Martha Thomases: Common Sense Comics Decisions

SupergirlAs a young fangirl, I never dreamed I would live in an age when the characters I loved were available in so many media. There’s a television show based on a comic book just about every night of the week. The highest grossing movies have super-heroes in them. There are comic books in libraries.

All of these developments came about because of and depend upon women and girls. Nothing – not even sports – gets and stays on the television if it doesn’t appeal to women.

This would seem to be Common Sense Capitalism 101. Mass media isn’t really “mass” if it goes out of its way to exclude fifty-one percent of a potential audience.

That’s why, when a major American comic book publisher (in this case, DC) does something stupid, it makes me want to throttle someone. And I’m a pacifist.

DC has licensed two t-shirts that are incredibly insulting to their potential female audience. One shows Superman embracing Wonder Woman and says, “Score! Superman Does It Again,” as if Diana is a thing to be done. The other, aimed at women, says, “In training to be Batman’s wife.” Because obviously, it’s a more appropriate ambition for a girl to be someone’s wife than it is to be the star of her own adventures.

I’m exhausted from being outraged at this. In a lot of ways, it’s a minor misstep. No one is forcing anyone to buy the shirts. They aren’t the only shirts that offend me, nor am I the Tsarina of determining what shirts are acceptable. If you want that shirt, you should go out and buy it.

Except …

If you buy and wear either of those shirts, you tell me a lot about yourself. You tell me you don’t think women are as capable as men, nor are they even fully human. They are trophies for the alpha males. And I don’t really believe in alpha males (at least not as they appear in popular fiction. This is not a biology paper).

DC has issued an apology of sorts. This is what they said.

“DC Comics is home to many of the greatest male and female Super Heroes in the world. All our fans are incredibly important to us, and we understand that the messages on certain t-shirts are offensive. We agree. Our company is committed to empowering boys and girls, men and women, through our characters and stories. Accordingly, we are taking a look at our licensing and product design process to ensure that all our consumer products reflect our core values and philosophy.”

This is a terrible response. I don’t know who approved the t-shirt license, whether it was at the comic book company or at Warner Entertainment. It doesn’t tell us how the shirts got made in the first place. It doesn’t admit to any responsibility at all. You know you’re in trouble from a branding perspective when the NFL shows more sensitivity to women’s feelings than Hollywood liberals.

It’s not difficult to admit you made a mistake. They already have this fine example from one of their other licensees.

And speaking of apologizing, I screwed up last week. Since this is the time Jews are supposed to atone, I’d like to do that now. In my column, I said I wasn’t offering a “stereotypical PC rant.” It has been pointed out to me that this can be read as dismissive of those who write about comics from a political perspective. That was not my intention, and it means I expressed myself poorly. I meant to say that my remarks should be considered more as literary criticism, as something that relates to how well-developed a character is, and not solely in a socio-political context.

I wondered why I used those words, if I was somehow expressing some kind of internalized misogyny. It’s hard to tease out those particular strands, especially from a subconscious that is as filled with various kinds of self-loathing as my own. After all this time, all the marches and the arguments and debates, am I still worried that men might find me threatening and not like me? Do I need to build myself down by putting down other women?

Maybe. Maybe I was just being sloppy in my choice of words, a sloppiness that gives hints as to my inner drama. In any case, it would be my honor to be considered someone who spouts off with PC rants. Really. Just ask me about gluten.

And be careful of the t-shirts you choose to wear around me.