Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Women in the Multiverse! Comic Books and Gender Representation

Kayla Greenwell
Happy women's history month, all! I knew when I sat down to write this blog that I wanted to write something substantial about women, but I was perplexed.  I wanted to avoid being political, but I also didn't just want to give a  big history or literature lesson.  I wanted to show how far women have come in a way that people don't usually think about, and then suddenly it came to me: comics.
Comic books may seem like the last place to find diverse, non-stigmatized writing about women, but when looked at closely, female super heroes are some of the most diverse, well-written characters.  Super Dames have been dominating popular culture since the 60's, but there is a stigma that genre fiction and comics are somehow less than their counterparts of "real" literary fiction—that genre fiction is just a means of escape. Really though, genre isn't just escapism. A lot of the time the worlds we read about in genre fiction are much worse than our own, but it does give us something invaluable. These writings give us the tools we need to escape similar situations in our real lives.  They deal with real issues, even if those issues are veiled through tropes and literary devices.  This is true for women and gender as well.
Comics are a great record of women's rights and equality, because unlike some of the greatest feminist novels (not to diminish their importance)—most of these women are still being written. They change and become more current. They evolve.  You can track the thought of popular culture through these women—see how public thought on women involved into what it is today.  Women have come far, but there is still further to go and comic books, when looked at closely, reflect that perfectly.
There are  two examples that I want to share with you:  first is a classic, Wonder Woman (DC), and the other is brand spankin'-new, just announced this month--Ms. Marvel (Marvel).  I'm sure most people know who Wonder Woman is—but, just for good measure, I'm going to tell you anyway. Simply, she's an  Amazonian princess who kicks butt and does not take no for an answer.  I think her writing is fair in the portrayal of women not just because she is stoic, independent, and powerful, but she is also compassionate, she gets confused, and she had a tough time making certain decisions.  Over the past 50 years writers have done a great job portraying her in different lights, and giving her more complicated emotions that many people have to deal with in reality. 
More recently Marvel announced a new Ms. Marvel, and it is something that made headlines in papers internationally.  The new Ms. Marvel is a 16-year-old Pakistani girl Kamala Khan.  I think her addition to the long list of super heroes is so important, because it brings a sense of globalism to equality and gender representation.  The first comic came out on February 05, and if you have the time and three dollars I would definitely suggest checking it out.  It's well written, even if it can be a bit silly. 
Or even if you're not interested in Ms. Marvel, pick up a comic or graphic novel.  See for yourself how these writers have created a vast, diverse universe in which women thrive.  Women's history and the ideas of society towards women can be documented throughout the thousands of issues written over the past several decades, and now—they are looking towards the future.  It's a great feeling.

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