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Monday, December 08, 2014 

Gail Simone forgets to include lady co-stars

Comics Alliance interviewed Simone about the history of Women in Refridgerators site she helped build in the late 90s, but which she hasn't been entirely faithful to since joining DC. Around the beginning:
CA: What did you see as the point of WIR?

GS: The point was to ask a question. “Why are all these long-running female characters suddenly meeting these horrible fates?” And I didn’t know the answer, so I asked as many people in the industry as I could find. Some argued the question, some agreed, but every one of them knew exactly what I was asking about immediately.

At the time, you know, female readership was low, female con attendance at comic cons was low, morale for female readers was low. And I kept seeing guys ask, “Why don’t women read comics?” And for me, it felt that there was a connection between that and the fact that if you loved female superheroes, you had this endless parade of stories where the women were killed or de-powered, and they were never the focus of the story.

It felt symbolic, it felt textural. It felt like they were saying, okay, no one cares about Supergirl, no one cares about Batgirl, and so their stories rarely became about survival, they became about some dude getting revenge on their behalf.
I think another situation is cropping up where superheroines are a big deal...but not lady co-stars. Granted, she's correct about the fate of some heroines not being spotlighted, but even co-stars count. And not only has she not mentioned what happened to Sue Dibny, Jean Loring, Mary Jane Watson, Karen Page and several others, she's failed to note how, just a couple years after she helped build that site, DC and Marvel published Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled, which certainly proved at the time how sexism was still prevalent. In fact, beyond Supergirl/Batgirl, there's no mention of Scarlet Witch, Wasp, Jean Grey, Donna Troy, the 2nd Wildcat Yolanda Montez, the 2nd Dr. Mid-Nite Beth Chapel, or even the female Dr. Light Kimiyo Hoshi, in this interview. How can anyone form an opinion if no examples are cited?

Let's also consider that, even if more women are visiting conventions today, it may not be to look for superhero comics. Not from the Big Two anyway.
CA: Did you expect the WIR project to still be a touchstone years later?

GS: No, I never expected WiR to be anything. I was happy to be just an anonymous poster on various message boards. But it immediately became this massive thing that everyone was talking about. It was in national newspapers, Harper’s Bazaar did a story on it. It just became huge.

And it was very quickly weaponized. People writing articles were using it to call readers and creators “pigs.” There was literally a story that that was the whole point, the writer called the entire industry a bunch of pigs. My feeling was never that the industry was that vile, my feeling was that there just hadn’t been any feeling that females were interested, and so all the content skewed that way, to that imagined audience. Which becomes self-fulfilling.

But it’s odd how it’s lived on, I have heard it numerous times in Hollywood, I’ve heard it in big editorial meetings, often the people using it have no idea I coined the phrase.

I think it’s had a value in that even the most clueless writer is generally aware of it. They have to face that there are female readers and we have characters we care about as well. I’ve always joked that if you give Iron Man’s armor a nose, it’s a catastrophe, but for a long time, you could kill or de-power every female of note and if anyone brought it up, it was clearly overreacting.
I'm afraid in a way, they still think that way. How much coverage do you see of stories where heroines fall victim to violence these days? Has there been any mention of the JLA tale from 2011 where Donna Troy was killed again prior to Flashback? WIR may have once been notable, but political correctness caught up and anyone who spoke about it dropped the subject. That's how Identity Crisis and Avengers: Disassembled came to be. Neither of which are mentioned.
CA: Do you think that a fair amount of the issues that comics has had with female readership is from ignorance rather than sexism?

GS: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I think there are very few, you know, Dave Sims out there who actually believe in their hearts that women have “no conscience, no morals, no sense of right and wrong.” But there are a lot of guys who grew up reading these female-free comics, a lot of guys who were awkward around girls growing up. I prefer to believe that a lot of it is simply a lack of awareness. I have had some stunningly ignorant things said to me, with absolutely no hurtful intent, by guys who would probably consider themselves feminists. They would be shocked to be called misogynists, and it’s not really the right word. They’re just uninformed, many of them.

But make no mistake, there are some people with genuine problems with women, it can’t all be blamed on lack of proximity.
First, I think it's a bit of a stretch to say all comic tales have been female-free. But yes, she's right, there most certainly are. But then, how come she couldn't cite any title as an example? Yeah, I know, she can't muster the courage because she's afraid of being blacklisted, which sadly is probable, and DiDio/Harras came close to doing so more than a year ago. But if nobody can give clear examples, which can help tremendously in learning how to mend past mistakes, then they can't be surprised if the problem persists, and even now, it still is.
CA: I think that “uninformed” is easier to deal with than “hostile” but a lot of times being confronted with reality can make even the uninformed hostile.

GS: Yes, the uninformed don’t like to be told they are uninformed, absolutely not. We are all products of the idea that our perceptions are trustworthy. And I’ve seen some writers who call themselves feminist default to a turtle-shell protective mode when criticized even slightly on gender portrayals.
Say, that could probably describe Dan Slott, Rags Morales, Gene Ha, Ron Marz, Mark Waid, Cully Hamner, but most importantly, Brad Meltzer, although he largely keeps mum about these things, never answering any challenging queries about that sick miniseries of his. It's mainly the fault of some interviewers though, who won't bring up the topic.

Simone also seems oblivious to sales figures:
Publishers are at the heart of it. I want to praise them and applaud them for the attempts they are making to change right now, that’s all good stuff, and it’s making a difference. But I am still a little peeved they waited until there was literally no other choice to start caring about the female audience. We have Ms. Marvel selling out again and again, Marvel’s number one selling book digitally. Harley Quinn is a huge hit. The new Batgirl is big, Captain Marvel is great outreach, all the buzz books have the scent of women on them somewhere.
Has she looked at sales figures for any of these books? Not sure how books selling well below 50,000 could possibly be big hits, and her acceptance of the Muslim background for the new Ms. Marvel is galling. One credible thing she does say though, is:
CA: And they have both female creators and female characters.

GS: Right, and again, there are books with no female creators that have still managed to touch that audience. I don’t need every book to have female creators, I don’t care if there are books that appeal mostly to guy readers. I don’t care if some books have cheesecake. I am fine with all of that. It’s the not allowing anything else that makes me furious.
Amazing she agrees that's not a problem in itself. Jarring violence and ideologies with superficial presentation are far more so.
CA: I think that generation is being forced to deal with the economic realities of only catering to a limited audience for decades, finally, and maybe if nothing else the money factor will get through to them.

GS: Yeah, money for sure. Batgirl and Harley Quinn are the first DC hit books in a while that aren’t starring Batman personally, really. But some of the attempts to reach the female audience have been really depressing to me.
And unfortunately, they still are.

At the end, she disappoints with:
I love the DCU with ridiculous passion, I love the characters, I love the creators who work there. I have huge respect and appreciation for Jim [Lee], Geoff [Johns], Diane [Nelson], Dan [DiDio] and Bob [Harras], all of whom have done something for me, personally, at some point that was incredibly meaningful and generous. But I am also having a wonderful time exploring what other companies bring to the dance.
Hey, I love the DCU too with ridiculous passions. But I cannot and will not sugarcoat Johns and DiDio, if anyone, because they've almost singlehandedly destroyed the best work of better writers from the past. In fact, Harras has too, and Nelson doesn't seem particularly concerned, probably because movies are her real interest.

And again, she hasn't shown much interest in putting an emphasis on female co-stars, which undermines the impact further.

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Personally, I've never understood why Simone is considered a trailblazer in the industry. As I noted at Hube's blog, there were a few (better) female creators before her, such as Louise Simonson.

Gail Simone is and was a careerist who knew that WIR could get her attention and then a serious job. Once it did that, it had served its purpose.

She is just a careerist apologist for DC and pretty much has been from the day she took their silver.

I liken her to Mom from Futurama. Two faced.

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