Are Comics Giving The Right Message To Younger Readers?

wonder womanA few months ago I wrote about the lack of female superheroes on the silver screen.  I ended that article by saying that maybe we should look at just what message young fans are receiving when we look at the fact that Marvel will release two movies featuring a talking tree and a mouthy raccoon before the most famous female superhero gets her own movie. While that’s still just as true now as it was when I wrote the article, what  I didn’t mention at the time is something that’s equally as important; the message that is being delivered by some comic books to the younger readers of the medium (even if they’re reading those specific comics).

You’ve all heard people say that “comics are just for kids,” and I’m sure that almost everybody reading this could point to several comics that are most definitely not child friendly in anyway shape or form. Now, more than ever before comics are geared toward the mature reader – and I have no problem with that – but some of the comics that are geared toward younger readers may not be giving them the best message, either.

And let’s be honest, there are certainly people reading comics and watching movies that, technically and legally speaking, they’re not old enough to watch.

First up we have the unrealistic expectations that some comics are portraying – whether intentional or not – to the audience, and especially younger readers who may see them online. There are two listicles here and here that can give you a pretty basic rundown of the awkward poses and anatomical inaccuracies that are shown on comic covers, and within the pages, of female characters. Check those out if you haven’t already – I’ll still be here.

Concerns about body image portrayal are very legitimate, both for male and female readers, though let’s be honest, the generic male costume is all muscles of various sizes and is nowhere near close to the over-sexualization that women in comics are subject too. I mention it here only because it’s worth bringing up before swiftly acknowledging that the difference in how male and female superheroes are portrayed is significant; male heroes are used as objects far more infrequently. While it’s not uncommon for male superheroes to wear full body leotards, a female counterpart may have a large circular cut-out over her chest.

I came across this Ted Talk from 2012 (I think) in which Colin Stokes explores the impact of media on kids and the importance of positive female and male characters; characters who show the value of teamwork and respecting women. He urges us to seek out movies and TV shows that defy gender stereotypes and shares an easy way to do this with your family. It’s less than 15 minutes, and is well worth your time. You can check the video below. Take a few minutes to watch that, because what I’m going to talk about next will assume you’ve watched it, and not just read the blurb that I’ve copied above.

Alright, you’ve watched it? Brilliant.

It’s powerful stuff, eh? When you really listen to  what Colin Stokes has to say, and then sit and think about what it is that he’s pointing out, you realize that that kind of message is all around us. Yeah, there have been some movies since the Ted Talk was filmed that take a step toward addressing this, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Brave,Frozen and Inside Out are examples of this, but I honestly had to think about whether there were any other movies that show examples of what Colin Stokes was talking about, and I couldn’t think of any.

If there are any, please, prove me wrong in the comments.

Comics, being released much more prolifically, are a different beast entirely. There are several strong female characters and series about (Faith, Ms. Marvel and Princeless to name but three), but the are far too little in comparison to the traditionally male-dominated face of superhero comics, and that’s something that needs to change. Yes, steps are certainly being made, but let’s not congratulate publishers before the marathon has finished, eh?

We need to take a long hard look at the messages that kids of all ages are receiving from the media they consume, whether subliminal or not, and ask ourselves if the stories they are reading or watching are the ones that have the message we want our kids and young people to receive.

The industry seems to be waking up to this issue, but we’ve a long way still to go.