A Brief Lesson On Female Comic Book Characters: They’re Not Meant For Male Pleasure


Contrary to popular belief, female comic book characters weren’t actually made to please the male readers. Although, you’d be forgiven if you did happen to think that, especially given the excessive sexualization that we see in some of the female character imagery.

Comic book writer B. Clay Moore, who wrote the ‘Hawaiian Dick‘ series, penned a thoughtful essay on his Facebook page, and then expanded on it a little on the Comic Book Resources website. His commentary has been a bit of a wake up lesson to many fans, and it has also empowered many female readers that they belong in this community.

“Female superheroes and their costumes? A lot of people arguing about this don’t seem to have a real understanding of the history of costume design in comics. There’s this conventional wisdom in place that female superheroes were always designed with titillation in mind,” he writes, stating the obvious.

“The fact is that most female superheroes up through the ’70s (maybe into the ’80s) were created to attract female readers, not to pander to boys. Sure, there were always notable exceptions but the industry was trying to find something for everyone.”


Comic books, like any other male-dominated industry, hasn’t had a hard time attracting females into the fold, the difficult part has been for territorial male fans (think of what is happening in the video game industry right now and what happened with the Gamergate scandal) to accept that women now make up nearly half of comic book readers, according to research from 2014.

The rise of female comic book characters in mainstream coincided with a very big female movement that was happening in the 1970s in the United States: feminism.

“In the ’70s, Marvel introduced Ms. Marvel as a nod to the rising feminist movement, even borrowing part of the character’s name from Gloria Steinem’s quite liberal and explicitly feminist Ms. magazine. An earlier, less successful, but equally earnest Marvel effort was ‘The Cat,’ featuring a female creative team. Both of these books were primarily designed to attract the attention of female readers,” writes Clay.

But it wasn’t just Ms. Marvel that has been associated with the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s. Jill Lepore, a staff writer at the New Yorker magazine penned an in depth essay about the feminist origins of Wonder Woman, tying in how she was originally created to be a spokeswomen advocating birth control for women.


Wonder Woman’s prominence into mainstream feminism came about during the time the controversial Roe v. Wade ruling allowed abortion to be legal (1973), as well as the Equal Rights Amendment passing through the Senate in 1972 (it has yet to be ratified in the constitution), and the empowering Title IX ruling which stated no federal organization should discriminate where they allocate funds, scholarships, and grants for anyone based on gender.

Clay also says the shrinking comic book demographic, and the dominance of male writers and illustrators played a large part in sexualizing the way female characters were drawn. But now that the audience is expanding amongst women, he argues there needs to be a broadening of the view of comic books in general – it is not just a “boys club” anymore.

“What we’re seeing now is a return to the idea that it’s possible to bring in (or appeal to) a broader readership. One that includes and embraces women. So you can whine about losing boob windows and hot pants and drawings of women where both boobs and an entire ass are visible, but what’s happening now is a good thing for comics, because it’s a return to the idea that the medium doesn’t exist for the enjoyment of a single, narrow demographic,” he writes.

Seriously, this is the kind of attitude we need to hear from serious comic insiders in order to influence other males who may have a problem. But if Clay’s words don’t work, it ain’t a big deal.

“If you’ve decided you’re not going to read a comic book because it depicts female characters with dignity as a consideration, I doubt anyone will mourn your absence.”

And as Indiewire points out, the female Thor comic books are outselling her male predecessor by 30%, so it’s time to get used to the increasingly equal presence of women in this industry. ‘Coz they’re here to stay.




One Comment

  1. I think it is really cool to hear that most female characters in early comic books were actually created to attract woman audiences. Wonder Woman has always been one of my favorite super heroes because of her lasso of truth. Now that I know more about her origins during the equal rights amendment, it makes her an even stronger character in my opinion. http://www.emetcomics.com/comics-index/

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.