Books have been around for centuries. Novels, poetry, literature, fiction, self-help and almost anything else under the sun, as they are, after all, one of the quickest ways to spread knowledge and entertainment or simply a message to a large and varied number of people. A relatively newer addition to the seemingly never-ending list is the genre of comics. Filled with illustrations, more than the words, which are few, the pictures tell the story. Amongst this exciting new genre, is a rather well known type of comic book known as the ‘Archie’s comics’
The comics first debut, in December 1941, took the world by storm, fast becoming an international phenomena. These books proceeded to be sold in several different countries, thereby reaching a vast number of people.
While it is highly unlikely that the creators of these comics were misogynistic fiends, there is undoubtedly the presence of sexist implications and issues concerning gender, which would reach the members of this vast audience, consciously and perhaps subconsciously as well. The comics were created with teenagers as the targeted audience, due to its content, which revolves around typical teenagers lives, high school, love triangles and humor. This means that these comic books have an impact on the growing minds of the youth, creating what could be a life long impact on their perspective and what they believe in. When books have the power to do this, should it not be considered whether the information seeping into the minds of the future generations are not partial to a certain gender?
Since comics do involve the majority of their existence around a visual aspect, it is fair to throw light on the fact that all the women look the same. Yes, it’s true and may come as a surprise to many, however, the exact generic features apply to almost all of the female characters in the comic. Betty, Veronica, Midge, Josie and even Nancy and Valerie, who are black characters. Aside from the darker tone, all of their faces are exactly the same and this signifies that the women are absolutely interchangeable, aside from their hair. The only time women break this pattern are if they are undesirable or out of the social order in any way. For example, the character big Ethel is drawn differently, strictly to illustrate that she is undesirable.
In contrast, the male characters in the book each have unique features and their own distinctive look. While Archie has a round face and nose with thick eyebrows, Reggie has a completely different square face with thin eyebrows. This applies to all of the male characters.
Another note-able visual related area of the series is the physical size of the female characters. Almost every female character is thin with a smaller than average waist size, and if a character doesn’t fit the perfect skinny, tall and tiny waist requirements, that particular woman is criticized or made an outsider of sorts (for example Ethel who was a ‘flatter’ figure was described as more ’manly’). This sets a pretty much unrealistic goal for the majority of women, especially taking into account the fact that the majority of Archie’s readers are pre teen girls.
While the visuals play an important role, it is a combination of this as well as words that help frame the story line and develop the characters and their expression. A key point regarding this is Betty’s (one of the main female roles in the series) attitude toward Archie. Betty is a character portrayed as a hardworking loyal person, who does everything herself. However, there is a sense of dependency indicated through how much she wants Archie and how she would do anything for him, making him take her for granted. “Archie, did you have trouble rescuing me?” and “oh Archie, you say the nicest things” are a small part of the many examples of Betty cooing nonsense around Archie. This implies that even a supposedly ‘independent’ woman, has a sense of dependency toward a man. Furthermore, one of the main themes in the whole series is the love triangle between Archie and the two female leads, Betty and Veronica, where both the girls fight over Archie. No surprise there, as why shouldn’t a whole book series revolve around girls fighting over a man?
Another very specific point to call attention upon is the fact that the high school’s cook (the school being an integral part of the storyline of the this comic book series) is unsurprisingly a woman, who goes by the character ‘Bernice Beasely’, known for concoctions that are always notoriously foul. This just aids in the infamous sexist stereotype that women belong in the kitchen.
Lastly (but definitely not the least) the comics display an average American household situation where the men, or fathers of the characters go to work and the mothers are stay at home women who take care of the house. The issue with this is the fact that men work and women stay at home is so ingrained in the mindset of the average American mass population, it is normalized enough to be put into a whole comic series as a nothing out of the ordinary, non-questionable, omnipresent aspect. It is no secret that women have been subjected to inequality in working environments for years and looked as not capable enough to work, to a certain degree. This concept is clearly projected in the comic series, only to be further ingrained in the mind of readers all over the globe.
To conclude, taking the sexist features into account, these can leave lasting subconscious messages in a readers mind, no matter how unintentional. Perhaps a refreshing change would be a comic series where women are portrayed with a rightful sense of equality and are not objectified to any degree.
–By Simran Ailawadhi,