Geek culture is one that has always prided itself on acceptance. A large part of geek culture itself revolves around feeling marginalised by society. It is supposed to be a safe place where everyone is welcome, but does that invitation only extend to men? Recently, more and more accusations of misogyny have been levelled at certain areas of geek culture, with comic books being hit the hardest. For many on the outside, it comes as no surprise that people are beginning to make these complaints; in fact many are surprised with how long it has taken.
It is no secret that the majority of female comic book characters, at least in the mainstream, are overly sexualised. Most of them wear revealing and tight outfits that are largely impractical and are created to show off their impossible curves.
This causes a problem for female cosplayers. For those unaware of the hobby, cosplay is short for “costume play” and it basically involves dressing up as a certain character. It is particularly common at conventions, where women find themselves falling into one of two camps of cosplayers. The first group is for cosplayers who do not perfectly fit this impossible body type and appearance of the character they are cosplaying. They are accused of being attention seeking for wearing such revealing clothing in public and “preying” on the innocent male convention goers who are powerless to resist.
The second group is for those who cosplay and are considered attractive. Basically, the complaints made about them is that they are “fakes” and do not actually care about the character they are cosplaying or even about the entire genre they are engaging with. These complaints are indicative of a culture in which women are treated as props rather than actual characters at certain times. It is all too common for a writer to kill off, seriously injure or depower a female character in order to further the emotional development of a male character.
This phenomenon was explained in the late ‘90s and the term “Women in Refrigerators” (WiR) was coined. The term takes its name from an incident in the Green Lantern in which Kyle Rayner, a serial-offender in this case, comes home to find his girlfriend stuffed into a refrigerator following her death at the hands of Major Force.
Gail Simone, the one who coined the WiR phrase, explains that “not every woman in comics has been killed, raped, depowered, crippled, turned evil, maimed, tortured, contracted a disease or had other life-derailing tragedies befall her, but … it’s hard to think up exceptions.” She then goes on to list all the female characters to fall foul to this phenomenon.
The main criticism of this theory is that women are primarily secondary characters in comic books, and that this phenomenon is one that affects secondary characters, not just women. Even if this were the case, the fact that there are very few female protagonists is worrying. It also does not tell the full story.
There is another theory known as Dead Men Defrosting (DMD) that complements the WiR theory. The DMD theory explains that, although male characters are often injured, depowered or even killed, they tend to make a comeback and return to their original levels of power, whereas the repercussions for female characters are normally more permanent.
Why is it for example that Bruce Wayne (Batman) and Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) both suffer terrible spinal injuries. But where Batman comes back bigger and better than ever, Batgirl never recovers and remains paraplegic, although she does go on to become Oracle. Both injuries are used as plot points to further Batman’s story.
But comic books are not the only part of geek culture, and they are not the only part of the culture that has been criticised for misogyny. Doctor Who, the popular BBC sci-fi series, has been accused of negatively potraying women in the short time that Steven Moffat has been the head writer, taking over from Russell T. Davies. Doctor Who is a show that has always prided itself on its strong female characters, but recently many feel as if it is losing its touch. River Song, a seemingly strong character, has been criticised for being “sexy and flirty and clever and cool and she likes guns because guns are cool and all the stereotypes of a strong female character, without actually giving her any depth.”
In Song’s first appearance, the Doctor ‘saves’ her by downloading her consciousness to a computer, leaving her as the mother of some virtual children, who will literally never grow up, for all eternity. From what we learn about the character in her following appearances, this does not seem to fit her personality.
Furthermore, everything in River Song’s life is built around the Doctor. She was literally raised to kill him, and when she succeeds in doing so, she gives up all her regenerations to save him, despite only knowing him for a few minutes at this stage.
She then spends an unspecified amount of time in prison for his murder, only leaving when the Doctor says so, although he never breaks her out or even reveals himself to be alive, which would force her release. With a new companion to be introduced at Christmas, it remains to be seen if this is a blip rather than a trend.
While certain aspects of geek culture, as with our society in general, suffer from a level of misogyny, there are still some sources of hope. For all the criticisms, there are still people like Joss Whedon who are putting forward strong female characters with some real depth. Let’s just hope that others follow suit and that we, the audience, will welcome their efforts.