I just watched the new documentary She Makes Comics, directed by Marisa Stotter. It’s a look at the history of comics specifically through the perspective of women in the medium. Not surprisingly, it features a number of women in the comics industry, and the story is told almost entirely through their words. Most of the material I was already familiar with, but there were some interesting juxtapositions that stood out for me.

If you’re unfamiliar with the history of the medium, back in the 1940s and ’50s, comics were available for pretty much every genre. A lot of cross-genre books were available, too, leading to Western romance books and science fiction romance books and true crime romance books… But towards the end of the ’50s and into the 1960s, publishers began focusing more exclusively on the superhero genre and the efforts they put towards others was minimal. So the non-superhero stories weren’t as good, they weren’t drawn as well, and they seemed like re-hashes of what had been done in the ’40s. The audience for those books left, and by the 1970s, all that remained were the boys who enjoyed superheroes.

Now, the juxtaposition that struck me was putting that in direct comparison to the rise of underground comix by the likes of Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, and S. Clay Wilson. Their work was a direct reaction to the sanitation that had occurred in comics but, as Trina Robbins alluded to in the video, it was essentially just another boys’ only club. The underground comix that were being made were not for her.

And that’s what I think is a salient point in the discussion of any medium, whether you’re talking about video games or cosplay or fantasy literature or whatever. If the primary audience, by default, does have any or very minimal representation from a wide swath of people—like women or minorities—that is not necessarily indicative of their dislike of the medium itself; all it says is that they dislike the content being produced in the current environment.

There’s nothing inherently male or female about comics or video games or movies. There’s nothing even inherently male or female about the genres represented in those media. It’s not that women don’t like action movies or 3D shooter games; they just don’t like the misogynistic way in which those things are frequently presented. Where the hero is always male (and a white, cisgendered, heterosexual one at that—but let’s stick with one topic at a time for the moment) and any women that are shown are basically a glorified trophy. That’s the frighteningly sad part of the Bechdel Test: it’s a ridiciously low bar to hurdle and so many works still can’t clear it.

Maybe the fandom you’re in does cater specifically to a base that’s not inherently welcoming to women. But recognize that that’s not a charateristic inherent in your favorite medium or genre; those are just limitations you yourself are imposing on a subset of them. Maybe it’s not video games (or movies or comics or…) themselves that women don’t like, just the misogynistic crap you erroneously insist represents the entire market.

About The Author

Senior Editor, Comics & Lifestyle
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Sean Kleefeld is an independent researcher whose work has been used by the likes of Marvel Entertainment, Titan Books and 20th Century Fox. He writes the ongoing “Incidental Iconography” column for The Jack Kirby Collector and had weekly “Kleefeld on Webcomics” and "Kleefeld's Fanthropology" columns for MTV Geek. He’s also contributed to Alter Ego, Back Issue and Comic Book Resources. Kleefeld’s 2009 book, Comic Book Fanthropology, addresses the questions of who and what comic fans are. He blogs daily at KleefeldOnComics.com.