Is Flashpoint #1 Sexist?

Flashpoint #1

There has been a bit of controversy over Flashpoint #1.  Most of it stemming over one panel where Captain Cold utters the words “But a guy like me, hell any guy, steps foot on the good ol U.K….I heard you’re singing soprano.” Captain Cold is clearly referencing to the fact that the Amazons are castrating men.

Now, DC Women Kicking Ass posted that they were concerned with the possible sexist statement by Cold and the possible sexist treatment of the Amazons in Flashpoint #1.  They linked to a post by Colin Smith at Too Busy Thinking About My Comics.

I would highly encourage you to read Smith’s post .  It is a long, well written, detailed and passionate post concerning how Geoff Johns handled the Amazons in Flashpoint #1.  Basically, Smith is displeased with what he considers to be a sexist portrayal of the Amazons.  His two main positions are: First, that Johns casts the Amazons as a hostile and warlike army that slaughtered thirty-two million men.  Second, that Johns has Cold mention that the Amazons are castrating the men in the UK.

Here are the pertinent parts of Smith’s article.

“Of course, in the real world, all acts of mass systematic sexual violence, including the mutilation of sexual organs, are organised by and executed by men. It’s men who undertake the beating, torturing, raping, maiming and murdering which such policies of sexual violence involve, and the victims, now as throughout history, are mostly, although of course very much not exclusively, women. It says so much about the Common Comics Culture that when the superhero narrative finally does touch upon an issue of such genuine social and political concern, it’s women who are presented as being to blame for mass murder and sexual mutilation, while it’s the men who are portrayed as the victims. Though that’s never been true for the whole of recorded history, and while precisely the opposite stands even today, in the DCU it’s those violent sword-wielding women who viciously persecute those helpless males.”

Here we see Smith applying real world facts to a fictional super hero world starring mythological characters.

“Flash fact: in any situation in history where a mass of one gender has organised campaigns of sexual terror against another, women have never been the aggressors. Put simply, women do not, and never have, organise themselves into armed units on any level and rape, mutilate and murder men. The opposite has, however, forever been true. Indeed, wherever organised sexual violence has occurred, whether aimed at males or females or those defining their own gender, it’s been men who’ve taken the lead in the oppression.”

Smith continues to state, and rightly so, real world facts concerning the treatment of women across the globe.

“It’s also telling that the only independent nation of women in the superhero mainstream is here being associated so definitively with sexual abuse, to say the very least, and, once again, organised mass violence. Indeed, it’s not so very long ago that that DC had the Amazons invade the USA. Whether in an alternative DCU, where we might expect characters to be behaving atypically, or not, the message does seem to be one that finds the very idea of a state ruled by women rather than mostly by men to be deeply threatening. It’s as if the very idea of women who are powerful and independent simply has to be associated with men having their testicles cut off, with the sacred symbols of Washington D.C. and London’s Westminster being trampled on by armies of Nazi-Amazons. Those nasty vicious women just won’t listen to reason, and they’re going to emasculate poor helpless men too.”

Here is the crux of Smith’s position.  That DC has cast a strong and independent group of women as nothing more than a direct threat to men and what they hold the most dear to themselves: their balls.  That DC, in an attempt to pander to their male dominated readership, is propagating every negative stereotype of a strong and independent woman.

First off, we need to clarify one misstatement.  Smith interprets the 32 million slaughtered in the UK to be all men.  In fact, Cyborg says “Over one-hundred million people died when Atlantis sank Western Europe into the ocean.  Before that, 32 million were slaughtered when the Amazons claimed the United Kingdome as New Themyscira.”  This quote seems to imply that 32 million people were slaughtered, not just men.  So, it is open to debate whether the thirty-two million included men and women.

Now, I completely agree with every single factual statement made by Smith in his article concerning the sex crimes and abuse committed by males against females across the globe.  And I find it simply impossible for anyone to actually disagree with Smith’s facts concerning the long history of sex crimes and abuse against women as well as the current state of sex crimes against women in certain parts of the globe like in Africa and the Middle East.  It is beyond appalling.

However, here is the problem with Smith’s argument.  It is apples and oranges.  Smith is shoving a square peg in a round hole in order to advance his own personal political agenda.  Sometimes when people have a pet crusade they see it in virtually every single story.  The fact is that sometimes a banana is just a banana.

The true defect in Smith’s entire argument is that it is built on a faulty comparison.  That is of comparing a mythological race, Amazons, found in a fictitious super hero comic book with real world facts.

Now, if DC were publishing a comic book set in the “real” world and not the DCU and were utilizing “real” world characters and “real” world themes, then Smith’s argument would have more merit.  However, we are not dealing with the real world.

What in fact are we dealing with? A super hero comic book.  The super hero genre is full of super powered humans, aliens, impossible pseudo science, magic, fantastical creatures and other wildly creative and imaginative creations.  Basically, super hero comic books are a modern mythology.  Modern super hero comic books are much like ancient Greek and Roman mythology.  After all, ancient mythology were simply tales full of gods (super heroes), magic and fantastical creatures meant to educate and entertain people.

And what are Amazons? They are a nation of all-female warriors found in tales from Classical Antiquities and Greek mythology.

It seemed a bit odd to me to try and use statistics and facts from our modern day real world and apply them to a fictional super hero comic book universe dealing with characters from Greek mythology.  So, the question I had was how should we properly critique how Johns utilized the mythological Amazons in a super hero story?  What source material should I look to for guidance on whether or not Johns was being sexist or simply historically correct?

Well, how about we roll up our sleeves and do a little research through the Classical Antiquities?  Instead on relying on pure emotion and unrelated facts, I think it would be a wiser course of action to examine the actual source materials containing the stories of the Amazons.

Diodorus Siculus, Book II, Chapter 54

“Setting out from the city of Cherronesus, the account continues, the Amazons embarked upon great ventures, a longing having come over them to invade many part of the inhabited world. The first people against whom they advanced, according to the tale, was the Atlantians, the most civilized men among the inhabitants of those regions, who dwelt in a prosperous country and possessed great cities; it was among them, we are told, that mythology places the birth of the gods, in the regions which lie along the shore of the ocean, in this respect agreeing with those among the Greeks who relate legends, and about this we shall speak in detail a little later.” (Emphasis added)

Here we have some historical proof that the Amazons had an innate desire to conquer as much of the inhabited world as possible.  This would support Johns and DC’s portrayal of the Amazons as a warlike nation ready to conquer their neighbors.  Score a few points for Johns.

And notice who the Amazons warred with in the ancient world? Yup.  Atlantis.  More on that point later on.

Diodorus Siculus, Book II, Chapter 46

“Now in the country along the Thermodon river, as the account goes, the sovereignty was in the hands of a people among whom the women held the supreme power, and its women performed the services of war just as did the men. Of these women one, who possessed the royal authority, was remarkable for her prowess in war and her bodily strength, and gathering together an army of women she drilled it in the use of arms and subdued in war some of the neighbouring peoples.  And since her valour and fame increased, she made war upon people after people of neighbouring lands, and as the tide of her fortune continued favourable, she was so filled with pride that she gave herself the appellation of Daughter of Ares; but to the men she assigned the spinning of wool and such other domestic duties as belong to women.” (Emphasis added)

Here we get even more historical evidence that the Amazons are very warlike and definitely had an impulse and desire to conquer the nations and people around them.  In fact, they seemed to make war as much as possible.  So, DC casting the Amazons as warlike is consistent with Classical Antiquities and Greek mythology.  Score some more points for Johns in being historically accurate with his handling of the Amazons.

This passage also introduces historical evidence that the Amazons did not value men as much as they did women.  However, this is rather mild.  I am close to giving Johns a few more points, but this is not really the same as mutilating men like he writes the Amazons in Flashpoint.  Could it be that the Amazons were indeed as violent and oppressive toward men as Johns portrays them in Flashpoint #1?  Let’s read on.

Diodorus Siculus, Book II, Chapter 46

“Laws were also established by her, by virtue of which she led forth the women to the contests of war, but upon the men she fastened humiliation and slavery. And as for their children, they mutilated both the legs and the arms of the males, incapacitating them in this way for the demands of war, and in the case of the females they seared the right breast that it might not project when their bodies matured and be in the way; and it is for this reason that the nation of the Amazons received the appellation it bears.” (Emphasis added)

Oh, dear.  That does not sound good. Smith went on and on about how improper and sexist it was for Johns to portray Amazons as people who would engage in the sexual mutilation of the men that would enter the UK.  However, history shows us that Amazons did in fact engage in the mutilation of men in order to keep them docile and subservient.  History also tells us that the Amazons engaged in both the humiliation and slavery of men.  All right, score a whole bunch of points for Johns in continuing to be historically accurate with his handling of the Amazons.

Diodorus Siculus, Book II, Chapter 53

“The men, however, like our married women, spent their days about the house, carrying out the orders which were given them by their wives; and they took no part in military campaigns or in office or in the exercise of free citizenship in the affairs of the community by virtue of which they might become presumptuous and rise up against the women. When their children were born the babies were turned over to the men, who brought them up on milk and such cooked foods as were appropriate to the age of the infants.” (Emphasis added)

Oh, no.  Here we go again.  It appears that Amazons did indeed deny men the right of free citizenship.  So, despite Smith’s gnashing of the teeth over Johns depicting the Amazons as an oppressive army of women, the fact is that history, once again, sides with Johns.  Johns rings up some more points.

Diodorus Siculus, Book II, Chapter 54

“Upon entering the land of the Atlantians they defeated in a pitched battle the inhabitants of the city of Cernê, as it is called, and making their way inside the walls along with the fleeing enemy, they got the city into their hands; and desiring to strike terror into the neighbouring peoples they treated the captives savagely, put to the sword the men from the youth upward, led into slavery the children and women, and razed the city. (Emphasis added)

Oh, my.  Smith complained of Johns making the Amazons so warlike and willing to engage in slaughtering of people.  Yet, here we have history telling us how the Amazons treated their captives in a savage manner.  We also learn that the Amazons not only slaughtered adult men, but that they also slaughtered boys.  And we have history telling us of the warlike Amazons who razed an entire city.  Score some more points for Johns for his handling the Amazons in an accurate fashion.

Strabo xi p. 503:

“No men were permitted to reside in Amazon country; but once a year, in order to prevent their race from dying out, they visited the Gargareans, a neighbouring tribe. The male children who were the result of these visits were either put to death or sent back to their fathers; the female were kept and brought up by their mothers, and trained in agricultural pursuits, hunting, and the art of war.” (Emphasis added)

Maybe I am just silly, but I would say putting a baby to death just because it is a male is definitely a sign that the Amazons just might not value men all that much.  So, once again, score some more points for Johns as history backs him up concerning his portrayal of the Amazons in Flashpoint #1.

Let’s check the scoreboard now.  It appears that Johns has 50,000 points to Smith’s 0 points concerning how historically accurate Johns was with the Amazons in Flashpoint #1.   I appreciate the fact that it appears that Johns actually took his time to research the Classical Antiquities and Greek mythology before writing the Amazons for this alternate universe in Flashpoint.

I also wanted to take a moment to point out how brilliant it was of Johns to go to the Classical Antiquities as the source material for his war between the Atlantians and the Amazons.  That was a nice touch and shows how much work and research Johns puts into his stories.

Now look, my point of this article is not to devalue anyone’s opinion on sexism in comics.  The fact is that sexism in comics DOES exist.  But, Johns’ portrayal of the Amazons in Flashpoint #1 simply is not one of those instances.  To apply real world statistics to a fictitious super hero universe starring mythological characters simply lacks any and all common sense.  And to cry wolf over sexism as if it were a knee jerk reaction to every comic published simply devalues the occasions when there is a truly legitimate case of sexism in comics.

Now, people can complain that the Amazons in Flashpoint #1 are not consistent with prior versions of Wonder Woman and the Amazons in the DCU.  But, I would remind people that Flashpoint #1 deals with an alternate universe.  And the Amazons in this alternate universe are not the same ones from the regular DCU.

All in all, history supports Johns in how he wrote the Amazons in Flashpoint #1.  In fact, doing this research for this article made me even more impressed with Johns’ work in constructing this alternate world of Flashpoint where we get to see the war between Atlantis and the Amazons play out once again.  Comic books and mythology have long been mixed together.  Flashpoint is just another example of that.