First of all, I want to say thanks to everyone who commented on the rambling musings about women in the comics industry I posted yesterday. There were some really interesting points raised: things I hadn’t necessarily ever thought about and things I’ve thought about plenty of times and still can’t get my head around.

One idea I have been batting around is something that came out of Comicsgirl‘s comment, which I sort of got going on in my reply. It was a question of whether women are possibly more noticeable on the indie side of the comics industry because of the relative narrative (or artistic) freedom afforded by a smaller press environment, away from the juggernauts of DC or Marvel or Dark Horse. Are women drawn to different stories and different ways of telling them from those offered by the big players?

This isn’t just a comics question either: you can expand it to encompass all literature… all art. I remember discussing a couple of Kathryn Bigelow‘s films with a (female) friend a while back–probably just after The Hurt Locker won the Oscar–and her reaction surprised me. She said she didn’t understand why a woman would want to tell stories which were so fundamentally rooted in violence, because that’s not what we’re about. I’m still not quite sure what the right response to that is, but it feels somehow relevant to the discussion of women in the comics industry–particularly the mainstream.

Is it true, I wonder, or–accepting it’s a monstrous generalisation aside–is this a question we even need to think about? Ever seen that shelf in a bookshop: “Women’s Literature”? What is that, exactly? Books for, by or about women–or all three? What differentiates it from just plain old bog-standard “Literature”?

Amanda over at Floor to Ceiling Books covered the idea of sexism in publishing in a post yesterday, and brought up a recent online discussion of women in SF which opens the debate up even further: if we go back to the question of whether women want to tell different stories, is this simply a case of SF being less appealing to women–or, like Margaret Atwood, do they see their stories as being “beyond” the genre? As a card-carrying Friend of Geek, I can’t help but think this is going to twist my noodle round another half-inch–so much so that I’m probably going to take a day or two to think about it, and work out whether I should be activating the Fem-Rage.

In the meantime, I’m going to go read a comic. Well, it’s either that or a bit of Germaine Greer….



  1. Gonna duck in and run away because it’s a really touchy issue for me. My two cents is that I really, really do not think that women write in a fundamentally different way to men – not naturally, anyway – but I also agree with Virginia Wolf that we’ll never be able to tell what women will write until they achieve equality and liberty equal to men – which includes liberty from prejudgement about what we will write and say. (I also think that men suffer from these prejudices too – sexism should never be viewed as a knife with one edge.) I don’t think we’re even close to such freedom from expectation, and I despair that that we ever will be. It’s one of the things most likely to send me into a depression spiral (which is why, although I couldn’t stop myself commenting, I will be cowardly and run away).

    What I do know that is that often the same thing will be noted in a man’s work as a woman’s, but it will be given a different term to describe it – usually a more powerful and less emotional term. And I know that I’ve been told I don’t belong in conversations about SF&F because I am a woman. And I know that if it were any less a part of my being, that constant grind of opinion would probably put me off. Which is not to say anything bad about the many wonderful male geeks I know who would never dream of doing such a thing. And I also know that my experiences are subjective, and it would be wrong to generalise from them. But I also know that always being told your experiences are the exception because you’re different from most women is an easy way to make a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    And I will leave it there.

    1. Don’t run away! For what it’s worth, I think that’s a very good summation of something that gets increasingly complicated the more I think about it. There is no easy answer, as far as I can see. It’s almost quantum: by considering whether men and women naturally lean towards certain types of story, are we compounding the problem?

      I agree that there is still an expectation (although when it comes to whether it’s justified, I plead the Fifth) – but I think it’s less a cause for despair than it could be. Certainly, there are high-profile women within the SFF world who prove that they can hold their own against genre and non-genre authors alike – be they man, woman or meerkat. The newer generation of SFF (and horror, naturally) also includes some fantastic women writers, and high may their stars rise.

      One thing in your comment that does genuinely shock me is that you’ve been told there isn’t a place in a genre-related debate for you because you happen to be female. I can see that perhaps there’s the assumption women don’t read SFF because admittedly there might be relatively few of them… but to tell a woman who does read it, does care about it and (most importantly) has an opinion on it that she can’t comment on it is a crying shame, and I will Greer anyone who says otherwise.

      I’m thinking of turning that into a verb, by the way: “to Greer”. I Greer, you Greer, she will have been Greering…

  2. I would love women to tell more superhero stories — to be hired to do so — but that’s only if they are telling them because they want to (same with making action movies or writing hard sci-fi or however else they want to express themselves).

    But I do think this post from Valerie D’Orazio (who has written superhero comics) raises some interesting points. And two of the biggest success stories in recent years in genre fiction — Twilight and the Harry Potter series — were written by women.

    Still, I do think, at least for me, the question is “Are women not writing superhero comics because they don’t want to or is it because they’re not allowed to?” I think, even with the changes that have occurred over the years and a new generation of female fans rising up, the mainstream comic book industry still seems like a pretty sexist place. So well … maybe a little bit of both. But I don’t know if it’s a question that really has a definitive answer.

    But it’s an interesting discussion.

    1. I don’t know if it has an answer, either. It’s hard. And as I say, by debating it, are we perpetuating the problem–making assumptions and generalisations which don’t help anyone? Umm.

      I’d like to think that if there is a glass ceiling in the comics industry, it’s cracking. I’d like to think this, but I need proof. As people pointed out in response to my original post, the ladies are out there, and they’re doing great work. Who knows: maybe in the next couple of years we’ll see some real female superstars come through–women who do get that wider recognition, women who have come up through Geek Girl culture and will be role-models for the next generation. I’m going to keep hoping.

      Something that strikes me about those two examples of genre mega-hits: they’re both crossovers that have gone on to be a much wider success than their original target audience might have warranted – and curiously, they’re both “youth” crossovers, an area where women are (enormous generalisation alert!) often seen as being particularly strong. That might be totally incidental, but seeing them side by side got me wondering whether that’s not irrelevant…

      And yes, I can relate to that article you’ve linked. Absolutely. You’re talking to someone with a healthy collection of Star Wars figures; who spent most of her lunch hours in senior school playing Doom deathmatches on the school LAN network against the boys. (And winning, provided I got to the rocket launcher first…) Yes, I had My Little Ponies and Barbie dolls – but I also had a sword and He-Man & Skeletor action figures. And you know what? In my book, that’s exactly as it should be 🙂

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