I was 12 years old when attended the 8th ever San Diego Comic-con. I was turned loose on my own by my grandmother and then walked around the convention center for hours (If you did that now you’d be arrested for child abandonment). I was dressed as Judge Frump from Tumbleweeds. Yes, because Tumbleweeds was my favorite comic. (Look it up.)
Nowadays if I reread it, I wouldn’t find it so very funny. As a youth I didn’t realize Tumbleweeds was a pretty racist comic towards Native Americans. It treated everyone else with a similar sense of humor, but something’s just aren’t funny or appropriate, and we were naive to think that they ever were.
As an adult I’ve also realized how my childhood world of comics, science-fiction and televisions always been dominated, by and large, by one obvious factor; that anyone but white men have been depicted poorly. Some may argue this but, they would be wrong.
Comics for the longest time have shown that comics have had one theme – male empowerment. Whether you go back to the days of The Shadow, The Phantom, Prince Valiant, or Sargeant Rock the storylines told tales of daring-do where the man rescues the beautiful woman who, of course, promptly swoons in his arms.
In movies, women have primarily been sexualized in action films. This is evident in that it has been accepted that somewhere in the film you will see some or all of a woman’s body. This is true even when the female characters are the active lead, such as in films like Alien, which showed Sigourney Weaver in her tight underwear, or when Raiders of the Lost Ark had Karen Allen in a silk nightgown with a stiff breeze showing every aspect of her.
A trip through history will show that women have mostly been plot tools, romantic supporting figures or sexualized scenery. Go glance at Marvels 1970’s production of Robert E. Howard’s Conan. John Buscema’s artwork was sweeping, gritty and the women extremely sexualized. This type of art would go on and still goes on today, but this is thankfully changing.
Gamergate and its utterly disgusting misogyny showed that many of the misanthropic male fans belonged to my father’s mind-set that ‘Women should be seen and not heard.” He was wrong, and so is anyone that agrees with him.
Women in the 21st century have had enough. #METOO and #TIMESUP have clearly shown that women are no longer tolerating a misogynistic culture, and I, for one, could not be happier. In point of fact because of women such as Batgirl writer Gail Simone, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, and Game of Thrones Star Emilia Clarke we will see that fandom survives past its rather extended adolescence.
Gail Simone was fired from writing Batgirl, but when outrage over the fact that a strong female writer was being terminated from writing a strong heroine reached near riot status, DC hired her back. Simone classily went back to work without making a firestorm over it herself. She is a strong creator and writer and that’s just what she wants to do – produce well written comics where women are on the same footing as men.
Patty Jenkins, a great director in her own right, directed the film Monster which promptly garnered star Charlize Theron to an Oscar for best actress. Her film Wonder Woman blew out the doors of theatres and showed that a woman could carry a superhero tentpole on her own. In this film, it was Chris Pine that became the sexualized arm candy. Even Etta Candy would show her teeth. The films showed that not only does a well-crafted superhero highly profitable film can feature a woman, and be directed by the same.
Even actresses are now taking control of their own bodies and sexuality. Emilia Clarks took control of her role as Daenerys Targaryen, and how and when she was depicted nude. If she’s sans clothing in a scene, it is because she has approved it. No one can see the mother of Dragons and not know the strength of Clarke behind her.
To conclude, the comics, film, and television industries have always depicted beautiful women, but these women are showing that they’ve always had brains as well as brawn. As Wonder Woman’s Jenkins has shown, the women will defeat the men who would keep them oppressed.
John R. White is a USAF veteran, and has served as Art Director for the Honor Flight Network, and Honor Flight Northwest Ohio. He is most well known as the Author of ‘The Tales of the Airship Neverland’ steampunk series, and the author and designer of the ‘Airship Neverland’ Roleplaying game.