The portrayal of Women in American comic books have often been the subject of controversy since the medium's beginning. Critics have noted the roles of women as both supporting characters and lead characters are substantially more subjected to gender stereotypes, with femininity and or sexual characteristics having a larger presence in their overall character.
During the Golden Age of Comic Books a time during which the medium evolved from comic strips women who were not superheroes were primarily portrayed in secondary roles, with some examples being classified as career girls, romance-story heroines, or lively teenagers.
Typically, the heroine was either a "good girl" or "bad girl", with both roles having small effect on a male character's decision. In the Archie Comics , the titular character can never definitively chose between his two love interests Betty and Veronica , who typify this dichotomy between the good Girl-Next-Door and the dangerous allure of her foil respectively. The duo got their own title in , Betty and Veronica comic book , which quickly became a popular comic, featuring the two lead characters continuing to obsess over boys and fight over who would get to date Archie.
Female costumed crimefighters were among the early comics characters. One of the comics' earliest female superheroes appeared in newspaper strips, the Invisible Scarlet O'Neil by Russell Stamm. One publisher in particular, Fiction House , featured several progressive heroines such as the jungle queen Sheena , whose sex appeal is what helped launched her comic series. They were war nurses, aviatrixes, girl detectives, counterspies, and animal skin-clad jungle queens, and they were in command.
Guns blazing, daggers unsheathed, sword in hand, they leaped across the pages, ready to take on any villain. And they did not need rescuing. One of the earliest female superheros is writer-artist Fletcher Hanks 's minor character Fantomah ,  an ageless, ancient Egyptian woman in the modern day who could transform into a skull-faced creature with superpowers to fight evil; she debuted in Fiction House 's Jungle Comics 2 Feb.
The first widely recognizable female superhero is Wonder Woman , from All-American Publications , one of three companies that would merge to form DC Comics. In an October 25, , interview conducted by former student Olive Byrne under the pseudonym 'Olive Richard' and published in Family Circle , titled "Don't Laugh at the Comics", William Moulton Marston described what he saw as the great educational potential of comic books a follow up article was published two years later in At that time, Marston decided to develop a new superhero.
In the early s the DC line was dominated by superpowered male characters such as the Green Lantern , Batman , and its flagship character, Superman. According to the Fall issue of the Boston University alumni magazine, it was his wife Elizabeth Hollowy 's idea to create a female superhero. Given the go-ahead, Marston developed Wonder Woman with Elizabeth whom Marston believed to be a model of that era's unconventional, liberated woman. Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.
Not wanting to be girls, they don't want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women's strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman. Wonder Woman is an Amazon Princess, the Amazons were created by Aphrodite according to the stories and were made to be stronger and wiser than men. Some of Marston Moulton's early stories included Wonder Woman as president of the United States [a] and as a modern-day Incan Sun God , [b] both non-traditional roles for women.
Despite such portrayals of women in leadership roles, however, editor Sheldon Mayer was disturbed by the recurring bondage imagery. According to Marston this imagery of bondage was a reflection of the suffrage movement's use bondage as well. He insisted it was important that she could be seen freeing herself, both literally and symbolically, from man-made bondage.
Although published concurrently with Marston's run in Sensation Comics the writer of Justice Society kept Wonder Woman in the limited position as Secretary of the League, rarely involving her in action. Under his direction Wonder Woman's physical prowess declined. She was no longer depicted in chains she became more and more submissive, and her priorities shifted to a more conventional for her gender role. In one Sensational Comics issue, Wonder Woman tells a woman that she envied her life as a mother and wife.
During World War II, women assumed jobs formerly occupied by men, becoming truck drivers, stevedores, and welders. The same was reflected into the comic books as heroes such as Hawkman needed help and turned to their wives or girlfriends, creating a new form of heroines: the partners. This was post-war tension affected the comic book industry directly when a Senate Subcommittee was created to address a perceived rise of juvenile delinquency.
Influenced largely by Fredric Wertham's book published that same year, Seduction of the Innocent , a public hearing was held to determine if juvenile delinquency and comic books were linked.
Wertham had specifically attacked the portrayal of many comic book women stating: "They are not homemakers. They do not bring up a family. Mother-love is entirely absent Even when Wonder Woman adopts a girl there are Lesbian overtones. The code explicitly censors violence, sexuality and "abnormal" romance for the implicit purpose of "emphasiz[ing] the value of the home and the sanctity of marriage," and a reenforcement of traditional gender roles. Between and , one of the top two comic book genres was romance comics.
Many influences from this genre overlapped in the superhero comics of the era. Although superhero titles would eventually become the leading genre , DC Comics' Young Romance would end its thirty-year run in After the implementation of the Comics Code , DC Comics implemented its own in-house Editorial Policy Code regarding the portrayal of women, which stated, "The inclusion of females in stories is specifically discouraged.
Women, when used in plot structure, should be secondary in importance, and should be drawn realistically, without exaggeration of feminine physical qualities". Iris West was the on-again, off-again girlfriend of the Flash 's alter ego, Barry Allen. Batman's supporting cast, beginning in the s, occasionally included journalist Vicki Vale and heiress Kathy Kane, whose alter ego was the motorcycle -riding masked crimefighter Batwoman.
With a tip of her cowl to the Harvey Comics character the Black Cat , who preceded her by 15 years as a superheroine on a motorcycle, Batwoman used weapons as well, although hers included powder puffs, charm bracelets, perfume, a hair net, a compact mirror, and a shoulder bag utility case with matching bolo strap. During this time frame, the comics of the Silver Age of Comic Books published by Marvel and DC were different enough that if you liked one, you were liable not to like the other.
If you wanted the classic feel of the original s superheroes, you were a DC partisan. If you wanted fast action mixed with the emotional angst reflecting a world where social unrest was slowly coming to a boil, you were more likely to read the Marvel offerings  When Atlas Comics became Marvel Comics in , many brand new women superheroes were introduced; these superheroes were given a supporting roles.
The first female superhero from the newly named Marvel Comics was the Invisible Girl , a. Susan Storm, charter member of the Fantastic Four. Although female characters would develop and become cornerstones of the Marvel Universe, their early treatment would resemble a struggle to be recognized as equals.
The Bronze Age of Comics reflected many of the feminist tensions of the era. The number of female characters, both heroes and villains, increased substantially in the s, in response to the feminist movement, and in an attempt to diversify readership. Meanwhile in the underground comic circle The Women's Liberation Basement Press began published a one-shot comic titled That Ain't Me Babe in that featured many of the most famous female comic icons.
The character Ms. Marvel is an example of Marvel's struggle with the issues of feminism. Debuting in at the height of the women's liberation movement , with the honorific " Ms.
The first couple of issues of her self-titled comic book even included the cover line "This Female Fights Back! The controversial Ms. Marvel rape was handled poorly by Marvel Comics: first having Ms. Marvel be the victim to a man's attempt of escape from Limbo, give birth to said man that raped her, her teammates confused as to why she would not want the child, and subsequently fall in love with him and move into Limbo with him. Throughout most of the Silver and Bronze Age, women in comics were not given leadership positions.
In the s, under writer-artist John Byrne , Susan Richards found new uses for her powers and developed an assertive self-confidence to use her powers more aggressively. She changed her alias from the Invisible Girl to the Invisible Woman. Enormous impact was made both within comic book storylines and amongst comic book fans by the radical portrayal of women in the Uncanny X-Men comics, which had been relaunched in Previously existing female characters were given huge increases in power-levels , new code-names, flashier costumes, and strong, confident, assertive personalities: Jean Grey went from being Marvel Girl to the nigh-omnipotent Phoenix, and Lorna Dane became Polaris.
New creation Storm Ororo Monroe was unique in many ways: not only was she and still is the most famous black superhero in history, she was portrayed as incredibly powerful, confident and capable from her very first appearance.
In the s, the X-Men met with the Morlock tribe in which they kidnapped Kitty Pryde and forced her to marry one of their own. When Kitty escapes, she meets with a Japanese Sorcerer who uses mind control on her and she escapes from him as well, but changed greatly. Marvel, Spider-Woman, Misty Knight and Coleen Wing became known in the industry and amongst fandom as "Claremont Women": smart, powerful, capable, multi-faceted women super heroes. Batgirl is crippled by the Joker.
She eventually made the best of her situation to become Oracle, a vital information broker for the DC Universe 's superhero community who also leads her own superhero team, the Birds of Prey. In the 90s , a popular feminist comic book girl was Tank Girl by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin , who sported punk-influenced clothing and a shaved head. After becoming a figurehead in Deadline magazine, her popularity was such that a movie was eventually made.
She represented the new modern woman as one who no longer had to live under traditional images of beauty or manners. Due to the fan—based nature of the comic book industry, many of the readers feel, either directly or indirectly, that they are involved in a social practice. There is a sense of social contact with the books and the characters themselves. This relationship has various effects in the way women are presented in comic books. This portrayal would be put to the test in the Modern Age.
While there were many examples of strong, female characters getting their own titles it was not uncommon that sex was used to sell comics as well. Roles and choices such as single parenting, same-sex relationships, and positions of power in the workplace have come to define many women in modern society. These roles have found their way into the comic books of the 21st Century as well. Lesbianism has become increasingly common in modern comic books. In , DC Comics could still draw widespread media attention by announcing a new, lesbian incarnation of the well-known character Batwoman ,    even though openly lesbian minor characters such as Gotham City police officer Renee Montoya already existed in the franchise Renee would become the new Question in the same story arch revealing the new Batwoman, and in fact the two were past lovers.
In , a new website was launched entitled Women in Refrigerators. It featured a list of female comic book characters who had been injured, killed, or depowered within various superhero comic books and sought to analyze why these plot devices were used disproportionately on female characters.
Portrayals of women characters as sex objects continues to attract comment and controversy: In , Sideshow Collectibles produced a Even if a female character isn't sexualized, there are still characteristics that give way to womanhood. There is a habit amongst cartoonists when they characterize their animals as females. Around the s was when the over sexualization between both male and females rose. Males became even taller, muscular, and smarter. Females, too, became taller, but only in the legs. Their breast proportions became exaggerated, as well as their waist.
Characterizations of women as sex objects has declined in recent decades, as have depictions of women as victims of physical brutality have significantly decreased over the past 20 years. Additionally, recent comics indicate a possible reversal of the trend of portraying characters according to rigid gender stereotypes.