We are on the far side of the San Diego ComiCon. This is a con where DC’s creators have had their most direct exposure to their current fanbase’s reactions to the New 52. In particular, they’ve heard loud and clear that the ongoing lack of gender parity both in the comics and behind the scenes creating them is, simply put, no longer acceptable.
Inevitably, this has led to backlash. The surest sign that a message is beginning to be heard is the annoyed and dismissive response by those not affected. I’ve heard the woman cosplaying as Batgirl being described as a bully. There was applause for Dan DiDio’s response (“well, who should we have hired”) to the question. The inevitable (overwhelmingly male) fatigue with the issue has begun to emerge.
Well, speaking as a male myself… get used to that fatigue, because the complaints are only going to get louder and more common.
There are two reasons for this. The first is simple: the complaints have merit. Women comprise just over fifty percent of the population. Inevitably, any popular media that refuses to acknowledge that is going to be accused of sexism, because it is in fact sexist.
Seriously. Having a brand new Justice League and having less than 50% women on it? Is a sexist decision. There is no way to justify it as anything else. Having a Teen Titans so out of whack demographically? Same deal. And no, the existence of the Birds of Prey doesn’t make up for it, any more than the existence of the Negro Baseball Leagues made up for the lack of black players in Major League Baseball pre-Jackie Robinson. Seperate is not and never will be equal.
But second, and significantly more importantly? The complaints will continue because the female readership is where all the growth is.
Seriously. The Manga explosion of the 90’s and early 2000’s created generations of female fans of sequential art. Adventure cartoons have huge female fanbases. (There is a reason the new Avatar is a girl.) And those women like superheroes. Young Justice has a big female fanbase. No shock — how many women were raised on The Powerpuff Girls and Kim Possible? And the whole My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic phenomenon comes from a cartoon being written for girls by creators who actually understand their audience produces not a “good girls’ cartoon” but a good cartoon, period. No wonder guys like it too.
Sooner or later, someone senior to the entire DC Entertainment hierarchy at Time Warner is going to notice all these consumers with all their money and all their complaints, and change will be imposed from above with all the force and subtlety of a meteor. Why? Because executives like money and there’s piles of it to be made, and shareholders don’t like loud, legitimate claims of sexism. The current creative team at DC can take great, legitimate strides towards fixing it before that happens, but they actually have to take them.
And that’s a big reason for the backlash now. Folks who like comics the way they are resent the implication they need to change. They certainly resent the accusation of sexism because they don’t see themselves as sexist and don’t like being told something they love is sexist. It feels like a personal attack. “If you like current superhero comics and current superhero comics are sexist, you must be a sexist yourself!” And they deny it vociferously.
And those denials? End up being sexist whether intentional or not. The woman who wore the costume of her hero stood up at every panel and spoke truth to power. That takes guts. The idea that woman was a bully is ridiculous. Women demanding that comics recogize who they are and treat their depictions and their talents accordingly aren’t bullying anyone. They’re refusing to be bullied. Trashing someone for speaking out against rampent sexism isn’t cutting through to the truth — it’s supporting that sexism and decrying people for not accepting it.
There’s nothing heroic about that, and DC has to get out of the business of championing it. Those who defend it or attack the fight against it have forgotten what being a hero is all about.