Four Weeks to Geek: Feminist Comics!


Like any good feminist, I’m always on the lookout for art, media, or books that portray women fairly.

I’ve had the good fortune to talk to three women who–I think–utterly exemplify responsible representations of women, in art and in comics.

These three women will be at the Wildcat Comic Con, and I’m excited to meet them.

They are Joan Hilty, Tracy White, and ‘yuumei.

Of course, there are tons of other female creators, and tons of other comics that are fair to women, but these three women will be at WCC and these Weeks to Geek posts are part of a publicity effort, and I want you to get interested and come check out the goods, okay?.


I’ve been thinking about feminism a lot with regard to the romance fiction I read for money; there are some anti-feminist tropes that women writers of it self-impose.  I wrote another time about ridiculous sex tropes in romance writing. The anti-feminist tropes are similarly ridiculous, and instead of being just silly, they’re also offensive and potentially dangerous.

I am barred from using actual quotations from romance novels that I’ve edited because, well, it’d be irresponsible and unprofessional of me to do that as a professional editor, but here’s what I mean:

Romance novels reinforce flawed thinking about gender.  They are typically full of generalizations like, “Women cry all the time, and that is bad,”  and “Women are incapable of thinking rationally” and “All women love pink! And thongs!” and “Women should stop providing for themselves emotionally, physically, spiritually the moment they get a man.”

These generalizations are further typified by representations of women characters who are 100% capable of doing stuff for themselves, but the very moment some (of course) very sensitive and (of course) very attuned to his partner’s needs and (of course) emotionally or physically scarred, and (of course) well-muscled but possessing a heart of gold man shows up and sweeps a sassy, brassy sister off her feet… Well,  game over.

This is so much the case that feminist thinking is often parodied in romance fiction: the heroine begins the novel as a feminist, but the moment Superman arrives on the scene, she sees the error of her ways and realizes she’s just like–and pleased to be–all those other ninny girls who’ve given up the ghosts of their self-sufficiency for love.  You know, the ones she made fun of earlier in the book, who smiled and tut-tutted and said, “Someday your prince will come.”

Comics that are Better

Joan Hilty is a professional comics editor, book packager, teacher, and all-around graphic text maven.  She draws this comic called Bitter Girl.  This is a traditional, comic strip comic, but go click through the archives a little.  The characters are regular women with regular lives.  They wear regular clothes, have regular hairdos.

And yes, I get that it’s fiction and as such does not have to follow the rules of reality, but if you want a primer on how it’s so refreshing to see a comic that has regular women in it, go check out Dr. Nerdlove’s Post on Male Privilege.  And then read a brilliant, illustrative comic.

And there’re really piles of fair-to-women web comics, but Fella and I watched the Robert Downey Jr. & Gwyneth Paltrow  Ironman the other night, and I was struck again about how the traditional, comic, superhero thing is really not fair to women.   There’s Pepper, smart, but un-armed, sent into the lion’s den in a pencil skirt and stiletto heels with only her wits to protect her, and then only potent insofar as she enables Tony Stark to reclaim his power, health, and virility.

Sure, she turns down his sexual advances at the end, but I bet they’re throwing rice by the end of Iron Man II.  If you’ve seen it, don’t tell me.  We’re watching it this weekend.

Please read Tracy White’s How I Made It to Eighteen. Hurry!  She’s going to put a new one out soon, and you don’t want to be behind!

Tracy White’s female characters are all straight-hipped, regular women, too.  They’re cunning and honest and also more-or-less the opposite of the traditional superhero comics woman characters.  They’re neurotic and crazy and based on real people.

Too, her female characters are wounded by the popularized perception that women are particular things and do particular things.  They are people who live within the gender construct, but who don’t fit perfectly.

Finally, ‘yuumei‘s drawings are beautiful, and women are beautiful in them, but they are not sexualized.  Her comic, “1,000 Words,” made me weep.

She made this sculpture  called “Keep Me Broken,” that looks to me like fear of the horror and indignity of childbirth and motherhood.  Wait.  She’s a girl.  She can’t think that.

All women want to be mothers.  Even if they don’t know it yet, right?  Right?