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Wednesday, August 15, 2007 

An earlier case of sexism, circa 1980

Okay, now that I've completed my smackdown of that mainstream reporter's double-talk, I'm going to provide some criteria on something that he by contrast didn't: a case of sexism that took place in The Brave and the Bold #166 in late 1980, written by Michael Fleisher of Jonah Hex and Warlord fame. For that, here's the letter column from issue #171, February 1981:
Sorry if the page I scanned is a bit blurry, but it's difficult for me to get the inner side of the page pressed down well under the cover and get it to go flat along the glass, and I have a policy not fold things over, because that's taking a risk in damaging the goods. But, not to worry, I'm going to copy the second letter featured right onto the good ol' HTML:
Dear Paul [Levitz],

The latest issue of BRAVE AND BOLD starring Batman and Black Canary was easily the most offensive story published by DC in recent years. That a writer could submit such a sexist story in this day and age is perhaps explainable, but that an editor would accept it, possibly without even realizing that the blatantly chauvanistic content of the tale would infuriarate many readers, is incredible.

The purpose of B&B is to expose the co-stars to the larger Batman audience in hopes of increasing their popularity. In order to do this, the guest stars must be given an opportunity to show off the qualities which make them DC Superstars. All Black Canary got to do was sit around tied to a chair in her underwear. She was treated in a totally contemptuous and paternalistic manner by both the Batman and the writer. Not only was she portrayed as being totally ineffectual, but as being too dumb to notice the fact. I am deeply disappointed in you and DC comics in general. That a company which only a few years ago was trying to portray itself as being in the forefront of current events could print such an insensitive story is reprehensible.
It's amazing how some of the above easily describes some of what goes on today. And, here's an older story in which there was apparent sexism abound. Of all Batman and Black Canary's team-ups, this was surely the weakest.

At the end, then series editor Levitz answered and says that "curiously none of the letters to the only point that had been the subject of objections from the distaff side of our editorial department - the relative state of undress the Canary was subjected to". Does that mean that, if they hadn't depicted her tied up in her lingerie, it wouldn't have come across as bad? I don't think so, because already, she was shown as unsuccessful in quizzing a crook who only cooperated when he saw Batman turn up! Then, Levitz said that "all accused him [Fleisher] of contempt for super-heroines in general, which we feel is hardly fair based on this story alone, no matter how he had portrayed Dinah." But what if it were another female crimefighter in Dinah's stead? Say, Barbara Gordon, still in Batgirl action at the time? It could've happened, and that's why what was done here was an insult to any and all.

But even if it's just Canary that Fleisher had disrespect for, that's still unjust. It's a mistake being made by some writers today as well, where they dislike certain characters to the point of where they'll misuse them, as Brian Bendis did with Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Disassembled.

It's worth noting that Levitz, as the DC publisher, also has to shoulder some blame for the misogyny that's taken place at DC, since he could surely have the authority to curb some of the worst things that happened, if he wanted to. Plus, he's one of those responsible for appointing Dan DiDio as EIC, isn't he? Today, following the quagmire of Identity Crisis, Levitz certainly can't defend himself and the company against charges of sexism like he might've been able to back then, unless he's willing to show some responsibility and start working towards repairing things.

Update: Dave's Longbox has a whole post about issue #166, where everybody can get a good look at what the story was like.

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About me

  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
  • I was born in Pennsylvania in 1974, and moved to Israel in 1983. I also enjoyed reading a lot of comics when I was young, the first being Fantastic Four. I maintain a strong belief in the public's right to knowledge and accuracy in facts. I like to think of myself as a conservative-style version of Clark Kent. I don't expect to be perfect at the job, but I do my best.
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