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Women in Comics: DC vs Marvel, The Bechdel Test
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thalestral wrote in feminist_geeks
I'm a comics journalist, and normally my writing focuses on women creators in comics and the portrayal of women characters. But the Bechdel Test is so famous, and so equally derided by a lot of the general readership, that I figured it was worth a go to Bechdel Test ALL THE THINGS.



Or at least the comics I had to hand. I also did a Reverse Bechdel Test alongside the normal test, to help illustrate the divide between the portrayal of men and women in comics.

Obviously the Bechdel Test is just one aspect of looking at the issue as a whole, but I found the results surprisingly encouraging. At least for DC, where the results showed a lot of balance across my titles, and where the women led titles like Batwoman helped pick up the slack. And normally I'm focusing on all the other angles, so it was a nice change.

The full article is here: Women in Comics: DC vs Marvel, The Bechdel Test

Happily, the discussion I've seen about this piece on other forums is mostly guys saying the Reverse Bechdel Test has made them see the imbalance properly. So feel free to share :D
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I really found your analysis a little unfair/biased..? I mean, when you analyzed the DC titles, you chose several titles with female main characters, which is bound to increase the likelihood of their passing the Bechdel test. On the other hand, you didn't analyze a single Marvel comic with a female main character, and in fact only analyzed team comics (which you admitted yourself usually perform poorly) and male-led comics. :\

Just seems a little unfair is all.

I think the problem there stems from there not being any current Marvel titles that are led by women, if I'm not mistaken.

There are. X-23 has her own series, and iirc Black Widow is getting one. Even so, to be more even the OP could have used more team-based comics and not mostly male-lead comics. They at least could've included an X-Men title, cos those comics all have tons and tons of female main and supporting characters whereas, you know, Thor, not so much.

Most Marvel comics are group or team based, unless they're one of the Big Names who've been around forever (Spidey, Iron Man, etc.). But those teams usually have women on them talking about things other than a man (in a romantic context, anyway.. I don't think anyone would count, say, Jan and Wanda talking about how much they hate Kang the Conquerer).

idk, the Bechdel test seems a pretty poor indicator of the treatment of female characters in comics anyway. I mean, generally speaking.. DC treats women characters like shit. Marvel is less horrific.

X-23 is cancelled. There were a bunch of female led books I mentioned in the article that were all cancelled between 2011 and earlier this year sadly.

The idea that Marvel is better for women characters is prevalent but very little to back it up in the current ongoings. Marvel cancels women, which is a shame.

They at least could've included an X-Men title...

They did. Uncanny X-Men and X-Factor. The latter did very poorly, the former mediocrely.

And for the Bechdel test, yes, even complaining about a guy causes the conversation to not pass. The point is that said conversation focuses on a guy, positive or negative. No one's saying that the Bechdel test is good yardstick for how to view a specific work, but it is a good measurement of general trends when it comes to media.

The latter was definitely what I was going for.. I think Animal Man is a pretty good example of both the merits and disadvantages of the Bechdel Test. But for building up an overall picture, it's one of many useful tools.

I'm a huge X-Men fan by the way, though I tend to prefer the older arcs in comparison to the current ones. (And I still miss Runaways!)

Yeah, they all got cancelled despite doing pretty well and getting good reviews. It's a shame - if Marvel had continued as they were doing last year it would have been a really strong year overall. And with higher numbers comes a higher chance of getting some good portrayals. Maybe!

DC has more female characters who are independent of male characters. It doesn't mean they're better, it's just how Marvel has grown up (I think it has to do with the fact that while they acquired older characters it's several decades younger than DC so DC had a bunch of pre-code characters to pull from)

I don't know if I'd necessarily say that; Marvel's women are generally very independent as characters, but not in terms of like, having their own series, because that's just not how Marvel rolls (most of Marvel's male characters don't have their own series, usually just the big names who've been around for literally over fifty years). Marvel mostly writes team-based comics. I don't really think this is a flaw... especially when you're trying to choose between Marvel's "hey this team has several amazing independent women!" and DC's "hey we're gonna write a comic about a woman and have the first page feature her on her hands and knees scrounging for dollar bill tips at a strip club!"

I didn't mean they're not independent in their lives, like "independent woman living on her own," I meant they're not independent as in they don't have their own titles. And I also said "it doesn't mean they're better."

Edited at 2012-05-31 10:50 pm (UTC)

Marvel actually had a lot of female led books last year but they were all cancelled. Their cut off figures are a lot higher than DC.

I'm not trying to argue over which publisher is better as sadly most people are biased towards one or the other which clouds vision, but that the balance is out of whack but not as much at DC as I expected.

Yeah, I realize that I prefer DC for my own reasons but I don't think DC is a better company. I think all of the good they DID have going got ruined by the new 52. I just never felt attracted to Marvel which doesn't make anyone else's choices any better or worse.

DC do seem to be more open to feedback (ETA - than they used to be), not of their own choosing but due to the constant pressure from women fans. There's a long way to go but it does seem to be improving. Hopefully Marvel will pick up as well.

Indie titles of course leave them both in the dust!

Edited at 2012-05-31 11:13 pm (UTC)

The indies can be awesome and they don't have the same assumption that girls are never going to read them. I find them a little harder to navigate since I never know what to expect. Though Buffy has always been a good choice (and I tend to trust Dark Horse)

It's good to hear that DC is taking feedback (finally) last year made me so freaking mad at them. Does this mean that it's safe for me to go back to buying comics from them? :P

That's actually what initially drew me to DC as opposed to Marvel ... But it's not like the way they're treated is any better :P

Hah, agreed! And all the women still look mostly the same, etc. Still, at least it's a move in the right direction for one publisher - I just wish Marvel hadn't gone backwards at the same time... this could have been a super strong year overall if not for that!

Nicely done. I was pleasantly surprised by how many actually passed, and very surprised that Thor did so well.

As someone who hasn't read comics in years, who's Shining Knight in Demon Knights, and why didn't you count them? Just curious. :)

It is quite a positive outcome overall which made a nice change!

Shining Knight in the past has been a woman disguised as a man but they are very adamant in the newest comics that they dislike being referred to as either. I thought I should mention it as some might suspect I counted them as both which would have really biased the outcome! As it was, the book passed both tests regardless.

The writer, Paul Cornell, is the one who has spearheaded the "panel parity" idea at conventions he attends by giving up his seat to a woman creator or critic if the panel isn't balanced. It's a rather heavy handed approach but has kept the issue in the minds of organisers and resulted in more female creators appearing at cons. He seems like a decent bloke.

Yes, I thought that was an absolutely class move by him.

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