I went to the Albuquerque Comic Expo recently, and I was utterly dismayed by what I saw.
I was introduced to the worlds of “The Fantastic Four” and “the Avengers” when I was only a tiny child, moving with my family from state to state every few years. My father, as a young boy in the ‘60s, read the genesis of Spider-Man, Thor and Daredevil. So when he had boys of his own, he would take my older brother and I to comic book shops no matter where we lived to buy what few comics we could scrounge from bargain bins selling them three for a dollar.
West Coast, East Coast, small town or big city — no matter where we lived, we could find comic book shops.
Sanctioned by my father’s childhood memories and interests, we delved head-first into the hobby, reading grand stories of heroes and villains, of success and defeat, always with a dream of that essence of humanity that makes people truly extraordinary.
As I grew older, I began to notice subtexts that bothered me: women were often, if not always, utterly sexualized, looking to tease or tantalize rather than act like people.
Male-to-female ratios for superhero teams would often be 5-to-1, but the token of women always looked the same: wobbling triple-G breasts that formed buoyantly under skimpy costumes that looked nothing like what was worn by the male heroes.
Even as I passed through puberty, I felt confused by this massive dichotomy. Was it supposed to entice me? Mostly, I found it distracting and annoying. I read comics for the tales of battles with evil and the courage to overcome personal doubt and fear. I wasn’t there to be addled by jiggling cartoon titties.
Now I’m an adult, but I still love comic books. Thanks to international financial success of movie adaptations, comic books have slowly entered into mainstream and I work hard every day on writing and producing my own. Baffling things have happened, like Iron Man actually becoming not incredibly boring — a complete surprise to me.
And so I pulled the trigger on something I’d been meaning to do for a long time: go to a comic book convention. Mostly it was great, astounding. Mostly.
The images of women in comic books had bothered me my entire life, but I was able to look at them in small chunks: one female hero or villain would offer their bodies up to the reader, no one else; I could wrinkle my nose in annoyance and move on.
At the Albuquerque Comic Expo, this was impossible. I was bombarded on all sides by images of the same woman.
Sometimes she was dressed in different colors or had different hair, but it was the all the same: a woman — less a person and more an object — existing solely for the sexual gratification of men.
All her sexual features were violently exaggerated, each of her poses with coy winks or seductive leans, all to better expose herself as an invitation to bestial voyeurism.
No wonder nerd hobbies are male-dominated. It’s an echo chamber of softcore porn targeted at preteen boys. I want all people to love the geeky things I do: comic books, pen and paper role-playing, overly complex board games,
Here are my two hopes:
To all nerd-curious women of the world: First, please ignore the “Sex Sells” images that paint literally everything in our culture. I really do apologize. You are, in fact, completely welcome — even if it may not seem that way.
Creators and companies try to appeal to an already mostly male base, and refuse to grow or change. Feminism is a vital rhetoric that needs to be heard, especially in nerdy subcultures.
The internet is a vile place for wonderful, nerdy feminists like Anita Sarkeesian to articulate patterns of women getting the constant short end of the stick, only to have the shouting anonymity respond with threats of raping her to death.
Stay classy, cretins.
Second, to the nerd world at large: It’s not a woman’s fault if they don’t like you. All the “men’s rights” gibberish is as asinine as it is repugnant. Patriarchy is as real as anything, built to maintain that fragile, defensive sense of masculinity.
I can’t believe I even have to say this, but guys, can you please just, you know, treat women like they’re people and not sex objects that lack all human qualities and exist only for your sexual gratification?
That’d be great.
Graham Gentz is a theater reviewer/culture columnist for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.