The Big Feminist But: Comics About Women, Men and the IFs, ANDs, and BUTs of Feminism
Editors: Shannon O’Leary and Joan Reilly
Release Date: July 15, 2013
The best summary of this anthology project, which seeks to address feminism from a contemporary perspective, can be found within its last chapter, a comic by Andrice Arp and Jesse Reklaw. The entry falls a bit all over the place, much like the entire volume, but comes down to two characters (anthropomorphic animals standing in for the authors) discussing the sprawling subject. One character states, “Sometimes the outcome is more important than the intent. For example with all-female anthologies. Perhaps there’s still a need for them, but it’s tricky. . . If you publish a collection of work that’s not very good, you end up making a case for the idea that you’re trying to disprove.” She goes on to clarify that “Women and men talking about feminism, to me, is much more interesting than just throwing a bunch of women together and assuming the result will be a feminist statement.”
Truth. Thankfully, The Big Feminist But is strong anthology work, with an emphatic and seriously-felt point of view. The criteria is also incredibly multifaceted: no one involved questions the need to use the word “feminism,” the authors just differ over what the term means and how to apply it in everyday life.
Gabrielle Bell, for example, focuses on her drunken promise at a party to adapt Valerie Solanas’ “SCUM Manifesto” into a comic, then segues into her mother’s experience with feminism. What results is seven fantastic pages of complex thought and humor. Mark Pritchard and Liz Ballie’s collaboration on the story “Must Respect Women’s Power. No Experience Necessary” is another highlight. The piece revolves around a man who takes a job as the attacker in a women’s self-defense class to pay his bills, then comes to see the value and empowerment in his role; it’s a direct, smart, and surprising narrative. Jeffrey Brown, oft criticized for his early autobiographical comics in which he sleeps around with a series of cute indie-rock girls, submits a great entry as well. Brown’s comic dissects his transition into parenthood, and his attempts to understand the differences in his and his wife’s new roles while maintaining an environment as nonsexist and gender-neutral as possible for their child. Andi Zeisler’s contribution also tackles parenting; in her case, the easy assumptions people slip into about gender roles (e.g., boys play with trucks and hit things; date rape is a problem that should be solved by women).
Even the weaker sections of The Big Feminist But manage to address different chunks in the wide spectrum of feminist thought, calling attention to the blind spots we harbor as a society: many feminists don’t consider white privilege; the gay community isn’t necessarily educated on trans issues; feminism can be as simple as talking about phlegm with your partner in bed. A solid foreword contextualizes the book’s aim with a brief history lesson, and the individual pieces are arranged in a logical design, grouped by related issue. The end result is a volume that not only makes an important point and promotes dialogue, but also provides an entertaining read.