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Sexism in Geek Culture, with a look at Comics, posted by CJ Ovalle

In the most recent Coming Out of the Basement Podcast, we discuss sexism in geek culture, with a bit of a closer look at comics (along with the Mass Effect 3 ending). For the first subject, I had enough sources and examples that I thought it made sense to do a post on the topic.

I meant to mention three areas:

  1. the portrayal of women in geek culture media (comics, games, RPGs, etc.)
  2. the treatment of women in geek culture in real life situations, and
  3. women in positions of authority in the industries (writers/artists/creators/editors/etc.).

Lots more below.

Here are the recent examples we mentioned:

On the Starfire/Catwoman New 52 Controversy

Depiction of Women in Comics:

From the show notes on the podcast: Here’s what if the male avengers posed like the Black Widow, if male superheroes posed like Wonder Woman, and a Why does this female superhero pose keep happening? thread.

The Comics Industry:

Thinking about Geek Culture:

I’ve recently seen some really good discussions in the RPG industry. Paizo editor and author James Sutter’s article, Death to the Chainmail Bikini, discusses some of the issues involved. So does Wolfgang Baur in the latest issue of Kobold Quarterly (which as you can note from the cover, includes the Ecology of the Succubus). We’ve also seen several prominent female writers from the folks at KQ, like Christina Stiles, who has been editing KQ along with Miranda Horner, among others, and is writing Rogue Mage and Midgard Tales, among others. Plus, Tracy Hurley (aka Sarah Darkmagic) is working on the Prismatic Art Collection (another Kickstarter project!) which looks pretty cool. Ms. Hurley also created the Women Fighter in Reasonable Armor tumblr site, in this site’s links. [Correction! I confused Sarah Darkmagic’s “More Like This” (in the comments below) with Kirin Robinson’s Women Fighter in Reasonable Armor site. Sorry, all! They’re both worth checking out.]

Let me say that I understand this subject is discussed very well in some places online. This subject also isn’t easy for some people to talk about or, especially judging by discussion threads, think about. It’s difficult for me. At times, people get really defensive. All I’m asking is that we think about it. There are two responses-to-responses that I’d like to share. First, Sexism in Games Bingo from covers a lot of the typical, and usually inappropriate, responses to these discussions. The comments on that link are also worth reading. It’s not necessarily that those responses are wrong per se (although IMHO, many are)- it’s that a lot of them have been addressed for the upteenth time, and those arguments tend to distract from the purpose of the discussion. We can definitely use the bingo card (and its variations in other areas, like skepticism) as a shorthand to maybe consider arguments a bit more. I’m not saying people shouldn’t make any variations of those points- just consider it, and see if they’ve been addressed elsewhere. The other link I want to share is a great post from Kotaku, Nerds and Male Privilege, Part 2- Deconstructing the Arguments. Like the bingo card, it addresses some of the common, often inappropriate, responses that people have in those discussion. (Part 1 at the original site and at Kotaku and their comments are also worth reading. Also, let me add, the attack on critical theory in the comments of the original post was one of the laziest I’ve ever seen. :P)

And finally, I’ll respond to one of the responses I’ve seen: X happens to men, too. The Deconstructing the Arguments article goes into that a bit, but I’ll also respond with what I think… I don’t think that makes it equal. I don’t think that violence against women in comics is the same thing as violence against men. If the overall comics culture didn’t have the issues it does, maybe… but it does. There are more male writers than female writers. There are more male heroes than female heroes. There’s more imagery for men than for women. So the fact that bad things happen to guys as well doesn’t necessarily mean as much as it might. Also, it may or may not be true; for example, that was a response to Women in Refrigerators. And as it turns out, that wasn’t exactly… correct. Bad things happened to male superheroes, but men tended to recover a whole lot better than their female counterparts. They even called this trait Dead Men Defrosting.

In a later post, I’ll talk about some of the writers/artists that got me interested in comics again.


  1. Thanks for the ping in your show notes! You might want to check out the latest GGR podcast, talking about Feminism in Fandom, and by extension the sexism that led to it.

    Posted on 23-Apr-12 at 8:59 am | Permalink
  2. I will, thanks!

    Posted on 23-Apr-12 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  3. ellie

    This is awesome! One point – Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor is run by a guy named Kirin Robinson – and

    Posted on 23-Apr-12 at 12:33 pm | Permalink
  4. Sorry, you’re absolutely correct. My apologies, Kirin Robinson and Sarah Darkmagic. For some reason I conflated Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor with one of Sarah Darkmagic’s pages, More Like This, Please:

    Posted on 23-Apr-12 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  5. Thanks so much for this podcast on sexism, it’s a discussion I love to reach out and learn more about!

    Posted on 07-Sep-12 at 7:51 am | Permalink
  6. Thank you for collecting all these links – great post!

    Posted on 17-Sep-12 at 11:49 am | Permalink
  7. Glad you found them useful!

    There have been lots of other related discussions since this post- I’d check out the story behind “Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games” and all of the flak that Anita Sarkeesian got about it. That project is still going strong!

    Also, I’d check out Genevieve Valentine and harassment at Readercon and what’s happened there. John Scalzi has also written related posts, and several other posts about similar subjects in the last few months.

    We’ve also seen stories about Harrassment at Defcon.

    Posted on 22-Sep-12 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

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