Women and ethnic minorities in comics – “Damn feminists are ruining everything!”

Most of us grew up with fairy tales dominated by female protagonists. Characters like Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Belle and so on are starting to become hugely unpopular among feminists due to their status of victims and their lack of agency (Eugenia Hu, 2015). However, one should keep in mind that these well known heroines are a product of the time and society they were created in, a time where waiting to be saved by a handsome prince was the ultimate dream. Sooner or later, our beloved princesses and heroines will be replaced by more modern, independent and confident versions of themselves (see Elsa from Frozen for example). For the moment however, comics, as our modern fairy tales, seem to be dominated by male protagonists. Nevertheless, times are moving fast and, to the dissatisfaction of some male fans, female superheroes are starting to take over the industry.

Source:

Source: “Marvel Female Superheroes and Villains”
by Megacinnamon

In 2013, Marvel created Kamala Khan – a 16-year-old Pakistani-American girl and Marvel’s first Muslim character to headline her own comic book. Ms Marvel is not the only female superhero in the comics world: She-Hulk, the new female Thor, Rat Queens, A-Force are only a few of the new generation of heroes.

The recent boost in women characters seems to have increased the pool of female readers. According to recent stats, women account today for 43.24% of the 37 million self-identified comics fans on Facebook. I found myself wondering if there is a clear correlation between the number of female characters in comics and and the size of the female fandom. The increase could just be a product of our evolutionist society and not necessary a product of constant efforts made to incorporate women in this fantasy universe. I started writing this article in hopes of testing the strength of this correlation. Below is a comparison of different comics fan bases by gender and ethnicity in the US:

  2014US Men fan base 2014US Women fan base 2015US Men fan base 2015US Women fan base Male charac-ters Female charac-ters Total Facebook fan base 2015
DC Comics 68.18% 28.64% 73.33% 27.5% 71.86% 26.1% Over 12,000,000
Marvel 63.16% 36.84% 77.27% 20% 72% 23.84% Over 22,000,000
Indie & Small Press Comics 57.5% 40.63% 59.09% 40.91%

    –

      – Over 4,400,000

The data (DC Comics ; Marvel ; Independent and Small(er) Press Comics) is mined by statistician Brett Schenker from Facebook’s demographic data using terms that correspond to likes, groups, etc. The number of characters is taken directly from Marvel’s and DC Comics’ website. The reason why the number of characters is not included for the independent and smaller comics companies is because Brett Schenker did not comprise a list of the companies included in his demographics data. He only mentioned that “49 terms were used to generate these stats”. By omitting to present this list, I was unable to check the percentage of male/female characters each one of these companies has and , at the same time, I was unable to verify the authenticity of the data presented. For the purpose of the current analysis, I will take him at his word but I am advising anyone who intends to use the data for commercial or academic purposes to proceed with caution or ask the author for clarification.

Looking at the table above, one can notice that despite the continuous efforts of the comic industry to incorporate women, both in their stories and in their readership database, sexism is still present in world of “The Big Two”, as Marvel and DC are often called. Sam LeBas and Will Brooker point out that superheroes are no longer for children (both girls and boys). The comics industry is now taken over by a massive fandom of mainly adult, white males who embrace juvenile attitudes and behavior. As a consequence, they created a sexist framework of the industry that is extremely exclusive by its very nature and it will now take a lot of time and effort to be dissolved. It is therefore not surprising that a handful of female superheroes will not create a huge shift in the readership demographics from one year to the next.  Nevertheless, from 2014 till 2015, the female fan-base in the US alone has increased considerably but not as much and as fast as the male one. Consequently, the gender gap persists and widens.

Smaller companies, on the other hand, tend to have an evenly split readership in the United States year after year. This can be due to the diversity of materials presented in the Indies or maybe to the new attitude of these companies which did not start by advertising their products as a “boys only club”. At least for now, women find it easier to adapt in smaller comics communities where superheroes and comics are truly for everyone.

In 1999, Gail Simone created a list of female characters in comics that had a tragic destiny: either depowered, raped, or dead. The list became known as “The Women in Refrigerators Project”. It was clearly not a good decade for female characters in comic books. Fast forwarding to present days, the complexity of the characters has increased considerably. The industry has brought forwards more diverse superheroines who are not only able to survive “the refrigerator test”, but they also attracted an enormous global fan base and some even reached top positions on the New York Times Best Seller list of paperback graphic books.

Overall, I believe that an increase in the number of female characters can, in fact, increase the female fandom. However, this will depend on the consistency of efforts made by “The Big Two”. If the recent changes are only superficial, a politically correct move, then one can expect women’s historical place inside and around comics to continue being overlooked. However, if consistent efforts are made to eradicate the concept of women not being particularly welcomed in this fantasy world, then we can expect a significant increase in the female readership in the near future. After all, women do love their female heroines (Katniss Everdeen, Hermione Granger, and so on). Seeing the booming success of women in franchises, comics creators often feel the pressure of creating similarly strong female protagonists, but they sometimes do this the wrong way (or the lazy way… call it however you like). In order to maximise profits and avoid having to build a fan base from scratch, creators may chose to introduce new characters that already have a brand behind them – brand extensions (Spider-Woman, She-Hulk etc). The result? More under-developed characters that don’t get to reach their full potential due to the inevitable comparisons with the male characters or more pawns meant to strengthen the male characters.  The reality is that women will build a loyal, strong and consistent fandom community, but only around strong female protagonists that inspire them.

Moving on to ethnic minorities, the gender divide seems to be similar across the three minorities selected for this study as it was for the entire fandom:

  African American fan base Asian American fan base Hispanic fan base
DC Comics 10% 7.27% 20%
  Male Female Male Female Male Female
  75.83% 26.67% 79.17% 22.92% 66.67% 32.5%
Marvel 11.36% 12.73% 18.64%
  Male Female Male Female Male Female
  80% 20.4% 82.14% 19.64% 80.49% 21.95%
Independent & Small Press Comics 10.91% 4.78% 22.5%
  Male Female Male Female Male Female
  56.25% 43.75% 62.79% 36.05% 65.66% 33.33%

For Marvel, I counted 19 characters of African origins and 106 characters of Hispanic origins. For DC Comics, I found 16 main characters of African origins and 97 superheroes and supervillains with Hispanic origins. According to this blog, Marvel and DC have together around 50 main characters of Asian origins. There seems to be once again a correlation between the number of ethnic minorities superheroes and ethnic minorities characters in comics. Although I do not have any proof to back it up, I suspect that the two variables are interdependent. It looks like they influence one another; as the minorities readership increases, the comics writers create more ethnic superheroes and supervillains. Similarly, as the number of characters one can relate to increases so does the number of fans who find a role model in those characters.

Having all these in mind, what can one expect from the comics industry in the upcoming years? First of all, the number of women and people of color employed at major comics companies is extraordinarily low (as Spawn creator – Todd McFarlane said at the Television Critics Association press tour in 2013) and this has to change if the exclusivity stigma around comics is to be dispersed. Secondly, creating superficial characters just to decrease sexism and discrimination is not an option. When you create a female character, a black character, a Hispanic character, a gay character, a Muslim character just to fit certain criteria, not only does it not fool the readers, but it also minimises the character. Hence, the complexity and identity of the character should go hand in hand with a fantastic story line. The truth is that everyone reading comics wants to see their own story represented and once this is done tastefully and carefully, the readership will expand and change.

Anyone disappointed with the new feminist and minorities wave that hijacked the comics industry, I’m afraid will have to get used to the idea because the Big Two seem to be keen on accommodating broader demographics. Moreover, the famous characters (white, male) who people learned to love and grow up with are still there and will not disappear just because a vocal minority demands broader representation. So KEEP CALM AND READ COMICS!

Disclaimer: Please do keep in mind that I am completely new to the comics universe and therefore I could have omitted characters that did not come up in my research. I would highly appreciate if any errors and omissions are pointed out.

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United Rainbow States of America

I wasn’t planning on writing about the US legalising gay marriage. This is not because of lack of interest in the topic, but because it’s too much of a trending topic at the moment and everyone has an opinion about it. However, gay marriage and generally everything that has to do with the LGBT community is a topic that I care deeply about and for this reason I am going to dedicate this article to Sexual Orientation Discrimination around the world.

While the rest of the world can write about this great accomplishment, I am going to write about the real world where homophobic and transphobic attitudes still exist and dominate many modern societies. Looking at my Facebook friends alone, I noticed an abrupt change from last year’s reactions to Eurovision winner, Conchita Wurst, to this year’s ‘rainbow attack’ celebrating sexual orientation equality. Did my pro-gay Facebook friends community win an overwhelming number of new supporters in the past year? The reality is that there are different ways of expressing tolerance and/or intolerance.

In the past, attitudes towards sexual minorities were mostly measured on a single dimension. Nowadays, more and more cross-national surveys started to incorporate a multi-dimensional measurement, where respondents are not only asked how tolerant they are of the out-group (whether this ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ refers to skin colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation and so on) but they are also asked to rate their attitudes towards welcoming the member of the out-group in their country, neighbourhood, work place and even family. This shift indicates an academic recognition of the fact that there are many ways to hate or to target intolerance (Saideman, 2013).

Despite the consistent progress made in terms of measuring tolerance, there is no universally agreed upon method. As a consequence, anyone trying to interpret tolerance data will get a different picture depending on the method used to measure it. Moreover, the link between measured and perceived tolerance is often neglected by many scholars and policy makers. Many fail to explore tolerance beyond the purpose of their own research and consequently they do not realise that it is equally important to assess people’s stereotypes, misconceptions, and anxieties about homosexuals and to measure how the state is combating discrimination.  While all these dimensions are very important in the measurement of tolerance, no single one is broad enough to measure on its own attitudes toward homosexuality. Other challenges researchers have to face include: question wording, social desirability bias,  validity and cross-experimental comparison and last but not least transparency in order to assure continuity in the field.

The academic challenges of exploring homophobia and transphobia are far too complex to be analysed in detail in this article. Just to illustrate how ample the subject is, I will be looking at three indexes showing tolerance towards the LGBT community in various countries. I will be focusing on Romania, but I am encouraging anyone interested in the topic to look at the data and see how friendly their country is towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals.

1.     The LGBT Tolerance Index (2011) places Romania as the second lowest LGBT tolerant country in the world and the least LGBT tolerant country in Europe. Romania shares this position with China, both of them having scored 0.08/ 1. This Index uses questions such as “Should gays and lesbians be free to live life as they wish?” (from ESS round 4), “Is  the city or area where you live a good place for gay or lesbian people?” (from the 2010 Gallup World Poll), “Is homosexuality justifiable?” (from WVS wave 5). See how the world looks like according to these measurements of intolerance:

LGBT tolerance(Source: Evelyn Beatrice Hall, LGBT Tolerance Index)

2.     ILGA, on the other hand, uses a different measurement scale and consequently the European map looks differently. According to this poll, Azerbaijan, Russia and Armenia are the least LGBT friendly societies. Romania here is ranked 30th out of 49 countries. The percentage of tolerance is calculated in this case using 48 different aggregate indices, grouped in six categories (Equality & Non-discrimination; Family; Hate crime & hate speech; Legal gender recognition & bodily integrity; Freedom of assembly, association& expression; and Asylum). This is how Europe looks like according to these measurements of intolerance:

ilga 2015(Source: ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map May 2015)

3.   The Bucharest Institute for Public Policy conducted in 2003 a survey about Intolerance, Discrimination and Authoritarianism in Public Opinion. They targeted different minorities in Romania and asked respondents from the dominant group to report how happy they would be to welcome a member of the out-group in various sectors of their life. As can be seen from the graph below, Romanians are least tolerant with homosexuals. This is probably not very surprising for a deeply religious country where homophobic remarks were made on live television by various public figures, but it is interesting to observe the lack of constraint in reporting isolationist tendencies towards the LGBT community.

tolerance in romania

(Saideman and Ayres, 2008)

Other frequently used and cited measures of assessing attitudes toward homosexuality include the Homosexuality Attitude Scale (Kite & Deaux, 1986) and the Component Measure of Attitudes Toward Homosexuality (LaMar & Kite, 1998).

A relatively old study has discovered that during interactions with homosexuals, the people who are aware of a person’s homosexuality are more negative toward them than are persons who are unaware, regardless of their attitude toward homosexuality (Kite & Deaux, 1986). A more recent experiment indicated that even a very tolerant sample of respondents (where very little negative attitudes towards lesbians and gay men were expressed) will not show an overwhelming support for lesbian and gay human rights (Ellis et al. 2003).

Despite the differences in all the Sexual Orientation Discrimination studies, one aspect tends to stay constant: homosexuals are liked less than heterosexuals around the world (e.g., Gross et al., 1980; Gurwitz & Marcus, 1978). Over the past few days, many heterosexual people have showed their support for the gay community by posting a Rainbow Facebook profile photo. I want them to ask themselves if that is enough. Does that picture make you a tolerant individual? Does the absence of it make you homophobic?

Or maybe this was just another Ice Bucket challenge where so many people got wet on social media, but failed to research the cause they were doing it for… Who knows? Time will tell!

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EU referendum – Should Muggles be allowed to vote in the wizards’ referendum?

The other day I came across this article by Anna Leszkiewicz called “Can wizards vote in Muggle elections?“. For some reason, I thought the article would be about the referendum on the UK membership in the European Union. I thought it will address the question of who should be allowed to vote in the referendum. It soon became obvious to me that the article is just a (rather interesting) review of the political sphere in Harry Potter and it has no hidden meaning – the author was simply wondering whether in J K Rowling’s books wizards get to vote in the Muggle elections. Nevertheless, the title gave me the idea of writing about the EU referendum and contemplating on whether citizens of EU countries residing in the UK should be allowed to cast a ballot.

Before I start, I want to be upfront with everybody: I am not in the position to judge what the best thing to do is. I am simply trying to present, in an impartial manner, the pros and cons of allowing other EU citizens to vote (especially the Polish, Romanian and Bulgarian Muggles that many wizards are so scared of). If you want a clear answer to the question, just ask Nigel Farage. I’m sure he will have a lot to say about this (considering his half-blood origins).

feel-like-a-sir-template

While citizens of EU countries residing in the UK are allowed to vote in elections for local government and the European parliament, they lose this privilege in the general elections. In the UK parliamentary general elections (same as in the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum) only British citizens, qualifying Commonwealth citizens and citizens of the Republic of Ireland were eligible to cast a ballot. In the Scottish independence referendum, EU nationals were able to cast a ballot if they were residing in Scotland. In other words, every wizard and European Muggle living in Scotland was allowed to vote.

You might wonder how will Britain’s in/out referendum on EU membership differ from the Scottish in/out referendum. Surely if EU citizens were allowed to vote in Scotland, they should be allowed to vote in the upcoming referendum as well. Weeeeell… think again! Here is a list of pros and cons:

Yes, let muggles vote! They are wizards in heart after all.

Since UK nationals living abroad will most likely be allowed to vote, then equally important would be to allow the non-British nationals living in UK to vote. For the sake of equality and fairness, all parties directly affected by this referendum should have a vote. Imagine Hogwarts holds a referendum on whether or not Hogwarts stays in the Triwizard Tournament. If Hogwarts alumni are given the right to vote, so should the ghosts who live in the school (albeit not being wizards).

However, it is not just equality and fairness that should be taken into consideration. One should also look at the financial aspects. There are EU nationals who live, work, pay their taxes and have thriving businesses in the UK. Denying them to have a voice in this debate could have an impact on their lives and their attitudes towards the host country. Worst case scenario (or best case scenario – depending on your perspective), some of them could abandon their tax-paying jobs and settle somewhere they feel at ease of doing business.

No, muggles are not wizards! Keep it pure-blood!

In 1975, UK had the first nationwide referendum where they voted on (surprise, surprise…) staying in the European Union ( known at the time as the Common Market). Back then, only those who had a vote in the Parliamentary election were entitled to vote in the referendum. This method was already tested, why change it?

If decided to stick to wizards only, there will be 46 million eligible voters. However, if European muggles living in the magical Britain are given the right to vote, the number will increase considerably to 48.7 million. What does this mean? For starters, increased costs. A referendum is expensive enough as it is, but educating an extra 2.7 million people who let’s be honest are just crowding the wizarding community and not giving much in return (right, Nigel? right?) is just ridiculous.

The extra voters could prove to be powerful voting blocs since most of them are expected to want Britain to stay in the EU. As a consequence, the decision to allow them to have a say will invalidate the vote in the eyes of many British people. The British euroscepticism was signaled by voters both at the European Parliament elections in 2014 and at the General Elections in 2015 when David Cameron promised this referendum to the people and won the race. If the Torries start changing the rules of the game now, they could be punished in the next elections. If you don’t trust me, ask the Lib Dems.

 

No matter where you stand on the issue, you probably don’t want to be David Cameron right now. Caught between the interests of big companies, the public opinion and the external influences, that’s what I call ‘euro-pressure’.

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Brief introduction

This is my academic blog and it is for all of us who didn’t get to go to Hogwarts this year. You might not learn about magic, spells and potions but we can reflect together on current political and social issues in our daily Muggle life.

Warning: I am going to write a lot about the country of birth of our beloved Harry Potter – England (partially because I live here and partially because my PhD thesis is focused on the British society and politics). I will also write about immigration, ethnic minorities in Britain, international relations and other issues of academic interest. If you’re lucky you might get the occasional post about a little country close to my heart called Romania.

I hope you find it helpful and please do not hesitate to comment, critique, ask questions or give suggestions. Let’s learn together in this cruel Dobby-less world. That’s it from me, enough Harry Potter references!

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