For those of you who read my review of Y: The Last Man, Volume 1, you may remember that I was quite critical. I found that Volume 1 of the series, which is about life on Earth after a mystery plague has killed every living thing with a Y chromosome with the exception of one man and his boy monkey, depicted women in problematic ways.
Volume 2, however, gets a bit better. In it, the protagonist Yorick comes across an apparent utopian society of ladies in the middle of Ohio. I immediately liked these ladies as they come in stark contrast to many of the other ones who seem to fall into the categories of (a) cartoonish man-hating extremists or (b) women who have lost all sense of self-worth in a man-less world.
Not only do these Ohio ladies get to wear normal person clothes like how men get to (this can be rare in comic books), they come in all different shapes, ages, races, sizes, and sexual orientations! Rather than putting pistols to their heads and running amok in utter panic because all the men have died, these women have created a small self-sufficient society of their own. One of my particular favorites is a character called Lydia, a crotchety, gray-haired woman who snidely responds to Yorick's utter surprise to have stumbled upon a functioning little city full of women thusly:
"Hard to believe that helpless little women can get by without your kind, eh?" (page 44).
Lydia then explains how, during World War II, women were the workforce while men were overseas. Demonstrating the artifice of gender roles, women during this time showed that they were quite capable of competently working in male-dominated fields whereas, before the war, a woman's "natural" occupation was considered to be homemaker. Once men returned from war, however, these Rosie the Riveters were expected to go back into the home or back into traditional lady jobs like clerical work.
What Lydia doesn't explain, but what Yorick later finds out, is that the ladies in this idyllic Ohio town have a little secret that explains their success. Namely, they have all escaped from a nearby women's prison, which (supposedly) explains how this relatively well-functioning community exists. While I have my doubts as to the adequacy of that explanation, I do think the metaphor is apt.
In a world in which both men and women exist, but in which men are defined as the default human, women are often defined in relation to men. Whatever men are, women are sometimes thought of as "not that" or "opposite of that." Because of the inherent nature and capacities of men and women, each sex has its own sphere of operation in life. This is what many feminists mean when referring to the "prison" of gender roles.
In a world with no men, however, women become the human norm. Being defined on their own terms, as opposed to in relation to men, they have "escaped" woman-hood and the pre-ordained gender role that being a woman demands. Thus, we find the escaped "convicts" in Ohio existing, as people. And, they're doing it better than the women who continue to define themselves in relation to the loss of men- the Amazons and those who find no inherent value in themselves without men around.
That is my interpretation of the convict town and, in my opinion, somewhat redeems the travesty that is Volume 1.