What Girls Think, I Guess.

This was linked on Twitter the other day and I couldn’t help but laugh:

I mean, seriously. It’s hilarious because it’s TRUE. (Obviously not all the time, so on, so forth, all the disclaimers I always make.) I just know way too many ladies who think like that, and way too many dudes who think like that. (I also know way too many ladies who think that by faking that they are insatiable whores, they will get their prince charming. And, uh, yeah. I have gripes with that.)

Of course, now it’s going to be porn movies and Twilight. But that’s beside the point.

Anyways, I think we’ve all ranted Disney to death. I can spare you that. I just thought the image was great, because it takes a ton of ranting and condenses it into a nice, accessible, succinct little image.

The idea of accessibility and succinctness has been pretty heavily on my mind as of late, actually. I’ve been thinking a lot about the accessibility of learning, for the most part–how do people learn, how do we teach, etc. There’s just so many examples of how traditional educational paradigms fall short, or where they could easily be improved upon. A friend of mine is pursuing a PhD in education, studying the creation of educational videogames, games, and classroom-based role playing games and practomimes. Twenty years ago, educational videogames weren’t nearly as viable or relevant as they are now, but now they’re not only a very real potential, but they could easily involve multiple different subjects within one game. It’s a fascinating field.

But anyways, my obsession, as we all know, is literature and literacy. I can’t stress enough how much I think literature and literacy matters and can make or break a student’s future (though I do think math is incredibly important–trust me, guys, when the person with a BA in literature and foreign language says math is important, it’s because it is). Do I think that it’s essential that every student ever be able to read the exact text of Macbeth or Moby Dick? No. In an ideal world, yes, they will read it and analyze it and love it. But the exact words on the page are only a fraction of what students are learning in language arts classes (note: it’s called “English and language arts” not just “book readin'”).

Students are learning how to analyze characters, how to read between the lines, how to notice and respond to themes and imagery, and they’re learning about the cultural and historical context that the texts are situated in, but also how that relates to their contemporary world. In writing my lesson plan for The Sun Also Rises, I made the emphasis not just on the context of when Hemingway wrote, but how that applies to now. The study of literature should always be relevant to the now.

So bundle up all those ideas, and I posit that comic books should be much more heavily used in English classes (hell, in history classes! in all kinds of classes!). They allow students to interact with different texts that may be much more compelling, they provide greater accessibility to students with difficulty with reading, and they tend to engage students more easily. Plus, there’s an entire world of really awesome literature going on out there that is being ignored–literature that builds on other classics (such as Sandman or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), literature that builds on history (Maus), or fantastic social commentary that has sparked all kinds of reactions in our culture (Watchmen). There’s so much potential that’s going unnoticed.

So with this in mind, I’ve been researching comics history more in depth. I took a couple of courses in college (The International Graphic Novel, and Comic Art in North America, which were both broad survey courses) and did an internship with DC Comics, so I’ve got a reasonable foundation of comics. But I want more. I want to really dig in, and I want to dig in from the academic side, not just the “whee, I am reading comics!” side (though I am reading comics. And usually I exclaim, “Whee!” right before I do so. You should too!).

One of the books I’ve picked up (from the amazing and fabulous Hub Comics in Somerville, for you Boston-area folk) is The Great Women Cartoonists, by Trina Robbins. Ms. Robbins was part of the indie comics movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60s/70s and was a huge contributor to a lot of women’s comics zines and really bringing women comics creators into their own. I think she is a deeply fantastic person.

What bothered me, though, was her coverage of women in the big companies (DC and Marvel). She talked about how the women weren’t having high rates of success because they didn’t like having to draw superheroes and violence. They were unhappy with having to make things that they didn’t like.

First off, I think it’s safe to say that many of us spend our days doing things we don’t like. I highly doubt that the secretary sitting at the front desk of DC or Marvel was thinking, “Oh golly, I am so glad I’m a secretary and not an artist because it is SO MUCH MORE FUN AND SATISFYING to be filing documents and answering phones and smiling at jerky delivery guys! This job really speaks to my talents!” Now, mind you, I’m hardly saying that they don’t deserve sympathy, as they do. But still.

Anyways, she goes on to continually talk about how women don’t like violent comics, women don’t like the aggression, the fighting, etc. She goes on to quote a female artist who said something along the lines of “I like to draw ballet and dancers, things that are more like reality.”

I will grant you that ballet and dancers are more like reality than Superman and Bizarro engaged in some vaguely homoerotic wrestle-punch-fest thingie, but this is where we are looping back to that graphic at the beginning of this post.

Why do girls have to like fluffy delicate things and boys like violence?

One of the coolest things about Hub Comics is their giant shelf of local artists’ self-published work. There you will see plenty of men lamenting love, and girls writing about poop and kicking things. I know plenty of women who enjoy dark, violent comics (hell, I’m one of them!), and would rather strangle ourselves with our shoelaces than read a pink happy comic about ballet dancers.

Maybe, like, cyborg ballet dancers with lasers in their eyes sent from outerspace to destroy the evil NutcrackerBot 9000…

Anyways, I don’t doubt that for that particular female artist, ballet and dancers was preferable to violence and superheroes. That’s fine. But Ms. Robbins, for all her feminist asskickery, paints female artists with a broad brush, making it sound like ruffly dancers and sparkly romance comics were all that appealed to girls reading comics and to women artists drawing them. That bums me the hell out.

Ms. Robbins is entirely accurate when she talks about how it was such a shame that there weren’t comics for girls–that’s true! It IS a shame! Even now we’re underrepresented (though I’d like to mention that the editor I interned under at DC was a woman and still one of the most bad ass, amazing women I’ve met in my life; I will be so fucking jazzed if I turn out like her), but it’s not because we need more romance comics. GIRL SUPERHEROES! I want more asskicking girls (with or without spandex; I could go either way)!

I’m pretty excited to check out Frenemy of the State, after reading a blurb about it on Jezebel recently, as it’s a comic by a woman, targeted toward a female readership. On the other hand, I already love titles like Empowered, starring mostly women, and Fables, which has a pretty heavily-female cast. Both those titles are written by men, and Empowered is even a superhero comic. However, I don’t think either title was meant to be aimed specifically at women (in fact, the inspiration for Empowered came from a pornographic drawing commission–go figure!), but they have the appeal. They have strong female characters, engaged in exciting plots. Sometimes there’s romance, but there’s also action, intellect, and compelling relationships with friends, colleagues, and enemies. They’re fully fleshed-out worlds with engaging characters; it just so happens that some of them are women who rock.

I am all about getting more female voices in comics. I want to see more women artists and writers and editorial staff (dear DC Comics, if you are reading this, that internship was the best experience of my life; please hire me!). However, I’m also all about getting more awesome female characters in comics. Having an equal split of women, or even a majority of women, in comics isn’t really progress, in my mind, until the books that are being created are depicting awesome women doing more than swooning over boys and buying shoes. Just because a woman made it doesn’t mean it’s pro-woman (I mean jeez, just look at everything that comes out of Sarah Palin’s mouth!).

Anyways, I want to end this with a link to one of my favorite lady cartoonists right now: Katie Cook! Katie is an incredibly talented artist with a very distinct style (dare I say it even seems feminine? :P) who draws for all kinds of awesome properties, like Star Wars. She has even drawn troopers being dismembered. Take that, girls don’t draw violence! Also, she draws the webcomic Gronk, which is pretty much my new favorite part of Fridays.

So in short, don’t go for gender-assigny bullshit. Don’t wait for your prince charming or insatiable whore, instead go to your local comic shop and read some bad ass comic books!

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06/10/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized.

4 Comments

  1. Tasty replied:

    Have you already checked out “The Ten Cent Plague”? It’s not about gender really at all, but it IS about how comics related to the moral censors of the early 20th century, and how that affected the content of comics well into the ’80s. Good stuff.

    • Cuppy van der Cake replied:

      I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on the big stack of books I have on hold at Hub! They are so kind and let me accrue a pile behind the counter to purchase as I come into funding. 🙂

  2. Dave Doolin replied:

    Fables is pretty good. I’m way behind. Need to hit my buddy up for the latest trade issues.

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