Equality is a cornerstone of human development and I think that the world has collectively reached unparalleled levels of gender equality. More women and girls hold positions of power and decision-making in politics, education and the economy than ever before in human history. The notion of a person being refused a job or being refused an education based on their sex or gender is just unthought-of.
And yet when you Google the phrase “Women should…”, Autocomplete throws back phrases like “not work”; “stay at home”; “not vote”; “not go to college”; “not wear pants”. We live in a “post-sexism” world but these prejudices still run rampant worldwide. Isn’t that kind of weird? That it’s normal for a woman college professor to lecture to hundreds of students every day but she shouldn’t wear pants? Or shouldn’t vote?
In the comic book community, we’ve experienced the rise of Gail Simone’s Batgirl, Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel, and John H. Williams II’s Batwoman. Batgirl is a recovering person with a disability, Captain Marvel used to be Ms. Marvel before she took up the new job, and Batwoman is an LGBT character, the first to star in her own mainstream series. The success and prominence of these characters and their writers is used as evidence to show that the role of women in comics is changing. How much has it changed, though? Because the overwhelming majority of women are drawn wearing skimpy over-sexualized outfits posing in the most awkward positions imaginable to give readers full view of both their butts and breasts. Then when creators are called out on this, they make the claim that comic books are for boys over and over again.
The problem at the heart of this issue is culture. Our culture breeds these kinds of views and responses – that women have narrow roles in society; that men are better at doing certain things; that female sexuality is for the consumption of men. And frankly, it’s ridiculous. I’m not here to talk about comic book culture’s more explicit sexism and misogyny, though. I want to address something that’s a little bit more invisible – a kind of sexism that hides behind people’s appreciation of feminist icons, because sometimes even when people try to elevate the status of women characters in comics they almost always fall short of genuinely giving them the respect they deserve as full-fledged characters and individuals.
Lois Lane is an intrepid reporter, fighter for the truth, an individual who is so deeply passionate about doing good that she regularly puts herself in harm’s way. But it’s never JUST that – Superman has to be brought into the equation. She always has to be put into the context of Superman’s world. Her amazing character and qualities are shrunk down to being “what completes Superman”. Heck, even her soon-to-be-released one-shot Superman: Lois Lane #1 has the word “Superman” in the title, as if we don’t know who Lois Lane is. But I get it. People want to express their appreciation for a relationship that has stood the test of time – it’s Lois and Superman! Who doesn’t know Lois and Superman? But do people love Lois Lane or do they love Lois Lane and Superman? Fans of the power couple tout her unique ability to complete Superman and connect him to humanity, especially when they want to compare Lois to Wonder Woman. But in this endless war of ships, I think we’ve forgotten something really important – the characters.
One of the most common arguments made in favor of Lois and Superman’s status as the power couple is that Lois Lane fights evil with words and Superman fights with his fists, as if that is like saying they are peanut butter and jelly. Sure, this kind of analogy puts part of their relationship into focus but it seriously disrespects Lois’s role in the story. In fact, it disrespects Clark’s, too. Lois does, more often than not, get into life-threatening situations because of her work – but it’s more than that. It’s more than just Lois doing the scouting and Superman coming in with the big guns. Lois fights evil because she believes in the notion that if you do bad things, then you should be held accountable for them. And then, she exposes them for the world to see so that she is not the only one who knows what they did. This, ladies and gentlemen, is so very important to society and putting Lois Lane and Superman in a blatantly sexist dichotomy is stupid. Lois Lane is the human/Superman is the superhuman. Lois Lane does the thinking/Superman does the punching. Lois Lane is the reporter/Superman is the leader. Lois Lane and Superman are not just one or the other. More often than not, they’re both and putting them in a sexist dichotomy like this doesn’t give either character the respect they deserve.
The other thing that people tend to say when they want to show you how badass Lois Lane is, is that “She does all these cool things and she doesn’t even have superpowers”. What? When did having superpowers become the default state? Even when people want to appreciate her lack of superhuman powers, they still compare her to Superman! But the fact of the matter is, if reading Superman teaches people anything – it’s not about the superpowers. It’s never been about the superpowers.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Lois Lane is a great character and she should be appreciated for her own contributions to comic book history. Lois Lane was the first woman of DC Comics. That’s huge. She was there before Lex Luthor, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, Jor-El, before the Kents! They all came later. But Lois? Lois beat them all to the finish line.
What’s special about Superman is that he will always make the right choice – he is better than other leaders of humanity because instead of “absolute power, corrupting absolutely”, absolute power has liberated him from the evil human emotions of greed, jealousy, and hatred. When it comes to Lois, what is special about her is that she is the human embodiment of who Superman is. She takes on the corrupt absolute powers head-on because she believes that they should be held responsible for their actions – this isn’t Superman talking to “the people” and telling them all of this goody-two-shoes stuff. Lois Lane already represents all the good qualities that exist in humanity. She is a regular person who has taken up Superman’s work before there was ever even such a thing as Superman. Heck, Clark fell in love with her because he has met the person that he wishes he was. That is what people don’t understand about Lois Lane – they don’t understand how big and how super she actually is. And we still need Lois Lane to remind us of who she is and why she’s still with us today.