This Must-Read Comic Explores the Often Exclusionary Nature of Feminism

When we meet Charlie Lamonte, the protagonist of Melanie Gillman's webcomic As the Crow Flies, she's starting her week on a Christian girls' backpacking retreat. She's afraid that she might not fit in — and not just because all the other campers are white. But as she focuses on her outsider status and her burgeoning attraction to women, she may be missing a fellow outsider dealing with massive identity issues of her own.

When 13-year-old Charlie arrives at Camp Three Peaks, she's initially worried about being the only non-white camper. And despite her conviction that God has given her a sign to stay, she finds herself turned off by the promise of a "whitening" ceremony, and girls who are quick to proclaim their feminism but toss around "gay" as an insult. Charlie is a girl who already recognizes that she'll have to stand up for herself not only as a woman, but also as a young black woman (and, eventually, a young, black, queer woman), and that she's about to spend a week with a camp leader who is a well meaning feminist, but still has a ways to go in creating a lady community that includes all of the women in her charge. She has resigned herself to a week hiking through the woods with no cell phone reception on the way to a mysterious women's only ceremony.

But even as Charlie finds herself perpetually self-conscious (and crushing on the cute, biracial junior counselor), she may be ignoring another young woman who doesn't quite feel included. Sydney is younger and apparently brasher than Charlie, but she's harboring her own secret that she fears even Charlie isn't ready to hear. While Charlie is conscious of everyone else's privilege on this trek, she doesn't even consider her own.

Gillman's lush colored pencils do a lot to emphasize the natural beauty of the campers' journey and the appeal of women's retreat. Hell, I wanted to go. (Even though I'm much too old and it would be very creepy for everyone involved!) It's easy to see how a group of women with nothing to think about beyond their shared gender would view this as a chance to bond against the outside, industrialized, patriarchal world. But even within their little group, these campers — Charlie included — have a lot to learn about humanity, spirituality, and what it means to be a woman. Fantastic, thought-provoking stuff.

[Melanie Gillman]