It’s been over a week since leaving the wondrous world of C2E2, Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. I attended many panels and even ran into some of the folks from Cracked. I went into C2E2 weekend thinking I was going to write about women in comic books, but instead, I was taught about women in geek culture.
Typically, when people think of geek culture, they think it's predominantly male. But the panels, authors, artists, presenters, and cosplayers I spoke to over the weekend prove this stereotype to be wrong.
“This convention more than any other I’ve ever been to has such a range,” said a C2E2 attendee and Ahsoka cosplayer. “You have comic book characters, movie characters, TV characters, everyone finds creativity in their own thing.”
As soon as you walked into the convention hall, attendees saw a large sign with a no harassment policy, reading “Cosplay is not consent." The industry has been working hard to overcome sexism. They do this by watching how stories are being told, hiring more women as artists and writers, and by examining how men and women treat each other within the community.
Women have always been in, and a part of, geek culture. The problem has been finding other women who also love geek culture in a safe environment. Although it is easier to find your group in a big city like Chicago, for those who live in smaller cities, it’s a bit harder. However, thanks to the internet, girls and women are finding groups and connecting with other geeky women online. Through Facebook groups such as the LCS Valkyries, women are meeting and working together and eventually connecting in real life at conventions such as C2E2 and the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo. Through these connections, women are finding their voice and they are writing, creating, and shaping pop culture.
Women are changing the industry by telling different kinds of stories in all mediums. Comic books and graphic novels are no longer just a bunch of superheroes in tights, a la Marvel and DC. We now have more voices and different types of stories that are being told through the comic and graphic novel medium.
Comic book artist and C2E2 speaker Lucy Kinsley has made an entire career creating autobiographical comics explaining her experience planning for her wedding and the trials of motherhood. She uses comics as an outlet to talk about issues and common lifecycles we all go through. I could hear her nine-month-old son, Pal, crying in his father’s arms while I was interviewing her.
“Even if you want to relegate those things to the women's sector, why is that less valuable?” said Kinsley. “If you look at why those things are less represented in literature and comics, you have to question, why is that? Because everybody’s is doing them, but because they have been relegated to women’s issues they seem less important.”
Kinsley lives what she writes and uses comics as a way to empathize with audiences and to show people they are not alone. Her voice in comics is very different than your typical superhero.
Other writers use graphic novels to discuss anxieties typical 20-somethings go through, such as writer and artist Kristen Gudsnuk, author of the new Dark Horse comic, Hench Girl.
Hench Girl is a completely different comic that both satirizes the typical hero arch, but also brings in a strong feminist perspective. It centers on a woman who is the daughter of two famous superheroes and whose power of super strength doesn’t seem like a legitimate power. Readers follow Hench Girl, aka Mary Posa, as she tries to obtain health insurance. The graphic novel also deals with themes of rape, violence, women working together through trauma, and gender roles in society. It’s a bit dark and gory but, like Kinsley, Gudsnuk is bringing important themes to the comic world.
“I feel gender roles are so constricting I wanted to show they are made up,” said Gudsnuk. “We’re told women are supposed to be frail and weak but really we’re not. I wanted to play with the perceptions of femininity against masculinity.”
More and more graphic novels and comics are being used as a form of literature and a tool for teaching. They are used as an artistic medium of expression and are made for both young people and adults. In some ways, graphic novels, comics, and games are a form of therapy and healing. And these themes are not only left in the literary world but also bleed into television.
Earlier this week, I wrote a story on the wrestling serial drama Lucha Underground and how they are changing the game for women in wrestling. The women of Lucha Underground are not only changing the game for women within the industry, they are also opening the door to girl and women fandoms in wrestling. While WWE and other wrestling federations have always had women, Lucha Underground women have The Gift of Gods and the Lucha Underground Championship, both competitions which are cross gender and pit men and women equally. And the ladies of Lucha Underground are using their platform in order to empower women.
“Going to events and seeing little girls be excited, and they have a sexy star mask on, and they know who Taya is, it’s just so cool, and you know little girls need that inspiration,” said ring announcer Melissa Santos, “and now with social media kids, and especially girls have it hard, there is so much pressure on girls to be pretty, skinny, not too skinny, and now with social media it’s even more so. We need better role models and I feel Lucha Underground does that. We have these girls who are superheroes, and so when we see these little girls look up to that, I feel that it is really important. Whether we are fighters, politicians, whatever it is, I think women need to be showcased in a powerful way.”
Santos explained to me the need for women to be properly represented, especially now. Because through pop culture and media, both women and men will change their perspective on how women should be treated in society. And especially now, when our political state is turning frighteningly chaotic, it is easy to forget about feminism and the fight women face every day. These fans, warriors, writers, creators, and artists of C2E2 show us that actions and ideas can influence how we think and inspire us to take action whether it be to create or be political.
I leave you with these words from Wonder Woman:
“If living in a world where trying to respect the basic rights of those around you and valuing each other simply because we exist are such daunting and impossible tasks, then what sort of world are we left with? And what sort of world do you want to live in?”— Wonder Woman #170
Top photo: Wonder Woman (2017)
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Isabel Dieppa is a writer and actor. She is a part of the performance duo Of This World in Chicago, IL. Her interests lie in science, art, and history. Past writing includes interning for the Chicago Field Museum ECCO program, the national theater blog HOWLROUND, music reviews for UR Chicago, and in a former life was a beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She loves archaeology, kitties, and dancing. The next big adventure may include an archaeological dig in Peru. Follow her on twitter @isabelsdieppa