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Sunday, December 28, 2014 

How were Golden Age women only "free" when evil?

The Bellingham Herald published a ludicrous history article talking about a would-be historian who says women in Golden Age comics (possibly the crime genre) could only be "free" of certain gender roles when turned evil:
Speaking of early comic books, another historian named Mike Madrid has done some yeoman work for all mankind - and all womankind, as well.

Madrid is author of "The Supergirls" and "Divas, Dames & Daredevils: Lost Heroines of the Golden Age," so you can guess he knows his beans when it comes to the good girls of comics. With his new book, "Vixens, Vamps & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of the Golden Age of Comics" ($16.95, Exterminating Angel Press), he shows he knows the bad girls, too.

Madrid confines himself to the "Golden Age of Comics," roughly 1938-1951, but even with those restrictions, he finds an assortment of femmes fatale whose variety is really quite amazing. Unlike 1940s good girls - invariably white, well-to-do and demure in their civilian roles - villainesses are free of the gender roles and expectations of genteel society. Once they declare themselves evil, they can be who or what they want to be. They were even free to not be white - several were women of color, otherwise hard to find in the Golden Age.

In fact, Madrid makes a compelling case that the only way a woman could escape a dull life as a devoted wife and homemaker in the 1940s and '50s was to be evil. "By abandoning any connection to society and living as outlaws, these women gain autonomy," Madrid says. "They give up any semblance of a normal life in order to control their own lives. The irony is that they have to steal, cheat and kill in order to have their freedom."
What a crock. If they turn to a life of crime, it's only logical that, in real life terms, they'd finally end up in jail or worse. Would they even succeed in building their own private business as a fashion store owner or a law/medical practice - which some women even in those days were able to accomplish - if they stooped to crime? Certainly not for long. That's not something I consider "compelling". As expected, they can't possibly be bothered to mention Lois Lane, Shiera Sanders and Libby Lawrence (Liberty Belle) were reporters, a pretty significant job in those days, or how there were women who owned businesses in the 19th century, as is explained at the National Women's History Museum, climbed the ladder to prominent jobs like aviation in the early 20th century, and during WW2, there was a special squadron of lady pilots in the US military known as WASP, employing more than a thousand recruits. There were also plenty of actresses, singers and surely even movie stuntwomen, and those are pretty prominent careers too. That isn't saying sexism wasn't still ingrained in society at the time, but progress was being made, even on what roles women could find.

And did it ever occur to them that, while criminal activities are wrong, the effects of the Great Depression might've been what led some women to commit crimes in real life, just like some men were doing? How come that doesn't occur to them? They're not doing anyone a favor by turning this into some weird "feminist" issue.

Some could even argue the crime comics the book may be referencing were insulting to minorities, if they depicted black and Asian women committing crimes under an illogical notion that this was the only way they could get "autonomy". While there's plenty of stuff about the early age of comicdom that's impressive, that doesn't mean the Golden Age didn't have its share of duds, and failure to acknowledge mistakes could be made even that far back is no way to cover history. I wouldn't call this a favor to "all" womenkind at all, mainly because of how uncritical the commentary is.
Madrid has found a variety of stories starring bad girls, and broken them up into categories: Vicious Viragos, Beauties & Beasts, A Rainbow of Evil and Crime Queens. But even in categories, these women insist on declaring their individuality. Amid the unavoidable Dragon Lady knock-offs and greedy socialites, Madrid gives us He-She (half male, half female), Madame Muscles (strong and aggressive), Mable Reine ("a hobo Joan of Arc"), Nang Tu (a Buddhist priestess) and the anti-Mom, Shoebox Annie French (a murderess and drug dealer, with her son as accomplice).

These are some awful women - far worse than some of today's villainesses, who are only bad to attract a hero's attention, or secretly have a heart of gold. These Golden Agers commit some genuinely terrible crimes. But even so, at some level you have to admire them. They were going to be free or die ... and no man was ever going to be their master.
No, I do not think women who commit the worst of crimes like murder should be admired, and if the writers of said tales did, then honestly? I think that was pretty poor of them to write up stories like those rather than make a clear statement about whether society wasn't giving women the proper chance to make it big. I know societal mentality in the past century wasn't great, but statements in comics, just like in movies, that called for better thinking would've been a far more impressive way to go.

This article reeks of a crazy feminist viewpoint, that women in the early 20th century were supposedly only male property in that era, which is far from accurate, and there were women who served in Congress too as far back as 1920. Unless Madrid's book takes an objective approach, I wouldn't consider it worth reading.

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Madrid makes it sound almost as if the US was under Sharia law in the WWII era, and that the comics reflected it. That is an exaggeration and an over-simplification.

While women had fewer options then than they do now, there were still women who had jobs and even careers, in real life and in comics (and in movies and radio shows).

There were heroines like Wonder Woman and Mary Marvel, and even the female supporting characters (the heroes' girlfriends or assistants) were often portrayed as competent adults, with jobs that they presumably did well. Lois Lane and Vicki Vale were journalists, Julie Madison was an actress, and Linda Page was a nurse.

And I doubt if female villains were intended (or even perceived) as role models. Even before the Comics Code, most publishers seemed to follow certain informal rules. One of those was that criminals could not get away with their crimes. Their schemes failed, and they (whether male or female) were usually punished. Most often, they were caught and sent to prison; occasionally, they got killed. Either way, few people would want to emulate them.

Both my grandmothers were teenagers during the WWII era, but they did start working at a young age and worked all throughout the 1950s and beyond.. My paternal Grandmother worked at a plastics factory for a long time. My maternal Grandmother worked at an insurance company and sold things from home. So Madrid doesn't know what he's talking about.

how could I forget black cat? stunt woman by day crime fighter by night.one of the best drawn comics of the golden age.

lady luck,miss fury,mary marvel,fire hair,black angel,the girl commandos,miss masque,invisible scarlett o'neil.thats just off the top of my head.and there were many female comic artist during the golden age,lily renee,marcia snider,anne Brewster,tarpe mills,gladys parker,claire moe,nina Albright etc.

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