“Wimmen’s Comix” Taught Young Women, Feminism Is Anti-Sexism, Not Just Anti-Male

Trina Robbins replicated her own experience of comics; ““They made me feel like I could be the heroine of a comic book, like I could be anything.”

A typical dictionary describes feminism as “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” Noted author and feminist activist bell hooks puts it more simply in her book Feminism is for Everybody, “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” For Trina Robbins, changing the climate of the comic book world demanded this latter definition of feminism: ending sexist exploitation and oppression.

The Comics Magazine Association of America made an authoritative code in 1954 that banned images of sex, drugs, violence, and socially progressive content in mainstream comics. In the late 1960s, artists like Robert Crumb and Gary Panter heralded in the underground commix movement, selling comics outside of these regulations in local head shops. Unfortunately, this liberation led to crude depictions of women being degraded, humiliated or even sexually assaulted.

As a child, Robbins was a fan of comics that didn’t favor the damsel in distress. She preferred strong female leads like Hellcat, Wonder Woman, and Mary Marvel. In the 1970s she made her debut writing comics for It Ain’t Me Babe, America’s first feminist newspaper based in the California Bay Area. The comic followed the struggles of Belinda Berkeley, who faced the then-common drama of a bad office job while her husband was the true breadwinner.

Feminist Comic Book Cover

Robbins began her comic book career in the 1970s, writing comics for the first feminist magazine in America. (source)

After teaming up with Barbara “Willy” Mendes, Robbins comic evolved into the first all-women’s comic book, “It Ain’t Me Babe Comix”. Local artists Lisa Lyons and Meredith Kurtzman were brought on board to create stories which featured strong female comic characters such as Olive Oyl, Little Lulu, Sheena and Elsie the Cow. These familiar characters were revamped as they joined the women’s liberation movement, participating in protests and no longer sitting idly by as sidekicks or damsels in distress.

A Woman's Comic

“Wimmen’s Comix” made history with their boldfaced depiction of real issues that women struggled with. (source)

This work helped Robbins come to terms with her distresses about patriarchal culture. Her work evolved even further into “Wimmen’s Comix.” Working as a collective, the comic welcomed new artists, giving them a debut in a medium they may never have ventured into. In the introduction to The Complete Wimmen’s Comix, Robbins said, “Many of the women who submitted to us had never drawn a comic before, and it showed. But we were more interested in giving women a voice than in how professionally they could pencil and ink.”

“Wimmen’s Comix” embraced the feminist perspective fully, fleshing out how feminism and feminist stances could be understood. The stories covered a variety of topics from being in an illegal abortion clinic to struggling with body image and weight-loss regimens. From Harriet Tubman to masturbation and menstruation, the “Wimmen’s Comix” developed a veritable smorgasbord of the female experience and the challenges – and triumphs – of feminism.

The collective persisted for seventeen issues. In spite of difficulties in distributing the “Wimmen’s Comix” in mainstream comic book stores, the effect of Robbins’ hard work can hardly be overlooked. Women today have become avid participants in both creating and enjoying comic books. Robbins’ bravery in overcoming the odds and starting a feminist comic book has opened doors for young women today.

“Wimmen’s Comix” broke the barrier between women and cliché comic book stories, and helped to reform the antiquated notion of feminism as strictly anti-male. Robbins incredible work -giving female artists their time to shine, covering issues relevant to women, and allowing female characters to fulfill meaningful lead roles in their own lives – reaffirmed the idea that above all else feminism is anti-sexism and sexist exploitation.

Photo source.

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