Thursday, March 31, 2011

Three Different Romance Comic Book Publishers ♥ Three Different Views of the Women's Movement

On this last day of Women's History Month, I have for you three romance stories. Three! Yes, three! All from February of 1972, these stories come from Charlton, Marvel, and DC, respectively. It is no surprise that all three of these stories date to the same month -- the first sample issue of Ms. magazine was published just two months earlier, and the Equal Rights Amendment was approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate by the end of March in 1972. With all going on in society, romance comics had no choice but to keep up!


First, let's start out with the Charlton story, "Let Me Alone!" from Love and Romance #4 (February 1972). Charlton's output of stories concerning the Women's Movement has varied in tone with some stories on the more sensitive side à la "A Strange Good-Bye" and some like "I Hate You, Darling" with openly hostile characters. "Let Me Alone!" is definitely a story which makes a statement on the Women's Movement. But what sort of statement? Keep reading to find out!


Pam Burney is a successful executive computer analyst who isn't about to let any man get in the way of proving her worth to the company -- especially co-worker Glen Wasdell.


When invited to a party hosted by their boss, Pam tells Glen she will pick him up and not the other way around. While on her way to her car, Pam can't help but sneak a peek at the latest of fashions in a nearby shop window.


Pam passes that evening on new duds and admits that in public, she works hard to maintain her "image as a career woman." We as readers, however, are privy to Pam's dreams in which she and Glen carry on a romance. In real life, Pam ditches the provocative clothing of her dreams and wears instead to the party a sensible white blouse and knee-length skirt. During the evenings festivities, their boss compliments Pam and Glen both, saying that they are his two best young analysts. Instead of taking the compliment, Pam says to her boss, "If you expect me to swoon over being called 'as good as' Glen Wasdell, you'll be disappointed." Their boss takes Pam aside to let her know that it is not her sex, but her poor attitude towards her coworkers that will prevent her from reaching the top.


In a strange turn that seems typically Charlton, Pam removes her "Femme Lib outfit" to reveal a sexy romper underneath. Apparently, Pam takes the recommendation from her boss to be nicer as a cue to lose her convictions and appeal to the desires of her male co-worker. The end of the story has Pam declaring that her "preoccupation with Women's Lib" has ended and that she has surrendered.

♥♥♥

Next up is the bittersweet Marvel story, "One Fleeting Moment..!" from Our Love Story #15 (February 1972).


Linda and Dave meet at a party, are instantly smitten with one another, and spend the whole night dancing and laughing.


Dave already knew an important tidbit about Linda from their hostess -- she was soon leaving for the Peace Corps in Africa. He mentions that he is also leaving -- to go to medical school in Europe. They agree to just have fun during the time they do have, but the dates on the calendar loom over them.


The weeks wear on and suddenly, September arrives and their parting is imminent. Having fallen in love with Dave, Linda is completely devastated. Dave loves Linda too, but reminds her that they must be true to their dreams and commitments.


Agreeing that they both must follow their individual paths, they decide to part with only fond memories of their brief time together. In her heart, Linda is hopeful that the future will bring a reunification.

♥♥♥

Our final story for the month is "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Love!" from Young Love #92 (February 1972).


The title is actually misleading as it implies a choice to be made. Read on to find why that is not necessarily the case for our leading lady!


As Janis and Perry make their way to the boathouse late one evening, Perry slips up and accidentally in affection, calls his girlfriend "baby." Janis, who never lets a man carry her lunch tray or open doors for her, is furious and accuses him of being a typical chauvinist male.


But we see that Perry isn't all that bad -- on a following day he and Janis attend their Women's Lib group meeting to prepare for a demonstration to be held at a football game. Perry helps by distributing literature. At the demonstration, Janis isn't fazed by the nasty looks and jeers she receives from people who aren't on board with the Women's Movement. While standing her ground, Janis is trampled by a group of giddy young ladies with hopes of touching a football player. Suddenly in the confusion, a gorgeous football player scoops her up, saving her from further injury. He carries her to the team doctor who tapes up her twisted ankle.


Just as Janis begins to welcome the football player's chivalry, he tells her that "Things like picketing -- job security...civil rights -- they're strictly men's problems." Understandably horrified, Janis demands to be let out of the cab and lets her companion know that he is one of the creeps inhibiting the progress of women.


Already feeling bad about her susceptibility to the affection displayed by the football player, Janis is confronted by her Women's Lib group -- primarily the leader -- strict, glasses-wearing Harriet. The two get into it, and Harriet reprimands Janis for falling prey to the male ego. Janis tells Harriet that she is a dictator and asserts that femininity and equality can make for apt bedfellows.


Janis quits the group, vowing to find another that supports her viewpoints. In the meantime, it is Perry who stands by Janis's side as both boyfriend and ally.

♥♥♥

From today's viewpoint, Charlton's take on the Women's Movement is nutty to say the least, but stands as a testament to the various opinions of the changes occurring in society. Marvel's take on the societal changes of the 1970s definitely is more palatable to the reader of today, and one that in my opinion is more romantic -- but still implies that being feminist means abandoning love. I myself prefer the DC take -- one in which love and romance are compatible with equality and feminism.

It has been a discussion-filled month here at Sequential Crush and I would love to hear your thoughts on these three stories! As always, thanks for reading!

9 comments:

  1. I'm no psychologist, but the DC & Marvel heroines seem very well-adjusted compared to Charlton's Pam. Stern to slutty after just one conversation with the boss? ("Like wow!") That Glen better watch out; he's destined to find a boiling rabbit in his kitchen.

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  2. I find it really fascinating that all three publishers tackled the same issue the same month.

    Now, the Marvel story is the hardest to digest. When picking up a book in this genre, we are cheering for romance. Romance is the really hero. And we want to see our hero win against any opposition.

    However, because our romance didn't triumph I find myself looking for a villain. And here is where I find myself becoming suspicious of the guy. It almost seems as if he takes advantage of the women’s movement. He can have a girl without a commitment. He undermines romance—reduces its power and its influence.

    Of course, we can never know if our guy is the true villain, or if this story reveals a counter-effect of the women’s movement: it is possible he was only provoked into taking advantage of the situation.

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  3. I can’t help myself – for sheer entertainment value, I like the Charlton one best. The message is really horrific, I know: To get ahead, a woman needs to dress like a hooker and offer herself sexually (even for spur of the moment party quickies) to whatever male is dominant. I grant you, this is not a life philosophy comics should be promoting. Still, that last page is so jarring – so disgusting, really – that I can’t help loving it for its complete cluelessness – it’s crass bluntness.“Oh, wow! You know, I had a dream about you Pamela . . . and you looked just like this!” (I bet that’s true). And thank heavens Pamela decided to shuck her “Femme Lib” outfit, which as a sharp looking women’s business suit that made her look . . . well, I was going to say professional – but her outfit on that last page makes her look like a professional, too, just one of a different sort.

    And I just love the mouth-dropping-open value of that next to last panel: “I played the role. I flirted, giggled, and turned them all on! Then, it was time to get down to the nitty-gritty.” The use of the word “them” in this quote makes the imagination reel. And then, finally, "I dreamed of you, Glen . . . we were doing . . . "

    Holy cats! When young Pamela surrenders, she doesn’t go by half-measures, does she? “Surrendering” indeed.

    You know, this is the first comic I’ve ever really seen that might have “corrupted young minds.”

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  4. Mykal, Hi.

    I’m not sure the author is telling us that she ‘got ahead’ by wearing sexy clothes. Just that she gave-in and dropping her professional image. At most, the author is suggesting that she gave up her career. Unless I missed something.

    But you bring up an interesting discussion.

    When the heroine in our Charlton story wears ‘sexy attire’ it supposed to be a sign to the readers of her submission and surrender. Though, some have felt empowered by the same—I recall Aguilera’s ‘dirty’ phase. And yet in other cultures ‘covering up’ is seen as a sign of submission. Obviously there is a clear connection to a woman's dress, a woman’s power, and a woman’s sexuality. Though, it seems not many have agreed throughout the ages.

    For me, I’m not sure why the author built conflict around her dress anyway. She could do both—dress attractively and be a professional. But one thing is for sure, the artist did a good job of making her look terrible in her professional suit. If I looked like that, I would have dreams of dressing better too!

    Though, the story’s flaws (or author’s hastiness) are most revealing on another issue altogether. I agree with Jacque, the boss’ advice is supposed to be the catalyst toward the ending. Yet, the two are so disconnected that we are not convinced of any casual relationship.

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  5. Justin (and Jacque, of course!): The thing that Pam (in that first Charlton story) has "given up" is her notion that she can get ahead without using her sexual attractiveness and availability in the workplace as tools of advancement. Her purposeful flirting, giggling, and turning on all the men at the party - and her very conscious awareness of herself doing same - is her taking her boss's advance to the nth degree. Her new attire is part of this. Giving up her career? I don’t think so. ”I played the role . . .” she tells us. Does that sound like a young lady tossing off her career aspirations? Prior to the last page, Pamela has demonstrated no attraction to Glen at all – yet suddenly (responding quickly to his mention of his dreaming of her) she tells him that she has dreamt of having sex with him. Again, she has taken the boss’s advice and has run with it.

    In the repulsive logic of this comic story, a woman’s worth is strictly sexual – being “attractive” is the only real tool a woman has to rise professionally. Skill, ambition, and talent are not enough. A woman must be very obviously sexual and respond to men sexually. What Pam has surrendered is her “women’s lib” notion that a woman can get ahead on skill and talent (like men do). This pigheaded belief has made her unpopular with her co-workers. On that last page, when her boss looks on, cigar stuck in his face, and leers bug-eyed, “Pamela! Like, wow!” the comic is telling us her advancement at work is a given.

    I didn’t think she looked bad at all in that pant suit.

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  6. Ah, I suppose we should emphasize the word “them” in the second to last panel. Here we are led to interpret the party as an office party. While I don’t think this is explicit (and I didn’t pick this up the first read!) I do agree.

    I do think the story is very explicit on one issue though, “…if my co-workers liked me I’d be judged on my ability… and not my sex."

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  7. Hey Boosterrific, Mykal and Justin: Thanks for your well thought out replies to this post! It is amazing how one little romance story can spark conversation -- very cool!

    Justin - the Marvel story is interesting when you think about it like that. But, I guess since it is a romance story we have to have faith that he was being honest about his feelings and not just swooping in for an easy fling!

    Mykal and Justin: It is hard to know whether Pam gave up her career after "surrendering" -- is it just me or does it seem as if the semi-ambiguity of these Charlton stories acts primarily to torture us modern day readers?! Haha! One thing is apparent from this discussion and the story itself -- the important role of fashion and the conundrum of beauty in women's history (corsets anyone?) and the shaping of self-worth and equity. I am going to have to think on this story more... you have brought up some really interesting points, guys!

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  8. I think the last panel in the Charlton story betrays the authors intention. Women's lib was a "preoccupation", not a serious concern. The writer makes it clear that equality in the workplace is a frivolous notion and, for the woman to be happy she has to "surrender" to a man. There is no sense of balance on the issue of womens lib in this story, and that is a shame.

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  9. Nick: That is why I really like the DC story -- balance. Equality is portrayed as being compatible with romance!

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