"The women of Bikini Kill let guitarist Billy Karren be in their feminist punk band, but only if he's willing to just "do some shit." Being a feminist dude is like that. We may ask you to "do some shit" for the band, but you don't get to be Kathleen Hannah."--@heatherurehere

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Gender Identity in the Comics

First of all: Happy New Year everybody! It would be great to have some sort of positive, happy post at the beginning of the year, but the closest I can come to that is to point out some gender reinforcement going on right in the ol' comic strip page. I tend to have trouble not seeing comics through the lens of gender studies and feminist theory--such is what happens once you begin taking in some feminist ideas.

I think comic strips are an interesting place to see how gender is reinforced in our daily lives, and how that reinforcement often affects us all negatively.


Our first comic is Pearls Before Swine. This is a snarky little comic strip, and the artist/author often employs a kind of 'meta' cartoon style, where he draws himself drawing the strip. He also talks a lot about the way strips work from within the strips; recently he introduced a duck character which is a 'nonanthropomorphic' duck to go along with the very antrhopomorphic duck already in the strip. This is an interesting little thing to do, and it's one of the reasons I read the strip. Unfortunately, it looks like he introduced this character as the perfect girlfriend for the anthropomorphic duck: She can't talk like he can, so she can't do all of the traditional things that women do--nag. Except that she can, with one word: "Quack." Not only do we have silly gender assignments such as 'men take out the garbage and watch football', but we additionally have 'women nag'. Even nonanthropomorphic duck-women.


Next up is another of my favorite strips, F-Minus. This is usually a one-panel strip which owes its roots to comics like The Far Side and Bizzaro, but is usually more dry and less full of goofiness than those two. I like this comic in part because one is struck almost immediately (or at least I was) with some suprise that the main character is a man and not a woman. I think this also reflects, however, the degree to which our culture is more and more encouraging men to be body-conscious (in the negative sense) in the way that it has encouraged women to be for a long, long time. But part of what makes this comic funny, if it is funny, is the guy in his speedo freezing his butt off--it if were a woman, we might feel slightly differently, as if that's not a far cry from the truth in a culture full of breast augmentation and butt-firming creams. It's funnier with a man there in part because we don't as much expect men to (traditionally) behave this way.

Mountains and Molehills
Some might say I'm trivializing gender stuff by focusing on a small segment of pop culture--comic strips. But again, these are solid parts of our day-to-day lives (ok, of my day to day life, and I think this is where a lot of the work on recognizing gender norms and how they might negatively affect us can be done.
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