Copyright © 2017 Liran Yefet, Ryerson University
Female characters have served different purposes over the years within comics, whether they are the sidekick, the love interest, or even the villain. However, whether or not the roles women assumed in comics were reflective of the societal views of women during that specific time period is another matter altogether. In the fifteenth issue of The Funny Comics with Dizzy Don: The Miracle House Mystery released in towards the end of World War II in December of 1944, there are two main female characters: Diana Mite and Shirley Watson. Diana Mite is the go-getter villain whose hair still manages to look flawless regardless of what she is doing, while Shirley Watson is there purely for aesthetic purposes — a pretty face in Dizzy Don’s clique. Even though Shirley does not do much in the comic, Diana is hands on, going out and doing the dirty work herself. To varying degrees, both female characters are reflective of the sexist societal views and beauty standards of women in the 1940s, who were starting to deviate from at home labour and make the transition towards paid labour.
Women in the Workforce During World War II
With the men at war, women were left behind to tend to matters at home. This resulted in a shift in the type of labour females did from more traditional housework to paid labour. However, not all women were necessarily capable or interested in the opportunity of paid labour. Thus, the idea of women filling in the labour shortages left by the men at war was initially marketed moreso at young, unmarried women rather than mothers with children to take care of, and a husband’s income because of the societal views that a, “. . .women’s place was at home, and so initial recruitment was directed at young unmarried women and then at married women without children” (“Women’s Emancipation. . .” 164). With women now starting to make an income themselves, the attitude towards allowing women in the labour force began to change, as women were now needed due to the shortage of workers.
Also, the attitudes of women in general changed, as they were starting to gain independence through their careers, which made their jobs of value to them in that sense as well because, “Work for money, regardless of type of work, generates different attitudes and relationships among family members” (Costa 102). This is reflective in the comic in the sense that Diana Mite, who is a working woman, is more independent than Shirley, who is more traditional and is only ever seen by a man’s side. Unlike Shirley, Diana Mite is not sitting around at home taking care of the house while the men are at war, but rather teaming up with others to take down her nemesis. Opposite to Diana is Shirley, who does not do much except serve the plot and boost Dizzy Don’s ego. She represents more of the traditional image of a woman who is devoted to the husband-like figure in her life, and is there mainly to stroke their ego and as arm candy.
Diana Mite is one of the main antagonists in the Miracle House Mystery, along with Driplip. Despite the physical labour she does, she is still the image of the ideal woman in her heels, dress, and perfectly done hair — this regardless of what she is doing. Although the overtly sexual nature and hyper feminization of her depiction was common for female characters in comics at the time, as this was also the case with George McManus, and his depiction of the character Maggie in the Bringing Up Father comics
One gets the impression that McManus simply couldn’t control himself when drawing women’s bodies, and by the 1920s through the 1940s, he had even developed a habit of drawing Maggie in transparent dresses through which her fabulous figure could be seen in silhouette. (Robbins, “Gender Differences in Comics”)
Similarly, Diana Mite is described as, “. . .tiny and attractive. . .” (Easson 1) in her character description, while the description of her male counterpart, Driplip has nothing about his physical appearance. This is sexist due to the fact that Diana is so much more than just her looks — she goes out and gets stuff done, so the focus of her description should also be about her nature and not about her looks. It is not fair to Diana Mite to have her body commented on if none of the male characters have their bodies commented on just because she is a woman, much less that the comments made about her body are sexual in nature. She is described to have the ideal female figure to men, which is something a female writer would likely not have done due to having experienced the sexism of the time firsthand.
Not only that, but Diana Mite does all of the dirty work for Driplip, whom she works with. While Diana does the hard, physical work herself, Driplip still takes most of the credit, even though he just mainly handles the business side of things. This is reflective of how even though women were free to make their own income, it was because the men were incapable of doing the labour themselves, and not because they were needed for the sake of workers, regardless of their gender, being needed. Had the men been at home working instead of at war, it is unlikely women would have been allowed to start doing paid labour because then they would be taking jobs from the men, who were considered to be the major source of income in the household at the time. It did not matter if the woman was more qualified for the job similar to the way Diana Mite was more qualified than Driplip to take out Dizzy Don’s plan, and was only hired because Driplip could not physically do the job himself. Men like Driplip who were less qualified would have likely gotten priority over the woman for the job. This is all just to play into the patriarchal views of who should traditionally be working and bringing in the money in the household: the men.
Whether or not Driplip was absolutely necessarily in the plot against Dizzy Don is arguable, as while he handed the “business side” of things, Diana Mite likely could have been just as well without him. He even goes so far as to call her the, “. . . smartest operator in the world,” (Easson 10) and says, “‘Diana Mite’ — she can do it if anyone can,” (Easson 10) which is a clear indicator that Diana is the more physically capable one in the partnership. After all, she did all of the dirty work all while still looking perfect, and Driplip kind of just sat around for most of the comic waiting for her. This is ironic considering that men are supposed to be stereotypically stronger, but somewhat irrelevant in the situation, as he gets credited like he is the one who did all of the hard work in the plan. It is important to note that the comic attempts to insinuate that his role is equally, if not more important than hers, and that she is carrying out his plan, not hers, thus making him the evil mastermind and her just an accessory in his plan. The reality is Diana Mite is more than just an accessory to his plan because she is the one who actually carries it out, so her role in the plan is the one that is more important. Without her, Driplip likely would not have gotten anything done. Thus, Diana Mite is representative of both the patriarchal beauty standards women were held to in the 1940s, and the way women were only wanted in the workforce to do the jobs the men could not do because they were away at war, not necessarily because they were equally, if not more qualified for the job.
The other main female character in the comic is Shirley Watson, who is Dizzy Don’s friend in the “Miracle House Mystery.” Shirley is representative of the patriarchal view that women should be housewives and accessories for their husbands in the 1940s. She is fairly useless, and is mainly there to serve the plot. Without the story itself, Shirley would serve no real purpose due to her lack of character development. Shirley is there merely to amuse Dizzy Don, and get information out of him that furthers the plot. Everything about her from her background story to her dialogue only serves the purpose of furthering along the plot.
Shirley is the one with the brother who is a soldier returning from the war, thus giving Dizzy Don a connection to the soldiers returning home. Other than Shirley’s brother, there is no one else personally connecting Dizzy Don to the war and the cause that he is trying to help. Even though it is Shirley’s brother returning from the war, the plot continues to revolve around how Dizzy is solving the housing crisis, while Shirley just kind of follows him around and ask her plot-furthering questions whenever necessary. She is even the one that asks her brother, “What are your plans Bill?” (Easson 6) which causes him to bring up the housing crisis caused by the soldiers returning from the war and having no place to go back to. Then Dizzy immediately responds that he has an idea on how to solve the housing crisis, which furthers the plot. The problem with this is that while the male characters get real character traits and proper, dimensional attributes that allows them to exist independently from the story, Shirley Watson has no personality because her purpose revolves around Dizzy Don, and being a pretty face at his side at all times, just like how women in the 1940s could only leave the house with a man at their side. If one met Shirley in real life, one would have a hard time getting to know her because she is not a multi-dimensional person who can exist outside of the story.
On top of this, Shirley fits the stereotypical beauty standards of women in the 1940s with her well-styled curls, modest dress, heels, and perfectly applied makeup. Thus, not only is she a one-dimensional character, but she looks like one too. There is not a lot that sets her apart from the other characters, so she kind of blends into the background and is there as just another pretty face like the housewives in the 1940s who were like accessories to their husbands.
It is a view rooted in the belief that women should do as the men in their lives please, definitely more male superiority over women-oriented that could be a result of the story being told by a male author and thus likely reflects his societal outlook. Had a female written this comic, it is less likely that Shirley would have remained as underdeveloped as she was throughout simply due to the fact that a female writer would likely have a better understanding of the patriarchal problems in the 1940s and the negative effects as a result. Therefore, through this understanding, a female writer would be able to write a more balanced comic that would play less into sexist stereotypes such as finding a women’s value in her looks. Hence, Shirley Watson is a representation of the patriarchal view that women were accessories to the men in their lives, and that their purpose revolved around men the way Shirley’s purpose revolves around Dizzy Don.
The Juxtaposition Between These Two Female Characters
Even though Shirley Watson and Diana Mite exemplify two contrasting examples of women in the 1940s, both are hindered by patriarchal views that confine them to the ideal beauty standards of the time, and showcase their inferiority to men within the comic. Shirley, the girl who acts as an accessory to the plot and never goes anywhere unless she is hanging out with Dizzy Don or some other man whom her life revolves around is the opposite of Diana, who is the working woman entering the labour force, and who gets what she wants done by herself. Despite their differences, both ladies are the picture of the ideal woman with their done hair and makeup, cute dress, and heels. This is a reflection of how most, if not all women in the 1940s were in some way constricted by patriarchal views that prevented them from ever truly being independent from the men in their lives.
Moreover, Diana Mite and Shirley Watson represent the working woman entering the labour force, and the loyal housewife respectively. Through antagonizing Diana Mite and making Shirley Watson one of the good characters, the comic is likely suggesting that having women in the workforce is bad, and that a woman’s place is wherever the men in her life need her to be: at home. An impressionable child reading this comic in the 1940s without the same exposure to feminist ideals as most children today could come to the conclusion that a woman should not be doing paid labour. This is because Diana Mite, an example of the working woman in the 1940s only causes trouble for Dizzy Don, and thus working women like her should stay at home and out of the way of men. This outlook sets women back in the workforce, and their transition into equal paid labour and equal opportunity regardless of one’s gender. Therefore, it is important to note that the antagonization of the working woman within the comic is harmful as it plays into the patriarchal societal views of the 1940s.
The comic The Miracle House Mystery utilizes the female characters Diana Mite and Shirley Watson to reflect the sexist views of the 1940s on women in the workforce. Diana Mite, who is physically carries out the plan against Dizzy Don is antagonized to reflect the view that a women should not be in the workforce, but rather at home or by a man’s side. She is capable of being independent, but by having Driplip be her partner, the comic takes away from everything she does on her own. On the other hand is Shirley Watson, who is only there to serve the plot and has no real character traits to her, and is reflective of the more traditional view that a woman’s place is an accessory to the man in her life gets to be one of the good characters. Ultimately though, regardless of what role these two women play in the story, they are both similar in the sense that they are the epitome of idealized female beauty standards, thus making them both trapped in a sense by patriarchal views. This juxtaposition of these two female characters showcases the sexist societal views of the 1940s, and those of the author of the work. Through this, the comic gives the reader insight into the societal views on women in the 1940s, thus likely causing them to reflect on how women were hindered by the patriarchy during the 1940s.
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