When comics first rolled out in the late 1930’s, boys and girls read them on an even basis. It was not until the 1950’s with the rise of gender marketing that comics became “exclusively” for boys and not for girls. Since then, the still prevalent stereotype of “comics are not for girls” has turned many would be readers away from comics. It is only recently that the Big Two (DC and Marvel) have been trying to chip away at this stereotype to attract a new audience that only makes up about 51 percent of the United States.
In April 2015, DC announced plans for a new website, DC Super Hero Girls. Its aim? To attract girls ages 6-12 to comics via introduction of Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Harley Quinn, Bumble Bee, Poison Ivy, Katana and other female superheroes and super-villainesses as teenagers. A plan I am all for. But I cannot help but think about what happens when those girls go to a comic book store and face possible disappointment. Why disappointment? Let me rewind a little to July 2003 when Teen Titans first aired and a 9-year-old girl, who just happened to be yours truly, watched for the first time a show that would become one of her all-time favorites.
Robin, Beast Boy, Cyborg, Raven and Starfire were her dream-team. They were what she wanted to be, what she wanted in her friends, and she loved those characters with all her 9-year-old heart. Fast forward a couple of years later and that girl is now 13 going on 14 and Teen Titans is over and she is so over superheroes (except that she’s not); because girls who read comics and watch cartoons are not “cool,” or “popular,” and generally get made fun of, even by the boys they used to geek out with about the latest shows and toys.
One day she sees a store filled with comics and it is the coolest thing ever! Except she is too afraid to step inside because 1) Comics are for boys, and she is not a boy, 3) comics are for “losers” and she is trying hard not to be a loser and 3) The place is full of men with not too friendly faces and not a girl in sight for backup.
Then she sees a Teen Titans comic and she gets enough courage to go in and pick up the comic, only to then be completely dismayed. Who she sees inside is not the Starfire she grew up with. It was someone different with weird clothes, and do teenagers really look like that? Is she supposed to look like that? So she sets the book down and walks out of there and does not step back into a comic book store until she is in college.
Of course now Starfire’s outfit has changed and so has that of Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Poison Ivy so that their clothes are a bit less revealing but will these changes last? The main demographic for comics today are white, heterosexual males between the ages of 13-55 and if sales drop then the changes drop and things revert back to the status quo. After all, the formula that works is what stays and that leaves little room for risky changes. Except sometimes change can be oh so gratifying, as shown when Marvel did the most radical thing ever: they introduced a Muslim-American super-heroine by the name of Kamala Khan. Women and girls are in comics, perhaps now they can take more part in the world as fans too.