In this week’s #FeministFriday post, Elle muses on the announcement of Marvel’s latest move in the direction of diversity: Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.
One of the things that blows my mind about comics is the seeming disconnect between the people who read comics and the people who see themselves reflected in comics. Depending on the polls you use, women either make up 7% of comic readership (according to a DC in-store poll regarding their release of the New 52 ) …. Or 23% of comic readership (the same DC poll only this time online) … Or 46.67% of comic readership, according to Facebook polls.
Women also make up about 40% of the attendees at some of the nation’s biggest comic conventions, such as San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con, which makes me think that DC was mostly asking about comic readership at Ye Olde Stereotypical Skeevy Comic Stores Where No Girls Are Allowed. Yet based on data pulled from the (admittedly potentially faulty fan-maintained wikias) for both DC and Marvel, women characters make up just 30.9 percent of DC characters who appear at least ten times, and 30.6 percent of Marvel characters who appear at least 10 times. The characters themselves are still doing better than the industry as a whole, where men outnumber women nine to one.
This May I thought I’d walked into the wrong room when I went to Denver Comic Con’s “Women in Comics” panel and…. There were no women on the panel. (Full disclosure, I do like DCC very, very much. In general they seem committed to increasing diversity in the world of fandom, and all the money from the con goes to a good cause. But my friend and I left when we saw there were no women on the panel. I’m sure the men on the panel were good dudes and probably gave an acceptable talk about the history of women in comics but, as The Mary Sue put it, “they inadvertently contributed to the erasure of women from comics’ present,” and I just don’t have time for that.) So…. We’ve got some work to do.
We’re starting to do that work. You might remember me being super excited about Ms. Marvel, which is super amazing, and about the new all-female Avengers team. There’s a female Thor, and Spider-Gwen is getting her own comic book. And despite being made the awkward third wheel in the bro-fight between Batman and Superman (and losing her awesome New 52 outfit with pants in the process) Wonder Woman looks pretty badass in the trailers for the upcoming Batman vs. Superman. (Oh, Joss Whedon-directed Wonder Woman movie, you will forever be the lost comic culture icon I mourn the most.)
I’m not going to get into the backlash against any of these cool things (partly because the backlash is stupid, and partly because “Texts From Superheroes” already dropped the mic so much better than I ever could). Instead, I’m going to remain in a good mood. Because Marvel has announced yet another female character that fills me with glee: Moon Girl.
Moon Girl is the new companion to Devil Dinosaur, and a replacement for the caveman/ape boy(?) Moon-Boy that was Devil Dinosaur’s former companion. Because it’s 2015. And because Moon Girl is just freaking awesome. She is “a pre-teen super genius named Lunella Lafayette.” And she is a young woman of color, something that is incredibly rare in comics. She’s a comic character specifically created for a broad age range, one created with a ‘“Pixar feel,”’ which means she will hopefully reach an entirely new generation of readers. It’s the same kind of quirky, fish-out-of-water tale that we’ve seen elsewhere in comics and comic properties (anyone else remember Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot? No? Just me? ‘Kay.) but the big difference is that this time a young girl gets to hang out with dinosaurs. (And unlike the most recent Jurassic Park film, she gets to hang out with dinosaurs without running through the jungle in high heels while shrieking and being generally useless).
I’m sure that Marvel’s new commitment to increasing diversity in their comics is roughly 90% a money grab, 5% trying to prevent getting written up in activist blogs, and 5% out of the goodness of their hearts. However, whatever the cause of their sudden desire to make their comic books better reflect the diversity of the people who read them, I’m glad to see this desire in action. Representation matters a lot. One of the reasons that young men don’t read or watch things with female protagonists is that they’ve never been expected to—most of the media they consume is geared towards them, and represents them. Why should they have to expend extra effort to care about girls? Whereas most girls have grown up knowing that if they want to consume basically any media that isn’t a Disney princess movie they’d best learn how to empathize with a male protagonist, because your choices are male protagonists or….um…. there’s a paddle ball game over there. Do girls like paddle balls? Like, if we paint the paddle pink and put anatomically frightening princesses on them, they like paddle balls, right?
One of the most important things for a young girl trying to figure out how exactly she’s supposed to navigate this messed up world is to see herself reflected in the media around her. She needs to be able to see representations of what she can do, what she can be, and what she can achieve. And if one of those representations is a super genius with a dinosaur best friend, then the world is an amazing place.
Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not dodging sausage-fests masquerading as diversity-themed panels, she studies gender in popular culture.