I like women in comic books, both as villains and heroes. Once upon a time, there were very few of either type, and they were sometimes painfully derivative (e.g., Miss Arrowette). So part of me likes that there are now so many female costumed adventures, good and bad.
Yet another part of me hates it. It's been my observation that, on the whole, women are not nearly as likely to be idiotic as men. I mean, how many women appeared on Jackass, or imitated things they saw on Jackass?
While I understand women's desire for parity with men in positive areas like rate of pay, I pale when it myopically expands into a desire for parity with men in negative areas as well. It makes me sad to think that in order to become men's socioeconomic equals, women would have to stoop to men's level of jackassery.
I will believe a man can fly. It is substantially more difficult for me to believe that women are as likely as men to put on a costume and fight crime. That's the kind of self-aggrandizing theatrics driven by a savior complex that I associate with the typical flaws of men, not of women.
Yes, I like Kate "Manhunter" Spencer, but throwing on a costume, grabbing some random high tech weapons, and dashing to a sewer to confront Copperhead on the spur of the moment is the exactly kind of jackassery that's even harder to credit in women than in men.
It's even more of a strain to unflinchingly accept woman villains. Men are more violent than women. Men are more likely to become criminals. Although the number of female prison inmates has grown dramatically, that's due to drug convictions (a crime of weakness to which all people are equally prey) rather than violent offenses (crimes of aggression to which men are more prone).
One may not like stereotyping as a matter of principle, but stereotyping is seldom baseless: men are more violent and criminal than women, which is why they outnumber them in prisons by at least nine to one.
Setting aside for a minute men's hormonal tendencies toward aggression, men are stupid. Or perhaps more accurately, men are more likely to be narrow-minded or short-sighted.
The reason that most people are good citizens instead of criminals isn't because most people are good; it's because because it's easier. That's part of the whole point of society. In the long run, being good and cooperative with society is safer, easier, and more profitable than being a criminal.
Ever watch those reality teevee cop shows, where some moron tries to rob a gas station or lead cops on a chase, or run away naked from a domestic dispute? You immediately think: "What on earth is that person thinking? Do they really think they're going to get away and what will they do next when they do?" The answer is simple: they aren't thinking. Not past the moment, anyway. Now, who's more likely to do that, a woman or a man?
Yet, because the costume crowd are the stars of our comic books it feels manifestly "unfair" when more capes belong to men than women, regardless of how much more realistic that would be. And so we all find ourselves clamoring for more female nutjobs in spandex, including villains.
In what other context would people consider it acceptable to say the equivalent of: "People need to realize that women's capacity for evil, selfishness, foolishness, aggression, and blind stupdity is every bit as great as men's!" That may be "equality" but I'm hard-pressed to view it as empowerment or advancement. Except in, you know, professional sports.
Come now. "I intend to rule the world!", "I shall destroy you all!", "Mine, mine -- it's all mine!", and even "Hahahahahaha! Die at the hands of Dr. Virus -- and Kryptococcus, the Omni-Germ!" really do sound more natural coming out of man's mouth than a woman's. Most women couldn't say stuff like that without laughing; men say stuff like that to themselves while shaving.
There's an unfortunate side-effect of all this. The comparative incredibility of female villains pushes writers toward dangerous motivational waters.
Because world-conquering and bank-robbing don't feel like hobbies that women are keen on, writers veer toward other motives -- then get in trouble with readers for stereotyping. Let's see how many female characters you can put under the following headings:
- "She's doing it to get back at a man/men."
- "She's doing it to get a man's attention."
- "She's doing on behalf of her man."
- "Her emotions/powers are out of control."
- "She likes jewelry."
That last one's my favorite. Men, you see, steal piles of cash that they can then convert into anything commerce permits. Women skip the middle-man and go straight for the shiny shinies they want; yes, Catwoman, I'm looking at you.
All this is part of why I am unhappy with Catwoman as a hero and fine with Batgirl as a villain: because female villains with any sort of remotely realistic motivation are hard to find.
Catwoman was a good villain because her motive was simple, realistic, and comprehensible: she wanted what she wanted when she wanted it. She wasn't out to hurt anyone, defeat anyone, or conquer anything. And if you got in her way, she either pushed you out of the way or did an end-run around you; no hard feelings. She was the anti-Luthor.
As for Batgirl, well, yes, the turn to villainhood is a dramatic one and a severe shift away from the direction previous writers had taken her, but I least I understand her motivations (unlike, say, the Vilification of Leslie Thompkins, who let Spoiler die to, um, prove a point -- or something). Still, it is uncomfortable that what seemed to push her over the edge was simply the fact that "there was another woman in her Daddy's life"; icky.