Thursday, 8 April 2010

Casual Sexism

I was at my parents over Easter where my Dad had discovered an old Bunty Summer Special from 1972. For non-British readers, Bunty was a highly successful girl’s comic published by D.C. Thompson & Co. (home of the Beano and Dandy) between 1958 and 2001 (43 years and over 2,200 issues!) although they still produce a Christmas annual every now and then.

I love reading all these old comics—not only for trying to discover classic artists (Sean Philips started out drawing girls’ comics and Pat Mills cut his writing teeth working on DC Thompson’s girls’ titles) but also in the discovery of just how pernicious and prevalent the inherent sexism was, just 38 years ago.
The Summer Special is made up of mostly reprints from possibly the Sixties and the most glaringly obvious piece of sexual propaganda is the strip, Tommy the Tomboy. The premise involves an independent woman, Carol Lawson, who inherits a college, but in order to make ends meet she has to teach anybody anything. So far, so good. It all goes wrong when Mrs. Ponsonby—secretary of the “Feminine Freedom Fighters”—who declares “We are working for equality for women. And the only way is for women to be the same as men, able to take over all their jobs” and promptly drops her daughter, Thomasina, off to learn “to be a man.”

The lessons take the form of a boxing match, marching, shovelling coal into a furnace and digging a drainage ditch.

But then Thomasina’s mother returns with shocking news that she is to inherit a fortune from a dead uncle, but only on the proviso that she has been brought up in a “Feminine” manner and that a lawyer is on the way to verify this. But it’s too late! “Tommy” has been “tainted” with male ways and acts like an oaf!
Fortunately Carol remembers a previous incident where Tommy was afraid of a mouse, and she releases a rodent in front of the gathering. Tommy jumps up on a chair and screams. 

At which point the lecherous lawyer says, “I must confess I had my doubts, but that was really feminine behaviour! I like an old-fashioned girl who needs masculine protection! There will be no difficulty with the will, I promise you.” Yeesh!

The story is very obviously written by a man (as many of the girls’ comics were back then) and the disturbing message is two-fold: Don’t try and be like a man, that’s just silly; and sure, stick to your ideals of feminism, but if a big fat pile of cash comes along chuck your ideology out the window and simper and fawn to the man in the room. Finally Carol reinforces the notion that women are there merely to be servile by stating “That’s what I’m here for—to make people happy.” Really? I thought you were running a college where you taught people? Guess I was wrong.

"Wake up" - Rage Against the Machine

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