I’ve always been a major advocate of female superheroes as well as representation of women which usually prompts a reaction that is not unlike an elderly relative. “Again with these female superheroes! What is with you and those female superheroes?” they ask me with what I imagine to be emphatic gestures of frustration. Yet, as always, I see this recent point of contention as being a great window of opportunity for myself and those of us who are like-minded to be heard to express our opinion in the most articulate, non-argumentative way possible.
The number one argument from most people of an opposing opinion is that comics are mainly bought by a male audience and that women are rendered and written to be appeasing to that specific audience. Fair enough, it’s not as though it isn’t true but there’s a much harsher reality that blows the former right out of the water. Nobody reads comics right now. Man or woman, black or white or anything in between. That’s why DC is doing a relaunch, that’s why we have digital comics to take the place of illegal scans because earlier this year comics sales were at a record low.
We have characters like Bat Wing and the new Ultimate Spiderman who are meant to appeal to an untapped black and latino audience and over the years there has been much more exposure in terms of other minorities as well such as Asians and the homosexual population. With each and every attempt there may or may not be a palpable response but when you target a group as broad as females there is a whole spectrum of different races and orientations of which these comics could appeal to that are not being properly appealed to. If you want to come at this from a marketing standpoint, the numbers don’t lie- something about comics just isn’t doing it for most *people* regardless of what category they fall under. Women make up half, in not more than half, of the population so if you’re churning out a product that’s not doing so well with just a male audience and there are women who feel alienated by it and are outraged then there is a major, major problem. Why someone would stop the dialogue at “Well, women don’t really buy comics anyways” is beyond me.
The second argument that usually follows is the argument that men are equally as objectified as women. To me, this is an outrageous comparison that is completely disproportionate. Speaking of proportions, usually as a supporting point people will say “Well men are depicted as being extremely muscular and are frequently shirtless” which is true to a certain extent. Bruce Wayne works out shirtless, Superman has occasionally been rendered shirtless after the occasional tussle, and Wolverine has gone on quite a few naked rampages. But for every one of those instances there’s a slew of female characters whose costumes, the outfits they wear when they engage in combat, look not unlike FHM models. Exposed legs, exposed waists, ample cleavage, and ass-cheeks with their own zipcode galore and not just in contextual situations like a shower or as an undercover guise but as their normal day wear, as the things they carry out arduous daily activities in.
Furthermore, musculature is something that doesn’t appear to alienate or offend men otherwise how would you account for these action movies predominantly male audiences go out to see that have bulky, ripped men running around and exploding things? It’s par for the course, it makes sense someone who beats people up for a living would need those. But is it necessary for a female assassin to wear to a thread between her butt-cheeks meant to resemble a thong out on the job? No. More importantly, it shows anyone on the outside that characters like Witchblade or Vampirella or Psylocke prioritize looking sexy over looking like a formidable opponent. In order for women to garner or generate any kind of excitement, according to the editors, they need to be scantily clad above all else.
Another harsh reality about comics is that the outsider perspective of them isn’t really a favorable one either. The public perception of people who read comicbooks is that they are usually small, squirmy men who leisurely wear Darth Vader masks and shamelessly turn to puddles of sweat at the mere sight of an attractive woman. They based a successful TV show on that premise called “The Big Bang Theory” as well as many other franchises. It’s not necessarily an accurate portrayal of every comicbook aficionado but having women with spherical breasts and blow-up doll lips extending themselves in conveniently sexual positions doesn’t help this perception- it perpetuates it. So long as that is true there isn’t going to an upsurge of interest in comics, people will just assume it’s a phenomenon with an exclusive, cult following rather than the all inclusive, versatile, and multi-faceted landscape it truly is. Not to mention, it talks down to comicbook readers and men in general alike to say that they can only be engaged in what female character is doing if she’s half-naked.
I think the response to this from most people from an opposing standpoint is that of someone answering to charges and though people have certainly blown the whistle on sexism we’re all still in it for the same thing. Everyone wants comics to be successful and there’s no movement that I can see to ban any sort of sexuality or sexual innuendo for comics, it’s a big part of their inception into modern day pop culture. I wouldn’t brand anyone “sexist” off the cuff because I’m offended but that doesn’t make my plea any less either. For me, it’s about taste, it’s about inclusivity, and it’s about respecting the product that is being marketed to millions of fans. Starfire is a product, Catwoman is a product, Wonder Woman is a product and even moreso they are legacies of other writers, artists, and editors that need to be dealt with in the most careful, thoughtful way possible. These may be fictional characters we’re speaking of but they resonate with millions over generations, people not only look up to these characters but they look to them with certain ideals in mind- they may not all be met but it’s important that the effort is exerted anyways.
By the way, simply because I feel this way it in no way means I’ll turn my back on my dear Selina Kyle. I absolutely love Catwoman and furthermore I felt the scene in which she had sex with Batman was perfectly tantalizing and fantastic because it seemed as though it would be something they would share together. She longs for Bruce, Bruce longs for her, hence the sexual explosion on the final pages…it’s only logical. I actually think Judd Winnick’s characterization of Catwoman was fair and true to her as well as his observations and assessments of her character but if I am to read a comic about her I want to be able to see her face and not her cleavage predominantly in it’s place. One doesn’t have to push the envelope with Catwoman, it’s been long pushed for decades now the sex is there no matter what, it’s not so crucial to emphasize on it above all else.
Gratitous sexual exploitation like Marvel’s flimsy attempt at capitalizing on the X-women with Milo Manara and Chris Claremont doesn’t entice me and I think the world could do without, same with tentacle porn wherein captive women in fear for their life and in fear of being violated is sexualized. If you get your rocks off the X-women or Wonder Woman or even Granny Gooddness without having to pop a viagara you have my stamp of approval but not when it conflicts with the mainstream comics and the unmet needs of people who don’t share your particular fetish. I’d like to see Batman in the buff but do I expect it when I read his comics? Does it compel me to read his comics? No. Theoretically I could just whether the gore storm of American Psycho if it was something I really wanted. This proposed theory that men will only be engaged if constantly aroused is utterly ridiculous as I’m sure most have sought refuge in internet porn.
All that I would personally ask is that women are afforded the same comfort with their sexuality that men are. You don’t see a lot of male superheroes who are exhibitionist, who try to lean in a way that perfectly accentuates their arse, who are put into conveniently overtly sexual positions on a routine basis. That is comfort with one’s sexuality, the ability to insert it into situations cleverly and believably not dressed as a Scores employee fighting crime on a cigarette break. Nudity, sexuality, discussion of sex…it all has a place but when it begins to define a character or diminish a character it just devalues their worth to something far more superficial and I don’t believe banking on that is a long term solution for comics in the state they’re in.