Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Women in genre fiction

Splash page from my short comic story THE EVIL DR LANKYThere are a couple of (related) reasons that I'm interested in the portrayal of women in genre fiction. One is that I've always gotten along well with women and most of my closest friends have always been women. I think women are fascinating, so I tend to like them and I'm interested in seeing them well represented in the stories I read or watch.

I like writing female characters too. Not as a way to show how It Should Be Done, because there are many many writers already doing it very well, but again... I just like them. The main character in the novel I'm working on is a woman (well, a girl really), so I'm particularly interested in exploring women heroes right now.

What made me decide to post about this today is a recent USA Today article that's poorly titled "Male heroes draw comic fans." Conjures up images of Batman doodling pictures of the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. Unfortunately, the article's just as unthoughtful as the headline.

Starting with the thesis that "comic-book movies — even the bad ones — have become a virtual Hollywood ATM ... as long as they aren't anchored by women," the article cites examples of how even Ghost Rider and Daredevil outperformed Elektra and Catwoman. Then it scratches its head over the success of Fantastic Four when Sue Storm plays such a prominent role (forgetting, I guess, that the other three stars are dudes).

What's particularly upsetting to me though as a comic book fan, is the dismissive "support" for the thesis that "there's a bias against comic-book movies with women in big roles ... because fanboys are, well, boys." That's a quote from G4TV's Blair Butler, who goes on to say, "(Fans) like women in distress or supporting roles — or in a bondage outfit with open-toed stilettos like Catwoman." Excuse me for dissenting, Blair, but the hell we do. That's a humongous brush you're painting us all with there and it's not helped by this quote from Jessica Alba: "I think the success of (Fantastic Four) is that we were aiming for the families as much as the fans. And that's a group that recognizes strong women roles."

Gah. I'm digressing, but damn it I'm a comics fan and I recognize strong women's roles. I hate that the fanboy stereotype is representative of all comics readers in that article. Like I said, it's an extremely unhelpful look at the issue.

Far more useful is this older (and better titled) article from The Hollywood Reporter: "Female action pics need hero of own." It starts with a similar observation that "female-led action film(s) getting off the ground" is a rare thing, but explores other possible causes like studio sexism, the reluctance of female actors to keep pursuing action roles, and just poor writing. It also mentions money-making female-led films like Underworld and Tomb Raider (while acknowledging that their sequels were financial disappointments). It doesn't mention the hugely successful Alien and Terminator franchises, but maybe those are old enough to be less relevant to an article on the state of movies today.

The HR article does talk though about how well women heroes have done on TV lately (as well as historically). Citing examples like Alias, Buffy, and Veronica Mars (as well as the upcoming Bionic Woman and Sarah Connor Chronicles), the article says that "it's been far more accepted for a woman to carry a (TV) show than it was for a woman to carry a movie." It's a good article and well worth reading if you're interested in the subject.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

EXCELLENT discussion. I hope you can post a link to it on our POWER in Comics community!


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