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  1.  (10546.1)
    So this debate has been growing louder and louder lately, and I've been getting sick of the amount of anger that all too often pops up in the endless comments sections of foot-in-mouth blog articles. So I took the time to write a proper and balanced essay on the problem. Stuck it up on twitter earlier today, and so far I've had a nice stream of comments and retweets, but 80% of them have been from women!

    Would welcome feedback and discussion, especially from men, and especially from those who think this debate is tired/usless/not worth the effort. But Si & co please destroy this thread if it gets silly.

    To talk about "women in comics" is to cover the experiences of every woman who has ever worked in comics, not something that can be done easily or quickly. Any concise opinion can't possibly be adequate to the task of speaking for so many people at once. Experiences are unique to each individual and diverse by consequence, so when accusations of prejudice are made, there will always be people to disagree. The debate is often loud, and sometimes aggressive...continued
  2.  (10546.2)
    This is interesting data. I'll have to do a survey of my school's rather extensive comics collection once Spring Break is over.

    This actually got me thinking about gender distribution in criticism, which is more my area than the direct production of comics. Unfortunately, I managed to take a pretty simple task and grossly overcomplicate it. I'm working on a data spreadsheet right now; I should have a whole post on my findings on my own blog tomorrow.

    The simple side of the results, though, is that I looked at the online journal Sequart and found that of the last 200 articles they published, only one was written by a woman, making their gender balance 0.5%. That's pretty ghastly, and problematic, I think, when a number of recent articles have focused on gender issues. (I didn't think to record how many articles--I'll do that when I start entering the data for Sequart into the spreadsheet.)

    Right now I'm tackling the actually peer reviewed ImageText journal and things are looking dramatically more promising, but like I said, I had to go overboard on this, so expect more data sometime tomorrow.

    Oh god, what have I gotten myself into?

    ...Wait, no, what have YOU gotten me into, Mr Duffield?

    In the meantime, does anyone know any other comics journals out there that I could trawl through for data?

    At any rate, great article. I'm actually stunned that the gender imbalance is so great. I wonder if the very vocal presence of creators like Kate Beaton has actually created a false impression that equality has been achieved in the comics world. It would be an interesting example of how some successes can create an inaccurate perception of overall success.
      CommentAuthormister hex
    • CommentTimeMar 13th 2012 edited
    Kate Beaton is only slightly less awesome than Jack Kirby, in my opinion. Only slightly. I enjoy her work in the same way that I enjoy the scribblings of Mr. Kirby. Her Wonder Woman strips are better than 90% of all Wonder Woman comics ever published. She has added to the language of comics, in a way that is her own, just like Kirby.

    I am completely serious. I can't think of a male cartoonist (or whatever you want to call them) who isn't either slavishly ripping off Kirby or fleeing his massive influence. Kate Beaton acts like she's read every Kirby comic and yeah, digs him but is doing HER OWN THING, yeah? Cool.

    When I go into a lingerie store, the salespeople (and even the other customers!) are rude to me, because I wasn't interested in lingerie when I was twelve years old. I find this to be rude and it's turning me off of lingeire, to be frank.

    (I'm joking. I've never been in a lingerie store in my life. But this is the crux of one strand of the "Seriously, Women In Comics" discussion - the retail experience, that many women find rightfully distasteful - that IS serious. And should be considered.)

    (I once had a dream that I dated Kate Beaton and she was very nice. This in no way influences my opinion of her work.)
  3.  (10546.4)
    Very much agreed with the above call for moderation in the discussion of the issue. Couple of points I want to make:

    Comics are a form, rather than a genre, so it may be useful to make comparisons with other forms of artistic expression -- novels, fine art, music, criticism. I haven't done any numbers, but I'll wager the gender balance is not particularly equal in any of these. In which case, the reasons for the exclusion of women in comics are perhaps broader than the specific culture around that form (DC/Marvel, comic book stores, superheroes etc.)

    That said, comics do fall into particular genres, and it would be interesting to see the patterns of consumption for things like crime, science fiction, autobiography, yaoi, whatever, and the kinds of people making these different kinds of comics. The space for women to engage and contribute is greater in some areas than others. And these spaces are defined by genre as well as business model (the small press that the article pins its hopes on).
  4.  (10546.5)
    @Mercer Finn
    Yeah, I wish I had enough spare time to do ALL the statistics!! Anyone up for it?
    And regarding the comparative medium to medium thing, I tend to avoid that sort of thing because sexism in one industry is hardly an excuse for it in another, although they're obviously all symptoms of a larger social problem with gender imbalance.

    @Mister Hex
    Kate Beaton's comics do rock most hard, although I'm ashamed to say that I've never read Jack Kirby comics, so I don't get the comparison XD


    Can't wait to see what you come up with :D
  5.  (10546.6)
    @Mercer Finn:

    I don't have anything like real statistics on this, unfortunately, but I had a discussion with a theater professor a short while ago. She mentioned that there's a weird sort of set of limits in theater, especially on Broadway, about who can do what jobs. Big shows, in particular, are not given to women to direct, or to produce. Interestingly, there's apparently this weird situation with choreographers where traditionally the jobs were taken by men and men only. Then, around the late 80s/early 90s a lot of them died, tragically, of AIDS. Now, choreographers tend to have assistants of the opposite gender, since it allows for demonstrations of paired dancing. Apparently, around that time there was a sudden rush of female choreographers because they were, in essence, bumped up a grade due to the male choreographers dying. Since then things have swung back in the other direction, but at least there now seems to be a (rather morbid) pendulum motion going rather than male dominance across the board.

    This would actually be relatively easy to do a survey of (probably just with Wikipedia)...

    There seem to be a lot of female fine artists and female writers, but the gallery system and the literary review system has received a pretty hefty dose of criticism over the past few decades for its strong male bias, so it might be analogous to what Mr Duffield is finding with amateur vs professional comickers.

    I would do a survey of my own room, but most of what I've got on my shelves at the moment is sci fi and fantasy, and I think (and I feel terrible about this now that I realize it) the only books I have that are by women are... well, Ursula le Guin books. Oh, and Diana Wynne Jones, because I have an alarmingly large collection of children's books.

    @Mister Hex:

    I am now shamelessly stealing that analogy, just so you know. That's brilliant.

    ...Actually, I have to wonder, as a guy that wears skirts, what the response would be if I actually did go, unaccompanied, into a dedicated skirt store. Huh. This may have to happen. For SCIENCE!
  6.  (10546.7)
    A few thoughts, not particularly structured and not in any way pretending to be definitive of anything.

    Thought one. I went to a few comics shows in the mid-late 90s, and if there were any women there at all, there might have been one or two girfriends of male attendees who were there under duress, like embarassed husbands holding the bags outside the changing rooms in a women's fashion shop. I don't remember any female guests. Took a decade or so off and started to go to comics shows again in 2007, and there were a lot more women, attendees, exhibitors and guests. Some of them were there with their boyfriends, but they were both there for the comics. Still a distinct minority, but moving in the direction of balance. So rather than beat ourselves up for what we're doing wrong, we should figure out what we're doing right and do more of that.

    Thought two. I suspect DC/Marvel-style superhero comics are by this stage probably a lost cause. They climbed up their own arse years ago, closed the sphincter behind them and show no signs of re-emerging. Whatever they're doing up there, leave 'em to it. Make new stuff and find new audiences. Some of them will be female.

    Thought three. There is nothing inherently wrong with appealing more to one sex than another, and there are plenty of areas of the arts, media and entertainment that do so without this being thought a problem. Comics may never be a perfectly gender-balanced field. If we can manage not to put artificial barriers in the ways of anyone's participation for arbitrary reasons like sex, we'll be doing okay.
  7.  (10546.8)
    The article is done. I'm not sure it's one of my more coherent works, but I think the data is interesting, at least.

    If you want to bypass the babbling first part, feel free to skip directly to the Experiment section halfway through. Or, if you want to skip my babbling altogether, feel free to just look at the editable spreadsheet on Google Docs.

    Mr Duffield, I hope you don't mind that I borrowed your chart. I figured it would be easier to just insert your image into my text rather than explain the whole thing from afar.
  8.  (10546.9)

    Nice read! I'm interested particularly by your observation that the women in comics discussion is being hosted mainly by women. I think this is a really telling point, and one that I've encountered in abundance since I posted my essay - almost all of the tweets, retweets and comments have come from women, and although it's great that it's being discussed, I worry that the debate itself is becoming gendered, which was part of my own reason for contributing. I have a feeling that maybe men feel uncertain about their own feelings, or threatened by the sense of accusation that the argument causes. Maybe there are some out there who might contribute but are afraid of saying the wrong thing. It seems obvious that they tend to avoid or get exasperated by the debate more often than not.

    That's a really good point about convention attendance. I've been going to conventions solidly for about 9 or 10 years, so the change hasn't been as obvious to me, but even as late as the early 2000s it was much much harder to find female exhibitors and attendees at pure comics conventions. On the other hand, manga and anime conventions have been the opposite for at least that long!

    In general though, you make a subtly repeated point that I'm interested to extract and discuss. Please forgive me if I exaggerate this aspect of your comment for the purpose of making a general observation!

    Whilst you seem to be behind the idea of positive change, you also seem to be very wary of criticism. I've seen variations on your line "so rather than beat ourselves up for what we're doing wrong" repeated a number of times by many different people in the debate. Less intelligent versions of the same arguments you make have been used to condemn gender-based criticism and make it seem like a hurdle and a nuisance. This is really what I'm trying to dig out here. At the heart of the debate, behind all the words and the arguments, I think there's false equivalence between criticism and encouragement deep in the hearts of many people who get sucked in. We're all afraid of being told we're doing something wrong.

    Whilst gender discussion can all too often boil down to "just beating ourselves up", it really shouldn't do, and I'm trying to host a discussion in which it doesn't! Criticism and encouragement are two sides of the same, very valuable coin, and one does not invalidate or exclude the other. I think it takes both to figure out what we're doing right and carry on doing it, and it takes both to distinguish the difference between an artificial (social?) barrier and a natural (genetic?) barrier.
  9.  (10546.10)

    "I've seen variations on your line "so rather than beat ourselves up for what we're doing wrong" repeated a number of times by many different people in the debate."

    I said that, and the bit about it not necessarily being a bad thing to appeal to one sex more than another, because I think it's necessary. The quest for gender balance is partly driven by good and noble motivations of wanting to be inclusive and fair, but also partly by an inferiority complex - a feeling that if more of the people whose respect we crave were into the stuff we're into, that would validate our being into it - that we need to lose. We need to have a healthy sense of liking what we like without shame, doing what we do because it's worthwhile, alongside the desire to be inclusive, or it just becomes a cultural cringe of lonely geeks begging for the approval of the cool kids.
  10.  (10546.11)
    Wow, that's an interesting way of seeing it. I gave the idea some serious consideration since it strikes me as the kind of thing that would be very hard to admit if it were true.

    After some soul searching, I can say for at least me personally that I long for comics to expand as an industry and have a larger audience, not so I can be validated (I already know comics rock, I deliberately chose them over animation for that reason) but so all those incredible comics from people and in forms we haven't yet imagined might one day exist and be appreciated by as many people as possible!

    What you call craving respect I call thinking as big! Where you see craving social props, I see the desire to contribute lastingly to culture! Call me an optimist, a self deluder or an egotist, but I wouldn't be working in comics without those desires and even if they're unrealistic, I see them as a positive driving force.

    I also have no illusions that expanding comics wouldn't bring with it all the crap parts of every other bloated medium, but there's nothing inherently limiting about words and pictures telling a story together. Comics deal with serious social stigma (just for kids, just superheroes, just for geeks etc), and the way to move past it is not to accept it as inevitable or justified. If you want to use psychological metaphors, that's just a classic abuser-abusee relationship writ large!
    • CommentAuthordkostis
    • CommentTimeMar 14th 2012 edited
    Your article and it's quick survey of creators is interesting, but the title is unintentionally misleading. Your article is about sexism in comics hiring practices rather than sexism in comics.

    The ongoing discussion about sexism in comics has two intertwined issues, a lack of proportionate representation by female creators in the industry and how female characters are portrayed in the products the industry produces.Your article addresses the first issue but not the second. Which is fine and definitely in need of discussion, but not what the title suggests.

    Regarding your informal statistics, you seem to attribute one creator to each work, though writers and artists are usually separate individuals. This also ignores inkers, colourists, letterers, editors and cover artists. I also question whether independents and amateurs should be included in your tally as they are by definition not in the industry or at least not
    representative of it.

    These points aside, I do like the article's tone and it's call for informed discourse as a step towards change.

    Edited to correct some punctuation.
  11.  (10546.13)
    Paul, it wasn't my intention to accuse you personally of such an approval-seeking cultural cringe, it's just an attitude I see a lot among comics fans and pro-feminist men, that I think needs to be discouraged.