A love of comic books is not merely a Western phenomenon. Neither is a love of superheroes. No matter where you look around the world, you will likely find real people really affected by and passionately interested in comic books and their characters, whether we're talking about the characters known only in those countries or those we have come to know and love here in the United States.
The same thing goes for the importance we place on recent developments and trends in comics publishing, like, for instance, an increase in diverse perspectives within their stories.
Late last year, a university organization in Pakistan organized a comic book convention aimed at celebrating not just comic books but comic books that celebrated women. The "Feminist Comic Con" was organized by the Women Empowerment Society at the Forman Christian College in Lahore and according to organizers was a big success.
"We were expecting a lot of negativity because of how the word 'feminism' is misconstrued in Pakistan as being synonymous to misandry," says organizer and student, Rameeza Ahmad, expressing a common challenge to feminist causes. "There was overwhelming support from all over the country and the world over!"
The convention was not unlike one you might attend in your own hometown, sporting competitions for fan-favorite activities like cosplay, fan art, gaming and trivia. Attendees were also able to attend live performances and panel discussions featuring women working in the field of comic books in Pakistan. Some of those guests included Ms. Marvel's Khaya Ahmed, as well as Pakistan's very first female comic artist, Nigar Nazar, and Meesha Shafi, an actress who worked on Pakistan's very first big-budget action film.
"We decided to host the Feminist Comic Con for a very simple reason," explains Ahmad via e-mail. "To highlight women in the field who are usually not given enough credit for their contributions. Most comic cons feature male superheroes, male writers and male artists which is great, however, we wanted to focus on the women to show girls that these fields in Pakistan have women working in all areas. Also to appreciate the women who are trying to make a place for themselves in this industry in Pakistan."
Ahmad says that the Women Empowerment Society, which is a student-led organization working to promote gender equality on campus, plans to hold the convention for years to come, especially given the fight for gender equality in their country.
"Comics are a great source of influence on young people. Showcasing strong female characters that challenge social and gender norms is a great way to teach young people that stereotypes are a thing of the past," explains Ahmad. "We have to evolve beyond restricting both genders to certain traits; nothing is mutually exclusive when it comes to being a man or woman! Sexualized female heroes and villains defeat the purpose of having women represented through comic books as they limit us to the stereotype we are already typecast in; objects which are there to fulfill someone else’s desires and for their pleasure. Female characters are bigger than just being promiscuous side characters for male superheroes.
"Our biggest priority is for women to have the choice to do what they want," she continues, quick to point out that her perspective is limited by the fact that she comes from a middle-class family and is among the very small percentage of people who is able to seek higher education. "We live in a society where we are constantly force fed the ideology that a woman's place is at home and she doesn't need too much education because there is no point. Our priority is that every single woman is given a choice of what she wants to do with her life and is not fed ideas of what a woman is supposed to do. Smash the patriarchy, basically!"