I am super into comics. I find myself trying to steer conversations towards them so that I can bring them up, and it’s a source of grief that the English department at my university has stopped teaching them. From my experience, one of the biggest barriers between people and comics is how insular the medium might seem. I feel that most people think it’s all super-ripped white guys saving white ladies in short dresses, right?
Well, that’s not wrong.
But now is the best time to be into comics. The industry is changing, slowly but surely, and we have reached a new golden age in comic storytelling. Kamala Khan became the first Muslim superhero in Ms. Marvel: No Normal (and if you’re looking for a place to start, I highly recommend starting there). Thor is a woman, Spiderman is Latino, America Chavez just went solo this month as a Latina LGBTQ superhero with two moms. There are some super exciting things coming out of DC’s Rebirth line. And Marvel and DC are the ones late to the party.
Image is probably the largest and best-known distributor of creator-owned comics. Creator-owned comics can get weird, but I find them generally much stronger in narrative than in re-hashed legacy characters. Creators can go where they feel the story needs to go, and they don’t have to worry about keeping the character alive for the next writer to pick up the character. This means they go places DC and Marvel can never go, and get downright nasty.
Bitch Planet was called a “feminist masterpiece” by the dude who taught the comics class I spoke of earlier. And it is. It’s fantastic. I ain’t even gonna lie.
Bitch Planet calls out all the teeny tiny patriarchal stuff that isn’t even supposed to matter in today’s society. We can vote, we can drive, we can buy our double-shot soy mocha-ciattos; women have nothing to worry about, right?
Wrong, says Bitch Planet. Wrong, wrong wrong. It is the Third Wave feminism that is skewered so often. The very industry that is so toxic to women I can’t even follow half of my favorite female creators on Twitter is the the same industry that produced this great feminist text. Let’s think about that a moment. Harassment is so bad for female creators that a great deal don’t even have social media accounts, yet women account for nearly 50 percent of comic readers. What’s going on here?
Feminism is sometimes treated as a dirty word, or a kind of radical misandry. Some misandrists do masquerade as feminists- I’ve met them, so I can’t say they aren’t real. But at the same time, and perhaps this is the fault of all “ism”s, feminism is painted with a broad brush. All feminists are empowered women. All feminists want men in chains. All feminists this – all feminists that- an entire belief system, with branches and sub-sects and disagreements, reframed in whichever pundit’s or talking head’s convenient argument, for or against.
It then becomes a game of exceptions. “It’s okay if you’re a feminist, as long as you shave your legs.” “Being a feminist is okay, as long as you don’t fight over pronouns.” If, But, Except. There’s a line being constantly drawn and redrawn around the definitions of what feminism means and what’s the acceptable way to practice it.
Why is Bitch Planet great? Because of the variety of women portrayed. It is fearless in its advocacy that feminism is important and the need for feminism is real, but it’s also inclusive of many different types of women and what their idea of empowerment is. Women disagree on what’s best in this comic, and women disagree on where women should stand in society. Now, this is an inherently complicated idea, and people can easily become angry or offended in it’s discussion. I think it works in Bitch Planet because it shows all these different women working together for one goal and fighting against the same evil: patriarchy.
Feminism is awesome- and it’s awesome for different reasons to different people. When we play the game of exceptions, it turns the ideology into a game of acceptability. What is acceptable? Equality for all. Period.