Big Question ♯14

This week I want to touch on a subject I’ve touched on recently in “What Were They Thinking”, sexism in the superhero genre. Now, I am aware that, despite it not being the 1940’s any more, comics are still aimed mainly at teenage boys, so therefore they must be filled with busty super-heroines in overly revealing costumes (even Pepper Potts’ Rescue armour accentuates her chest, but that might be Tony Stark being Tony Stark). But is it really necessary? I will concede that some of the more ridiculous heroine costumes have been changed in recent years (unless you are Star-fire in which case it’s got worse) but still. And, with the exception of Wonder Woman, there seems to still be a deficit of major league Super heroines who weren’t an add on to a major heroes mythos (Bat-Girl, Super-Girl/ Power-Girl, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel). Why is this still the case? Or is it, I’d be very interested to hear your opinions on this subject.

Plus this topic does give me an opportunity to post this illustration of sexism in the Avengers film.

16 Responses to Big Question ♯14

  1. Actually, I’m far more put off by the rampant homoeroticism of superhero comics. Putting sexy ladies in a comic book with the target audience being sex crazy males is just good business, but what is the purpose of drawing every male hero, every supervillain (that is not Blob) and every civilian man having six times the abs than would normally fit on a real human stomach and biceps bigger than human head? Look at those muscle mountains. They are freaks. It’s a small wonder they are able to move at all under those piles of muscles. I claim that comic books are just as objectifying – if not more so – with images of males than females. They just concentrate on showing off chests and biceps, rather than boobs and asses. Look at Hulk in that picture above – pure homoerotics. Hawkeye wears no sleeves to show off biceps. Why does Ironman have biceps on his armor and what’s the purpose of that humongous codpiece? What is the purpose of Captain Americas pose if not for showing off those stomach muscles? Thor strikes earth for the sole purpose of letting everyone see his bicep. Black widow is the least sexually loaded character in that picture.

    Of course depicting superheroes as greek adonis types is a way of presenting them as something worth adoring, but one has to remember that those same greeks were also totally gay and greek adonis statues reflected those sexual values. Antique greeks only had sex with women to have children and strictly heterosexuals were concidered perverts. I find this association of superheroes with greek adonis types to be tedious and I would like comic book companies to stop it far more than I would like them to stop showing sexy women.

  2. @Kalkin- Some comics may have homoerotic undertones (60’s Batman is always the classic example of one that it wasn’t meant to exist), but I don’t really agree with you on most of your points there. Yes, in the 90’s there was a thing for doing majorly over-exagerated muscles on male characters, but it doesn’t happen too often now-a-days (unless you exclusively read Rob Liefeld drawn comics). Whilst the comics industry does seem to have a template for their superheroes, I don’t remember reading any Spider-Man comic and seeing J. Jonah Jameson, Robbie Robertson, Aunt May and the guy selling Hot Dogs in the street and thinking “God they all look exactly the same, right down to their body shape”. The artist would be laughed out into the street if they couldn’t at least do a variety of body styles. I will concede, Hulk has always had the stupid amount of muscles but he’s a mutated monster. It’s like saying that Blob isn’t realistic because no-one could be that fat, he’s meant to be an exaggeration. As for your assessment of the film poster, Hawkeye’s costume was designed for flexibility, so sleeveless makes sense there. You can’t really see Cap’s abs in that pose and it’s meant to be a victory pose anyway. I can’t see the codpiece on Iron Man’s costume so I’m not sure what you are on about there, and the suit would need to be wider than a normal human because it’s got to fit a human inside. I’d like to see Thor hitting the ground with a hammer that size without showing of his bicep, it’s a muscle in the arm which you need to move your arm so you can hit the ground with the hammer. I can’t think of a way he could do that without doing a pose of a similar fashion. Black Widow’s pose is the only one there that seems to have no point appart from showing her arse. All the others are facing forwards, whilst she is facing the other way looking over her shoulder which would suggest the threat is in front of the others and she’s showing her arse off for no reason.
    As for your last paragraph, can I borrow your time machine, because you obviously have one, otherwise you wouldn’t know what people thought over 2 millennia ago. “Greeks were also totally gay… [and] only had sex with women to have children”? Could you sound any more homophobic? Not to mention your massive sweeping generalisations of a culture that invented and discovered a huge number of important advancements without which our civilisation would not have developed to its current state, as well as the gay community. People all have different tastes and you might do well to remember that.

  3. Thank you JR.

  4. Of course there’s sexism. How can naked olympians not titilate anyone, espceially if the spandex is scant. It will always sell. By the way what “super” thing did Black Widow accomplish in the Avengers film besides being super-hawt?

    @Kalkin: Oh yeah? We’ll see about all that super-design when Rob Liefeld’s movies come out. Hardy har.

  5. Ok, so Black Widow’s pose is deliberate. However, she is facing the right way while doing it. All of the Avengers are looking in different directions because the threat is coming at them from all directions. I love the parody poster. The look on Black Widow’s face is hilarious.

    Very few women writers make it in the comic book world. The only one who I can name off the top of my head is Kaja Foglio. Don’t know if this is “the old boy network” keeping them out or women’s comics tend to not be about superheroes. For that matter, many comics, cartoons, and shows where the main character is female tend to be produced and written by men (“Buffy” and “She-Zow” come to mind).

    Girls are more active in comic books and video games than they have ever been. Most aspire to be cosplay cuties, programmers, and novelists. I’m sure we will see more independent comics written by women. The Legacy Duo (DC and Marvel) might be a long way coming. Seems to me that they are more interested in gay male characters than women. Why? Because they’re still trying to sell sex to men!

    As a mech warrior princess trapped in the body of a male administrative assistant at mid-range salary, I wish there were more women writing superhero comics and movies. Honestly, I think it’s just that stark contrast between men and women that they don’t. We’re different! It’s why we are cursed with sparkly vampires instead of a decent “Catwoman” movie.

    I don’t mind the sexism as long as it’s “tasteful” and that both sides do it. It’s part of the energy and chemistry. We do it among friends and certain social situations. What I can’t stand is outright misogyny. Writers like Seth MacFarlane deserve a punch in the face.

  6. djuby:
    Thank you JR.

    +1.

    I’ve been annoyed by sexism in comics for a long time, but never more so than recently, for a simple reason: I joined a cosplay group on facebook. And, with real people, the differences are even more massive.

    All male costumes I’ve seen, save for Son Goku (and he’s definitly not supposed to look sexual, but powerful), have full-body coverage, and are designed to give of an impression of strength and power. Not unlike in the illustration above; Thor is striking the ground violently, Cap is the leader, hulk menaces the ennemy, Hawkeye aims at it, Iron Man fires at it… While, in a very typical pose for super heroines, Black Widow manages to show both her ass and her breasts.

    Meanwhile? Female costumes are at best sexy, and quite often slutty.
    Here’s a simple google search with just the word cosplay.
    I mean, even the few female costumes with full body coverage, like Walkyrie’s, do have different colors in order to emphasize the breasts. And how many male costumes show off legs or the midriff? Aside from Phoenix 5 cyclops and Namor, how many males do we see with thongs? How often do we see males in massive, non-revealing armor compared to females?

    As for the argument that comics are aimed at teenage boys… Maybe once, 40 years ago. Today, a whole lot of the readership is adult. Even disregarding female readership adn sensibilities (cause, you know, they’re females, they don’t count), I find it quite insulting and demeaning for men too, because it assumes that I’m gonna buy a comics just because there’s this

    As I see it, it’s just that comics are like our society, only worse. Maybe because editors assume non only that we’re all teenage males, but that we’re stereotypical nerds, glass-eyed virgins who’ve never seen a woman and will be all titillated by penciled curves. Meh.

  7. JR19759 wrote:
    “As for your last paragraph, can I borrow your time machine, because you obviously have one, otherwise you wouldn’t know what people thought over 2 millennia ago.”

    Well, I totally have a time machine called a book. A book is like this text file that exists as a hardcopy and is not limited to subjects of few hundred words. Books can be made of any subject and they can present lots of information on their chosen subjects – including life in ancient antics era. And get this: there are even books written by those very same greeks that lived 2000 years ago. Amazing, right? It’s totally like reading their very minds as they are thinking, like their attitudes and practises and values and how they were suspicious of men, who only had sex with women. You know what the best part is? The best part is that books on various subjects are available in public distribution – not just on greek history, greek culture, greek mythology, antics era art, homeric tales and so on. There are stores, where you can buy your very own book or if you couldn’t afford one, you can go this building called library and borrow one. Then all you need to do is pick it up, open the covers and start readi…oh wait, you’re american, aren’t you? Never mind, forget everything I said.

  8. The angry feminist in me wants to see sexism eliminated from everywhere in the universe, let alone from comics. On the other hand, the snarky feminist in me wants more objectification of the men in comics. It’s mostly happening to women, which in the snarky feminist part of my mind is grossly unfair to the males.

    @Kalkin and everyone else reading and commenting:

    1. Take a deep breath.
    2. Take hands away from keyboard until calm.
    3. Re-read all above comments, if you so desire.
    4. Remember that you have a right to have your opinion.
    5. Remember also that everyone else in the world also has a right to her or his own opinion, regardless of whether or not her or his opinions are the same as yours.
    6. Remember that just as another person or persons’ opinions may be shocking, disturbing, insulting, and outright weird to you (whether or not this was that person or persons’ intention) your opinions may be interpreted as incredibly shocking, disturbing, insulting, and outright weird by (and to) some people, even if your intention was not to shock, disturb, insult, or weird someone out.
    7. If and when you come across an opinion that you find shocking, disturbing, insulting, or weird try to remember #6. Also try to keep any hurt feelings from running away with you and endeavor to not overreact and/or belittle others. Remember that an argument based on hate and insults is a fallacy and that when you use hateful words and spiteful language that you are only hurting your case no matter how justified you feel about it at the time.

    That’s all I have to say, and I won’t say any more.

  9. Kalkin:
    JR19759 wrote:
    “As for your last paragraph, can I borrow your time machine, because you obviously have one, otherwise you wouldn’t know what people thought over 2 millennia ago.”

    Well, I totally have a time machine called a book. A book is like this text file that exists as a hardcopy and is not limited to subjects of few hundred words. Books can be made of any subject and they can present lots of information on their chosen subjects – including life in ancient antics era. And get this: there are even books written by those very same greeks that lived 2000 years ago. Amazing, right? It’s totally like reading their very minds as they are thinking, like their attitudes and practises and values and how they were suspicious of men, who only had sex with women. You know what the best part is? The best part is that books on various subjects are available in public distribution – not just on greek history, greek culture, greek mythology, antics era art, homeric tales and so on. There are stores, where you can buy your very own book or if you couldn’t afford one, you can go this building called library and borrow one. Then all you need to do is pick it up, open the covers and start readi…oh wait, you’re american, aren’t you? Never mind, forget everything I said.

    Does one really know everything about what everyone in the past thought just by reading books though? A book will only ever display the authors thoughts on the world, whether if they are writing a contemporary chronicle or a retrospective history. So it is often best to take everything you read with a pinch of salt until you’ve found an opposing source of comparable reliability and age that you can cross reference your prior source against. It’s known as good historical practice, you might have read about it in, I don’t know, a book?
    And by the way, I’m British. And judging by the way you assumed I was American and then attempted to demean me by suggesting I was an illiterate idiot because of that, would suggest that you have met very few Americans and base your judgements on stereotypes. I’m sure the many, many American users of this site would not appreciate that, as I do not. We all try to be friendly and tolerant here, as I am being with you. I have been fair and measured in this matter whilst you have resorted to trying to insult me, two countries and an entire section of society. So I am now drawing a line under this conversation. If you wish to continue it, you will find it increasingly difficult.

    To everyone else: Thank you for putting up with this and using the topic as it was meant for. I apologise for the argument. If we could all now just forget about it and continue as if nothing ever happened that would be preferable.

  10. Speaking of the often silly/sexist way female characters are often posed (speaking of which, that parody poster always gives a me a good laugh), there’s a rather wonderful tumblr called ‘Escher Girls’, that collects and snarks at some of the more ridiculous examples. Here it is!: http://eschergirls.tumblr.com/ (Just to forewarn though, some of the poses shown might be a bit NSFW. There’s rarely outright nudity, but the art and poses themselves might get you some… odd looks, to put it mildly).

  11. Nice column, JR, thank you!

  12. The Avengers poster just depresses me. Black Widow is such a strong, cool character (to my mind every inch the female Batman) and it’s infuriating that someone didn’t look at that poster and think “Hang on a mo…”. Just reverse the positions and stances of her and Iron Man and everyone is being treated with respect.

    And thinking about Kalkin’s postings…. I’ll go on record as saying I find the muscle bound jock-hero male characters a real bore, as bad as the half-dressed female characters. It’s a kind of body fascism; superheroes have to be superhumanly perfect. Somewhere the idea of average people with amazing powers got lost…

  13. Aaah, the perfect abs of Charles Xavier… Old, Paralytic, and yet way more muscular than any guy I’ve met :-D

  14. Patrick Stewart works out, I hear…. :)

    It’s true that film characters tend to be substantially more ripped than they used to be (Daniel Craig’s James Bond looks like the Hulk compared to Sean Connery) but the appeal of some classic heroes (Spidey, particularly) is down to their ordinariness.

  15. Um? Black Widow did somethings super. She with her regular strength, tactics, m.a. skills, and a gun faced the alien invaders beside the supers with bravery. That IS putting her on par with them. The pose is sexy, but it’s a movie–and she used her looks as a tactical advantage in her ‘hero’ life regularly. A spy would have to at some point.
    As to the sexism? She used that, too. She used Loki’s sexism to fool him. (She tricked the Norse god of trickery?!) Sexism is so USEFUL.

    I bet most people have no idea how much sexism weakens the people afflicted. Sexist publishers are just going to NOT MAKE the money they’d make if they also published works that appealed to people offended by their sexist published works.

    Just a suggestion? If you believe someone is sexist, make a divergent plan. Put them in positions where if they are sexist, they will lose. Eventually you will give them the chance to ruin themselves, to learn to not BE sexist anymore, or they will turn out to NOT BE sexist and come to no harm. Bottom line, if they offend you, teach them or let them set you straight.

    As to old texts, I’ve generally found that people keep the most absurd, inflammatory, and downright false ones over the ones that bore them. (As an example, pick any year of origin, and I think you’ll find more perfectly preserved Liefield comics and Nazi pamphlets than perfectly preserved bundles of the past 3 years’ worth of income tax records.)

    Frankly, sexism will probably continue with sexy women being overemphasized until people no longer think it’s funny to have men suddenly look unmanly like Happy getting trounced by Black Widow in the boxing ring. Think of it! What would be left for sitcoms to DO? No exploitation or satire of men OR women? There might be nothing left but fishing and cooking shows . . .

  16. If you had to push around a wheel chair all day your arms would be huge too, theres a guy at my work that volunteers and his arms are huge lol. Charles did have a fancy version of a hovaround though so he didnt even have to roll the wheels.