Thursday, May 10, 2007


Remember what I said last post about arguing from a reasoning point of view?

Forget it, its time to rant.
What this girl is is unusual or non-standard or atypical or whatever adjective you’d care to use. (She reads superhero comics and wants to know what that makes her, since they “aren’t for girls”.)

“Superhero comics aren’t for girls” is true the same way “romance novels aren’t for boys” or “action movies aren’t for girls” are. They’re gender-identified genres. The people who make them and the majority of the people who consume them know who their audience tends to be. Recognizing that doesn’t make you sexist or invalidate anyone’s tastes; it’s just realism. “Chick lit” and fashion mags are aimed at women; Mack Bolan books and gun and car mags are aimed at men.
Now, on first glance you might think this argument is a parody, but I'm afraid she's said it before in just as condescending a manner.

What pisses me off more than anything here, more than the oft-repeated argument, is she's trying to sugar-coat it with "I know you like them honey, but its a pointless fight" which is what she has been telling us on her blog for months. Note her last paragraph:
I’m sure there are occasional males who read romance novels, too, but if one started blogging about how the genre needed to be overhauled to be made more attractive to men, they’d be giggled at… and rightly so. Everyone wants to think that they’re a reasonable model to use to represent the general public, that everyone else is just like them down deep, but in some cases, it’s just not so. As an old friend once told me, “weirdness is a compliment”. Be glad you’re unusual, and realize the “mainstream” will rarely suit you.
Now what I want to know, before I Hulk out, is what in the genre inherently makes it male. Give me a reasonable argument, something that is fundamental to superheroes that can not be removed without gutting the basic concept of a superhero (sorry kiddos, sexist art doesn't cut it because 40s and 60s superhero comics didn't look like porn and they still worked), something that can not work with genders reversed, something that I can't link an post countering it to prove that it is actually gender-neutral or even appeals to our feminine cultural experience more than it does to a masculine cultural experience.

Either give me that irrefutable argument, tell me what in Skadi's name is so exclusive in its appeal to male fans and is so inherent in the genre that they are justified in repeatedly alienating female fans, or shut the fuck up with this "superhero comics are for boys" meme because it is pissing me and a lot of other female superhero fans off greatly and I'd wager you don't know what the hell you're talking about.


  1. You know what? I want to hear this from the horse's mouth. Like, if you go to Harlequin Romance's website, it says right there-- "the best in women's fiction." No argument there; Harlequins = women's fiction.

    So... I want to hear it from Dan DiDio. Or Eddie Berganza. Or Peter Tomasi. I want to hear *The Powers That be* actually say that they don't give a shit about their female readers. "We don't want your money, ladies-- go buy manga."

    Because until then, the fans who keep repeating that stupid stereotype are, to put it kindly, talking out their asses.

  2. Comics are for boys because they've always been for boys, like being President. If there's a romance that boys like (Spider-Man 1 & 2), then obviously it's not a romance. If there's sf that women like (The Time Traveller's Wife), then obviously it's not sf. And my brother likes shojo manga just fine, thank you!

  3. It's not even as if superhero comics have always been historically geared towards one gender or another. The Supergirl, Lois Lane and Wonder Woman titles were strongly marketed towards girls during the Silver Age and even now DC's making a pretty strong push to get women to read the current titles. Marvel's doing much the same with things like Spiderman Loves Mary Jane and Runaways.

  4. are you angry because she asserts that 1) there are gender-specific genres or are you angry that she asserts that 2) superhero comics is a male gender-specific genre?

    if it's 1, that's one thing. But if it's 2, does it mean you accept that action movies are for men and romance novels are for women without question, but you have a problem with superhero comics falling into the same categories because you like them more than said movies and said novels?

  5. David, there's a difference between saying (1) that a genre is *marketed towards* men or women, and saying that (2) there is something inherent in a genre that means it can only be *appreciated* by men (and a few women, who are therefore freaks for liking something 'manly.')

    If Johanna had said (1), she would still be incorrect, at least in the case of comics. Since she said (2), she's incorrect *and* offensive.

  6. David: the linked post is the one who says action movies are for men. Ragnell didn't say that, so what does that have to do with her argument that there's nothing that makes superhero comics fundamentally male-oriented.

    I'd go so far as to say there's nothing to make action films male-oriented. If you look at the audience for Casino Royale, for example, there's usually a fairly sizeable female viewing audience. Hence the usual amount of beefcake in those movies...

    Regardless, if you're going to pick apart Ragnell's argument or accuse her of hypocrisy, you might want to limit yourself to things she ACTUALLY ARGUED.

    And learn to read block-quotes.

  7. I know I for one am sick of the Obligatory Romantic Love Interest in action movies. Why do they put that in there? Either they think guys like romance, or girls like action movies. So yeah, it's not as cut and dried as Johanna would like to make it. *G*

  8. As a man who both reads superhero comics and watches daytime soap operas, I can't help but roll my eyes at the idea that there are inherently "masculine" and "feminine" genres. You really only need to watch a few episodes of "One Life To Live" or "All My Children" to see that contemporary superhero comics and soap operas share quite a lot in common.

    She does raise a good question about why we don't see men openly try to influence soap opera writers or the romance novel industry. Perhaps it's because our culture is more tolerant of women "aspiring to masculinity" than men "aspiring to femininity."

  9. There's no reason why the genre has to be gender-oriented one way or another. I don't think all the women in the audience for Spider-Man 3 were there just to keep their boyfriends happy.

    That said, Marvel & DC certainly market the majority of their superhero titles towards men. They know their target audience (narrow as that may be) and they tend to stick with it. It generally doesn't include women, nor does it include children or senior citizens. And while that doesn't excuse some of the more blatant sexism and misogyny, it is a basis for emphasizing the male perspective in the stories.

  10. (sorry kiddos, sexist art doesn't cut it because 40s and 60s superhero comics didn't look like porn and they still worked)

    Yes, they did, at least like some of the porn anyway. 40's and 60's porn wasn't always as explicit as today's porn. In a good many of the Betty Paige pictures I've seen, the women are wearing about as much clothing as Phantom Lady, Wonder Woman, or Sheena.

    I'm on a mailing list that shares scans from the old Irving Klaw magazines. I'd be happy root through my mail box and show you what I'm talking about if you'd like.

    (I'm not going to debate who comics are and aren't for, I'm just saying the titallation factor of a scantily clad girl has been part of comics since the early years.)

  11. I'm just puzzled by this part:

    Be glad you’re unusual, and realize the “mainstream” will rarely suit you.

    Does that translate to "Feel superior to the rest of the world," or what?

  12. J certainly doesn't need me to defend her, so I'll play Devil's Advocate:

    Modern superhero comics are thought of as being predominantly aimed at the specific demographic of post-adolescent boys and men because most of them feature testosterone-induced "action" (i.e., fights) as their main purpose. And, like it or not, men have more testosterone than women and by and large enjoy testosterone-induced things more.

  13. That post was a load of crapola. The fact that she thinks saying "Superhero comics aren't for girls" isn't sexist? I beg to differ. It is a sexist statement because you're assuming there's something fundamental about women that means they can't/won't enjoy Superhero comics. I don't know what that thing is. Maybe she can explain it in one of her posts sometime.

    There's a big difference in saying "Superhero comics aren't marketed towards girls" which is true, and sucks, and saying what she said. What she said is sexist and worse than that it encourages women not to be angry about being marginalized, sexualized and offended by comics.

    It's a patronizing pat on the head. "It's just not for you sweetie, so why try to get them to be less offensive."
    What's that smell I recognize?
    Oh yeah, bullshit.

    (This was perhaps not the best thing to wake up to.)

  14. One wonders why big hits like "Jerry McGuire" didn't spawn more imitators.

    (Most) men went for "Show me the money," (most) women went for "You had me at hello," lots of both secretly (or openly) went for both -- or just the other one -- everyone liked it, it could be cross-marketed as a guy-film or a chick-flick, it wasn't sexist (that I recall), it made lots of money, won some Academy Awards

    -- and then it was right back to gender specific.

    You don't actually have to take out the testosterone-y guy scenes to create a product that appeals to lots of different people, and doesn't offend anyone.

  15. Susan,

    Does that translate to "Feel superior to the rest of the world," or what?

    Yeah, that was my reaction, too. I get a similar reaction when people start being all defeatist about how young women think feminism is icky, so we have to make it fun and fluffy for them. Sure, it'd be nice to feel superior about how special and enlightened I am for not being mainstream; that doesn't stop it from being a weird-ass self-serving fantasy.

  16. I usually post as Batiduende, but blogger is going all stupid on me and I can't log in.

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that there is nothing male specific about the superhero genre, which I think most people here find agreeable. But, I do think there are genre specific genres... err... yeah, you know what I am trying to say. I suppose this depends on what you consider a genre, since the definition is very cloudy. Is Chick-lit a genre? Is there anything that separates Chick-Lit from other types of Lit other than "It's lit aimed at 'chicks'"? If we can consider that a genre, then guy magazines (if that's a genre) are basically a genre for guys. But the superhero genre is not like those two genres.

  17. Normally I quite like Johanna's writing, but those posts did hit a nerve, and your post clears up exactly the problem I had with them. You're right - there's nothing inherent in the superhero genre OR the comics medium that is "men only" -- I think one needs only look at the success of the TV show Heroes across all demographics to see that superheroes are not a "male only" phenomena (or even a "geeks only" phenomena, but we already should know that since superhero movies traditionally rake in big money).

    There IS something inherently sexist in the production and distribution systems of superhero comic books, though. Monthly comic magazines are sold through shops that tend toward the "boys club" mentality. THAT'S the part of the equation that is inherently sexist and where superhero comics now differ from those sold in the 50's and 60's. Since monthly comic magazines only get sold in specialty shops, the Big Two cater to the needs of those shops (also known as "what sells in the market"), and so the books end up skewed to attract male purchasers.

    That's changing, mainly due to the influx of manga into the States that is read by a cross-gender demographic combined with a general downturn of interest in superhero comics (even as interest in superheroes remains steady). Successful stores have had to diversify into the manga market, and smart stores have realized that they can double their customer base if they turn off the boys club mentality. Plus, the entry of manga to the big brick-and-mortar chain bookstores has increased the size of their graphic novel sections as a whole, and had lead to more books being accessible to female readers in a place where they already shop.

    The Big Two aren't going to change until the market forces them to -- I think they've demonstrated that quite a bit over the years. Amusingly enough, I think that the market IS going to force them to change, as the shifting demographics for who reads comics are going to make it inevitable that they get off their asses and start marketing some superhero books at their female readers.

  18. I think in this case, Johanna's general attempt to adopt a neutral tone (which sometimes diverges into "unhelfully flat") has done her a disservice.

    Aside from that, I have some issues with the broad brush she's painting with in that post, and in particular the comments section. But, enh.

  19. I beg to differ. I explain here:

  20. I don't get "condescension" so much as "weary resignation" from her posts: in a "forget it, girls, it's just not worth the effort" sense. Her argument seems to boil down to: "Women will never like superhero comics as much as men do and superheroes aren't that big a deal anymore anyway, so why bother trying to change them? Just let the boys have their fun." Let's poke a few holes in what she says, shall we?

    I still think one of the best answers to “I don’t like what’s out there” is “make, buy, and support what you do like".

    (1) She seems to forget that DC & Marvel completely dominate American comics publishing. If the Big Two don't publish more girl-friendly superhero titles, they will never reach more than a fraction of the U.S. direct-comics market coming from some other publisher.

    (2) Female superhero fans want to see their favorite DC & Marvel characters just as much as their male counterparts. They don't want to be told to "just go read something else" because they can't find inoffensive titles about said characters.

    (3) Just what the heck does she think female superhero fans are trying to accomplish by saying, "Make more comics we like and we'll buy and support them!"?

    . . . if I wanted no boy-specific material, I’d have a hard time defending my liking for and support of girly-girl shôjo.

    It isn't about taking away "boy-specific material" - except perhaps in a "percentage of marketshare" sense - any more than I would try to take away her "girly-girl shôjo." It's about increasing the number of options by giving female superhero fans (as well as male ones who are just as tired of sexism) more titles they enjoy.

    It's Free Market Capitalism in action: give the people what they want. And guess what? Superhero fans are more than just the stereotypical oversexed males looking for bulging biceps and blow-up-doll proportions.

  21. >>It's Free Market Capitalism in action: give the people what they want. And guess what? Superhero fans are more than just the stereotypical oversexed males looking for bulging biceps and blow-up-doll proportions.<<

    As Ragnell points out, there were comics for females, but females stopped buying them. That's why there were cancelled. It isn’t that comics abandoned girls. It’s that girls abandoned comics.

    Guys, most of whom are straight, kept buying them. So because it’s Free Market Capitalism, there are more comics for guys than there are for girls. If you want to lay “blame” for the lack of girls’ comics on anyone doorstep, lay it at the doorsteps of the girl who abandoned comics, not the guys who supported them.

  22. Batiduende again:

    So, Scott, what you are saying is that the estrogen hive-mind suddenly decided to stop reading comics, and now it's its fault women can't find superhero comics for them now that they want back in the game?

    Now, you might come and say "Hey! That's not what I said" But, the thing is that you are saying that suddenly women stopped reading superhero comics without even trying to offer an explanation, but strangely enough that doesn't stop you from blaming them for it anyway. So, according to you, it's more probable that most women in America spontaneously decided to boycott comics for mysterious reasons than simply think it's the comic book companies' fault for not keeping them interested in reading them. If you are blaming the consumer and not the company, then I am afraid you do not understand free markets.

    I don't know why the companies didn't keep them interested. Perhaps they failed to change and interest modern women with their oldy style comics. I don't know. All I know is that if women stopped reading is just because comics failed to remain interesting to them, and that's the company's fault, not the costumer's.

  23. I don't think it's women who stopped reading -- not many women were ever reading (much like, until the past few decades, few men were reading). Girls are the ones who left. It's possible that, as superhero comics started to be made for more mature audiences, they appealed more to young men than to young women, simply because the differences between men and women are greater than the differences between children of different sexes. The predominantly male industry might have known how to communicate with kids of both sexes, but when called upon to entertain older people, it could have found itself at a loss as to effectively communicate with young women. But since comics also "aged out" the younger kids, girls (for the most part) left, too.

    I don't know if I'm right or I'm wrong on that -- but I think it's a mistake to say women ever read comics in droves. But once upon a time, girls did.

  24. Scott, et al.:

    The decline in sales of non-superhero comics and superhero comics aimed at the female demographic coincides pretty squarely with the rise of the direct market.

    Comics went from something everyone could pick up on spinner racks at the grocery store to something that required hunting down a specialty store -- and those specialty stores were and in many cases still ARE the insular, creepy "boy's clubs" that have been mentioned so many times.

    Girls didn't abandon comics.

    Comics abandoned EVERYONE but fans.

    You want "free market capitalism"? Try the 80/20 rule: "80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers."

    The problem is that it ALWAYS APPLIES. If you ignore the casual 80% of readers to focus on the hard-core 20%, you get caught in an ever-tightening feedback loop, as more and more of your customers become disenchanted with your product. Your business is CONTINUALLY losing 80% of its market and 20% of its sales.

    Disinterest Is Compounded Daily.

  25. I've posted at length about this at my blog (, but in brief I think Carlson has failed to realize that there's a world of difference between a genre that is not of interest to boys/girls (romance, certain kinds of porn), and a genre that is marketed at one or another gender.

    Hero comics are marketed at boys/arrested adolescent men, no question -- all those stupid T&A covers show that quite clearly. But are girls brought up to find hero comics totally uninteresting, the way boys are taught to find romance novels boring? Hardly.

    I think hero comics are like action flicks: marketed at boys, designed with boys in mind, and having a majority of boys as their audience. But some girls read and enjoy hero comics too, just as some women enjoy watching action flicks. Hollywood knows that a significant minority of their audience is women -- that's why Bond rises out of the sea dripping and half-naked in Casino Royale. Sadly, DC seems to have forgotten that a significant minority of their audience is female.

  26. Mainstream superhero comics are about as gender neutral as pro Wrestling. Yes, there are women who enjoy watching ripped men in spandex beat the crap out of one another on a weekly basis, but it's much more likely to appeal to a man than a woman.

    Am I saying this is a biologically determined preference? No.

    Could comics alter itself to present different types of stories? Yes, but then it wouldn't be the mainstream superhero comics that we're discussing.

  27. Hippokrene -- The kinds of stories are fine. Slug-em-up stories, secret identities, soap operatic love triangles, mystery, fantasy and science fiction elements are all combined in superhero stories.

    The problem, again, is the T&A emphasis and the neglect of female characters -- neither of which are necessary to the genre for ti to still be called superhero comics.

  28. Batiduende, I don't know if you are still reading this or even care, but I post a response to your post here:

  29. "There's no reason why the genre has to be gender-oriented one way or another. I don't think all the women in the audience for Spider-Man 3 were there just to keep their boyfriends happy.

    That said, Marvel & DC certainly market the majority of their superhero titles towards men."

    Yeah, she's acting as if shelving, content, genre, and marketing all line up nicely with each other. As if.

    As I commented over there, I fail to see how Julia Quinn's novels are fundamentally different in tone and overall content from How I Met Your Mother.

    But then, in my experience, most people making comments about romance novels haven't actually read one since they and their friends took turns reading aloud the dog eared pages of their mother's copy of [insert title here according to age] back in seventh grade.

    Plus, a panel of YA authors at the LA Times Festival of Books did essentially argue for more romance novels for boys (and more action heroes for girls). They didn't use those terms exactly, but that's pretty much what they were describing. So, yeah, people do apparently make that argument. And golly, look at that, they're even taken seriously.

  30. I see nothing wrong with anything she wrote. Superhero comics are gender identified. In the old days the romance comics and Archies were for the girls, the superheroes were for the boys. Over the years that's only been solidified.

    Not saying some of the flagrant sexism in comics isn't embarassing sometimes or that alternatives more appealing to women shouldn't be explored...but to hide your head in the sand and act like superhero comics haven't been designed and marketed towards boys for decades in order to push your agenda is foolish.

  31. Monroe, sweetheart, tell me what's so inherent that makes it gender identified. All you're doing is repeating Johanna's vague and unsupported argument, I asked for proof. "Everybody knows this" is not proof of anything. What exactly in superhero comics, that is essential to the genre appeals to boys but not to girls?

    This is not hiding my head in the sand, this is questioning conventional "wisdom". If questioning conventional wisdom is to be equated with hiding your head in the sand and ignoring the facts, then Copernicus was the same way when he suggested the Earth moved around the sun.

  32. The fundamentals of superhero comics are the only gender determinant. Beyond or above the fundamentals it's anybody's book to read.

    However, if the majority of point of view characters and the very way they are written, the psychology of the storytelling, and a majority of the writers given popular character are ALL MALE, then from a male lead character point of view we get a set of male assumptions to buy into as we identify with that character, and it simply follows on from that.

    With a male POV and male mental baggage, the comics that started when young MEN went off to war haven't moved along that much. About as much as the males who predominantly read the big titles.

    -Jonathan Nolan