Zamaron — A Green Lantern Femme-Site

{August 30, 2006}   A Warped Feminist Statement

Lately, there’s been a rise in both comics feminism and in the popularity of Guy Gardner. Or, perhaps, a rise in the visibility of both. They’ve probably been there all along, and this is the first time people are taking note.

So, I ask myself. Are the two connected?

When I was working on my Hal post, I started thinking about the concept of strong femininity, and flashed back to Guy before he was brain damaged or a Lantern. This Guy is the one who managed to overcome a fucked up, broken family life and establish himself as a healthy, productive member of his community. Compared to the troubled teenager he once was, this adult Guy is in a position of strength, but– fascinatingly enough– not one based in Manly Masculinity.

This Guy is, first of all, a teacher. A gym teacher, but still a teacher, and in modern American society, teaching is frequently associated with nurture– usually considered a “feminine” trait. In the few spaces we do see Guy interacting with his students, we see that he does take a nurturing approach to his profession. He singles out the students who have fallen behind and tries to find ways to best help them, and goes the extra mile to chaperone cross-country summer field trips. (Chances are these trips probably involve a lot of “mommy work”, such as doing headcounts, and making sure each kid eats.)

Aside from that, pre-Crisis Guy seems to be more polite than your average DCU male– he says his pleases and thank yous, addresses Dinah as “Miss Lance”, and even manages to choke out that Ollie’s chili is “wonderful” despite evidence to the contrary. This Guy also dresses in what appears to be a conscious manner. Granted, I don’t think he’s spending long hours in front of the mirror trying to decide whether he’s a summer or an autumn, but hey, a matched suit and sweater vest requires some effort, yo.

While pre-Crisis Guy does display a lot of traits generally assigned to the female gender, perhaps the best word to describe him is androgynous. He’s got a good balance going between the anima and the animus, and, when placed amidst a hypermasculine superheroic universe, this makes him stand out.

Furthermore, when Guy does become brain-damaged and venture into the realm of the hypermasculine, this is when we see his DCU peers lose respect for him. Post-Crisis Guy is a great way of showcasing all that can go wrong in a patriarchal society that privileges what is “masculine” over what is “feminine.” Never has the phrase “mentally unbalanced” been more appropriate. Post-Crisis Guy is unbalanced, having simply gone too far in one direction.

On the other hand, Post-Crisis, Guy does retain the most important element of his personality– his sheer inability to give up. Before the brain damage, it was there, but in a more subtle fashion. Whether Guy won’t stop punching a supervillain until said villain is knocked out, or whether he’s overcoming poverty and a bad upbringing in order to get a college education, Guy’s like one of those inflatable punching bags with a weight in it that you give to little kids. He just refuses to stay down for long.

Of course, I haven’t been having all of these thoughts in isolation. Kalinara and I have had many discussions on the hidden girlyness of Guy. Kalinara also introduced me to the idea that Guy Gardner is “coded female” in the way that DC writes him. I’ll try not to go into this too much, as it’s really her post, but essentially what she told me is that, a lot of the time, Guy is there to provide angst for Hal. “Oh no, Guy’s battery exploded, and now he’s in a coma! It’s too bad Hal wasn’t there to protect him!”

On top of that, a lot of the things that happen to Guy are the sorts of things that, had they happened to a woman, would have a lot of fans invoking the WiR list. Guy’s personal checklist includes such gems as coma, brain-damage/mental instability, childhood abuse, being depowered, and sex under mind control, which yes, translates to rape. And I’m probably forgetting things here.

The thing is, over the past few decades of comics, these problems have stopped being Hal’s failures and started becoming Guy’s battles. Guy has had to achieve what Hal has had to, only, the Ginger to Hal’s Fred (Poisonivory MADE me use this analogy, I swear), he’s had to do it metaphorically backwards and in heels. Again and again, Guy has sought out new powers, forged new relationships, overcome personal demons, and re-earned the respect of his peers. He’s had his own title, and now plays one of the leads in the Green Lantern Corps book. Essentially, Guy has created his own place in the DCU.

The comics industry could learn something from this, I think. So frequently bad things happening to female characters is justified by “But bad things happen to women in real life!” Yes, this is true. But people read superhero books to see problems being overcome, not just people bogged down with problems. But Guy is a problem-solver. Perhaps this is why Guy has the potential to be appealing to feminist fans– Guy faces a lot of the problems that female characters regularly face, but lately he’s been allowed to overcome them and deliver some sweet asskicking justice in the meantime. Now, I’m not saying that comics feminism should immediately stand up and recognize Guy Gardner as its Messiah, because that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Guy’s still biologically male, and it’s probably because of that fact that DC more readily recognized the need to develop him. What Guy does do is provide great ammunition. We can say, “Okay, DC Comics, if you can grant agency to Guy Gardner and have him overcome his pitfalls, you can grant agency to Carol Ferris/Dinah Lance/Cassie Sandsmark/whoever and have her overcome hers.”

In short, if the powers that be of comics are going to insist that women need to be tortured for the sake of a storyline, then we obviously need more women who will fight like Guy Gardner has.


Ragnell says:

I have to say, that’s when I really gained respect for Beau Smith — in Guy Gardner: Warrior #0, he emphasizes the protective nature, and urge to teach and guide younger people in Guy’s personality. All nuturing, mothering traits. This ultra-masculine character we saw in Smith’s run of Warrior was a “Mother Archetype” when you scratched the surface.

Reed Solomon says:

I kinda get where you’re coming from, but Guy has been written by lots of different writers over the years, and there is some conflicting character traits, such as Guy proclaiming himself not to be a killer when he fought Blue Beetle, but he has technically killed or tried to kill in his past (though not taking any joy in the act, merely finding it necessary) Plus, Guy wasn’t just any teacher, he was a GYM teacher, which IS a profession associated with males. Guy resonates with people because his problems are our problems, well .. except brain damage maybe.. Fiancee stolen by someone he thought was a friend who lied to him, left for dead, taken advantage of. Guy wasn’t feminine.. he was innocent. As in young and idealistic. Eventually he got hurt badly enough that it fractured his mind and put him into a Coma that the Guardians had to heal him from. Girls just like Guy because at least he’s upfront and is really a nice guy deep down.

kalinara says:

Innocence however is themed more as a feminine characteristic. There’s a lot of interesting analysis regarding Guy’s role in the Lantern mythos. But I think that ball’s in my court. 🙂

[…] In her essay, A Warped Feminist Statement, Soyo brings up the ways in which Guy, before his accident, embodied certain feminine stereotypes. I won’t rehash them here. Instead, what I’m more focused on is the element of transformation involved from the innocent early Guy to the maniac we all know and love. […]

SallyP says:

Oh Guy has had a tough time of it, there’s no doubt about it. Hal got
everything handed to him on a silver platter, but not Guy. What I find
interesting about him, is the deep desperate utter NEED to be a hero,
all through his time in the League, he stuck with it, despite the fact
that most of them would have been more than happy to see the door hit on
the way out. After Hal beat the crap out of him in #25, he went out and
got powers AGAIN, and then after Emerald Twilight, he did it with the
Vuldarian powers AGAIN.

And taking into consideration both Soyo’s and Kalinara’s characterizations as Guy being there to provide feminine angst for Hal, doesnt’ that make
the fight in GL #25 even worse? Good thing Hal had Parallax, or I’d
come over and smack him right in his pretty face. Sheesh!

soyoerika says:

Ragnell: Beau Smith is awesome like that. Though I always wonder what kind of reaction he’d have to our questioning the Unquestionable Manliness of his work… 🙂

Reed: If you don’t mind, I’m going to have to play the “Well, yes, but…” game with you.

First of all, re: the gym teacher point, yes, a gym teacher is traditionally a profession assigned to males. This is why I went into describing Guy’s pedagogical methods, because the way he taught, rather than what he taught, is one of the things that made Guy stand out as a nurturer. As an added point, “gym teacher” is still a “male niche” carved into the “female realm” of teaching, so it inhabits a more gender-ambiguous zone than say… test pilot.

I was only kinda saying that Guy was feminine. A better way to put it is that I think he embodies more traits traditionally associated with the feminine than your average DCU male. And that this… androgyny, when he acknowledges it, serves Guy better, in the long-term, than the hypermasculinity he affects post-brain damage. Yes, the macho jerk behavior helped Guy land a few punches, but it wasn’t what earned him the respect of his peers, or what won over Ice. Basically, it strikes me as interesting that in a universe where being macho is the traditional way to achieve things, we have Guy, who contradicts that to some extent.

Hmmm. I guess it’s worth pointing out that Guy’s got plenty of masculine traits too, and those are an asset to him as well. It’s just that when he focuses on the masculine traits to the degree that he excludes his feminine traits, it tends to hinder rather than help him.

Kalinara’s explained Guy’s “thematic femininity” in another essay here, so I suggest you give that a read-through. She says a lot of the things I wanted to say, but better. 🙂

Oh, and your final sentence beginning “Girls like Guy Gardner because…” made me wince for a few reasons: 1. Girls like Guy Gardner for a lot of different reasons, 2. Some girls don’t like Guy Gardner, 3. I wasn’t trying to write an essay on why girls like him, merely suggest what a femininst fanbase might find valuable about the character, and 4. Not all feminists are girls. Now, I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt that you weren’t trying to make me wince, it’s just… as a feminist comics fan I deal with these misconceptions a lot, and still have to work on my gut reactions to them.

soyoerika says:

SallyP: I really can’t fault Hal for having everything handed to him on a silver platter, because it really just makes him privileged. He didn’t ask for it, you know? And then these circumstances gave him a whole slew of unrealistic expectations which he needs to be disabused of, but hasn’t been, yet.

Okay, yeah, sometimes Hal can be a little unnecessarily cruel.

One thing I’ve found myself wondering, actually, is which is more of a threat to Hal– hypermasculine!Guy, or androgynous!Guy? angrogynous!Guy derives some strength from femininity, which Hal has issues with in the case of Star Sapphire. But hypermasculine!Guy is the one most likely to challenge Hal’s Alpha Male status, despite the fact that he hasn’t ever suceeded.

Hmmm. An essay for another time, methinks.

Reed Solomon says:

I didn’t mean all girls like Guy or that it is an all encompassing reason why some girls (or perhaps a statistically interesting) group of females enjoys reading the Guy Gardner character. It’s just difficult to elucidate ones thoughts at 3am with insomnia browsing google’s blog search for “Guy Gardner” I apologise for that cause as soon as I hit enter I realised that it wasn’t conveying the entirety of my thoughts and means something other than what I was trying to get across. In the end I’m just happy that people are talking about the character. Plus the message box for submitting comments is way small to be able to look at what you’re typing and see if it meets what you’re actually thinking.

SallyP says:

Hal’s and Guy’s various stages in their relationship is endlessly fascinating dont’ you think? What I think is interesting is that to me,
at any rate, Hal took their rivalry more seriously than Guy did. When
Hal was mooning around trying to find himself, Guy was poking and prodding him and generally acting like a little brother…as Kalinara points out
beautifully. He’s not being malicious about it, but he is getting a bit
of a kick out of it. Hal’s just getting pissed, and taking it all too
seriously. And there is no doube that he saw hyper-masculine Guy as
something of a threat. When Guy gets hit on the head and is in his prim
little girl mode of behaviour, Hal’s whole way of dealing with him changes.
Presently, with their post Parallax, post Recharge situation, I don’t think that Hal quite knows HOW to deal with Guy, and I find that endlessly

I’ve gotta say, this has to be one of the most interesting and well thought threads I’ve read on Guy Gardner. I really enjoyed it and have to say that y’all hit on some very good points. It also makes me happy to see as a writer that there were readers out there that “got” the character stuff that I was trying to set up. Behind every set of Busted Knuckles there’s a heart. I’m glad to see that some folks can hear it beat.

Your amigo,

Beau Smith

[…] of genderfuckery inherent in both characters. Don’t understand what I mean? Read this. Then read this. Get it? Don’t worry if you don’t. You’ll be seeing this […]

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