"Don't be too ethnic. Ethnic is intimidating."
"Don't stare directly into a man's eyes. It's challenging."
"Don't look away, he'll think you're not paying attention."
"Look up through your lashes. Properly made up. But don't be obvious."
"Don't be a bimbo. They're not going to listen if you don't give them a reason."
"Don't be too smart. It's a threat."
"Don't look slutty. You could get raped."
"Don't dress too stuffy. You look frigid."
"You're too fat. Lose weight."
"You're too skinny. Men like curves."
"Don't say a word about how fucking angry this whole public dissection of your appearance makes you or you will lose this fucking job and you kind of need it to fucking eat."
Okay. That last is probably a bit more venomous than I intended.
That's what it's like though. Every. Day.
And what happens if we don't cooperate? We might never be hired in the first place. We'll probably get a "strong recommendation" for our future attire. If not outright written up for "unprofessonalism". We could even lose our jobs.
Like our skirts or heels or makeup or perfectly coiffed hair have anything to do with how well we do our jobs.
You know what's worse though? Random people will walk right up to you and think they have the right to talk about this stuff to your face! "Oh honey, you'd be so pretty with a little make-up." "Is your hair real?" "Lose some weight, you fat bitch!" When you're a woman, people think they can just say this. And if you get mad, you're
the irrational one. "Sheesh, what's her
It's just as bad if you do look the way they want. There are men out there who honestly believe that because a woman is attractive to them, they can leer and say horrible things, they can even put their hands on her. If she dares to get upset, then it's "whore", "bitch", "cocktease". "Why are you dressed like that if you don't want anyone to look?!"
And it can very easily escalate to worse. Have you heard of that Waitress movie playing a few months back? The director of it, a woman named Adrienne Shelly
was murdered, because a nineteen year old got angry that she confronted him about the noise he was making in the apartment below hers. He was "having a bad day". He hung her from her own shower rod
, because he was "having a bad day".
Could that happen to a man? Maybe. But not as likely.
You know what my first reaction to this story was? "Why in the world did she go and confront this guy on her own?!"
Yeah. My first reaction wasn't to condemn her fucking murderer, but to condemn the victim for expecting the man she encountered to be a fucking human being and NOT take his anger out on her.
I'm not saying this is true for every woman of course. We're all different. But I know a great many women who are in the same boat as me. We live with this every day. And we even read comic books!
So we get angry.
We get angry when a wonderful, complex character like Power Girl's worth is reduced to her breasts.
We get angry when female characters of equivalent experiences are written as making rookie mistakes to make the men look better.
We get angry when rape and violence against women are sensationalized to the point of being the lead draw for the fucking story.
We get angry when we see strong women reduced to mere T&A, presenting every orifice to the (straight male) audience's eye.
We get angry when female characters are belittled and disrespected and treated as disposable.
We get angry at costumes that cross the line from cheesy and fun to outright ridiculous obstacles
We get angry.
And sometimes it's justified. Sometimes we may be overreacting. But you know what?
It's worth it.
It is FUCKING worth it. Because we may not be able to do a whole lot about the belittling and the objectification, that ever-present possibility of violence that we see every day in our lives. But this?
This is fixable
. This is something that we can fight
. Women in television, books, movies, music, video games, comics...every little triumph we make here goes a little way toward fixing the bigger picture.
I'm not writing this to condemn men. I'm not trying to say "only men are to blame." Women also do their own part in oppressing one another as well, after all. This is something bigger than that. This is society. This is something built by generations of traditions and ideas that are indoctrinated into us from birth and passed down to our children. It's something that we're all a part of, even when we don't realize it. This is something that we do to ourselves as much as each other.
But I'm an optimist. I believe with all my heart and soul that this can change. That every little bit, every tiny triumph means something at the end of the day.
That's why I care.