I would hope that, if you’re a reader of this site, you’re also someone who keeps up to date with the events of the world around us. I would very much like to imagine that those who come to Multiversity are well-read and learned people, as is often evidenced by some of the positive discourse we’ve managed to have in the comments of the site. With that in mind, I would imagine that you’ve already heard about the tragic events that took place in Isla Vista, in which a 22-year old man took the life of six people and wounded seven more, in addition to uploading a 140-page tirade manifesto online alongside an incredibly chilling video. It’s an incredibly unnerving story, and one you can read more about if you’re so inclined.
Since then, a lot has been written about the subject, specifically in relation to his comments about being an “alpha male” and the ownership of women. That one Charlie Brooker clip started cropping up again as it often does, which is always an important clip to watch (though the context is a bit different). #YesAllWomen began trending on Twitter, and it is as horrifying as you would expect it to be (both a mix of frightening stories of women coming up against unwanted male interactions, and men responding with equally volatile replies). Numerous high profile websites published some rather interesting articles about Men’s Rights Activism and the Pick-Up Artist Community in relation to the Isla Vista massacre and the sense of entitlement that this man displayed in his want to be the ultimate “alpha male” (Laurie Penny wrote a particularly moving piece at New Statesman).
As someone who tends to be heavily effected by events in the news, it was a sad weekend to say the least.
All of this probably seems rather “off-topic” for a comic book website to even attempt to discuss, and that’s a fair assumption. But looking at this rather violent explosion this past weekend and how it is being responded to and reported on both in the media and across social media, I can’t help but recall a few weeks ago when our own niche hobby was inundated with ugly verbal abuse of women, as Janelle Asselin posted a critique of a bad cover and was met by a truly gross response — some of which was covered by us and others. It opened up a particularly important conversation, one which is still being had and which — to those of us active in the comics community — remains something we’re actively working on to get past. Our violence never escalated beyond language and thank god for small favors, I guess, but when the best we can say about that abhorrent reaction is thankfulness for “small favors”, it makes up for very, very little.
So as I watched the news and read articles and stared at the wall thinking about all this, my mind wandered as it often does — and I eventually ended up asking myself: what would Wonder Woman do?
That’s a very loaded question, and it’s part of a loaded headline too. I can admit to both; if nothing else, it probably seems sensational. But for me, as someone who a) looks at how a tragedy of this accord effects those around me in increasingly uncomfortable ways and b) who has often quantified my own personal issues with comic books, the way I approach things began to take a different shape.
I think it’s fair to say that comics and their inherent morals have had a large effect on myself and people like me. We learn a lot from that which we read, and that which we choose to actively engage in. With things like superheroes and the fables that they find themselves in, there’s almost always a moral absolute at the end of the story: good triumphs over evil, so you should be the hero of your own story. In comics it stereotypically involves putting on a mask and punching up some bad guys, but it’s easy to see how those ideas can be translated onto a smaller scale; you don’t need to start a neighborhood watch, but you can at least do your best to protect those around you and uphold certain innate positive values.Continued below
With this comes heroes that embody specific ideals. DC Comics is (or was, to me at least) particularly good about having characters that fit such specific archetypes that you could look to them for particular parables and life lessons. Their pantheon of heroes, as distorted as it has become since the New 52, is chock-full of impressive stories of heroes who not only have to overcome real problems but also inspire both each other and the people they’re here to protect. That, to me, was what always stood out about DC; Marvel is “our universe” in that the heroes we see there can inspire but are too firmly entrenched in modern day issues and parables, whereas DC was more the equivalent of the kind of mythology you’d find in ancient Greek culture.
And if you ask me, Wonder Woman is the single most important hero that exists today, even if DC Comics doesn’t treat her as such.
Wonder Woman is one of DC’s “Trinity” of heroes alongside Superman and Batman. Perhaps the biggest female superhero and icon, she’s been an enduring superhero since her debut in 1941, remaining an important figure in pop culture today even without a film of her own. What’s interesting to me about Wonder Woman, though, is how different of a hero she is in comparison to her more “popular” (read: those with films) counterparts. You see Superman doing good, doing his best to save people, and you understand that this is a part of his good ol’ boy upbringing and mentality; that he was an alien taught specific values and that he upholds them to the best of his ability. Batman saves people too, but in a brooding and unenviable fashion that we can enjoy a dark and gritty story out of but can’t inherently relate to on a deeper and more personal level. They’re both heroes and perhaps even role models, but they’re incomplete as icons.
But then there’s Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is the best of both characters, delivered in a very inspiring fashion. She holds within her the darkness of Batman, but upholds strong value and character in a way that even Superman looks up to. Born of a warrior race, she’s come to our world both in order to learn and to protect us; she is sort of the proverbial outsider. And there are aspects of our society that may seem foreign to her, but she learns and adapts, never losing sight of a specific set of core values to her person. She instead takes these bits and pieces of her world, her more violent upbringing, and in turn shows us how we can change our own lives for the better. She’s a character with agency, someone who is able to solely define herself by that which she chooses, all of which in turn translates to an incredibly iconic and important role model — and that’s where the importance of Wonder Woman becomes particularly noteworthy.
We can look to all kinds of heroes to inspire us, and of course we do. In a quote he loves to reblog of himself on tumblr, Brian Bendis noted in an interview that Captain America would never troll a woman on the internet for having an opinion, so why would fans of his do that? It’s a decent point, but I would argue that while this is true of Captain America’s person, reading his books wouldn’t teach this. He often spends too much time punching out Neo-Nazis and stopping terrorist plots, and any inspiration he delivers is often in aftermath. But that’s the thing about Wonder Woman: she is a role model, and she does things in her comics to directly teach those who read her adventures.
You know what reading Wonder Woman comics actually taught me?
Tolerance. Temperament. Acceptance. Equality.
How to treat those around me, how to be a leader, and how to respect people regardless of who they are and where they come from.
How to look at difficult situations through unique perspectives, to actively seek out different mindsets and learn to understand them.
How there is very, very little in this world that is so black and white as good and evil, and that knowledge over braun is the most important tool in your arsenal.
All of these things should be and perhaps are self-evident, and certainly I didn’t go my whole life without treating people equally before reading a comic book. Like I said, the title of this post is a bit loaded in that regard. However, seeing a character like Wonder Woman embody such compassion in a unique and inspired way reflects off of her and onto me in order to inform my own behavior, specifically because in reading comics starring Wonder Woman, I was able to see life through a different and more unique perspective, and I was thusly delivered an incredibly strong role model.Continued below
Most male idealized characters are idolized for their brute strength, and maybe their cunning. They have the ability to shut down those who stand opposed to them, whether that person is a supervillain or not. But Wonder Woman has these qualities in abundance; she’s an Amazon warrior, and right now their Queen as well which displays not just her bravado on the field of battle but also her intelligence as a leader. The difference here is that she inherently matches these qualities with a type of heart that you don’t see in most of her male counterparts, and that’s an important difference to be aware of.
Superhero comics are wonderful escapism, and are often full of interesting stories with valuable “I learned something today” endings. Very few offer up characters that can literally show us how to be better, though.
Granted, a large majority of this comes down to who the author is, right? People like Gail Simone and Greg Rucka will obviously write stories with strong, positive and enriching cores; Wonder Woman is ostensibly just the mechanism through which they share with me and others how to grow as people. But while it may be Simone and Rucka having a specific affect on me (to which I will both acknowledge and am grateful to them for; it’s why I like their work), their contributions are absorbed and subsumed into that which makes up Wonder Woman. Their specific runs will be limited, but their takes on Wonder Woman are eternal. It’s what enables her to be a symbol of something.
And perhaps there is some Wonder Woman story out there in which she’s basically just Batman to derail my point. There probably is. But the core of Wonder Woman, what I think makes her a recognizable character and an icon, is that we take everything that has been given to her and see it as a singular, specific entity. She is here not just to serve and protect, but also to continuously inspire us to rise to her level.
So why do I bring all of this up?
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in most if not all of the write-ups I’ve read on the events in Isla Vista, it’s that most are very quick to bring up the flaws in society that allow events like this to occur. We live in a culture in which men are and always have been taught to expect different things out of life; it’s something that is very much engrained into our society, that to be a “man” means certain things usually revolving around a certain notion of power and control over your surroundings (women being a large part of that). I’ll admit that, as a young man, most of my interactions with other men were engulfed in displays of dominance; being the “rough” or “intimidating” guy, the one no one wants to mess around with or who has a dark aura to him, whatever, is the way to build your status. It’s animalistic, but you want to be Gaston from Beauty and the Beast: not a bit of him’s scraggly or scrawny and every last inch of him’s covered with hair (though your mileage may vary on that I suppose).
It would be one thing if I could say that over time we all grow out of this. I certainly did; the persona that I put on display when I was younger, both in school halls and online, is remarkably different than who and what I aspire to be today — but that’s just me. There are plenty of those who do not grow up in that fashion, who never move past archaic beliefs of what kind of behavior is expected of them. Whether its society or themselves telling them they have to be like this, it becomes too deeply implanted under their skin. Heck, off the top of my head I can think of several men older than myself who are still content in having their identity as “that guy not to fuck with.”
In turn, it strikes me that perhaps the biggest issue is that there are not enough positive female role models that are made readily accessible to young boys in order to offer perspective. You see this comment a lot, but young women are taught how to defend themselves against men, whereas men are not taught enough to even want to respect women; women as perceived as objects, not actual people, and I think it’s very easy to look at the culture we live in as responsible for consistently expressing this as an inherent value.Continued below
But, well, not for nothing, but I’d like to optimistically (perhaps even foolishly) believe that if more young men were taught strong core values by way of having more female role models in their lives, it would help at least slightly to mitigate the issue. It’s not that men can not teach boys how to behave properly and respectfully, but we live in a world where we do not teach the value of gender equality; that each sex is worth the same, and you don’t need to aspire to only attain “desirable” attributes of whatever you perceive to be this “alpha male” archetype. You need to want to be inspired by both.
Comic books taught me so much and still quite often do; I can’t imagine the type of different person I might have been if more of my heroes were women.
There are aspects of our society that will be tough to change and will not simply become better overnight. Women are taught to do things based on expectations of men and it’s appalling that that is a constant. If we’re in a place where we pretend that all men are still somehow the singular arbiter’s of society, though, then we need to place the onus on men to effect change. And part of that is to introduce men — young men, old men, men willing and earnestly looking towards improvement — to female role models to aspire to just as much as the stereotypical male ones. We need a better balance.
Wonder Woman’s not a bad start.
This isn’t to say there aren’t positive real-life female role models in our media and society as a whole. Far from it, actually. In fact, if ever there was a time where there was a better and more active positive representation of women in various forms of media, I’m not sure of it. Not only that, but it is really inherently problematic that gender lines need to be drawn; that we look at these things in “female” and “male” rather than having people who are icons. I know quite a few women in my life who hate the fact that they are essentially marginalized in their work as being a “woman in ____.”
But I’m not sure that we’ve hit that level yet. I mean, clearly we haven’t — if not apparent by this weekend’s events, but by the discussion that popped up around it (including this piece). That some people still feel the need to say “not all men” is idiotic, because of course not all men; that’s hardly the point. Whether unconsciously or not, we continue to draw these lines — yet I would imagine that the first step to improving this disposition is to continuously illustrate equality, and right now one side is attempting to dominate the other. That scale needs to be balanced.
There is a strong movement to change the role of women in our society, and I love seeing those who can make a stand do so. In the realm of comics people like Raina Telgemeier, Faith Erin Hicks and more are trailblazers, and that things like “Return of Zita the Spacegirl” is outselling “Batman Volume Whatever” is great to me (with no inherent disrespect to Snyder and Capullo’s “Batman”; I quite like that book too). It is an amazing start, but we need to see it more and often; it’s not enough — and perhaps never will be enough.
And in comics, we have the most inspirational female icon available to us in a medium that children adore, that young adults stray and return to, and that adults still spend so much time devouring and discussing. Say whatever you will about superhero comics versus creator-owned comics, but it’s about time we use the tools available to us more effectively in a never-ending struggle to foster a better future.
It’s a very small solution in a much bigger problem, but as my favorite quote goes from my favorite film: you can’t change the world, but you can make a dent.
I’m not perfect. If anyone is going to be the first to raise their hand and say they could’ve and should’ve done something better about their own behavior and the behavior of those around them, it’ll certainly be me.Continued below
When I was younger there were things that I accepted as weakness that now I see as strength in adverse to behavioral elements held against me by societal definitions. It’s not literal physical prowess or anything like that, but certainly I have within me certain differing beliefs that I hold true over all else. A big part of that has come from stepping back from who I was taught to be based on my interactions with others; attempting to gain perspective was the most difficult first step, but also the single most important one.
And the further I step back from who I am told I’m supposed to be, the more I find I’m able to try and see things through perspectives I often can not find on my own accord. My friends tell me I’m a bit of an ass sometimes and this is true, but if there’s one thing I like about the 2014 version of myself, it’s that I often try to seek out and acknowledge opinions on things that I would or could not form all on my own. I want to broaden my own understanding of the world.
As I grew, the older that I got, the more important it was to me to solve my own problems. But what I’ve quickly come to realize is that that isn’t exactly helpful to anything or anyone but myself. If I’m going to sit around and read comic books and write about them everyday, then I think taking a few pointers from one of my biggest heroes is the least that I should be doing, just about as regularly as I give opinions on whether or not a comic book film is any good.
What I think is important now is to not simply sit by and allow for the shape of the world to continue being decided upon by from those who would do their best to denigrate it. I certainly want to do my part in making things better; having these kinds of conversations is definitely part of that, though I hope to take it a step further in my own life in the future.
So that’s my mission, and the mission I’d hope to pass onto others: educate, and inspire. We have the tools to teach and encourage growth, and there’s literally no reason to sit on our laurels and not use all that we have available to us. I’ve often believed that it is important to be the change that you want to see, and this is decidedly no different. It’s indicative of our culture’s flaws that we’re often taught to disrespect and seek a form of authority and control over others, but there is literally no reason that this should still be an accepted and regular aspect of the world that you step outside your door to.
As Jackson Katz writes in “Macho Paradox: Why Some Men Hurt Women and and How All Men Can” (and hat tip to Kelly Sue DeConnick for reblogging this on Tumblr):
Gender violence has occurred with such frequency for so long in this country that many people are no longer alarmed by how common it is. It is the status quo, an unremarkable feature of the social landscape. What is perhaps even more disturbing is that in this culture, many people see gender violence as a problem of sick or damaged individuals, and not as a social phenomenon that’s causes—and solutions—lie in much larger social forces.
There are ways in which we can teach ourselves today, right now, how to be better. But as we aspire to reach those levels, we need to make sure that it is clear to that this kind of behavior is not something we’re going to allow tolerance of, and something we’re going to make sure that the next generation of people don’t allow themselves to be indoctrinated under.
We are, to say the least, all in this together. We all get lost and confused down wells of self-pity and despair over things both great and small, but we can not allow these things to bog ourselves down or others.
Growing up and reading comic books, everything was rather simplified towards looking at heroes and wanting to be like them. It’s a good start, but it’s not enough. We need to hold onto and celebrate the heroes that teach us the best lessons, the ones who we can share with others as a point of reference and a beacon of hope — our collective light in the darkness. We’re going to need to have things to point to outside of ourselves, things that specifically offer different perspectives, in order to help foster and inspire the change we want to see.Continued below
We can’t hide from the world in fiction, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take the values of our fiction and insert them into our world.
So be the best person you can be, the kind others aspire to be.
Be tolerant. Be strong. Be respectful.
Be Wonder Woman.