Does the Comic Book Industry Need to Improve Its Gender Diversity?
Some voices in pop culture would have you believe that comic books are not for women. For instance, every time a woman enters a comic store in the popular television show “The Big Bang Theory,” male heads turn and the instance is made into an anomaly. This is representative of a greater stereotype surrounding what media women can and should engage with.
In reality, there are plenty of female comic fans. But at large, they are skipped over by the comic industry and community. Especially when it comes to female comic characters, women are heavily invested in the medium. In fact, studies have shown that 46.7% of comic fans are female.
This shows the importance of representation within art and media. Women are often sexualized within comic books, and they tend to be drawn by men themselves. If women had a place in the direction of comics, they may be more accurately portrayed. Gender representation of all kinds — female and nonbinary people especially — must improve. This starts by addressing a lack of diversity behind comics themselves.
The Lack of Women Comic Writers
Unsurprisingly, the fight for gender diversity in comic books is an age-old story. In 1949, “Teena” creator Hilda Terry reached out to The National Cartoonists Society and sarcastically addressed their exclusion of women in their inner circle. She wrote, “We [women cartoonists] must humbly request that you either alter your title to the National Men Cartoonists Society … or discontinue whatever rule or practice you have which bars otherwise qualified women cartoonists.” Subsequently, she was inducted into this society and proceeded to induct her female cartoonist friends as well.
This didn’t fix the issue of recognizing non-male comic writers, though. In 2015, DC’s “Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman” was canceled. This was a significant project that allowed writers to present the Queen of the Amazon as a dynamic person — not just an object that existed for the male gaze. However, since it was canceled, mainstream Wonder Woman comics have been overseen by a mostly male department.
The fact is, a lack of gender diversity in the world of comics is symptomatic of a greater issue. In the age of #MeToo, culture at large has been forced to re-examine how women are treated around the world. With the proof of systematic bias against women within our culture, it’s clear that the same mindset has trickled down into subcultures such as the comic community as well.
Women Making a Difference
Since Hilda Terry brought attention to the narrow-minded cartoonist boys clubs, more women have been fighting prejudice within the industry. A recent example can be found in comic writer G. Willow Wilson, who transformed Ms. Marvel into a reflection of herself: a Pakistani American convert to Islam who wrestles with faith and societal expectations. To date, this is one of the most unique takes on a traditional character within the Marvel Universe.
Similar to Wilson’s take, we also see women incorporating feminist theory and viewpoints into their comic’s narratives. Works by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Becky Cloonan, and Cecil Castellucci are great examples of this. Comics like “Shade the Changing Girl” (by Castellucci) turn the awkward teenager story we see in other narratives like Spiderman and Archie onto its head, portraying events from a female perspective.
This reflects a great societal change. For instance, more and more female entrepreneurs have been making their names known now than ever. More specifically, we are seeing more women in tech that are advancing the field of cybersecurity and computer science, which was once dominated mainly by men. This progress will hopefully continue, but we may not see a large change in comic industry until there is a greater cultural upheaval of patriarchal values.
The Male Pushback Against Diversity
Unfortunately, the male-dominated comic industry has actually made a point of neglecting gender diversity. Some, such as Marvel’s David Gabriel, have even suggested that his company’s loss of profits and sales were due to inclusive efforts. Considering the comic industry’s long history of male favoritism and employment, though, it’s not surprising that there would be a pushback on progressive changes.
But still, some professionals have taken notice. Even ComicCon organizers have made attempts to stop harassment and sexual assault at their events, which is notable in a male-dominated industry. Without better representation behind the scenes, though, it will not fully become the welcome space it needs to be.
Again, this is representative of a greater cultural bias surrounding gender. The comic book industry does not deserve or call for a gender bias. While there may not be a quick fix to this problem, it is clear that better representation behind the scenes would help.
Thankfully, there is a growing number of diverse comic writers, illustrators, and industry heads. While this selection may not be growing fast enough, it is happening. By employing the help of a diverse staff, comic companies can better cater to their non-male readership. Seeing that comic books have traditionally been a safe haven for those that are excluded, it’s only fitting that the community should open its doors to more gender diversity.