Thursday, June 07, 2007

Science Heroism in the Comics

Over at Girls Read Comics (And They're Pissed), there is a guest column by Terry D. Johnson, a lecturer of bioengineering at U.C. Berkeley, that takes a look at how scientists are portrayed in the comics. Despite the huge number of mad scientists out for world domination, there are actually a number of comic book scientists that are portrayed as heroes, from Tom Swift to Iron Man. What's missing? The female science heroes, of course.

Oracle is a peerless programmer, though I see her as more of a mastermind than a science hero. The Authority's Engineer is also a possibility, but she was technically given her trademark technology by the previous (male) Engineer. Top Ten's Toybox uses her father's inventions - I don't know about Irma Geddon, and frankly, I'm afraid to ask. Agatha Heterodyne...and already I've drifted far from the mainstream. There are few women in the science hero biz, and even fewer who would have their name on the patents for their gear.

Why the disparity?

I would suggest several reasons. Sexism is the easiest to identify. Gender stereotypes adversely affect real female scientists during their schooling and well into their careers; it is reasonable to assume that those stereotypes act similarly to reduce the role of fictional females in science heroism.
Johnson speculates that comic book creators are realizing that they will indeed be criticized for sexism, so their response is to make female characters who are tough and kick butt. As Johnson points out, though, "It's a mistake to think you can earn credit to exploit certain stereotypes by contravening others."

There's currently a discussion about the post in the forums.

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