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The Course of Feminism in Comic Books

WRITTEN BY Chelsea Hall

A Brief History

Female heroes have always been a hot topic when it comes to the comic world. Most comics have featured female superheroes, but only as supporting characters for the men. The women are there to help further their goals by either being a romantic interest or sidekick. 

At the start of comics, it was rare for female superheroes to have their own story. Women were seen as merely plot points or objects for the male gaze. 

The comic style actually went through a lot of changes in the 1980s. This is where readers really start seeing the over-sexualized drawings of comic book characters. Men were typically drawn with bigger muscles, broad shoulders and small heads. 

Women are now starting to be drawn with bigger breasts, smaller waists, longer legs and bigger lips. Now, both men and women are being pulled in a hyper-sexualized style. Still, only the female characters are having their costumes changed to more revealing choices. 

Not only are the costumes becoming more questionable, but so are the poses. Male characters can be seen in power poses, while the female characters are seen in oversexualized ones. 

The Hawkeye Initiative is actually a feminist movement that points out the ridiculousness of female superhero poses. 

The movement was created in 2012 by webcomic artist Noelle Stevenson. Stevenson started this by posting a drawing where she replaced Black Widow and Hawkeye’s poses with each other on her Tumblr.

The post almost instantly became viral. Stevenson and other artists started redrawing comic book covers and switching the poses of the men and women from then on. This movement really pointed out the oversexualizing of female characters compared to male characters. 

Another vital critique of women in comics was “Women in Refrigerators.”  This term was coined by Gail Simone when she created the Women in Refrigerators website. The website listed comics where female characters were placed through trauma or killed simply as a plot device to help the male character’s story arc. 

This movement pointed out how this troupe was more common for female characters than male characters. 

The Present and Future 

The number of women interested in reading comics is growing. According to statistics, women almost make up half the readers for comics. The numbers are a lot bigger than they used to be in the past. 

In this age of comic book adaptation to the big screen, there is more of a spotlight on comics. With more eyes on comics, there is more criticism and want for female characters that express feminist ideals. 

There is an argument that this shift is happening right now. This can be seen in the redesigns of major female superheroes. Casey Gilly and Ally Hickson, female journalists, discuss a variety of redesigns in their article. 

One of the most significant examples would be Carol Danvers. Before she was Captain Marvel, she was Ms. Marvel. Captain Marvel was originally a male character. Ms. Marvel was supposed to be his counterpart. She did all the same things as him, but only she was in a tiny black leotard with thigh-high boots.

Over the years, though, Carol Danvers went from Ms. Marvel to take on Captain Marvel’s mantle. With her mantle, Carol Danvers got a new costume that was not made only for the male demographic in mind. Her outfit was made with a purpose and reasoning behind it. 

Another good thing about Carol Danvers’ redesign was the opportunity to open the mantle of Ms. Marvel to another character. The mantle of Ms. Marvel now belongs to a Muslim teenager, Kamala Khan. 

Not only are we seeing female characters getting more opportunities for equal treatment of their male counterparts, but we are also seeing more diversity. 

The comic book world seems to be heading in the right direction regarding female characters, though some fans feel as though they could be doing more. Fans critique that while the portrayal of women in comics is getting better, the screen adaptations are still focusing on hyper-sexualizing the characters. 

Gilly and Hickson discuss Harley Quinn’s costume in “Suicide Squad.” Harley Quinn is a popular character with plenty of redesigns. It is concerning to fans that the movie chose to make its own costume and oversexualize it. 

The comic book industry has made bounds and leaps from where it was 10 years ago, but it can still do better.