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Saturday, October 18, 2014 

What kind of female cast does Five Thirty Eight expect?

Five Thirty Eight wrote about women in comicdom and the alleged efforts to get more into the medium. But after reading this, it occurred to me their expectations are ambiguous at worst, and there's just so much they're missing:
To say the comic book industry has a slight gender skew is like saying Superman is kind of strong. Comic books — much like the film industry they now fuel — vastly under-represent women. The people who write comic books, particularly for major publishers, are overwhelmingly men. The artists who draw them are, too. The characters within them are also disproportionately men, as are the new characters introduced each year.

The big two comic publishers, DC Comics and Marvel, have taken note of this disparity and are trying to diversify their offerings. Marvel just published the first issue of a series introducing a new, female Thor, and the science fiction blog io9 recently praised DC Comics for upgrading Batgirl’s costume to “the best damn superheroine outfit ever.”
I wonder why they've got nothing to say about DC's throwing Cassandra Cain out the window and putting Barbara Gordon back in the outfit, seemingly for commercial reasons, but truly because they don't have what's needed to develop newer characters whose introductions could've been handled well.

And Marvel's not trying to "diversify" so much as they're seeking publicity at all costs, under the confidence the mainstream press will accept their steps unquestioned and without judging the stories on their own merits. It's already guaranteed they'll never comment how laughable it is a corrupted version of Nick Fury causes Thor to lose his worthiness by ways of a mere whisper (and I suppose what he hissed to the Odinson was "you're not worthy"? Mark Waid, Kieron Gillen and company should have a good long look at themselves, because they stopped being that long ago).
But these recent advancements don’t make up for the fact that women have been ignored in comic books for decades. And they still don’t bring women anywhere close to parity: Females make up about one in four comic book characters.

Among comic-creators, the numbers are even more discouraging. Tim Hanley, a comics historian and researcher, analyzes who’s behind each month’s batch of releases, counting up writers, artists, editors, pencilers and more. In August, Hanley found that men outnumbered women nine-to-one behind the scenes at both DC and Marvel. He also estimated that 79 percent of people working on comics this year were white.

Part of this strong skew towards male comic book characters — and male writers — may be due to whom publishers have perceived their audience to be. Jason Aaron, who has been writing “Thor” for about two years and is heading up the new female-led series, explained that the comic book business painted itself into a demographic corner. “Over time, we started to appeal to the same, dwindling fans,” he said, adding, “I don’t say that derisively, because I’m at the heart of that dwindling group of fans, and always have been.” (Aaron is male, white and 40 years old.) During the 1960s and ’70s, comic books moved from grocery store newsstands to specialized shops, which mostly catered to a young, white, male audience. Once that happened, Aaron said, the industry lost a way to attract new fans.
This is truly misleading. I think the whole notion shops only cater to whites is ridiculous. As if blacks and Latinos don't know where to find them and buy there! The only problem here is their departure from newsstands and bookstores, a process which occurred later, more during the mid-80s. And they've failed note how Marvel just recently pulled out of a few bookstore chains once again, something you couldn't expect Aaron to acknowledge while he's still working for them.

As for lack of female contributors, today that can be attributed partly to their mandates that deprive creative freedom, save for a select few like those working for them now. If a woman who likes the Spider-marriage and the Super-marriage comes along and wants to restore all that, along with various other continuity aspects and characterization, then, as I've said before, the current editors/publishers will not allow it. That same mindset is also what led to Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled, but predictably, that doesn't matter to them.

Then, when they get around to discussing online sales, what do they think to cite as an example:
“Digital becoming the new newsstand for us has been huge,” Aaron said. “You see a book like ‘Ms. Marvel’ doing so well digitally. That book has great digital sales. Clearly it’s reaching an audience we haven’t been reaching before through our longstanding distribution system.”
And just what figures do they have? Without giving exact sales figures in money/download per issue, even for digital, I'm not sure that counts any more than pamphlets.
“Ms. Marvel,” created by G. Willow Wilson, frequently comes up in talk about how the industry is changing. It stars a Muslim Pakistani girl living in Jersey City named Kamala Khan who becomes an unlikely superhero. Even more unlikely is the series’ success.

“I think when we were discussing the creation of this character, she was the trifecta of death,” Wilson said. “She was a new character, and new characters do not tend to do well. She was a girl — female characters do not tend to do well. And she was a minority, and minority characters do not tend to do well.”
And with the kind of belief system applied, that's a real reason this isn't doing well. Interesting they don't cite the real Ms. Marvel, Carol Danvers, now portrayed as a new take on Capt. Marvel, as an example.
Wilson and the rest of the book’s creative team went into the project thinking they’d be lucky to get seven issues out of the character. But the book has developed a devoted following online, and has posted solid numbers for a newcomer. [...]
And when you click ahead to see those numbers, you see very laughable ones ranking at little more than 32,000 copies for the most recent issue, and that's mainly for those sold to stores. Some of which may still be sitting around unbought.

They continue to talk about how they looked for data on how many female cast members are in both Marvel and DC worlds. But here's where I noticed something telling about their approach:
Miller says one possible reason we see DC with a slight advantage over Marvel in the raw character counts is that DC was more willing to create female counterparts to its well-known heroes — Batwoman, Supergirl, etc. — while Marvel avoided derivative characters early on. When Marvel did start creating female versions of its mainstream heroes in the 1970s, it was for strictly financial reasons. For example, Spider-Woman and She-Hulk, Miller said, “were eyed as attempts by Marvel to stake out trademarks.”
Nowhere in this article are supporting casts without superpowers mentioned. No mention of Lois Lane, Mary Jane Watson, or any other co-star who once mattered. Only superheroines seem to count. I think this article was written for strictly financial reasons too, and commercial. Indeed, where's the emphasis on the importance of talented writing? And why can't they criticize the inability to introduce some new heroines as their own protagonists without taking over a male hero's role proper? And, if further proof is needed where this piece is going:
Women and men were almost exactly equally likely to have a secret identity in the Marvel universe (49.4 percent of males and 49.5 percent of females), while in the DC universe 51 percent of males had a secret identity and 45 percent of females did. While it’s not a perfect stand-in, we can also infer that men may be slightly more likely to be superheroes or villains — rather than just normal, unpowered side characters — than women in the DC universe.

In both DC and Marvel, women were of neutral allegiance at a higher rate than men. Men were also more likely to be bad in each universe — in fact, bad-aligned men alone outnumbered all women combined. In other words, there’s something of a paucity of female villains.
Oh, that's what matters to them? As a matter of fact, if the past decade is any indication, that's mostly changed: Jean Loring was turned into a villainess, forced into the role of a new Eclipso all for the sake of it, as part of DiDio's decision to denigrate the DCU's best co-stars, and Scarlet Witch was turned into something pretty similar at the time for the same reasons in the MCU. Even Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson underwent similar treatment. The idea villainesses are such a big deal is insulting, and is only going to guarantee more based on what both publishers think they can get away with for starters.
Publishing houses have also sought to introduce more gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender characters into their stories. In some cases, both DC and Marvel have retroactively categorized a longstanding character as LGBT. But in recent years, a number of explicitly gender- and sexual-minority characters have been introduced. While it’s barely a blip in the whole data set, the chart below shows the recent introduction of LGBT characters over time.
Ah, and this is another example of diversity at all costs, but only based on skin color and sexual orientation, and not ethnicity/nationality. No comment on whether it was embarrassing and tasteless to turn Alan Scott gay either, I notice.
The work to get more women in comics — and more women creating comics — has been going on for years. Decades of scholarship have looked into how women are portrayed on the page, and thriving communities are discussing each and every one of these points and more.

And while it’s not too surprising that so few women appear in comics today, people are talking about characters like the new Thor and Ms. Marvel because they feel change is happening in an industry and community that for years has had unwelcoming attitudes toward women.
And still does. Those who are welcome are only there on a selective basis. Wilson's apparently not somebody who has a problem with erasing Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson's marriage, nor is Kelly Sue deConnick. If they were, they might not have been hired, even with their politics. Women with right-wing leanings are far less likely to get jobs now. In fact, as mentioned before, Louise Simonson wouldn't get a job writing Thor, the title her great husband Walt scripted back in the mid-80s, because she'd want to do it all in a way that's respectful and consistent with past history, and that's not what today's editors are interested in. All they care about now is "shakeups" rather than serious character growth for heroes and co-stars.
Wilson said attitudes among creators have come a long way over the last decade, too. In the early 2000s, she said, open misogyny, and pornography, generally ruled creator forums, and discussions about gender were promptly spiked. [...]
It's still a serious problem in scriptwriting as much as in public forums, as Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled should make clear, but that's not mentioned here. I wonder why they're getting their info from Wilson, given how she's been acting as apologist for such an awful religion? I'd rather hear from somebody like Simonson, who might have a better understanding. Even Karen Berger might be a better source on the issue. A poorly written article this was, with no genuine concern for co-stars, who make as good - and maybe even better - pathways to diversity than costumed heroes do.

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There is no reason to believe that women "have come a long way." The comics medium is still dominated by the superhero genre, which is inherently a juvenile male power fantasy. Female characters are still treated as disposable objects, and are usually defined as some male character's "other" (girlfriend, assistant, whatever). They exist mainly as a McGuffin to motivate the men (e.g., to get kidnapped by the villain and rescued by the hero, or to get murdered in order to give the hero a revenge motivation).

Strong, intelligent women tend to get killed off and/or forgotten (Jean DeWolff, Silver Sable), or underwritten and never fully developed (Sif, Valkyrie). A constant message in comics is: if you try to be an assertive, independent woman (instead of just some guy's stooge), you will either get killed, or your life will be so miserable that you will wish you were dead. If anything, Marvel has usually been even more misogynist than DC.

And the much-hyped female Thor and Ms. (Muslim) Marvel hypocritically pose as attempts to promote "diversity," but they are nothing more than publicity stunts.

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