I've followed a few links to Lea Hernandez's LiveJournal post, Why I Quit Comics. First, I respect Ms. Hernandez' decision, and yes, that panel (I haven't read the comic yet) is a bit much. Does it work in any level in the story? I won't know til I read it, but I suspect the shot could've been done a bit differently, not be so in your face, and still portray Vickie Vale as a sexual creature and make her the focus of the panel. However, when you tell Jim Lee you want an ass shot, by golly, you'll get a ass shot, and it was certainly well drawn.
I've only skimmed the other blog entries about this (I'll read more closely tonight), but off the top of my head, I have a few thoughts.
Not since I started reading comics back in 1960 (I think I saw a few in '58 and '59, but my real comic reading began when I was 7), all through the '60s and '70s, more than half of the '80s, and steadily since the mid-'90s, have I ever really been bothered by how women are portrayed. I tend to pay more attention to the male characters, and there were always a few females to provide role models or whatever, not the least of whom were Lois Lane, Wonder Girl, and Supergirl back when I was growing up. The latter 2 were also teens, and I could relate.
Sure, I know women are objectified in comics. That won't change til there's something close to a balance in male and female writers, artists, and editors. Teenaged boys have always been the main target and girls who, like me, like(d) superheros were/are the exceptions. The comic book publishers want to court female readers to keep the medium viable in the age of electronic entertainments, but with comics aimed at girls, not by revamping the superhero realm. Which makes the upcoming switch of the Hawkman comic to Hawkgirl an interesting development.
What really always drove me nuts was the lack of equality for female readers. I didn't want to read just Archies and Katy Keene and romance comics. And when I read superheros, I liked seeing the guys in tights and the occasional crotch shot (unlike Ragnell, I'm not much of a butt shot lover). I love that Hawkman not only has a muscular, hairy chest, but that we get to see it. All the time he's in costume. I thought it was silly that some male characters had to run around in short pants, most notably Robin, because their legs didn't interest me as much as a peek at the "package." (Just how glad is Superman to see Lois, anyway?)
Sex sells. I don't know that there was ever a time when it didn't. And most superhero books aren't for little kids. They're aimed at teens. And well, teens think about sex, a lot. And the average comic book buyer is a fanboy, not a fangirl. Not til the readership levels off to something resembling equality will the publishers even consider that they should change. Or they lose too many readers to other pursuits and then they create more of the tamer "female-oriented" comics and we're back to the nothing for girls/women who like superheros dilemma. What to read?
I'm a Modesty Blaise fan and there wasn't a storyline I can think of where she wasn't stipped down to her undies at some point. If we were lucky, we got to see Willie's chest. And that didn't stop Modesty from being one of the strongest female characters who ever carried a comic strip or book series and could probably do well today in a regular comic book with the right author.
I'm also a Codename: Knockout fan, where I first saw Ed Benes's art. What he drew in Supergirl and Birds of Prey was tame by comparison. I mention him because someone else did as an example of gratuitous art re: females and I think that's unfair. He's a wonderful artist and Gail Simone has said in interviews (I can't recall where so I can't get the links) that he's from a culture where people don't make a fuss about revealing the female body the way we do in the US.
And of course, sexism isn't unique to comics. For the longest time, female science fiction writers used pseudonyms that were neutral or masculine in order to get published and have the reading public buy their books. Not til she died did many people discover that James Tiptree, Jr. was a woman.
I suppose people can say that such gratuitous art and the objectification of females in comics doesn't bother me because I was raised with it and I'm an example of why it's bad, that I'm a repressed female or some such. And nothing can be further from the truth. I insist on being referred to as Ms., both when I was single and now that I'm married. I did not take my husband's surname when I married, nor did I hyphenate my name. I have kept a credit card in my name to maintain my individual credit rating. I still have the Ms. Magazine Opening Doors keychain I got as a gift for subscribing to the magazine 30 years ago (I dropped it when it got boring) and prefer movies and TV shows considered male-oriented and like few things considered female-oriented ("Sex and the City" made me want to barf.)
And I believe true liberation means that people of either sex can be what they want, provided they can see to their own needs. If you can't support yourself without working, then you should work. And if that means a stay-at-home wife with a working husband or a stay-at-home husband with a working wife, then whatever. No one should be put down for the choices they make in life. Even if that choice is to dance semi-nude in the laps of people of the opposite sex. As long as society hasn't pushed them into that role, then who I am to say they shouldn't do it.
To get a better balance in comics or any medium, we need to change perceptions and that entails hard work. It means pushing. It means getting girls reading comics and demanding more. It means getting more women into the creative and editorial end. Remember, before Paul Levitz, the person running DC Comics was a woman, Jeanette Kahn, and when she got the job, it was big news. And she knew where the money was and what sold, yet I have to believe that she's part of the reason DC has had some amazing female characters, because I want to believe that she created an atmosphere that allowed them to be developed.
Would another woman have come to the same conclusion/decision Lea Hernandez has? Maybe. Maybe not. Would I? I don't know. That would depend on the actual situation I was in. What I can't do, because I'm not walking in her shoes, is say that she was wrong, even if I wish she'd done differently.
Okay, so maybe this has been more than a few thoughts. :)