Why are featureless characters assumed to be white and male? 

In a cartoon, the male character is often very basic, sometimes just a stick figure. Often they have no eyelashes, visible lips or even hair. Female characters, however, have bows, ponytails and skirts. Even the toilet sign distinguishes the ladies with a skirt, assuming men wear trousers (despite women being allowed to wear trousers for quite a few decades). The simplest answer is probably that White, straight males are assumed to be the norm. This makes sense, since many characters are often white, and thus are assumed to be caucasian. Thus, the artist has to use a distinguishing feature to set nonconforming characters apart. Considering no features should mean gender neutral, the association of decorated characters with being female is unusual. 

One author, Dorris McComics has tried to combat this trope. Many of the characters are featureless, and stick figure types are usually in unnatural colours. If there are any distinctively human characters, later drawings are often androgynous. Dorris even refuses to give many of them names, whether to avoid gender labelling or due to artistic license. The illustrator, Alex Norris, has frequently chosen to deliberately not state the gender of many of the characters  who appear in the panels. 

Webcomics are a great way to convey simple, but funny, sketches in an accessible format. But there’s by no means any less politics than in any other meme form – just look at what Garlic Bread Memes did with their comment on the number of genders on Facebook. And trying to either reaffirm that there are only two genders or that genderless characters aren’t a good idea just causes trouble on either side. 

Commenters on social media are the new literary critic; as readers, they might enjoy the story. But as soon as you find one who thinks they know about how to write a plot for a comic, they’ll tear you to shreds. Nearly every bad article about a  movie, classic author or artist is usually written by some crappy writer on Buzzfeed, a journalist on the Guardian or a tumblerina picking apart plotholes. Any merit a piece of work has, a savage critic can transform into a negative (also known by its more PC version “room for improvement”). So maybe it’s best to ignore the void of negativity and save it for the experts instead. 


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