As you may have noticed, female cartoonists are dominating sales charts (well graphic novel sales charts, anyway) and awards and current cartooning classes are anywhere from 50 to 75% female. It seems that a majority of the most notable “emerging cartoonists” are women, and a lot of folks have been joking that it’s hard to find up and coming men in comics.
When I first saw that cartooning students were overwhelmingly female, I was excited to see the long gender imbalance of the industry changing. But then I began to wonder if this meant that it would become a less prestigious industry.
Because as more women enter a field, the pay becomes lower. The New York Times laid this out in a piece called As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops and it has tons of studies and statistics to back up this grim and upsetting fact.
And there was substantial evidence that employers placed a lower value on work done by women. “It’s not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance,” Ms. England said. “It’s just that the employers are deciding to pay it less.”
A striking example is to be found in the field of recreation — working in parks or leading camps — which went from predominantly male to female from 1950 to 2000. Median hourly wages in this field declined 57 percentage points, accounting for the change in the value of the dollar, according to a complex formula used by Professor Levanon. The job of ticket agent also went from mainly male to female during this period, and wages dropped 43 percentage points.
The same thing happened when women in large numbers became designers (wages fell 34 percentage points), housekeepers (wages fell 21 percentage points) and biologists (wages fell 18 percentage points). The reverse was true when a job attracted more men. Computer programming, for instance, used to be a relatively menial role done by women. But when male programmers began to outnumber female ones, the job began paying more and gained prestige.
Pay gaps between male and female cartoonists have been documented (at least one cartoonist with am ambiguous name got offered a lower page rate when her gender was know.) And as we’ve noted here many times, page rates have stagnated at best and fallen at worst in recent years. A lot of publishers who aren’t DC and Marvel pay rates well below the big two, and even art rates under $100 are sadly common.
Of course, this general fact that women’s professions are less pretigious and earn less is appalling in its own right. Why is women’s work so little valued in so many cultures around the world?
Granted, creative fields have very different pay rates than blue collar and office work. Female pop stars seem to do just fine. But even winning an Oscar wasn’t enough to get Jennifer Lawrence the same rate as her male co-stars in American Hustle. And Hollywood’s own wage gap is well documented.
For now, women who are creating best-selling graphic novels are doing just fine by making huge royalties. But I can’t help but wonder if the influx of women making comics might have some subconscious deleterious effects as well.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.