It’s really easy to find sexism in comic books. For Frank Miller, women must either be unrecognizably masculine or unfaithful nymphomaniacs. For Joe Kelly, the females must be eroticized and mercilessly beaten. For Joss Whedon, a low-cut leather jumpsuit is more protective than proper armor. Again, it’s really easy.
So if you’re a fan of comics and women, what do you do? Luckily, amidst all this testosterone fantasizing, writers like Kathryn Immonen and Gail Simone are a breath of fresh air; a liberating, humanizing breath of fresh air for many female characters in comics. Compared to them, guys like Miller are clubbing women and dragging them back to their caves. And because of their mature approach, writers like Simone are being rewarded with critical and commercial success.
And that’s why DC Comics fired her.
Gail Simone, lead writer for Batgirl and the award-winning classic Birds of Prey, was let go from DC Comics last week via email. Via email. If this feels abrupt, understand that Simone coined the phrase, “Women in Refrigerators,” an internet movement against the killing, maiming and depowering of women in comic books. Many comic book fans had reacted with hostility against Simone back then too; perhaps her employers finally caught up.
A fan even asked her via Twitter, “Did you not put enough women in refrigerators or something?” She replied, “Funny you should say that.”
Simone was remarkably gracious in her exit, thanking everyone and showing nothing but class. Of course, this is the industry where undressed women getting eaten alive by cannibals qualifies as entertainment, so maybe class isn’t highly valued.
So how exactly do fans of women and comics combat this injustice? As Mark Twain once said, “against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.” Therefore, in trying to fight sexism with humor, fans have started The Hawkeye Initiative. It may sound like a terrible Avengers spin-off, but this Tumblr project claims to “draw attention to how deformed, hypersexualized, and unrealistically dressed women are drawn in comics.”
The concept? Take all those pathetic portraits of women in comics and apply them to Marvel’s Hawkeye. Once you see just how ridiculous Clint Barton looks wearing a string bikini to a battle with giant space monsters, you’ll understand the sexism claims.
The initiative is certainly funny and even significant because it actually makes Hawkeye relevant again (he literally stays dead more often than not in the comic books). Also, if this initiative becomes famous, maybe the major comic publishers will recognize just how laughably pathetic and offensive their attempts at titillation have become.
Either way, for all the female comic fans who simply can’t get men to admit that the medium is sexist, they should show them this project; it will certainly work. Why, you ask, ladies? Because, as a male, I can attest to the fact that I see things a lot more clearly when my Spider Sense isn’t tingling.
I hope Gail Simone is offered a position by a publisher that respects her talents and recognizes the merit of her views. However, change will be difficult so long as the industry continues to glamorize writers that have proven to be vile sexists. It is as if male readers are being intentionally told that your mother, daughter, wife, girlfriend, sister and friends are all worth nothing more than the sum of their body parts.
As for the female readers, the message that comic book writers are sending out is that your gender disqualifies you from an equal portrayal in our medium. As much as I like to use humor to deal with life’s problems, there just isn’t anything funny about that.