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There are several qualities that have hurt the overall portrayal of women in comics and several suggestions from the interwebs and myself that I think could help further equality in comics. That’s what this new series, “Women in Comics: Do the Super Ladies Need Saving?” is all about. Inspired from a Gender Studies inquiry project and a “Gender and Comics” survey I created a couple of weeks back, this series will take an in-depth look at women’s portrayal in comics. It was originally going to be one feature, but after hitting almost 4,000 words I thought people were much more likely to stay awake if I made it into multiple parts.
If there’s a particular topic you’d like me to talk about, let me know! I already have already covered a lot of topics like the way women in comics dress, their poses, the types of angles they’re drawn in and some empowering women in comics. But today, I’m talking about a very serious topic: abusing women in comics.
For most of the examples I’m going to be using the two mainstream comic book companies Marvel and DC Comics. Independents and other publishers like Image Comics and Dynamite Entertainment have their problems too, but the “Big Two” are the comics that are most widely read, meaning they have a huge impact when it comes to how women are portrayed in comics. These examples are also not limited to just superpowered heroines but also non-superpowered beings and villains.
If you’re interested in reading previous parts of my Women in Comics: Do the Super Ladies Need Saving? series, click on the links below.
I definitely don’t think this is as prevalent as it has been in the past since fans are much more likely to get out their pitchforks when it comes to controversy in comics, but women have been horribly treated in the past by comics. And it’s not about them being hot or posing with a broken back. Pointlessly violating women on the page. It’s one thing if it’s pivotal to the plot (and it’s the abused character’s story, not her love interest’s) and the comic doesn’t revel in the woman’s abuse. I can understand that. I can even understand if it’s the typical “revenge” story as long as the women isn’t crudely depicted. It’s tricky sometimes to tell what steps over the line, and this is where some people either overreact or under react. But sometimes women are abused in comics and it’s pretty clear it’s unnecessary. Some of the worst mainstream offenders include:
In the mini-series Infinite Crisis Sue Dibny, the wife of the Elongated Man, was raped, murdered and then burned to a crisp. Talk about insult to injury. She was murdered by Jean Loring and afterwards it was revealed she was raped by Doctor Light. The problem most people had with this violent death was not only its violent nature but the events following it which included the Justice League mind wiping Doctor Light to “rehabilitate” him and then mind wiping Batman because he disagreed with this “punishment” of Doctor Light. Erasing someone’s memory does not make them not a rapist.
In Action Comics #592 & 593 the aptly-named villain Sleez (and isn’t that an appropriate name?) manipulated both Big Barda and Superman. What did he have them do? Sickeningly: each other. Yes, Sleez manipulated Big Barda and Superman into doing a porno together. What a horribly insulting plotline.
For the 200th issue they decided to do something big: Ms. Marvel was going to have a baby! Unfortunately the way she got that baby is a horror story no one seemed to notice. Manipulated (yes, more mind manipulation), Ms. Marvel was brought to a dream world where she was seduced and rapped by Marcus, who was also her child (yeah, it doesn’t make much sense in the issue either), got pregnant and returned to Earth with no memory of Marcus. She had her baby and was reunited with Marcus. None of the Avengers, including Ms. Marvel, are upset with him and everything is right with the world – except for that whole “rape” thing. Yeah.
Thankfully in this case writer Chris Claremont, who is known for his ability to write strong women, decided to right this wrong by having Ms. Marvel realize she was being brainwashed by Marcus and having her berate the Avengers (and the storyline of Avengers #200) for not doing anything about her obvious rape.
But then there was an event that lead to a powerful chain reaction. It involved a refrigerator.
In Green Lantern, Kyle Raynor’s girlfriend Alex Dewitt was killed and stuffed inside Raynor’s refrigerator. Her death coined the trope “Women in Refrigerators” which is when a woman is brutally murdered just so the male protagonist’s story line can progress. But this tragic death used simply for shock value also had one big positive effect: the creation of a website by the same name, started by Gail Simone. On the website Women in Refrigerators Gail Simone listed women who have been depowered and abused in comics and brought attention to the phenomenon. Whenever I mention women in comics, fans always seem to mention this site. It’s that ingrained in people’s minds.
That’s what’s needed to stop abusing women, which sites like Women in Refrigerators has helped do: speaking out about the abuse. It’s just like if someone was a victim of abuse in real-life. It may be hard to speak out and you may be ridiculed, but it’s the right thing to do when things get taken too far.
Also, I don’t want the guys to think I’m neglecting them. This goes for men too. They shouldn’t be abused unnecessarily like Nightwing was when he was raped by Tarantula (yes, Nightwing was raped even if it’s not part of continuity anymore). Women just happen to have the prevalence of being abused in comics, as proven by their trope. Which is why we have an unfortunate double standard where men’s abuse isn’t always as well recorded as woman’s abuse. This is something I definitely think should also be written about.
For more about this topic, I spoke to Comics with a Cause: Speaking Out About Violence Against Women creator Rodrigo Caballero and a woman who works at a Sexual Assault Centre and was a consultant on the project, Ashley Bentley. This is also just a snippet of the violence women (and men) have endured in comics, but I wanted to put another article out there which focuses on it. Plus, if you have any examples of a storyline that takes things to far, let me know in the comments below!