Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What do you want from women in comics?

@Mothee from twitter recently asked me "From a female's perspective, what are some qualities you'd like to see in a female hero?"  So, here we go, this is likely to be a loooong list:

  • I want the characters to be people first and women second – if you think ‘what would a woman do’ I think you’re heading down the wrong path. If you think, ‘what would this character do’ you’re more likely to get a decent story.
  • Let them win fights.
  • Don't ever make them a rape victim.  Or a sexual assualt victim.  Just don't.  If you must have them encounter rapists and sexual assaults,have them defeat the rapist, by wit or violence, dependent on their personality type and skills.  Don't put any other women at risk and never, ever have them feel threatened by the attacker.
  • Have them be funny.  Or serious.  Or cocky.  Or shy. Or friendly.  Or bad tempered.  Or a 'hit before they think' type.  Or a thinker.  Whatever you decide that their perosnality is.
  • Give them a  fully fleshed out backstory.
  • Give them a supporting cast.  With female friends.
  • Give them a love interest, if that's where the story takes them, but have their primary role be to engage in superheroics.  What I really mean is, don't let the story get bogged down in the romance.
  • Please don't have their primary motivation be a man.
  • Have your comic pass the Bechdel test.
  • Don't give them children and marriage, just cos you think that's what women do.
  • Have them enjoy superheroing!
  • Have them drink, and swear, and start fights, if that's the sort of person that they are.
  • Don't turn them into a feminist cipher.
  • Let your character just be their own character.  Don't make them progressive, or racist, or a homebody for the sake of it.  Treat them as a real entity.
  • Don't have them drawn only in sexually titilating poses.  Give them agency.  They can have a sexy outfit if they want, but they shouldn't have one just because they are a woman.
  • Let them enjoy sex (unless they are children, in which case that would be a bit off).
  • Make sure the story is about them, if they are the lead.  Don't do like Green Arrow/Black Canary where Dinah was a peripheral character in her own series.
  • I want female characters to be all that men can be and as less as men can be.
  • I don’t want them to be oversexed harpies intent on snagging a man.
  • I want them to have hobbies and interests outside of superheroing, or men.
  • I don’t want them to be simpering, wet, gentle things.
  • I want them to be able to cry and rage and laugh and chat and work hard, and struggle to make ends meet, and hit the big time and make it rich.
  • I don’t want them making fucking cupcakes.
  • I want their art to make them look human, not like plastic dolls.
  • I want them to run the gamut of human experience!
What do you all want from your female characters?


    Feminist Avatar said...

    Does the gamut of human experience not include cupcakes?

    Korvar The Fox said...

    Just not fucking cupcakes. (ba dum tish)

    Saranga said...

    OK OK I concede that human experience does include cupcakes! That request is more of a personal thing, which followed on from a rant I had over the weekend. I find the whole cupcake/knitting fashion scene incredibly contrived. At least where I live.

    You can have superheroes making cupcakes. I understand Wonder Woman bakes some awesome Greek dessert snacks. ;)

    Anonymous said...

    Great post, there, Saranga! I definitely agree with those points. Love cupcakes, never tried Wondy's Greek desserts, though, but I've heard that they're amazing! ^_^-ealperin

    Mothee said...

    Since this is my first real script, I'm not looking at breaking new ground. What I'd like to do is really showcase my love for the medium and write a dang good comic script. I'm not afraid of hitting similar tones and themes at the moment. I really want to write a good comics.

    What I'm looking at doing with her (Crestfall) is kind of a "Batgirl with wings" approach. Her costume will probably be grey sweatpants, sneakers, and a grey hoodie with holes cut out for her wings (which are red).

    She's a broody gal and probably won't have much time for baking. I need to create her supporting cast and I was thinking of giving her a Jim Gordan/Jean DeWolfe cop character to fill the role of the insider or what have you.


    I want cupcakes now...

    SallyP said...

    I think that you have pretty much touched on all of the things that make for great characters...male OR female. So many writers can't seem to make that step. Great job.

    Saranga said...

    Hi mothee! that sounds good! i'm a sucker for characters with wings. nice outfit choice too.

    Landry Walker said...

    Mostly I agree with you. Though I think that some female characters should be quiet and shy or "simpering" and gentle, just as some should be acerbic and witty and others should be sullen and angry. As you say, the full human experience.

    I also think that if you have a story to tell about rape, you should tell a story about rape. But it better be well done and for good reason, because that is a difficult tightrope to walk.

    I will say that the one thing you mention that I do feel opposed to is the Bechdel test. If you have a natural scene that allows the story to qualify - great. But no one should ever feel compelled to add a scene just to meet an arbitrary rule.

    As way of example - unless I am misremembering, the majority of Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures would not pass a reversed version of said rule. There are rarely two male characters in the story. When they are there, they mainly exist to serve as a contrast and therefore emphasize the female characters, and they almost never discuss anything that isn't either 100% superficial or specifically about the female characters.

    Should there have been such a scene?

    Of course, this is your post about what you want to see, and I'm not trying to suggest you should not want what you want. Mainly just making conversation.

    LissBirds said...

    Oh, what a great list!!

    I put the most importance on practical outfits. I find the Star Sapphire outfit so downright insulting.

    And letting women be funny or silly is really important, too. So many women characters strike me as so serious (and often want to rein in a male character...Carol Ferris comes to mind.) Which is why I love Stephanie Brown and Harley Quinn.

    Saranga said...

    Thought I was too tired to respond, but replies have been buzzing round my head so I'd better get them out.

    Firstly, everyone is welcome to join in the discussion, whether they agree with me or not! Just be mindful and considerate of others (as everyone has, of course, been doing). I like talking comics with y'all!

    ealperin, Sally and Liss: Thank you for the kind words.

    Saranga said...

    Yeah, you're right, some women characters should be simpering and shy - all different types of people should be created! However I personally prefer non-simpering, non-wet characters. Movie Scott Summers (not First Class or Wolverine Origin) is a perfect example of a wet character I loathe. Women in rom-coms are the type of simpering characters I also can't stand. Then again, I ain't a fan of straight up romance stories.

    As for rape stories, I don't think rape should never be talked about, but Gods I get sick of reading books which always posit the woman as a victim, or a potential victim. I just feel like it's pandering to sexist societal viewpoints. Do you remember the Green Arrow preview that ran in most DC books just prior to the most recent series starting? That's a perfect example of the type of rape story I hate. And so many end up like that.
    OTOH, Identity Crisis and the Spiderman/Black Cat trade with a big storyline about rape are 2 of my favourite comics. So I guess I'm a bit contrary.

    Re the Bechdel Test - the vast majority of popular culture 'products', be they film, comics, tv shows or books, pass the reverse Bechdel Test. That's great. But very few pass it for women, which is not so great.

    Not to say that a comic which passes it is automatically a great comic, or that a comic which fails it is a bad comic, but I think it's a good thing to consider. I'd personally like to see more stories about women that aren't fixated on their love lives.

    No criticism taken from you Landry and you are always welcome to join in the discussion here. :)

    Landry Walker said...

    I think that the problem with the Bechdel test is that people sometimes take away from it the literal (such a scene should exist for sake of existing) rather than the underlying problem (not enough content being created where women are treated like human beings rather than props). If the women are genuinely treated like real people, who they talk to and who they do not talk to is a secondary issue of little concern.

    Also: I do see what you mean. To Frodo in the Lord of the Rings movie as an example - A character that was the embodiment of heroism in the book was turned into a (comparatively) simpering and weak character in the film. There's a place for that character, but it wasn't for me. So yeah, I see your point. Personal taste and all that.

    Regarding rape stories. Again I agree. Though as soon as the rape aspect was brought up in Identity Crisis, I gave up on the series. Dumped it in the recycle bin.

    It shouldn't be a taboo topic at all, and there have been some incredibly powerful stories over the years involving the topic. But at the same time it's become this weird shortcut to show a woman brought to a low point - sometimes just to hurt a man.

    Anyway, all these issues (and more) can be attributed to one thing - shitty writing. Sad there's so much of it.