Sunday, April 05, 2009

And it's time for another round of Uncontrollable Strangly Hands

So I was planning on sitting down and working on some school work (which features zombies. Not actual zombies, but the idea of them. The zombies may, in fact, be a metaphor), and yet its comics that keep dragging me back.

This time it's Marvel, and for a company that writes comic books, and therefore should understand the power of language, they are incredibly insulting in what words they use in their press releases.

For example, see this. Karen Healey already addressed this at her column Girls Read Comics (And they're pissed), so I'm going to try not to repeat what she says here.

So this is the novel idea of Marvel selling things to women! Surely they are pioneers in marketing!

From the very first sentence I knew I was going to have put on my brick holster: "The consumer products team at Marvel is thinking big when it comes to females."

First of all, what the hell, Marvel? Females? Really? You never refer to men as males, and, in fact, later in the article you say "guys."

It makes it sound like women are some sort of wild creature that you encounter on the Discovery Channel. "Here we have found the wily and elusive 'female.' We come bearing these gifts of stereotypical feminine products for her. Let's see if she accepts them."

(Of course, I should probably be thankful that Marvel hasn't referred to women in general as "girls," which has the purpose of infantilizing women and marking them as weaker. For example how many superheroes can you name off the top of your head that end in -girl? I have Supergirl, Power Girl, Wonder Girl, Bat Girl. How many superheroes can you name that ends in -boy? I have Power Boy. I suppose the argument could be made for Aqualad, but that's it. Amazing, isn't?)

Healey points out that, in contrast to using "men" and "guys" the term "females" is dehumanizing, and has the effect of making women in general less desirable than men when it comes to Marvel's target audience.

Which leads me to this fun little paragraph: "Since our core customer has always been guys, we need to be very careful when we introduce female product so that we don't alienate our core," said Paul Gitter, president of consumer products, North America, for Marvel Entertainment Inc. "What we have found through testing is that we haven't alienated them, which gives us the OK to move forward with female product."

First of all Gitter, please stop saying "female product" like you're trying to sell superhero themed tampons. Second of all...okay, I'm trying to make a coherent argument here without descending into profanity, which is difficult, so I will refrain from my initial response, which had to do with a term about procreation.

I cannot speak to the purpose or reasoning behind Gitter's words, but can only analyze the statement. This statement makes it very clear that their core consumers (which, for the record, I don't agree with), happen to male, I mean, guys, who are much more desirable than women. Marvel would love to make more money, and hey, women--I'm sorry, females--have income just like real people, so Marvel is seeking to exploit that.

However, god forbid they try to make any of their products more women--oops! I meant female--friendly because that may make the guys uncomfortable. And despite the fact these things are exclusively made for women, the opinions of males--damnit, I meant guys--are much more important.

And now let's look at the products themselves, shall we? Everything we have here are, like I said before, really stereotypically girly. We have lip gloss, broken heart pendents (although I think someone didn't quite think through the Spiderman/Goblin one), jewelry and "fashion tops."

From what I can see, all of these female products operate under the assumption that females love superheroes, but don't want to be them. For example, the shirt accompanying the article has the image of chibi-fied (because everyone knows females only love Japanese manga style art and a low vee neck so you can get that all important cleavage shot) males Avengers (forget about the Wasp or Ms. Marvel or the Scarlet Witch) playing rock music. Because women, or females, don't appreciate female superheroes rocking out.

To Marvel it's quite simple: females love superheroes, but they don't identify them or even imagine themselves in that role. After all, who wants to be Invisible Woman, or Ms Marvel, or She-Hulk, or Storm, or Spider Woman, or Kitty Pryde, or Faiza when instead females can have crushes on Captain America, Ironman, Hulk, Thor, or Spiderman? Women--girls-- damnit females are only interested in the romance between superheroes and women, and do not in any way want strong women superheroes who kick ass.

No, females want pretty shiny jewelry and lip gloss, because girls just want to look pretty and don't identify with superheroes. Obviously.

I think I have to echo Healey here and say I am sick and tired of this sexist, gender-specific marketing shit. Our culture has clearly divided consumer products into what's for men and what's for women, or females in this case, and despite evidence to the contrary, companies adhere strictly to this gender division, which means girls don't read comics.

While in the past comics were intended strictly for men, it isn't true anymore. Women--females--are large consumers too, although neither DC or Marvel wants to acknowledge that. I have had this conversation numerous times with Darcy and it comes down to this: Do Marvel and DC just hate money?

From a purely economic standpoint, this ridiculous stance that only men read comics doesn't make sense. By listening to critics, both male and female, about the sexism inherent in comics-- such as the T&A, poor characterization of women, the assault of female characters, etc.--and acting upon it, the companies will sell more of their titles to women and thus make more money. And yet they won't, and instead we get this "female product."

So well done, Marvel, in announcing you decided to market to women in the most insulting way possible. Females, huh? When will we learn that comics aren't for us, but instead for the guys? I suppose I should just be happy you even deigned to notice us.

So, no, Marvel, I won't be buying your female product. And for the record, I'm a woman, not one of your faceless females, and I refuse to be placated with these products and I will refuse to be silent about it.


Danicus said...

Ahem. superheroes with 'boy'(or lad, or some variation) in their names:

Cosmic Boy
Lightning Lad
Chameleon Boy
Colossal Boy
Invisible Kid
Karate Kid
Star Boy
Kid Quantum
Kid Flash
Sun Boy
Ultra Boy
Matter-Eater Lad

...those are mainly just Legion of Superheroes members I could think of...

There's also Marvel Boy, Hulkling (arguablly not eligible for the list), Iron Lad, Beast Boy, Robin the Boy Wonder, Sandy the Golden Boy, Wonder Boy....

Just to name a few. I dont disagree with your main point at all, and in fact am really pissed about that 'merchandise', but that one little bit of the rant irked me. Felt I should step in.

Jayne said...

All right, all right, you've just pwned me there, Danicus. Well done.

Although, I say that for must people Matter-Eater Lad isn't going to jump right into their heads. For most poeple, non-geeks, wouldn't know half off the boys aren't there.

For higher profile hereoes, there aren't any really -boys, while there there are more -girls, mainly because they are the woman variant on the iconic male heroes (Superman, Batman).

You have still proven me wrong on the -boy front. I'm such a female.

Darcy said...

I kinda admit to being sort of a giant girl who enjoys things like lip-gloss (though not so much the broken heart pendants...I'm an adult.) but I'm still offended at this kind of marketing. I don't need my lipgloss to have Mary Marvel on it to consider it a good purchase. It's not so much the pandering sort of marketing that is offensive (though it IS that as well) it's the assumption that me, being a girl who's into comic books also happen to be a MORON that would fall for shit like that. I bet all that shit is pink anyway. LAME.

Danicus said...

Hey, Superboy is a variant on Superman. And don't forget, arguably the most famous female hero in the biz is Wonder Woman, not Wonder Girl.
Also, Supergirl and Batgirl are teenagers, not full grown women. Most teen or child superheroes get a name that corresponds to showing their youth, just to drill that point home. Batgirl, Aqualad, Kid Flash, Saturn Girl, etc.
Again, im not disagreeing with the bulk of your post, just expanding on that one bit. I love a good debate.

Jayne said...

Danicus, I understand giving teen/child superheroes the -girl -boy suffix to signify their age, but I feel that the boys get to grow out of that. Aqualad became Tempest,Robin, the Dick Grayson one, became Nightwing, and I'm sure at a certain point Tim would move on too.

But here's where it differntiates for me, because boy/man is not used interchangeably the same way woman/girl is. Just listen to people talk, and you'll hear full gorwn women referred to as girls, where it is unlikely for men to be called boys, as a general rule.

And, let's face it, Power Girl is not a girl. She's a woman in her 30s. And even though Supergirl is a teenager, when she ages, which since this is comics will be never, but play along, I doubt she'll take a new name for herself. Same for Batgirl. Barabara,while young, was not a girl when she first became Batgirl, and Cass is hardly a girl herself, and yet the name sticks.

Wonder Girl is a differnt matter, and it'll be interesting to see if she takes a different name as she gets older.

And, hey, I'm always up for a debate.

Bartholomew Percival Osgood said...

I'm theorizing here...but I think they just used "Batgirl" since they already had "Bat-Girl" (who becomes Flamebird). Bat-Girl was originally just a love interest for Robin and Batwoman was the same for that they wouldn't be thought of as'd that turn out for Batwoman? She likes girls? That must have been an awkward 50 years...ouch...

I have to say...they big two don't do a great job with their female characters and most of the other publishers use them solely as sex symbols. Looking through my rows of trades, the only things I can think of that have realistic female (and male) characters that can act as independent actors are Hellblazer and DMZ. You have strong women that can make decisions and don't just swoon after the men. There's both weak men and women. These works are fairly realistic in the way that people react to situations.

An aside:
Maybe Tim will get to be, "Ilivedlongenoughtochangecostumeswithouthavingahissyfit."
Too long? Maybe, "Everyoneinmylifedies" aka "Slashwrists."

Seriously, who'd want to be Robin? You're either going to end up dead, a treacherous villain, or every single person you know dies, except Batman...wait...scratch that...he's "dead" too.

I think Dick did the right thing. Leave under the pretext of a divergence in life paths/goals and get the hell out of there. I mean, he lucked out with only having his parents brutally murdered in front of him and his on-again-off-again getting wheelchaired. WAIT...he's the one that becomes the freaky genetic experiment Joker (at least in Miller's continuity). Still...there's worse ways to go then lava...

Danicus said...

I can think of few worse things than being in The Dark Knight Strikes Again, however....
What a train wreck. DKR is arguably the best Batman story ever, and everything Miller has done with the character since seems to be just AWFUL.

PS> will post more about the debate once im home from vacation and actually near my back issues. :-D

Danicus said...

i lied... i got home and now i cant remember the point i was going to make, or even what back issues i needed to make it.