Pin-Ups or Powerhouses? Examining gender issues in “nerd,” “geek” and comics cultures

On May 23, college student Elliot Rodger shot and killed six people in a Santa Barbara, Calif. sorority house after releasing a manifesto blaming women and the men involved with them for his actions. Rodger justified the shooting by holding that women intentionally withheld pleasure, which Rodger felt entitled to, choosing instead to give affection to other men. The behavior of Rodger, who had a history of mental illness, has created a widespread debate on the relative influence of mental illness versus misogyny on Rodger’s mindset.

In a Daily Beast article, former Jeopardy! contestant Arthur Chu responds to the shooting, arguing that the “nerd” culture of which Rodger was thought to be part uses typical videogame, film and comic book story lines to reinforce the idea that men are entitled to women as a validation of masculinity and success. This idea eventually leads to an acceptance of violence against women, according to Chu, which may have influenced Rodger’s actions.

Chu’s article has drawn new attention to discussions within comic book culture on stereotypical depictions of women. While well-known campaigns like The Hawkeye Initiative and Women in Refrigerators take issue with how female characters are stereotypically costumed and treated, others, like comic book artist Graig Weich, argue that sexism is not a problem in comic book culture.

Over the next weeks, I will examine different facets of this debate through the eyes of college students, journalists and artists. I will explore discussions of how “nerd” and “geek” cultures present safe havens for bullied individuals, but also exclude others and provide ways to ignore different societal oppressions. I will examine both the empowering and oppressive experiences of women, and will present source arguments both for and against typical depictions of females in comic books. I will look at how the comic book industry is succeeding and failing, according to my sources, to satisfy a female audience. Finally, I will present source ideas as to whether the industry is sexist and suggested solutions to this issue.

Throughout this endeavor, I am interested in any opinions readers wish to share. If you want to share your experiences, please contact me through this blog.

Next Week: In providing safe havens for some, “nerd” and “geek” cultures can encourage victimization of others

Other articles in this series:

“It’s About Time Wonderwoman Was Given Her Due”: How the mainstream comics industry can attract more women and keep them interested

Realism or Idealism: Sources Find Different Ways to Female Empowerment in Comic Book Culture

It’s Complicated: Women’s vexed relationships with “Nerd,” “Geek” and Comic Book Cultures

Support, Oppression and Potential Salvation: The role of bullying in “Nerd,” “Geek” and Comic Book Cultures


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