As a mother of small dragons, I'm constantly wondering how to introduce feminism as a concept into their small lives. Sure, there are approximately one million board books full of cute pictures of famous feminists for babies and books about "strong girls" that promote the idea that girls can do anything boys can and more, all designed to make people of my socioeconomic status and race feel comfortable and liable to open our wallets. But they tend to trivialize the more fundamental issues that lead to feminism, presenting them in a way that suggests they're in the past and everything is hunky-dory and gender/color blind in our current enlightened times. Mirion Malle's The League of Super Feminists is not one of those. Instead, it's a clear, smart, and direct effort to talk about what feminism is in a way that even small folks can understand. Nor does Malle limit herself to inspiring stories. She doesn't just slap on a drawing of a dissent collar and call it a day.
Like a lot of nonfiction comics that attempt to explain something rather than presenting a narrative, Malle's book relies on a narrator, the author herself in this case, as we can tell by comparing her multicolored hair with the more realistic, less cartoony self-portrait at the end of the book. Broken up into short chapters with clear, cheerfully rendered headings like "Representation," "Friendship," and "Privilege," the book walks us through concepts that can easily get muddied, putting them in language that pretty much anyone can understand. Don’t know what “intersectionality” is? Malle explains it in five pages that are mostly pictures and include zero complicated theoretical concepts. Her book is winningly sunny, even when she’s talking about how “our society is based on groups of people crushing other groups of people,” and that makes it accessible to people who might be less sympathetic to her argument to begin with. She applies the concept of “cui bono?” or “who benefits?” throughout, pointing out, for example, that teaching girls to be kind above all else means that women get saddled with a much larger load of housework and emotional labor. Who gets free labor as a result? Dudes. Putting things in such a straightforward way and addressing a lot of “whatabouts” along the path means that her book is short and clear, two things that work strongly in its favor. Nor does she suggest that you can’t consume Hallmark movies if you love them. You just need to develop a critical eye.
Malle uses the power of cute through her drawings to soften her edges, which lets her talk about intersex folx, the evils of capitalism, racism in everyday life, gender as social construction and more in a way that makes it accessible and non-threatening. Her drawings of vulvas are, frankly, adorable. Bright colors abound. The variety of people she draws is lovely: fat, thin, short, tall, “feminine,” punk rock, muscular, disabled, bald, Black, Brown, princessy, wrinkled, children, etc. There’s an appealing, slightly reckless casualness to the drawings, too. We recognize Malle’s narrator because of her hair and her outfit, but sometimes she’s fatter than others or her legs might come out of her skirt at a slightly awkward angle. It’s not quite as though a child has drawn the book, but the result is a feeling of freedom and openness that feels intentional, as though Malle is trying to make her drawings as simple as her words, in an effort to reach a wider audience. There aren’t a lot of panels, which leaves more space for words (necessary in a book like this) but also makes the pages feel looser and more flexible. The order of her images and words is never difficult to read, and there’s loads of white space. Why bother to draw backgrounds when you’re talking about people? It would only get in the way in this case. One might describe the book as feminine in its presentation, full of emotional shorthand and pride in being a girl (whatever that might mean to the individual in question), and I think that’s true, but more than that, Malle is carefully making it accessible through a lack of total polish. It’s not Instagram cute; it’s wartier and messier, and that is, in some ways, her point.