Sexism, Misogyny and the 75th Anniversary of Superman
I didn’t really anticipate that I was going to write about this today but enough people are talking about it that it’s time to break it down.
There are some pretty serious and disturbing gender connotations to the way DC Comics is approaching the 75th anniversary of Superman. These gender connotations take on an even more insulting and personal complex when one understands that DC recently was granted the copyright from the Siegel family and understands the personal history that Jerry and his wife, Joanne Siegel (who was part of the inspiration for Lois) had with DC Comics.
There are only two characters known to the Superman mythos that appeared in Action #1 75 years ago: They are Lois Lane and Clark Kent/Superman himself. That’s it. She pre-dates Lex Luthor, Jonathan and Martha Kent, Supergirl, Superboy, the Daily Planet, Jimmy Olsen, Lana Lang and every other supporting player in the mythos. She pre-dates Jor-El and Lara and the S shield as we know it. She pre-dates the concept of “the kindly couple” finding Clark Kent. She pre-dates FLIGHT. Clark Kent had asked her out on a date before BATMAN AND WONDER WOMAN even existed. Lois Lane was introduced as a career woman in 1938 when the idea of that would have been unheard of. Even moreso, she was introduced as a career woman who was, in fact, an object of desire despite her brash personalty and many character traits that, in their time (and even today) would have been associated with a male figure. And if you don’t understand why that’s a big deal…..then really need to consider the way we treat powerful career women in this country through mass media—-the way we deem them “un-sexy” and “cold” and un-feminine. So yes—-it’s a big deal that Lois Lane was allowed to be both hard-ass career woman AND the object of Superman’s (Super—as in “better” than your average sexist man’s) desire.
Lois was the first woman of comics. She was one of the first and only female love interests to be introduced with a JOB and her own ambitious career path. She was introduced as aggressive and ambitious in a landscape when the female love interest would have almost ALWAYS have been introduced as being a passive figure. If Lois was in danger it was because she ran INTO the fire. To understand WHY this was important you need to understand the history of feminism. Lois was not a passive damsel. She was not Sleeping Beauty waiting to be kissed. She had a job. She sometimes had a freaking MACHINE GUN. She was often in the middle of the action before Superman even got on the scene. As the AVclub.com first noted, “She was the first response and Superman was the cavalry.”
Let me be clear here: Every time you cheer a relationship in comics where the female in question is presented as strong and smart and ambitious——you are benefitting from Lois Lane existing.
Pepper Potts (who I love btw) being the CEO of Stark Industries? You wouldn’t HAVE that if Lois hadn’t already been there first. The very idea of Pepper Potts even showing up as Tony’s equal in the first Iron Man movie as a brilliant business woman hinged on the history of Lois and Clark already EXISTING for years on end in various forms of mass media—the very idea that a human woman without the privilege of physical power could be the the “one thing that I can’t live without” and the backbone for a MAN of great power whether that “power” came in the form of alien superpowers or a suit made of iron and wealth. This concept did not evolve overnight. It was 75 years in the making, people. And there was another comics’ couple that debuted in 1938 who did the legwork through years of sexism in our culture to get you here. Understand that. Understand the circle of feminism.
Mary Jane Watson (who I freaking love btw and has a legacy of her own) being written as a strong-willed love interest for Peter next to Gwen’s more “pleasing” personality at the time? You wouldn’t HAVE that if Lois hadn’t been there first. There was a template there to create a female partner for Spider-Man with fire in her personality who wouldn’t just nod and smile but would fight back. Again, this concept did not evolve overnight.
Every freaking sci-fi romance that you read now (and I’m not talking about Twilight who took the wrong lessons from Superman, I’m talking about the GOOD ones that took the RIGHT lessons about female power) you owe in some form to Lois Lane. The very idea that a heroine with the ambition and sharp tongue who was going to do things her way and only accept the best in love on the side like Elizabeth Bennett or Jo March could be juxtaposed into a SUPERHERO narrative—-you owe to Lois Lane.
There is serious, bad gender commentary that hinges and infects DC Comics’ choices right now with regards to this character. And if you don’t understand this or if you are one who tries to make excuses for it bc it doesn’t suit your interest to do so, then you are not understanding feminism or gender in the genre and you are an active contributor to the problem.
Lois Lane is a female character who is very hard to objectify. She is very hard to make male gaze. She is usually identified more by her job and her brain than by some physical factor which is why yes, she can be ANY race or have any color hair. She doesn’t exist to be a sex object or to be a male escape fantasy. The CW tried their damnest to objectify her with Erica Durance in the role and yet Durance was so conscious of Lois’s agency and power that she just refused to allow it to happen. The character is so strong-willed that it’s virtually impossible to strip her of agency. She’s always in control. She is very, very hard to objectify and that makes her poison for an industry and a company who really only cares about their female icons when they can exploit them for the male gaze in some capacity. (See the current treatment of Wonder Woman for an example on the way DC has taken a character who was designed to empower women and put her through the lens of the male gaze to instead make her a male power fantasy. DC can’t handle Wonder Woman as she is supposed to be written anymore than they can handle Lois Lane as she is. They just fake it better with Diana because Diana punches shit every once and a while for the cheap seats in the back which allows the company to pretend that they are empowering her even as they continue to devalue her.)
Lois Lane deserves a variant cover for the 75th anniversary of Superman celebration. Lex Luthor, a character who btw is not 75 years old, has not only not been featured in as many comics of media properties as Lois as…but it’s not even close. But he’s an important figure in Superman history. So if they want to feature him on a cover….fine. That’s great. But not at the expense of the feminist icon of the narrative. This comes on the heels of the new 52 where Lois has been continually downplayed, marginalized and shoved out of roles she has held in this mythos for 75 years.
Jim Lee apparently told a fan at Wonder Con today that they might consider putting Lois on a cover “with Perry White and Jimmy Olsen.” So they want to shove the only other character from Action #1 and the DEBUT FEMALE CHARACTER OF THE DCU on a cover with two supporting MALE characters who debuted years after she did. They want to do what many, many employers and companies across media do daily to women: they want to downplay the contributions of the female player by forcing her to share space with two men who are nowhere near as important to downplay her power.
There was a WOMAN who debuted in Action Comics #1. And she was wearing a business suit. She had a JOB in the Great Depression. She had her own comic book for years on end that outsold Batman at one point. She endured years of sexism as women were shoved back into their traditional gender roles after World War 2. She endured terrible sexism at the hands of male creators only to rise from the ashes again in the Bronze Age through the Modern Age as the powerful career woman she was intended to be. She has been in more media properties than any other female character in the DCU roster. She headlined a TV show watched by 20 million people—-many of whom were women.
Oh yeah…and in the ultimate recognition that career women were allowed to CHOOSE their own paths she was married to f***ing Superman on and off in various continuities (including the MAIN DCU CANON) for 30+ years. She was the mother of his child in-canon both biologically and in an adopted capacity depending on what era you were in. So with all due respect, this stunt with Wonder Woman should go burn in the insulting hell fire from which it was spawned. Let’s just hope that the two feminist icons that DC offered up as sacrifices survive the burns from those assanine flames.
There was a woman in Action Comics #1 and she was an icon for millions of women who grew up seeing her on television and in comic books. So ask yourselves why DC Comics is now trying to erase the influence of the first woman of comics and more importantly, ask yourselves if it wouldn’t just be easier for Dan Didio and Jim Lee to just openly spit on Jerry and Joanne Siegels’ graves.
You claim to care about sexism in comics? Got news for you…THIS is sexism in comics at play. This is the attempted erasure of a feminine icon on her 75th anniversary. It’s not right. It’s not fair. And it shouldn’t be something that ANYONE who claims to care about women or gender in comics has tolerance for.