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Women in Comic Books

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Women in comics have portrayed a variety of roles ranging from a helpless woman that needs to be saved by a man to a powerful heroine that protects a man. Women originally played insignificant roles in comic books, they were depicted as dependent on men or as victims of crime who needed to be rescued by a “male” superhero

In the beginning of the comic book age, female character attributes represented the stereotypes that women were inferior or subordinate to men and they belonged in the home as a home maker or source of emotional support. As the role of women in society has evolved, so has the characterization of women in comics, graphic novels, and superhero movies; they are portrayed as strong and powerful.

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The recent theatrical release of Wonder Woman briefly catapulted the question of female superhero representation into the mainstream. For some, the character is a feminist icon — even Gloria Steinem wrote about her — and many fans (though not all) felt this wasn't just another superhero movie, but rather a pivotal moment in the portrayal of women in popular culture. Why all the fuss? Well, the truth is that the comics industry has had a complicated relationship with female characters. They are often hyper-sexualized, unnecessarily brutalized, stereotyped, and used as tokens. They're also rare. Only 26.7 percent of all DC and Marvel characters are female, and only 12 percent of mainstream superhero comics have female protagonists. I decided to look beyond the gender ratio to see if we could learn more about how females are represented. Using characters from DC and Marvel in the ComicVine database, I analyzed naming conventions, types of superpowers, and the composition of teams to see how male and female genders are portrayed.Three out of five comic book characters have at least one superpower, regardless of gender. When we categorize these powers, we find that there are some clear gender imbalances. The data suggest that less-physical powers — such as empathy, intellect, and telepathy — tend to be more represented among female characters. Men however, often have highly physical powers, as well as those that involve gadgets. Female characters dominate in relatively few physical abilities; and those where they do are often tied to gender stereotypes

Pheromone control — the ability to generate and control pheromones that affect emotional and physical states, such as sleep, fear, and pleasure — occurs five times as often in a female character. Sonic scream appears in twice as many female characters as male; and prehensile hair — the ability to control one’s own hair — appears in female characters seven times more often.

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From the research, the female characters are depicted as more emotional and attractive characters while the male characters are depicted as tough and superior characters. According to Fitzpatrick & McPherson (129), male characters in coloring books are depicted as more active, presenting some gender neutral behaviors and as superheroes, adults and animals. Female characters, on the other hand, are portrayed as children and human beings. They collected 56 coloring books, in which 38% of the books were directed to females, 34% of them were directed to males and 29% of them are appropriate for both genders (131). While men are portrayed as strong and mature, the female gender is seen as more submissive, vane and composed. Mostly women are seen doing roles such as cooking, cleaning, being concerned with makeup activities, sitting and always looking outside the window as boys play. A study by Siegfried and Strand (250) shows how today’s culture is setting the views of the youth concerning gender stereotyping in our communities. In their study, they were able to gather about 56 coloring books. In their conclusion, the male gender appears more often than the female gender. In almost all books, both males and females will be represented in gender-stereotypical positions. Most obviously the males will be represented in more active states than their female counterparts

Another survey conducted by Eick (2) analyzing four popular TV cartoon characters portraying their sex stereotype to prove which of the genders was more superior to the other.

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In a word, more female writers and artists are needed to help make this medium a stronger and meaningful form of storytelling. At the same time, the male writers and artists need to stop objectifying women! Otherwise, if images of women in comic books persist in sexualization, then the great storylines will fade away, just like it did in the late 1940’s during the “headlight comic books.”

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Eick, Kelly. “Gender Stereotypes in Children’s Television Cartoons.” California Polytechnic College of Liberal Arts (May 1998): 1-3. Print.

Fitzpatrick, Maureen and McPherson, Barbara. “Coloring within the Lines: Gender Stereotypes in Contemporary Coloring Books.” Sex Roles 62.1/2 (2010): 127-137. Print.

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