Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
Big Ross was at WWCC in Las Vegas. What he saw and heard there got him thinking, which got him writing.
I want to talk about gender, female heroes, male privilege, and objectification of women. And I want to talk about all of that because of my experiences at a recent Comic Con. I was at the inaugural Wizard World Comic Con in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. All told, it was a fun and memorable experience. I got to hang out with some friends in their booth in the main exhibit hall and help sell their wares (some great books and geeky scented candles), sit on a couple of great panels (my first time ever), and check out all of the geeky merch, cosplay, and overall wonderful sense of camaraderie. However, there were a series of encounters that left me feeling more than a little ashamed of my gender, and the way many (though not all) choose to conduct themselves.
I would like to start on more of a positive note. The one panel I had time to attend that I didn’t sit on was entitled “Female Heroes: Then and Now”. It was a great panel moderated by Jenna Busch and featuring a wonderful group people with various creative roles in the pop culture industry. They talked about their favorite female heroes (Ellen Ripley, Princess Leia, and Wonder Woman were common answers), the way female heroes have been portrayed over the years, particularly in comic books (often not well, unfortunately), and the importance of having women in creative and executive positions in the movie, television, and comic industries.
I’d like to take this opportunity to expand a bit on Wonder Woman. I was never much of a fan of WW. I remember bits of the old 70s television show with Linda Carter. I suppose I enjoyed her enough in appearances on the Justice League cartoon. But until a couple of years ago I had never read a single WW comic book. I just was never that interested. I was too busy reading seminal runs and graphic novels featuring Batman and Superman and others. The Dark Knight Returns. Year One. The Killing Joke. Red Son. A Superman for All Seasons. Secret Identity. All-Star Superman. GL: Rebirth. The Sinestro Corps War. Grant Morrison. Frank Miller. Alan Moore. Geoff Johns. A Wonder Woman graphic novel? Couldn’t name one. A seminal run? No idea. And then The New 52 happened.
While everyone was complaining about new costume designs and retconned origins, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang were quietly (or not so quietly) crafting the best title DC had to offer. I kept hearing so many good things I had to give it a try. Their run on Wonder Woman has made Diana one of my favorite heroes of all time. This series will be collected and will sit proudly next to all of those others I mentioned in the previous paragraph as one of the greatest comic runs/graphic novels of all time. I don’t want to turn this into an extended review, but I do want to focus on how WW is drawn by Cliff Chiang.
Simply put, please look at the images below. On the right is how WW is very often drawn, in a bombshell, pin-up girl, sexualized way. The first, most obvious characteristic that comes to my mind when I look at this is “sexy” or “beautiful”. On the left is one example of how Cliff Chiang draws WW. While she is still beautiful and obviously feminine, somehow Chiang manages to convey something else in his art. Something more. The first characteristic I think of is “strong” or “powerful”.
Chiang’s Wonder Woman strikes the pose not of a supermodel but a superhero. If only there was more of the latter and less of the former.
During the Q&A portion of the “Female Heroes: Then and Now” panel, I asked how important the panelists thought it was that women be in creative and executive positions of power in big budget films like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. I’ll admit, I was both rather proud of this question and hesitant to ask it for fear that it was terrible. I was gratified that it produced a good bit of discussion. Then an older guy asked a question. Or rather, as he phrased it, posed a “friendly challenge” to the panel. To paraphrase this gentleman, what about JK Rowling, should she as a woman be able to write about a pubescent boy?
The panelists all handled this deftly, rebuffing the guy and his question/challenge firmly but respectfully. But I think he and his challenge speak to something that is receiving more and more attention: male privilege. Here is how I think it manifested in this instance. Men have been writing women for years. For decades. For centuries. Men have been drawing women in comics since they were invented. This gentleman didn’t ask why that had been allowed, why that is okay. He didn’t ask why it was okay for men to sexualize women in art, why they could treat them as plot points, put them in fridges as a motivating factor or castles waiting to be rescued. No, he asked why a woman should be able to write a man.
That to me smells like male privilege. And just in case this isn’t obvious to you, let me point out that this isn’t okay. Oh sure, it’s fine if you are a male and the beneficiary of that privilege, but what about everyone else? I don’t think it makes me a “white knight” by saying that the privilege men enjoy comes at the detriment of roughly half the population. That’s just a simple fact. Here’s a thought. Maybe instead of having a “you can have my privilege when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers” attitude, we (men) can concede that we (men) have historically been assholes, and can choose to at least try to give up some of that privilege we (men) have enjoyed for so long.
Objectification of Women
There was another moment at the con that I’d like to talk about, one that my friends and I agreed was the clear winner for the Creepiest/Douchiest Moment Award. It involved a woman in cosplay. This particular woman was cosplaying as a Rule 63 Hellboy (in other words, Hellgirl). Her particular interpretation of this involved black bikini briefs under black fishnet leggings (and lots of red body paint, obviously). She was beautiful and I will freely admit, sexy. I will also admit that I stole an appreciative glance at her backside as she walked past, though I tried to be discreet and my compliment to her was simply, “great cosplay!” which I meant. My friends and I had been chatting with a random guy about various geeky topics (and trying to sell him some stuff) when Hellgirl walked by. Random Guy obviously noticed her, but there was nothing discreet in his manner. He didn’t merely glance but leered at her, looked back at my friends (one of whom is a woman, no less) and said something I didn’t hear, then craned his neck back for a second leer at her butt. A few more things were said, and then he was on his way. After he left my friends told me his comment was, “Hellgirl, heh, she must like it down there.”
If Random Guy just happens to read this, I’d like to present to you the Creepiest/Douchiest Moment Award from Wizard World Las Vegas. Congratulations, asshole. (Were we to have an actual trophy made, I imagine it would resemble The Sacko from the FX series The League).
In case you think me a hypocrite for chastising Random Guy in a “Do as I say, not as I do” manner, allow me to clarify. I am a cisgender heterosexual man. I would presume Random Guy is too (he was wearing a wedding ring and mentioned his wife in our brief conversation). If a woman is attractive, and especially if she is dressed provocatively, I am going to notice. I am going to look. Testosterone-fueled thoughts are going to fire in my brain. But there is a line that I’m not going cross. I will not whistle, or cat-call, or make a lewd compliment/comment, etc. Not just because I’m married, but because it would be inappropriate. It would be disrespectful. When I paid Hellgirl that compliment, I looked at her face; I made eye contact. I don’t think Random Guy looked beyond her ass and chest. Quite literally reducing get to little more than a sexual object, there fit his appreciation. And then there’s his comment. “She must like it down there (in Hell).” Both leering at her for the way she was dressed and judging her for it. Basically saying, “she must be a real slut, AMIRITE?” And doing this and saying this in front of another woman, completely oblivious of how disgusting he is being.
And the problem is that this sort of behavior isn’t limited to this one guy. I saw other guys leering at women cosplayers. I saw one man ask a rather scantily clad female cosplayer for a picture, then put his arm around her waist and rest his hand on her butt. There is story after story, and mountains of testimonials from women attending cons and forced to tolerate this repugnant behavior. Very simply put, this is unacceptable. It needs to stop. And the only people who can truly end this behavior are us meh. And even if you are a heterosexual man and scoff at this entreaty, there is a very good (and selfish) reason to do so.
Being nice and respectful to women tends to keep them around. Behaving like boorish asses will make them go away.
If for no other reason than to act in your own self interest, for the love of Crom let’s all vow to be better.