She Has No Head! and the Bechdel Test for Race
She Has No Head! is a great column I’ve been reading for the last few months written about comic books from the female perspective. Kelly Thompson usually publishes once a week, and maintains a personal blog you can find in my blogroll under Kelly Thompson: 1979 Semifinalist.
We share a similar background in how we originally entered into the comic book world (that damn X-Men cartoon), except she’s ventured into the field more artistically with drawing and writing.
Anywho – she posted an insightful interview with Hope Larson, who writes YA graphic novels specifically catered towards young women. Larson somewhat informally surveyed 200 girls and women to find out how they’d gotten into comic books, what they read, where they get it, etc. so she can better market her material.
She shared the findings with Kelly Thompson in an interview format – mostly talking about some of the things women experience as barriers to the medium – social shunning of comic books, misogyny and sexism on the pages, not enough access, etc.
The comment section kind of exploded after that. There is clearly a lot of frustrated men out there who want to hold onto the outdated and faded concept that “comic books are for boys.” I spent at least two hours reading through the comments and formulating a response. I’ll re-post it here:
The prevailing concept of “comic books are for boys” is like an addiction. The idea needs to hit rock bottom before the people who harbor such notions can truly accept the change this medium needs. Anything else is just lip service and they’ll end up in rehab six months down the road claiming that “girls don’t like comic books.”
It’s hard because so many men responding here want to see change. They get frustrated (as do we) when they have to read about someone feeling excluded from a mode of entertainment they enjoy. They wouldn’t read the articles if they didn’t care. They wouldn’t be upset if they didn’t recognize the truth. Some are upset because to change the system would unbalance something that is clearly in their favor. It’s hard to give up privilege because…it’s so damned privileged. And yes, you are privileged to believe you have an entire medium devoted to your gender (even if it’s not truly the case). Women don’t usually get such a luxury – we have genres (romance, fantasy, YA Fiction). Not entire mediums.
Honestly it makes me feel warm and fuzzy that so many dudes read your posts and care enough to respond. To those who apparently have the buying power (as the dollars I spend mean little to nothing to mainstream comic book writers, creators, editors and artists)…what are you doing to make fundamental changes so the books you love can represent women and minorities equitably?
And if you don’t care…why are you here – reading a blog that is clearly approaching comic books from a feminine perspective? I’ve read a couple different times now a plea for the author to review good books sans female interpretation. Why does she have to neutralize her gender?
Because male is the default gender of our society. And the female perspective is not an applicable lens with which to view the world. It’s not the voice of academia or authority.
Most men fail to realize how much of gender informs what they deem good or worthy of reading. And when they take the time to review, rarely mention gender at all.
It is no accident that women routinely reflect on gender when reviewing things. We experience gender as a very real barrier to many things we would otherwise be fully able to love and enjoy about our lives. And nine times out of ten, when we share that experience with men – they either deny it, or play down the importance of our experience.
I think most of the men in this forum do care. I would say most people desire stories with well represented characters from both genders. We probably love and have close relationships with both men and women. You know, cuz we’re not robots. Well, most of us. It’s very heartening to see men here willing to approach comic books from a perspective that is not their own and have reasonable discussion.
It means a lot to me to have dudes on the side of women when it comes to making a change in the industry. I’ve mentioned this before…but I find myself less and less attracted to superhero books because of the blatant sexist depiction of women. Yes – Rogue’s new costume - half-unzipped and boobs hanging out is the reason I’m not buying the X-Men Legacy title right now. Even if she is the central character and the writing is fantastic. Sorry, there are some things I’m absolutely unwilling to compromise on.
There’s a lot of compelling discussion happening in the comment section of this article and if you are a person who wants to see the medium revitalize and superhero books regain the admiration of women, I think this is a great place to start.
I’m really heartened that many of the guys who read this blog and Thompson’s column seem to recognize that as a woman, it’s important for us to reflect on gender and discover where it is represented in the male-dominated comic book medium. The feminine perspective is one of the primary lenses with which I have to view the world, and it’s important to do so…because (as I mentioned in my comment) – the male perspective is the default view of academia and authority. Well, it’s just the damn default view in general.
As is the white lens. I haven’t brought up much discussion of race on this particular blog in relation to comic books. I’ve often felt inadequate at doing so. But the She Has No Head! article really made me stop and think about privilege.
So – going to add a race component to the Bechdel Test, using some of the suggestions from this Racialicious article.
Using pretty much the same rule:
Hoping to submit my first Bechdel entry tomorrow.
In the interim, here are some interesting articles about the Bechdel Test and race – happy to report that some of my favorite shows pass (BSG and True Blood):