Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Women, Refrigerators, and the Secret Six

Women are out of the refrigerator and joining them are every other gender-bending, cross-dressing, multi-colored, multi-oriented, so called "minority" of the comic book industry. At least as far as the newly ongoing Secret Six title by Gail Simone is concerned.

I definitely recognize that women have as of the last 10 years been one by one freed of their time sliced, diced, and stuffed in the refrigerator. I think the recent slew of strong, female characters in today's media is evidence of that. But it is also worth noting that following close on the coat tails of women's liberalization is that of the LGBT community. And this is in a large part thanks to writers such as Gail Simone who admit to not so much having a "gay rights" or "feminist" agenda in mind, but just writing what is true to each character without focusing on how the character is perceived.

Sigrid of FantasticFangirls.org expounds upon this in her recent essay "How to Kill a Refrigerator."

Secret Six has it all, then. Equal objectification of men and women. Violence, death, and maiming in equal measure. Gorgeous female antagonists, like Cheshire, and hideous ones such as Junior. Scheming male antagonists like Lex Luthor and weak, mad ones like the Hatter. When I, in 1993, envisioned feminist portrayals of women in popular culture, I must admit . . . this is just about what I had in mind. Variety. Good and bad, strong and weak, gorgeous and hideous, all in equal measure. Women as protagonists of their own stories in balance with supporting roles in the stories of others.

This is activism. Whether Ms. Simone wrote this in a deliberate attempt to foster gender equality or not — and, listening to interviews with her it’s not clear to me what her intentions were (other than to get Nicola Scott to draw a naked Catman) — really doesn’t matter. Activism, changing the world is not always done through manifestos and declamation. One can raise a question, one can take a stand, but once people agree that change is needed — well, people need to then make the change. Secret Six is, for my money, one of the best examples of a feminist vision of equality in mainstream superhero comics today. Script by script, panel by panel, Gail Simone is ending the dominant, hegemonic position of the Women in Refrigerators trope. This, this is how you kill a refrigerator.

Read the entire essay for detailed references, then read the comments where Gail herself posts a reply:

To me the answer to a lot of these questions is not so much promoting a feminist agenda, a gay agenda, or a ‘minority’ agenda…it is the promotion of a value neutral agenda, that where characters are given weight according to their story value, rather than perceived and tiresome axioms about ‘what the audience wants,’ due to decades-old assumptions.

If I write a character, I want it to be a character first, then the flavors second. I spend no time worrying about how a character might be perceived in regards to its gender, color and orientation, and that is intensely liberating. It’s why the current villain can be a cross-dressing female omnivorous sexual predator.

I think striving for equality in stories is a bit of a dead end. What works better for me is to not judge one character against another, and giving the characters the full potential they deserve (or lack thereof when they don’t). As a female myself, I don’t want women to all be super-capable and perfect, any more than most male readers want that of their own heroes. Even those who grouse and complain get bored pretty quickly when their heroes aren’t really challenged and tormented.

There's been a lot of talk about the importance of art especially in regards to funding, and lack thereof thanks to the current ecomomic crisis (and yes, I place the comic book industry into the arts column). There's been just as much talk about the rights of the LGBT community- the opposition to Prop 8, for one. This is when people need to recognize the importance of the arts! Art imitates life which imitates art. If we can't yet find a way to make a change in life, let's make it in art and wait for the inevitable life imitation. The more something becomes common, the less people are afraid of it, and the more likely a change can happen. Examples of the "minority" sect shown in an equal, or to use Simone's term, nuetral light within the arts can only encourage equality and neutralization in life. Even Sean Penn's Oscar can be considered in some small way a victory for the LGBT community in light of the role he played to earn the Oscar. And approaches to fiction such as Simone's are also a victory, and have not gone unnoticed.


Sigrid said...

Thanks for the link! I see you're watching Dollhouse -- I just posted my thoughts on it, here:


If you want to come join the debate. :)

wiec? said...

great post! i love the Six so much. One of the best written comics out there these days. Very layered and always worth the reread. Gail does a great job making you think. Making the reader see things through the character's eyes. She's great at slowly revealing the underlying thoughts and actions of the characters and thier motivations and that makes them more complex, richer and the story realer . plus the book has a mean spirited sense of humor that is lacking in most mainstream comics today. the best thing to come out of the Crisis is the Six. i think anyway.

can't wait for wedensday. gotta see how Gail explains Deadshot's turn for the worst. Or worster.

D0nnaTr0y said...

Sigrid- thanks for the post! I'm sorry I haven't contributed to the Dollhouse discussion- things seem pretty heated over there! But I look forward to your next post be it about TV or comics! :)

WEIC- I totally agree! I'm so glad it's a regular book now and hope Gail never passes it along!

Swinebread said...

"it is the promotion of a value neutral agenda, that where characters are given weight according to their story value, rather than perceived and tiresome axioms about ‘what the audience wants,’ due to decades-old assumptions"

Simply put...

That F-in rocks!

It's all about perspective imho and a lot of writers don't have it, but gail does