Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Women in Wheelchairs: A Case Study in Inequality

Comic books are largely a static medium. Captain America will always be the straight-laced, optimistic, idealistic soldier. Superman will always be the incredibly powerful yet distant hero. The X-men will always be the oppressed minority. No matter how many new twists comic book writers throw in there (I'm looking at you, Electric Superman), the characters by and large come back to home base. 

So what has baffled me for a long time is that in a fantastical world with insane technological advances, magicians who can rewrite reality, and people who can reform matter by thinking too hard at it... Barbara Gordon can't get her spine fixed. While I'm of the opinion that Babs is more interesting as Oracle, the info-hacker extraordinaire, on top of the fact that she can absolutely hold her own despite being wheelchair bound... it doesn't really follow internal DC logic that someone wouldn't have figured out a way to make our favorite red-headed crusader of the night (sorry Kate) all walkable.

Comic artist and illustrator Erica Henderson has wondered the exact same thing and produced a light-hearted and fab comic piece addressing this exact issue [source]:



5 betches:

Kuhnsy said...

IT'S TRUE! At least with characters like Proxy it feels like they just don't have the right connections, but Babs? Batman would have dropped a BUTT TON of dollars to repair her back! At least at Marvel it's a white boy with a debilitating amputation that people are too lazy to build prosthetics for (Hellion, as foiled by Karma's new robo-leg).

Of course, now that we have a paraplegic superhero, do we want comic books to become less diverse by growing her a new spine?

g_whiz said...

I don't know, I think Barbera Gordon is infinitley more interesting and important as Oracle than she could ever be as Batgirl. In fact, I've been somewhat fearful the Powers that Be would magically "fix" her like they've done Professor Xavier every third year or so. For people who do have disabilities reading comics, it probably comes off a little of a slight to have being crippled as something someone can just "get over" as casually as its depitced in comic books. Sure cyborg augmentation is fun, but Oracle is powerful and important, perhaps moreso because her disability has stuck. She's overcome this awful brutalization by the Joker and become a stronger person because of it. If she were just to magically recover, I think it would reduce her significance. Take Birds of Prey as an example, self- assured, confident, highly capable and when the occasion calls for it, action hero, despite having a disability. Professor Xavier was the only other high profile wheelchair bound character, but as I alluded...he "gets better" quite a lot. I remember the last time he was "fixed" I wondered how people who identified with his handicap would think/feel about that. Oracle though? Badass as she is.

Maria X said...

I'm a person with a disability, disability advocate and peer support leader.

I know people with acquired disabilities who passionately want their non-disabled selves back, want to walk rather than roll etc. I know other people with acquired disabilities who think being about to get around is more important than how they do it - instead of fighting to walk (or whatever), they fight for more accessible world, any equipment and services they need, try to build a new live for themselves as a person with a disability.

Christopher Reeve was a *very* controversial figure in the disability community - a *lot* of us argued "walking is over-rated, accessibility/rights more important than cure". Similar debates in the autism community now.

Cyborg exoskeletons exist *now* (both strength-increasing and make-paraplegic-walk varieties). Some people with disabilities I know are very interested. Others think "unnecessary, walking is overrated".

Babs is clearly a "walking is overrated" social model girl. And you know? A lot of people I know prefer their characters with disabilities that way. No magical recovery, Disability Superpowers, Disability Immunity etc. Wait a few years, and they might get their head around the exoskeleton option. When cost comes down a *lot*, and broadly available to people with disabilities in the community.

Maria X said...

Shifting from a real-life example to comic book one:
X-Men. Cure (ie vaccine to suppress the X-gene) becomes available. Some mutants take the cure. Some don't want it, scared it will be forced on them, determined to prevent that.

And yes, the X-Men *does* have to do with disability. And I'm not just talking Professor X.
* X-Men, Physical Impairment and Disabling Society: http://is.gd/lnGbj2
* Thoughts on Autism inspired by the Autism Trilogy: http://is.gd/n3eFzk
* The X-Men and Autism: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIwDGen1ip4

Kuhnsy said...

MARIA X WHY ARE WE NOT FACEBOOK FRIENDS?? YOU ARE AWESOME AND EXPANDING MY MIND!

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