Of all the topics that could be discussed endlessly with regard to socio-political relevance in comics, Gender is probably the first that comes to mind. Discussions are literally endless.
It is also the topic I’ve personally grappled with most as well, as, to me, there really aren’t a lot of clear, pointed answers. Writing a concise blog post about the subject is downright impossible. So when the opportunity came along to take the online “Gender Trough Comics” MOOC, presented by educator and comics afficionado Christy Blanch, I thought it was worth a try.
What’s a MOOC, you ask? It’s new to me too. It stands for Massive Open Online Course – generally offered for free, and completed without the reward of academic credit. It’s a great realm that’s just beginning to blossom for people who are interested in education for the sake of education.
Our first week is generally about getting acquainted: with the material, the social networking platforms, and with 7000 other “classmates” with whom we share discussion boards and hashtags. (By the way, if you’re interested in enrolling, there’s still time: just check out the Canvas.net page. Comixology offers a lot of discounted material for the course as well, so it’s not too hard on the bank account either.)
Our first set of reading material for the week is a collection of work by comics creator Terry Moore: Strangers in Paradise, Vols I and II; and Rachel Rising.
Needless to say, this is the beginning of the series, so characters are going to develop in complexity and change, but it is interesting to see where everyone’s starting point it. My thoughts on Strangers in Paradise, having just finished Volume 1, are as follows:
Moore is making a story that is composed of several gender stereotypes. You have Katchoo, the Man-Hating Lesbian: fearless, trouble-maker, liberated, smoker, cat-owner (all stereotypically associated with lesbians). You’ve got Francine, the Hetero Female: timid,lacking confidence/certainty, reactive (instead of pro-active), and seemingly unsure of what she wants in life. These are all stereotypes of a heterosexual/”man’s” woman, and it all boils down to the theory that women lack agency- this is something I’d love to explore more of later on.)
And we have Freddie. Familiar Freddie! The Hetero Male stereotype. My first thought was that he must be some hormone-raging college kid, maybe 19 or 20. Then he is revealed as a wealthy business man, probably late 20s, early 30s (owns a fancy car, etc.) He appears to be wealthy and successful, and yet he also seems bent on guilt-tripping Francine–implying some forthcoming insecurity/control issues.
I see two over-arching themes here that are the most impressive to me.
#1: Moore is transforming stereotypes into archetypes. That is, she is taking qualities that we normally perceive to be highly superficial about a person based on their gender or sexual orientation, and using them to compel the story forward. I’m finding this theory interesting, and am anxious to see if I still feel that this is true after reading the longer Volume 2….
#2: It’s clear that this comic is trying to convey that no one has a “normal” sex life. The next door neighbour in the story is a creepy Peeping Tom, Freddie accidentally brings home a prostitute to get over Francine, who is then removed from the scene by a 6ft, 250lb bull dyke*, who crashes through the apartment wall to reveal Freddie’s apartment neighbour celebrating his anniversary to his blow-up doll with a lil’ Champagne.
In future posts over the next month and a half, I’ll be adding my notes on various pieces of material from the syllabus. Feel free to send me your feedback, or ask me about the course.
* – my apologies for using a potentially offensive term: however, “bull dyke” is the stereotype presented, and is differentiated from the stereotypes of “lesbian” or even “man-hating lesbian”.