Another week, another DC comics scandal highlighting their portrayal of Women - this time, particularly egregious T-Shirts asking women to declare themselves the future Mrs. Batman, or 'celebrate' Superman scoring with Wonder Woman. How many more times is it going to take DC screwing up to stop with this bullshit?
Before I start and someone comes rushing in to declare 'MARVEL BIAS!!', they're just as bad as DC plenty of times - take the controversy when they released shirts for little girls saying they 'Need a Hero', whilst the same shirt for Boys declared that they should 'Be a Hero' for example (what is it with these things and T-Shirts? That, I do not know), or more recently, their decision to roll out a line of 3D printed figures that used scans of your own face without options for female characters. So they're not indefensible, they can be just as stupendously dumb as anyone else and need to change as well, but what I'm focusing on is how this keeps happening to DC on what feels like a semi-regular basis.
It's been a bit of a rough year for DC Comics when it comes to controversy, not just in merchandise (although there was that too, with io9 user LizTaylorsEarrings recently lamenting the puzzling disappearance of Wonder Woman in Target's new Justice League line of products, as well as an outcry about a DC board game from Wonderforge not having any playable female heroes), but in their comics as well - like the controversy over the cover for Teen Titans #1 sexualising a teenage hero Wonder Girl earlier this year, as highlighted by Comic Book Resources contributor Janelle Asselin. Thankfully, each time one of these controversies has blown up DC has been quick to respond. Here's the apology issued by DC to The Huffington Post regarding the Walmart T-Shirts:
DC Comics is home to many of the greatest male and female Super Heroes in the world. All our fans are incredibly important to us, and we understand that the messages on certain T-shirts are offensive. We agree. Our company is committed to empowering boys and girls, men and women, through our characters and stories. Accordingly, we are taking a look at our licensing and product design process to ensure that all our consumer products reflect our core values and philosophy.
It's good that DC apologised, yes - I'm not doubting that. I'm very glad they agree that telling young girls they should aspire to marrying a hero instead of becoming one is offensive and paints a bad picture of Comic Book fans of all ages and genders. But considering all these products have to go through DC and Warner Brothers for approval before heading to market, if they are so against it - why are the products making it into the hands of the consumer time and time again?
Image: Wonder Woman being a badass in Ends of the Earth (2009) By Gail Simone. Art by Aaron Lopresti, inked by Matt Ryan.
Every time something like this happens, it's because someone at DC, multiple someones even, looks at these products and thinks 'Yes, there's nothing wrong with this' - and there's something horrifying about that, considering the backlash they come under from the public when things like that happens. The cynic within me wants to contemplate that DC are just crossing their fingers in hope that at some point people will give up and not get mad, or not notice - but I'd rather think that the company is slowly listening with each backlash it generates, and very slowly turning a corner in treating female comic book fans with the respect they deserve. However, it's getting hard to believe that when things like these T-Shirts just seem to keep happening. Each hasty apology starts to feel a little more ingenuine when nothing's really happening to stem the tide.
There needs to be a fundamental change of thought in the Comics industry to ensure that there are people in the decision making process willing to stop these things from happening before they ever reach the consumer. Whether that means firing some of the people already in that chain of command, whether it means hiring more women to offer their perspective, whatever - it just needs to happen, and happen soon. Situations like this aren't just offensive to women, they're offensive to all comic fans. As someone who loves comics, I'd rather not feel like I'm getting my intelligence insulted every time DC cocks up.
But while we wait for that to happen, what can comic book fans do about it? Well, what they're doing right now: kicking up a storm whenever something like this happens. Not just for DC, but for Marvel, Disney, whoever - let them know that products like this have no place in 2014. Encourage them when they respond and apologise, when they do something about them - but perhaps most importantly, remind them that it would be even better if these scandals didn't happen at all. DC need to stop being reactive only when the public calls them out on sexism, and start actively beginning to ensure that these situations just don't happen again.
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