Monday, September 17, 2007

It's a Woman's World!

There are occasions where my academic research pursuits and my interest in comics fruitfully overlap, most notably in the representation of gender issues. And other than runs of Lois Lane covers from the 1970s, nothing has made the my academic brain explode more than this story: "It's a Woman's World," written by John Broome, drawn by Bob Oksner and Bernard Sachs, and originally published in Mystery in Space 8 (1952) and reprinted here in From Beyond the Unknown 11 (1971).

Now, those of you familiar with the Silver Age comic writing of John Broome, most notably in Green Lantern, know that the scripter had an ambivalent, at best, relationship with feminist issues of the day. He was responsible for creating Carol Ferris, one of the first female business executives on comics, but she spent most of her work time trying to figure out ways to date Green Lantern while also facing constant sexual harassment from one of her employees, Hal Jordan. So, we can imagine his view of a future Earth completely dominated by women to be, as we say, problematic.

This efficient 8-page story begins with a history lesson of how the matriarchal order of the 33rd century came to be.

This whole page is worthy of further study. First, Broome's predictions about the future do not seem terribly optimistic for women, and they certainly don't bode well for Hillary Clinton's 2008 Presidential campaign. Broome imagines that first, in 2980, a woman will be elected "President of the Earth Federation," and then, 20 years later, women will then replace men in other key power positions. So, rather than have a gradual shifting of power that moves through a position of equilibrium and equality, the evolutionary change from patriarchy to matriarchy is sudden. By the 33rd century, the business world, politics, the military, and athletics all become dominated exclusively by women, while men, as the penultimate panel notes, are relegated to "the roles of domestics and housekeepers." (And, if Greg's cute little shorts ensemble is any indication, they are also objectified.)

However, the seeds to undermine the matriarchy are planted in young Greg Dexter's head, as he wonders why he must stay at home and vacuum while women get to do fun things like go to rocket cadet school. While Greg tries to imagine a different world, news breaks of an invasion from the planet Thebor, and a call goes out to volunteers for special training to deal with Thebor's harsh environment. Greg sees this as an opportunity and quickly volunteers, though his request is met with scorn and rejection because men do not have the natural abilities needed to succeed in combat.

After persisting, Greg receives admittance to the training program, but only to prove once and for all that men can't handle the rigors of military life.

As one might expect, Greg's first day at the academy is met with wolf whistles and catcalls, though Greg doesn't seem to mind the attention.

In fact, he seems to invite it, thus further perpetuating the "he was asking for it" sexual harassment defense 400 years into the future:

Greg manages to successfully complete all of the training, but when the raid on Thebor takes place, he's left to "guard the ship" while the women attack the target.

The attack, of course, goes horribly wrong, and Greg is the only one left to save his senior officer, Captain Stella. The rescue immediately warms up Stella to the heroic qualities of men:

(I also love the idea that, in the future, women's military uniforms will include fishnet stockings. At least the women are wearing flats and not heels.)

Upon returning to Earth, Greg is treated like a hero. Now, one would expect that Greg's heroism would be a big step toward equality of the sexes; however, that is not the case:

Instead, the patriarchal status quo is restored, with women returning to their submissive domestic positions and men returning to their dominant roles. In fact, Stella seems particularly glad to lose the yoke of leadership in the end.

Below are some of the letter-page reactions that appeared in From Beyond the Unknown 13, in response to the reprinting of this story. As you can see, the response was strongly negative, and 1971 readers found the story to be reactionary.


Mike V. Scholtz said...

Deep. Thought-provoking. Sexy. Now THIS is the kind of "adult" content I've come to expect from your blog. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Mama-pajama! I REMEMBER that story! I had that comic when I was like 10 years old! Thanks for giving my memory brain cells a jolt!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps one day it'll be reprinted in a TPB: "John Broome, Thought-Criminal."

Anonymous said...

Hi there boys. It's been lovely observing your fascinated musings on us women -- I just noticed that from start to finish (comic, blog post, blog comments, reader letters) this has been one long conversation between men about women. Good to know you all are still interested, and that we remain such a mystery after all these years! We'll be waving to you from the Oval Office while we fix up the messes you've made of the world! (I guess we just can't stop cleaning things up, even as world leaders). Thanks for the support, no thanks for the oppression.

- A Proper Lady

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