Why Women in Webcomics Should Not Be An Issue by Ping Teo
Well, it's that time "The Women Issue" for Comixpedia.
I suppose I should be all excited about this. I mean, hey... I'm female, I make comics. I'm fairly vocal and campaign for a more realistic portrayal of women in comics and all that, and sometimes I'm tempted to do a comic where the females run around rescuing the hapless (but mighty fine-looking) men all the time just to show how odd it looks from a reversed perspective.
Oh wait... I almost do one like that already.... ;)
Back to the topic, I suspect most people might think I'd joyfully take this topic as the cue for me to expound on the injustice of the male-dominated comics world and how good it is to see that women are taking an active part in comics and all that and thank you webcomics for making that happen and soon we will invade the print comics world with our collective uteri.
Well... No. I'm not.
I'm proud of my being a webcomics creator. I'm also proud of being female.
I am, however, not that thrilled at being referred to, or even 'classified' as a 'female' comics creator.
Because I don't really see what being female has to do with my being a webcomics creator at all.
Now keep in mind we are talking about webcomics. If we were talking about the print industry then this would be an entirely different discussion due to inherent bias. But we're not. This is the Internet. Unlike the predecessors of webcomics, the gender of a creator no longer restricts a creator from making comics. In the same vein, there is freedom in webcomics to cater to every kind of audience, including content that might appeal more to women than men.
The very same freedom that allows a creator to bang out four-letter words, include graphical sex scenes, and make a comic about whatever they bloody well like also allows whoever they bloody well are to make a comic.
And thus the virtue of being female stops being something special and becomes the norm. That's one reason why I don't really see the point of making it an issue, because it seems that it has become an obsolete one.
Now, I'm not saying that we should all get prescriptions for gender-blindness and there is absolutely no difference between the genders. I am not saying that the men and women are all the same. It should be obvious to all (I hope) that men and women are intrinsically different, and our genders will invariably have an influence on who we are.
But the main question is: do those gender differences really have any direct influence on actual content of the comics we produce?
At first glance you might be tempted to say yes. Comics by women are less likely to feature the usual big-boobed big-assed heroines and more likely to have strong non-stereotyped female characters, some might say. They're more likely to deal with a set of type of themes more than others.
But note that I used the adjective "more likely". The reason: the gender of the creator alone does not guarantee the existence of a certain kind of content. The influence can be disregarded. It might be weak or not even exist in some cases.
Male creators can still produce stories focusing on relationships between characters. Female creators can still produce stories full of fighting, violence, action and sexy babes.
In short, the only thing that can be a guaranteed indicator of the content is the comic itself.
Therefore the gender of the creator becomes irrelevant when it comes to the issue of comics. We should be focusing on the attributes of the comic produced, not on the person who produces it.
Now I honestly believe every comic creator should create comics that they themselves would like to read. I believe that they should be honest in their work and cater only to themselves. But just because it was meant for their selves does not mean that only people like them will like it.
Would female creators featured in this issue of Comixpedia have been overlooked otherwise if they hadn't born with a pair of ovaries? Is there going to be another issue of Comixpedia dealing with "The Men Issue"? Is there really a point in groupings of work based on genders?
In my humble opinion, the grouping and tagging something by gender is something that shouldn't even exist in webcomics (or in comics at all). Creators should be valued based on the value of the work they do, not what they are. The distinction of creators based on the criteria of being "female," or the target audience as "female-friendly" has too many harmful implications.
It implies that female creators are some sort of anomaly that has to be separated from the masses of (presumably male) webcomic creators because we are so special.
It implies that women readers only read comics done by women because only women know what women want.
But that's not true. Ovaries or not, we're individuals, goddamnit!
Women's tastes are as varied as men's, and every bit as unpredictable. It should be those individual tastes and elements that are targeted, not the generalized gender criteria, because I don't think such criteria exist in the first place.
Like it or not, this distinction might actually be recreating the gender division that we've been trying so hard to bring down in the first place.
I do not think the webcomics world needs this kind of segregation. I do not think it needs more women creators.
It just needs more good creators, period.
To quote Maritza Campos, who does a far better job of summarizing the point:
Speaking as a reader, I never notice or classify the authors I like based on the gender. As an author, I think the distinction, or division if you like, hurts more than helps about the lack of female audiences/authors. We should work towards a comics culture that erases the gender divisions instead of emphasizing them.
To be realistic, we can't make an ideal world where everyone is equal, gender or not. But the very least we can do is understand why, or if at all, gender is important in a single context, and whether it really is an issue in that same context.
With the freedom and anonymity of the internet, I think for webcomics at least, women creators and women creations are no longer issues.
So chalk one up for webcomics.
Note: Many thanks to Barb and Park Cooper, Maritza Campos, Lisa Jonte, Amber 'Glych' Greenlee and Gary Chaloner for their input!