Friday, March 06, 2009

“Into the Garbage Chute, Flyboy!” Why more girls should love comic books, cartoons, video games, and anything else that has a strong Female Heroine.

I realize that there could be tomes written on this topic (and there already is some pretty awesome literature on the subject), but I feel as though there is no harm in reinforcing the thought that more young girls should be reading comic books. After watching the new Wonder Woman film with Darci today we realized that it is every bit of awesome inspiration that it should be and more. Wonder Woman is strong, and even though she was raised by a mother who turned her back on man’s world, she goes above and beyond to reconnect the rest of the world and save it, time and again. She was made by the Greek Goddess Aphrodite, and raised by Amazonian women, which makes her ulra-super-amazing.

Comic books did not become female-protagonist-friendly until Wonder Woman premiered on the scene in 1941. Prior to that they were basically cheap romance novels in which women fell to the advances of overly-attractive men. The time of Rosy the Riveter allowed for Wonder Woman to sweep in and capture the hearts and minds of thousands of young girls. She endured and was rekindled in the 1960’s when women continued to fight for equal rights in the United States. Today, many would argue that fight is not yet over, and Wonder Woman is stronger than she has ever been. The premier of the new animated film (and her appearances in Justice League Unlimited) are a shining example of women as heroes in comics. (In the Justice League Unlimited episode “To Another Shore” she is fighting global warming AND the bad guys, and that’s just awesome if you ask me).

When I was growing up I clung onto all the female protagonists I could. They inspired me and made me want to change the world around me. I attribute so much to the heroes I followed as a child. Princess Leia was above and beyond my favorite, and not just because I love the original Star Wars Trilogy a ridiculous amount. Every time she said, “Into the garbage shoot flyboy!” I laughed because she was giving the men who just rescued her orders. She then goes on to be not only an outstanding diplomat, but someone who can wield a blaster when the time calls for it, strangle Jabba the Hutt with the chains that attempted to restrain her, and oh, by the way, she becomes a JEDI WARRIOR later on in the novels, comic books, and graphic novels that follow the films. (Yes, I like them, and I don’t care that they’re not considered canon. Many of them are fantastic stories). It just so happens that I find her and Han Solo’s relationship to be pretty balanced, and they have some pretty cool children later on in the novels, too. Jaina Solo, born of the two of them, is the greatest combination of both Han and Leia’s strengths, and she also kills her twin brother Jacen when he turns to the dark side cause…well…it has to be done.

Other female protagonists of my childhood included Jean Grey (prior to the whole Phoenix thing…), Storm, Rogue, Batgirl, Batwoman, Black Canary, Aisha and (yes although pink…) Kimberly from the Power Rangers… even Linka from Captain Planet was someone who stood out in a world of predominately male heroes!

Samus Aran kicked ass in her video game series (although admittedly a lot of people didn’t realize she was a woman for the longest time!). When shit goes wrong Princess Zelda even takes up a stronger stance in Ocarina of Time and disguises herself as the ultra-badass Shiek. This transformation is one of my favorites because up until that point Zelda was just the princess in distress.

Comic books, film, and video games can all serve as very important sources of inspiration in American youth. This is, of course, because our society is HEAVILY influenced by media, and lets face it folks, WE ARE ADDICTED TO TELEVISION! Our society is so addicted to television and film that it has become inextricably tied to our culture and in many ways our individual identities. People identify each other in conversation by the shows or films we watch, and don’t lie because you’ve done this too! “Oh, you watch that show! I love that show!” How many times have you been on a date or met a new friend, and found out the other person watches something that you love and it excites you because you share an interest that is as much a part of your life as your job or your other hobbies. There are thousands of scholars across the country attempting to dissect this phenomenon, but I merely accept it as something that we’ve tied into our culture. It’s there, and it’s important to understand, but viewing media as separate from the development of culture can no longer be done.

So, that being said, it is easy to understand how having female heroes in the television shows our kids are watching is SUPER IMPORTANT. If not for my constant watching of female heroines who didn’t take crap from anyone, I wouldn’t be nearly as driven as I am today. I mean, I’m writing this blog post on a blog specifically written by geeky girls who want the world to know that we exist, and we’re perfectly normal (ish) people, by the way. We have all had (relatively) normal relationships *Sidebar: I have been informed that Jayne is only using this blog as a platform for mocking things mercilessly as that is her sole joy in life* and have bunches of friends who are not all as geeky as we are (but a lot of them are). I work in retail while getting ready to pursue a PhD in Anthropology and travel the world (saving what parts of it I can along the way), Darci does blueprint-architecture stuff and is going to pursue a career in Graphic Design (she is amazing and should have her own interior design business), and Jayne goes to graduate school for Literature and Writing (if you couldn’t tell by the blog, she is a fantastic writer!). But most importantly, we don’t give up on our dreams, and we certainly don’t let anybody tell us that we can’t do what we want with our lives. Its real women like us, everywhere, who serve as the real-life inspirations for young girls in America, but it helps to have the media on our side, too. I for one would love to see a future in which everyone is working to save the world. I mean, it would be like one gigantic justice league (mmm hot superheroes in spandex.....Gambit and Green Arrow....mmmm.....I mean…....lots more heroes! Yes! That! Lofty, goal-driven…yeah…).

So if you see some kids playing in the park and they tell you they’re pretending to be super heroes, make sure they’re kicking butt and know that smiting evil is the right thing to do!

Save the children, Save the World,
Lady Laura Jones


Jayne said...

Hey, I am not only using this blog to mock things mercilessly (although the part about that being my sole joy in life is pretty accurate). I have thoughtful posts I want to get around to, but first of all, thinky posts take more time to write than my mocking ones, and I have three large projects going that take up most of my creative time. I WILL get to that Dollhouse post and the post about Batwoman, women in comics, and gender issues in some book series.

Back to your post, Lady Lara Jones, it is really fantastic and I'm glad you wrote it. Having strong female characters in media is one of the causes that I am very passionate about, if you couldn't tell from my Heroes post.

Leia is awesome. I wish we had more characters like her.

The thing about Wonder Woman, though, is that the idea of her has always been more powerful than how she's actually written. Wonder Woman has a long history of being tied up and being written and drawn as -how shall I put this?-very big on the T&A.

She was created by Marston, who took a view that women were naturally more nurturing and less violent than men. I wouldn't exactly characterize Marston as a feminist, but his Wonder Woman did have adventures and friends. After his death is when we start to see the really sketchy gender issues of her being tied up A LOT, and not to mention some of skeev-tastic storylines about her longing for a husband and some borderline domestic abuse that were written (in one, WW is actually tied to a stove. Awesome.)

As for the '60 revival, okay that's not entirely true. When feminism was brought into the comics books -Lois Lane series focused on her quitting her job and going freelance, Black Canary joined the Justice league, Wonder Woman left the JLA and was depowered- it was written in a caricaturized manner of man hating that was what the (male) writers had gleaned from television. The Wasp in Marvel’s Avengers was written as an airhead who cared more about her appearance than fighting superheroes. And let’s not talk about the sexism in the Fantastic Four. All of this took place in the ‘60s and the feminist movement.

Wonder Woman was depowered and put into a karate gi, and Gloria Steinem mounted a campaign to get her back into uniform. Wonder Woman, the classic image of her, even graced the cover of the first issue of Ms., but when DC did restore WW to her original image and powers, she went right back to being tied up (actually, I think the first issue of her back in costume had her tied to a phallic shaped bomb, screaming in terror, as she fell to her death-god, that’s feminist), and Steinem apparently didn't read the comics, otherwise I’m pretty sure she would have had things to say about WW’s portrayal.

(Um, I may have presented something like this at a conference, so sorry for the really long comment. For more analysis, I strongly recommend you pick up Lillian Robinson’s book Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes. It is amazing.)

The thing is, women in media have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go, especially for women in comics. I mean, Women in Refrigerators exist for a reason, and don’t even get me started on Lady Bullseye or the still small minority of women writers and artists and editors working in the comics industry.

I want more girls to read comics, and I want girls, especially my little sister, to have strong female role models, but our culture is still mired in this raunchy sexualized mindset that is more likely to reward looks than it is achievement and intellect. You are more likely to see something like Gossip Girl and that godawful chauvinist Pussycat “reality” show than you are likely to get a show like Buffy or even Veronica Mars.

All of this is not to say that I don’t like your post, because I really do. I think it’s important to have more conversations about portrayal of women in media because, like you say, it is so intertwined with our culture that it’s impossible to separate the two anymore.

Lady Lara Jones said...

wow. lol. I feel under-informed about wonder woman! I need to read this book.
In other news, Darci told me to throw in the bit about your posts...she thinks it's funny.
Oh, and Buffy kicks ass. Hells yeah to more buffy the vampire slayer-types.

Danicus said...

Well, Jayne beat me to the meat of the comment I was going to make. So, there goes that part. :-p

Other than that though... Kudos, Lara. I was really impressed/ entertained through this whole post. It's the whole package.