Women of Marvel: Creating a Space for Women in the Comic World
Whether you’re a Marvel enthusiast or even a comic book supporter or not, you should be a fan of the Women of Marvel (WOM) podcast. Along with promoting Marvel productions that focus on women, they also celebrate female fans, and encourage girls and women to join the comic industry and other related fields. The weekly, free podcast features interviews and discussions, most often led by host Judy Stephens, but also involves the work of Sana Amanat, Adri Cowan, Emily Shaw, and others.
Not only is the presence of this podcast a breath of fresh air within a male-dominated industry, but it also acts as a much-needed resource for fans who are interested in more diverse works. It’s no secret that sexism and misogyny exists in the comic world, with issues such as objectification, hyper-sexualization, and a lack of diversity continuing even in 2016. You may even be familiar with Anita Sarkeesian’s Feminist Frequency videos that focus on problematic gendered tropes within video games and comics, such as “Tropes Vs. Women: #2 Women in Refrigerators” (http://feministfrequency.com/2011/04/07/tropes-vs-women-2-women-in-refrigerators/). Uniquely placed within the industry itself, the WOM podcast showcases the fact that, despite the continuation of these problematic elements, there’s still so much to love about the comic universe.
Although the podcast is called Women of Marvel, their coverage of “women” extends beyond white, heterosexual, cisgender representations of womanhood and femininity. And although they focus primarily on women and girl characters as well as professionals, they also highlight men (like Clark Gregg) and their work. However, by focusing on works like the recent Ms. Marvel series, the podcast highlights characters that demonstrate the much-need shift in gender representation within the comic industry. Women and girl heroines like Ms. Marvel can be well-rounded characters who, rather than being defined by their sexualized outfits or objectified status, can be defined by their heroic abilities. As the Women of Marvel have said more than once, she is a heroic figure who happens to be a girl.
Comics allow for multiple reiterations of the same character, providing opportunities for contemporary representations of diversity beyond gender as well. The new Ms. Marvel is Kamala Khan, a Pakistani-American teen who faces assimilation challenges as well as obstacles when coming to terms with her powers. Her coming-of-age story shows her struggles with body image and empowerment as well as the courage she finds through the Qu’ran. Importantly, she is not defined by a single characteristic, but is a well-rounded character with many personality strengths and flaws. Whether you’re a current fan or interested but unsure of where to begin, the podcast has reading guides and discussions that focus on characters like her (Episode 7).
WOM also connects to related interests such as Marvel Science (Episode 18 & 82), ESPNw’s Impact25 honorees (Episode 76), digital law (Episode 59) and Marvel TV shows. Allowing myself a moment to gush like the fan girl I am, I was so excited when listening to Episode 78, which featured an interview with Agent Carter’s Haley Atwell. While such characters are never perfect, there’s a lot of feminist love you can get from both Hayley and her character. You may also enjoy the interviews with cast and crew members from Agent Carter, Agents of Shield, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil, which provide insider perspectives into how empowered female characters are created and portrayed.
Along with getting the inside scoop on various projects, these interviews focus on what different professionals do within their job, how they got started, and any advice they have for those who are interested in that position. Careers within comic-related industries that are featured in the podcast include graphic audio, costume design, voice acting, photography, writing, illustrating, gaming, management positions, and more. For example, in Episode 57 “Interns to Family,” Judy Stephens talks to Liz Rand and Chloe Wilson about their transition from intern to full-time status at Marvel, giving advice to those who are interested in following in their footsteps. Additionally, in Episode 63 “Marvel Method, How to Design a Super Hero, Part 1,” Sana Amanat and Emily Shaw describe part of the process they go through when designing a super hero uniform. These authentic tips and disclosures make getting to these positions seem achievable and provide listeners with the confidence to continue and/or start their own creative works.
Beyond the podcast itself, the Women of Marvel group is also an important presence at comic conventions and events, such as San Diego (http://marvel.com/news/comics/23176/listen_to_the_women_of_marvel_at_san_diego_comic-con) and the recent C2E2 (http://marvel.com/news/comics/25947/women_of_marvels_sana_amanat_meets_president_obama)—where they talked about the success of some of the 20 women-led comics in the Marvel universe and how the popularity of these characters and comics can not only boost the inclusion of more women characters in comics but also inspire more women to enter the comic industry. As fans themselves, some of the women on this panel and project cosplay or talk about what they “geek out” for, a question Judy Stephens often asks in interviews as well. This embracing of the fan world means they often bring in cosplayers, like Jay Justice and Yashuntutan (Episode 66), and honor individual fans like high schooler Kate Murphy (Episode 55). Those who are a part of the Women of Marvel podcast clearly care about their fans as well as their projects, sharing both personal and professional “geek” advice through their Tumblr (http://thewomenofmarvelcomics.tumblr.com), Instagram (Instagram.com/TheWomenOfMarvel), and Twitter (#WomenOfMarvel) accounts.
Even if you’re not interested in comics or Marvel specifically, there’s so much more to be interested in when it comes to this podcast and everyone involved. Specifically, the acknowledgement that women, especially women of color, are a part of these fields and that girls and women should continue to be visibly represented is an important aspect of feminism that has been a major area of focus for various organizations. For example, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, utilizes the quote “if she can see it, she can do it” to highlight the need for girls and women to embody multiple roles and careers on screen. As the Women of Marvel would say, “This is Marvel, your universe.” So whether we’re talking about characters, fans, or professionals, we should continue to celebrate the inclusion of diverse women within our real and fictional universe.
– by Sarah C