By akbogert 31 Comments
Yesterday I posted a blog about Starfire's costume changes which I expected to follow the trend of most other things I've written: a couple dozen views, a handful of comments (primarily from followers) one or two dissidents, and overall obscurity. Instead it garnered over 300 views and (including my own occasional feedback) over 50 comments. So I decided, once the dust had begun to settle, to analyze what had been said, and these were my results.
The point of my blog was to say that 1. I found Starfire's traditional portrayal distasteful and 2. I was disappointed and perplexed by the decision to revert back to her revealing outfit particularly in light of her having had a reasonably cool, combat and support-sensible, and modest one. Of 24 respondents, 9 (37.5 %) agreed with me; 13 (~54.2 %) disagreed with or dismissed me; 2 (~8.3 %) did not indicate a specific position.
Three of the respondents who disagreed with me specifically questioned why I was making a big deal out of it now, a matter I addressed in the original post and continued to address in the comments. That is not to undermine their argument, but simply to suggest that their own response indicated a failure to have read, or at least to have been diligent in reading, the thing with which they were disagreeing.
Likewise, three respondents excused the change of outfit on the basis of it being a space suit and thus given up upon leaving space. Once more, I did address this in my original post, having considered it as an explanation. Starfire maintained her outfit longer than her compatriots; moreover, there was nothing inherent to the suit to render it impractical or hindering for keeping. We can explain her not wearing the suit earlier because she did not have it, but as far as I can tell there's no reasonable explanation for why she would part with it -- that is to say, nothing about the suit made it uniquely suitable for off-earth combat, which means if she chose not to wear it she would have had to do so consciously.
We thus have a question of the pros and cons of the suit itself. One person on either side of the argument (so, two) raised the point that Starfire's abilities depend on absorption of sunlight, and that a more revealing outfit is thus a practical combat decision. This notion was contested by comparing Starfire to other aliens (notably Superman) who derive their power from the sun while wearing more clothing. The inability to find a definite canonical defense, in my mind, allows us to toss out the argument. Moreover, even if the space suit fails to allow adequate sunlight for Kori's abilities, that does not inherently prove the need to wear so little; a modest compromise would still be superior to the current outfit.
As for keeping the suit, six people were in favor of the design itself, including one person who did not have a problem with the new one and one neutral respondent; one person found it too bland. Two people who preferred the armor did so less because they cared about modesty and more because they thought the new design was bad (and would have been fine with the old one). From a practical standpoint, three respondents (all in agreement with OP) called the new outfit impractical, with one specifying Kori's lack of latent invulnerability.
Looking for other explanations of Starfire's immodesty, three noted alien culture (including one who agreed with OP). My challenge that a year and a half of time spent on earth living with humans should have been sufficient for her to adapt to our concept of modesty, even if for no other reason than Roy's sake (as she cares for him), remains unanswered. Interestingly, one respondent, who admitted to taking issue to "anyone who complains about her costume at all" rather than concern himself with my specific points, suggested that asking her to cover her body was itself a sexist position.
Sexism, naturally, came up elsewhere, though that was the only case in which the charge was leveraged against me. Two respondents agreeing with OP specifically called out the misogynist roots of the design, while four noted that it was tacky or needlessly exploitative. Two opposers simply denied the suggestion that her outfit was sexist.
Six (25% of) respondents pointed out that Starfire's outfit has always been excessively revealing; none of these respondents objected to that reality. One respondent suggested that the historicity of Starfire's outfit was the reason he did not consider that outfit sexist. The overwhelming position of opponents to my argument, then, maintained that sexual objectification of Starfire is intrinsic to her character; the strength of that position wavering from outright support of its continuation to general ambivalence tending towards not seeing objectification as an issue worth addressing.
Let me repeat that last bit of information, for clarity: Of those who agreed with me, the majority (7 of 9) explicitly complained about Starfire's objectification as being a problem they would like to see addressed (either via the space suit, or a new but more modest outfit). Of those who disagreed with me, almost half (6 of 13) explicitly acknowledged Starfire's objectification and then either supported it or dismissed it as a non-issue.
One neutral respondent acknowledged the fanservice angle and suggested that the question of whether a given character's sexualization is a worthwhile issue depends on whether it is done poorly. We have evidence here that Starfire's portrayal is both divisive and prohibitive, with several respondents noting that her portrayal has actually kept them from reading the book in which she is featured. I therefore posit that she has been handled poorly, and that the issue of sexualization specifically as it pertains to Starfire is therefore worthy of discussion.
One other thing I would like to discuss is a statement made by 1/3 of respondents, including at least one representative from the neutral, agree, and disagree camps (but unsurprisingly most commonly in the latter), and that is the idea that writing is more important than art, even to the point of supplanting it.
Indeed, a common theme in this thread was the idea that no matter what a character wears or how he or she is drawn, the writing is what carries the book. While I think there is some validity to the point, I think it is rather shortsighted. One respondent illustrated this potential absurdity by sarcastically agreeing with detractors, imagining a black character donning racist garb out of ostensible freedom of expression.
The message, in my mind, ought to be clear: if your writing says your character matters because she's interesting, but your art says your character matters because she's hot, and people are noticing the art over the writing, then your prevailing message is that the character's body is more important than her personality. The fact that some readers found her portrayal as a barrier to reading merely underscores that point; the message of Starfire's outfit is more prominent among readers than the message of her history, thoughts, or actions.
Comics are a hybrid medium. They are writing combined with art, and when the two are out of sync with one another the result should never be considered good. Starfire is a prime example of the two being out of sync, because people who usually complain about an artist's talent keeping them from getting into a book have been driven to the opposite extreme of saying bad art won't keep them from a good story. It's simply not true, and I'd guess that every person who said it has at some point passed on or stopped reading a series because of the art style alone.
It's true that even the best art cannot save a bad story, but to take that all the way to a dismissal of what the art may be saying is an insult to the speaker as much as it is to every artist who has ever devoted a lifetime to speaking through the language of visual art. Art does matter, and it reveals to us how the creators think about their characters and, thereby, how they want us to think about their characters. No matter how many words Lobdell (or now Tynion) uses to tell us that Princess Koriand'r is a strong and self-respecting woman, if the art simply screams "she's sexy," we will never truly take those words seriously.
I fully recognize that a strong and independent woman can be sexy and wear revealing clothing. I am arguing that that is not the message conveyed by Starfire's outfit. In fact, NO ONE seems to be arguing that. Despite the fact that the majority of respondents did not agree with me about this being a step in the wrong direction, none of those detractors actually suggested that the reason for her wearing practically nothing was to demonstrate her independence.
That does not surprise me. Because that argument is simply not there. You can't find it in the art. The art isn't saying that. The art is saying "here's fanservice." And maybe, somewhere below the surface, the story is saying "here are some backdoor excuses for when "fanservice" isn't enough to convince people of the art."
What scares me, a whole lot, is that I can make a statement like that, and rather than people saying "you know what, that's a good point, maybe we should want a little more depth in the way a character like this is portrayed, something more befitting the story of power and confidence and getting-to-know-human-customs that the writing is conveying about her, which this art is blatantly ignoring," what they will instead say is "yeah, and?"
Because a lot of the people who disagreed with me actually flat-out acknowledged that Starfire is a fanservice character. Some of them would be okay if she were only that, and didn't even have depth in her writing. And the rest, though I hope they read what I just said and change their mind, may continue to not care about the art so long as the writing's okay.
I find it quite disconcerting that we want to defend characters being drawn this way. It bothers me that people are okay with settling, settling for stagnation over becoming a more embracing and accepting medium, settling for flagrant sexism so long as it's still possible to see something past it. It worries me that this is either dismissed or, when acknowledged, treated as meaningless, as if fair treatment and portrayal of all human beings were not only not a worthwhile goal, but actually a joke that only tightwads find amusing. It demonstrates that the industry, more particularly its fanbase, is blind to the reality of the world outside its niche walls, and is blind to the fact that if it does not start taking equality seriously it is absolutely going to be left behind in the brutal war of entertainment media.
As I said before, "What I have trouble accepting is…[the belief] that because good stories can be told with slutty outfits on objectified female characters, that somehow means that slutty outfits on objectified female characters are fine. It's like telling a mechanic that shoddy brakes are okay because the car still drives well: yeah, that may be true, but that doesn't mean fixing the brakes is pointless, and ignoring them for long may result in a preventable collision."
I apologize if I come across as crazed or some sort of activist. I actually posted that blog more as a response to a handful of people than as any kind of attempt to start a debate. But seeing how it unfolded, and really considering the implications of what was said to me, honestly bothered me, and I'm coming through on the other side realizing that maybe this actually is a big deal, if for no other reason than people think it isn't.
Thank you for reading.
If your responses suggest that you have, in fact, read this and considered it, I will happily continue the discussion below ^_^