Greetings, Ladies and Germs, for this week’s edition of The Monday Muse! So…do you know what the Muse’s Kryptonite is? Moving. I am one hundred percent sure she took one look at my insane, box-laden place and assumed I was going to ask for her help, so she took off. I’m actually writing this in the hope that we’re able to set up our Wi-Fi on time to post it today; if not, it’ll be the sadly delayed Monday Muse. But fear not! Where there is Nerd, there shall soon be Internet!
Anywho, on to the writing. I believe I shall take for my inspiration the post from yesterday’s Silly Sunday, for it is a subject near and dear to my heart. In fact, one of my absolute favorite websites on the planet is The Hawkeye Initiative, where the creators have endeavored to demonstrate just how ridiculous the art is for female characters by replacing female characters with Hawkeye.
There is a straw man argument going around that male comic book characters suffer from the same over-sexualization as females; after all, you don’t see too many scrawny comic book characters, do you? They’re all muscular and, in their own way, the idealized male form. The problem with this argument is, of course, that the way females are drawn isn’t the ideal female form: it is the sexualized fantasy of the ideal form. It is an ideal only in the minds of a certain breed of male. Most women do not want globes on their chest. Why?
- Breasts should not be perfectly round. That is just ridiculous. Only fake, porn star boobs are that shape and they’re hideous. And also probably useless for the one thing boobs were put on this planet to do (namely, feed babies).
- Gigando breasts like that are painful. They’re heavy. They require holstering and are ultimately damaging to the spine. Lots of women with breasts that size end up reducing them because they’re just so damn painful (not to mention inconvenient). Pair giant boobs with the ridiculous waist size so en vogue with female characters and these poor girls are not only fighting crime, but fighting against the twin specters of scoliosis and debilitating back pain.
Further, the bodily ratios so apparent in these females are, in general, very rare. Are they impossible? Of course not. I’m sure that among the seven billion people on this planet, there are women out there who are shaped like Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel (or She-Hulk). But it’s not common. And to have so many women have a default shape of big boobs, tiny waist, and rounded hips is ridiculous. Even working out constantly and fighting crime isn’t going to give every woman that body type. Some women naturally have broader shoulders than hips or a big ol’ butt and no amount of crime fighting is going to change that.
This is problematic for another reason beyond just the tendency to deliver upon a male viewer’s fantasy. It is problematic because it is so very lacking in diversity. This is a comic book world where the new Miss Marvel is so amazing precisely because she manages to break these norms. What makes Miss Kahn so special isn’t really that she’s Muslim (though kudos to Marvel for writing a Muslim character): it’s that she is a normal girl, and she is drawn like one. In a world where male comic book characters have body types that run the gamut (Superman is not drawn like Flash is not drawn like Wolverine is not drawn like Spidey or Tony Stark), reflecting the nature and power set of the character, why is it that females have the same variation of large breasts, small waist, and rounded hips?
See, the thing is that male characters are also drawn to an ideal, but that ideal isn’t a sexual one. Male characters aren’t drawn to attract the eye of female readers. That ideal is purely for men; an ideal of strength and fitness. It’s aspirational rather than libido-driving. Superman’s physique isn’t there to titillate; it’s there to reflect his strength and stolidity. He is the Man of Steel, after all, right? Spiderman, while muscular, is still slender; this is done to imply, through the visual medium, that his character is about stealth and agility, flying through the air on webbing. He can’t be physical like Superman; it wouldn’t work. But if you were to put the Lady Sif—a warrior character—next to, say, Emma Frost…their body types wouldn’t be as different as you would think. Oh, a bit taller here…slightly bigger boobs there…but ultimately? All variations on the same theme.
And then there’s the costumes. Let’s compare Superman, for example, and Wonder Woman. Both have very similar identities and very similar power sets. Wonder Woman is not quite so invulnerable, of course, and I’m reasonably sure they haven’t given her the ability to shoot lasers from her eyes, but they’re quite similar. Why then does poor Diana practically run around—depending upon the artist—in various degrees of thong beachwear? What advantage does wearing a glorified bathing suit give her? Do comic book artists think the only way we can tell Wonder Woman from Superman is to have one be practically naked? And why do so many females fight in heels? I can only imagine it’s because most comic book artists have never actually worn them before. These are intelligent, kick-ass ladies; they’re going to wear sensible footwear to fight bad guys.
See…Superman wears that ridiculous outfit of his because, again, it’s a reflection of the character. He doesn’t need armor or anything, but he does need an outfit that is (minus the cape, which I’m guessing is a holdover from his early origins) lacking in extraneous fabric. You know…for the flying. Or Batman, who has in recent years developed a costume that makes use of armor to reflect his becoming a more physical character, because it wasn’t enough for him to just be the best prepared and smartest dude in the room. (It really wasn’t.) What practical purpose does Diana’s costume serve? What character trait does it reflect? Why, when discussing Black Canary’s fishnets, is the excuse always “she needs it for flexibility?” Does Spiderman need fishnets for flexibility? I think not. And…because I’ve heard this argument before: No, Spiderman’s movements are *not* sexual. They were drawn to be a reflection of his agility. If sexuality was the outcome, it was certainly an unintended side effect.
You see, that, ladies and gentlemen, is the heart of the problem: the sexualization of female characters is intentional, whereas it is a consequence for the males. If Spiderman is sexy, it is because the combination of his slender body type and “spider-like” movements is appealing. If Spiderwoman is sexy, it’s because she was drawn that way. And that is problematic.
This has been another Monday Muse! Check back with us on Friday for some boozy books!
ps- I am aware that both Superman and Wonder Woman have had a change in wardrobe. I do not know how I feel about jeans and a t-shirt for Supes because it makes him feel a bit like a ‘bro’, but I very much like the new costume for Diana. Of course…the last time DC tried to give WW pants, the fandom whined so much, it went back to bikini briefs, so we’ll see how long this lasts.