More than just Leotards and Thigh Highs: Feminism in Comics

The comic book industry often gets a lot of flack for its sexism.  Horror stories of too small of waists paired with too large of breasts and pretentious male comic shop owners come to mind, and I am by no means saying this critique is not well deserved, but often overlooked is the celebration of feminism in comic books.  In the recent years, the comic book industry has realized what a large number of their readers are women and begun to cater to this audience.

The Scott Pilgrim series holds a very special place in my heart.  I read devoured these books the summer before my freshman year of college.  I bought the soundtrack on one of the first trips to my small college town’s very large Wal-Mart.  The first time my parents came to visit me at college we went to see the movie.  Seriously, at twenty-three years of age I still have a lot of nostalgia for this series.  One of my favorite things about Bryan Lee O’Malley’s female characters is that they are all different in incredibly relatable (and non-stereotypical) ways.  Not to mention there’s tons of them, from Ramona to Knives to Envy, this is one of the few books I have read where there are as many female characters as there are male.  Kim Pine is my favorite with her blunt, tells it like it is attitude.  Not to mention--great freckles.

From Popmatters

Kelly Sue Deconnick is without a doubt one of the greatest comic writers on the scene today.  Her book Bitch Planet is a diverse female driven narrative without being your typical “women’s story.”  The protagonist reveal in the first issue really flips the switch on the way we look at characters.  Every issue includes a short but sweet essay on feminism and how it is used in that particular issue.

From the Marvel Database

Deconnick also writes Captain Marvel.  Carol Danvers is one of the most relatable super heroes, male or female.  While Wonder Woman was once treated as the secretary of the Justice League, Captain Marvel has just as much say as the rest of the Avengers.  Not only is Captain Marvel hugely inspiring to readers, her fanbase, the Carol Corps, shows one of the most amazing support systems of men and women today.

Miss Marvel, written by Sana Amanat, is one of the best comics of the past year.  Kamala Khan is a regular teenage muslim American girl worried about a social life and living with her strict parents, when she is bestowed super powers.  Kamala looks up to Captain Marvel in a way that is relatable to any young woman who has ever felt inspired by a superhero.  In the first issue Kamala is completely morphed into the original Captain Marvel (long blonde hair, skimpy uniform, and all) and feels uncomfortable in a way that any woman reading comics and questioning the practicality of leotards and thigh high boots totally gets.

wonder.jpg

Wonder Woman was my (and many women’s) first comic love.  In the same enthusiastic way my mom played Wonder Woman as a child, I read the series as a high schooler.  When I first read this series it was being written by Gail Simone and Jodi Picoult, some of the greats!  Currently, I work at a preschool and carry my red and blue Wonder Woman water bottle with me everyday waiting to hear the commentary from five and six year old girls.  “My mom loves her.”  “She looks strong.”  And the ultimate, “I think you are her.”  (I will forever be content knowing a very honest kindergartner once compared me to Wonder Woman).  **FEMINISM FUN FACT** Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston was hugely involved in the suffrage movement.  In the early comics, Wonder Woman was almost always depicted in chains of some sort.  This was to represent the way women of the suffrage movement used chains as symbols, whether chaining themselves to the White House gates in protest or marching in parades carrying them as a symbol of enslavement.

From ABC

From ABC

My notes on “Marvel’s Agent Carter” include “Clothes!!!” and “struggle for gender equality on point.”  Technically not a comic, but its a no brainer.  Women had worked throughout World War II (Carter’s roommate is LITERALLY a riveter) and in ways even helped to win it but once the war was over they were pushed back out of the workforce.  I can’t think of a better time period to depict the struggle for gender equality.  Agent Carter is treated like a secretary by her male colleagues, but that doesn’t stop her from being the best in her field.  And how awesome is this shot of her fighting through men standing in her way?!?  For more awesome Agent Carter goodness check out Buzzfeed’s article, 63 Gloriously Feminist Moments from “Agent Carter.”

Who knew one of the greatest teenage girl coming of age narratives would be written by two men?  Sex Criminals is one of the most accurate and honest stories of a young woman growing up from being slut shamed by her mother, “educated” on sex by her peers, and having her body policed by a very unhelpful doctor, Suzie has experiences everyone can relate to.

Princess Leia/Bikini Kill Mash Up Goodness thanks to Feminist Resources

Princess Leia/Bikini Kill Mash Up Goodness thanks to Feminist Resources

Queen (or Princess, rather) of  classic sci-fi, Leia Organa of Alderaan has been treated to her own title this year.  Just try and tell me there’s something better than a pants-clad Princess Leia kicking total butt.


As far as physical depictions of women in comic books, there is still a ways to go but one look at these wonderfully feminist (and popular) titles will have you begging for more.