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Eric: And crude euphemisms appearing in my e-mail box in five... four... three... two...

Every so often, someone tells me sexism in comic books doesn't exist. That yes, the costuming is sexualized but it's the same for both sexes.

Here's what I'd like to see.

I'd like to see every team based comic book in a month have its sexes inverted. All the men become women, and all the women become men. But page composition should remain exactly the same. Posing should remain the same.

And costuming should directly port. The new "Batwoman" or "Captain America" wear costumes exactly the same, except cut to be similarly form fitting on a female figure. The new "Wonder Man" or "Scarlet Warlock" (I won't dignify what they've done with the Scarlet Witch over the years with Wiccan terminology) would have clothing similarly cut to bare legs, buttocks, and pectorals. (Probably some kind of high cut wrestling unitard or the like.) Obviously, a character like Spider Woman would end up with a full body suit. However, in cases where "full jumpsuited" heroines usually have front zippers unzipped to somewhere between the cleavage and the navel, the resulting man will have his suit unzipped the same amount.

In the comics themselves, posing will port absolutely one to one. Where male superheroes have poses that accentuate the buttocks or penis, the new female characters will have the same. Where they have nonsexualized poses or poses accentuating the face, the new female heroines will have that. Where female superheroes are posed to accentuate their breasts, crotch, buttocks or legs, the male hero will have his pectorals, crotch, buttocks or legs accentuated exactly the same way.

Which brings us to anatomy. In cases where the male superheroes have exaggerated physiques (Superman, Thor and Captain America all fit the bill) the new heroine versions would have similarly exaggerated female anatomy (so Superwoman would be large breasted and hipped, as an example). On the other hand, where male physiques aren't particularly overly enhanced (like, say, Spider-Man) the female hero would be similarly slender and small busted. The primary goal should be to highlight the differences in male body types in that given comic as different female body types. Finally, overtly sexual heroes (especially in the area of the Johnson -- say, the Schumacker era Bat Codpieces and Nippled uniforms) would yield similarly overtly sexual heroines, while more restrained heroes would produce sexually restrained heroines.

Similarly,in situations where superheroines have exaggerated female anatomy (large bust and hips, generally), the man would have exaggerated musculatures (think bodybuilders/male strippers), buttocks and crotches. So, Wonder Woman would yield a Wonder Man who looked like an overbuilt prettyboy pro wrestler with an armadillo down his speedos who is at least as well built as superman with particular attention to detail in the primary male characteristics, while (most depictions of) Kitty Pryde would yield a slender runner's build hero. Once again, the primary goal is to show the diversity of female forms in a given issue turned male. And in situations where a heroine is overtly sexualized, the resulting hero should be overtly sexualized.

This would carry through to the villains and bystanders as well. Male police officers in the original would be female in the new version. Female secretaries in business professional outfits would be male secretaries in business professional outfits. Female secretaries, on the other hand, in 'business professional' that looks more librarian dominatrix than anything would yield men kitted out for their fantasy appeal more than their businessplace professionalism. Male thugs of various sizes and shapes would be female thugs of various sizes and shapes, and vice versa.

Above all, and I can't emphasize this enough, no more attention should at any time be drawn to the sexual characteristics, poses, attire or attitude in the new comic than in the original comic. The urge to either overcompensate or undercompensate for the gender swap would be overpowering. It would have to be fought off at all costs. For the experiment to work -- for what level of implicit sexism actually exists in comics to be appropriate revealed -- the comics would need to map as closely as possible.

The thing is? If they were absolutely accurate to nine decimal places, at the end, I'm willing to bet the vast majority of comics fans would think they were exaggerated to desexualize the women and overly sexualize the men. Consider the cover of New Avengers #7, conveniently on Wikipedia. We would have a large busted (though fully clothed) female Sentry with some sexuality to her walk (though not overly much), a slender Spider-Woman, an almost entirely desexualized Iron Woman, a Spider Man (James Drew) at least as muscular as Sentry is shown on the original, in a filmy bodysuit absolutely posed for sex (with very prominant and large penis), a female Captain America (chesty, but in highly concealing scale mail, not terribly sexual at all), a short, somewhat squat female Wolverine, and a well (and loosely) covered ronin. Going inside the comic, we'd find a world full of women with occasional token men (all slinked up in their SHIELD uniforms), and every page (the Drew) Spiderman was on would emphasize his pectorals, his buttocks, his legs or his crotch. And of course, he'd be the only man on the team, and his maleness would be kind of emphasized as primary characterization.

Or consider a Justice League -- sure, you'd have a busty Superwoman and Captain (ex-Billy) Marvel, a somewhat more slender Green Arrow or Hal Jordan Green Lantern in full body suits, a Batwoman mostly covered by her cloat at all times -- heck, if we're lucky a faceless female Question in a business suit and trenchcoat. But you'd also have Wonder Man, Zartra and Black Canary (the latter two in netted tights and high cut hipped costumes). And of course, Power Boy.

Look, I don't claim any moral high ground here. I play mostly female characters in City of Heroes because I like to look at them. Hell, back in my Superguy days, I had a character (admittedly meant as a bad Wonder Woman parody) called Spandex Babe. But the simple fact is this -- there is monumental sexism in American comics. Not mild sexism. Not "oh, it's there but it's not so bad, because the guys are just as sexualized as the girls." Monumental. If we had a single month where a second issue of all the team comics came out with all the genders reversed as absolutely fairly in all ways as possible, the vast majority of (male) comics fans would accuse them of being A) unfairly balanced and B) borderline male pornography.

(Almost certainly that actual accusation would be "gay pornography," but that's another essay.)

The first step to acknowledging the sexual double standard and the extremely prevalent and overt sexism in comics is to actually acknowledge it. So why not come right out and do it. One month, where we just flip roles. Let's see how many male role models most teenaged American boys would want to follow would come out of that month.

While we're at it, let's see how many of those teenage boys bought the issues in question.

Gosh, maybe we can figure out one or two reasons why girls don't buy as many superhero comics as guys while we're at this.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 13, 2006 1:22 AM

Comments

Comment from: ItsWalky [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 1:57 AM

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:SuperwomanSB.jpg
Hmmm...

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 2:03 AM

You'll notice the male "supergirl" has about the same amount of fabric in his costume as maybe nine of supergirl's current outfits...

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 2:09 AM

Hm, given that Ronin was a woman in a man-suit, that swap would get really weird, really fast. :)

In any case, I've seen this essay before, on other sites, from other writers, and it still doesn't impress me. Of course superheroes are sexualized to aim at teenaged boys. Always have been. They're fantasies on all sorts of levels. It's not about superheroes being made to appeal to girls, any more than Japanese publishers need to consider how to better market shoujo comics to boys. Some people will cross the gender lines, sure, but not enough to be economically significant.

So, yeah. Girls aren't generally interested in male power fantasies as embodied in superhero comics. Doing a gender swap experiment as proposed is kinda like taking temperatures to five decimal places for forty years running to determine that Kansas gets hot in the summer.

Comment from: ItsWalky [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 2:17 AM

Oh, granted, Super Lad should absolutely be wearing shorts if all were anywhere close to equal, but the amount a male needs to cover up before he's considered socially ridiculous fluctuates a bit decade to decade. Remember, open-shirts on males with no covering on their legs used to be all the rage -- just ask Destro or Dick Grayson. Were comics more equitable to the other sex then? I'm not sure so much of the problem has to do with comics industry in specific as it does our culture in general.

Not to say I agree with the point you're countering, and I would absolutely love to see the comics you described.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 2:23 AM

In any case, I've seen this essay before, on other sites, from other writers, and it still doesn't impress me. Of course superheroes are sexualized to aim at teenaged boys. Always have been.

I'm afraid you've missed the point, Dvan.

The experiment is not being proposed because "of course superheroes are sexualized to aim at teenaged boys." The experiment is being proposed because the opposite is claimed -- that there is no implicit sexism in comics -- that both genders are equally sexualized, that we're mistaking a few bad artists or choices with a pandemic.

You're also reading too much into the last line, concerning economics. (Though frankly, I don't see any reason for that 'of course.' Frankly, the superhero market has been declining for so long, they really ought to figure out how to start selling them to girls too.)

The core of the argument is this: the only way to truly begin to acknowledge pervasive and overt sexism in comics is to actually acknowledge it. "Of course superheroes are sexualized to aim at teenaged boys" doesn't acknowledge it. It dismisses it as irrelevant.

But, see, it's not irrelevant. And at the very least, we should admit it. And you know, actually taking a month to make it explicit and obvious would be a good way to do it.

It'll never happen in a million years, but I'd still like to see it.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 2:25 AM

Remember, open-shirts on males with no covering on their legs used to be all the rage -- just ask Destro or Dick Grayson. Were comics more equitable to the other sex then?

Hey, Destro makes his own rules.

As for Dick... bear in mind Dick and his short pants have been involved with more references to homosexuality in comics than... well, pretty much anything. Though the whole Batman "ward" thing contributed to that as well. Still, he paid a price for his briefs.

Comment from: Tina S. [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 2:30 AM

One of the very few problems I have with City of Heroes' costume designer -- which is actually fairly flexible -- is that it's impossible to create a truly small-chested woman. The chest slider ranges from 'more or less B cup' up to 'nice watermelons you have implanted there'. (My by-far largest-breasted female character is about halfway on the slider, and I still occasionally see her from the side and think, man, she has big tits.) You can mimize this with the right clothing and physiques -- larger physiques mask the chest size some -- but the fact is, you can't actually make a flat-chested woman.

However... you also can't make a skinny guy. Again, with careful physique/costuming, you can make a guy that's fairly average looking, until he takes off his shirt or wears something tight. Apparently, ever single hero is a body builder.

I'm not going to argue that the women in comics aren't portrayed in an overtly sexual manner, and that cheesecake costumes and large breasts don't permeate the scene. I'm not going to say that I like it or that I don't wish they'd change things.

I am, however, going to say that men are often portrayed equally unrealistically. So I think that when people argue about men being sexualized as often as women, they are probably thinking about the fact that very few people they know -- including cops, firefighters, sports figures, and action movie stars -- are highly-muscled, huge-shouldered, paragons of physical perfection.

I don't want to take away from your point, here, honestly. I think that many, many portrayals of women in comics are rather over the top sexually, and yes, it irritates me. It's just that I also sometimes feel that men are portrayed stupidly, so I sorta see why some people think there's a problem on both sides.

I guess then the question to really ask is, which side has it worse? That's where I think the panel-by-panel, pose-by-pose thing is genius... because while the women and men may both have unrealistic bodies, it's the poses and the focus that are the real problem -- much more so than the figure or the costume, I think.

What you really need here is a really good artist who can draw in other people's styles, take an existing few comic books -- say, the top sellers for July -- and have them redraw them with the genders reversed, for a side-by-side comparison. I think that'd make the impact you'd want.

Comment from: Howard Tayler [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 2:30 AM

This is why my guilty pleasure is Conan the Barbarian from Dark Horse. There's no pretense of politically-correct gender representation. It's... well, it's BARBARIC. But it makes no excuses.

Also, the line art on the Cimmerian is a valuable reference (at least in the issues with a decent penciller - the quality on Conan has been all over the map with the mini-series and one-shots).

Comment from: Howard Tayler [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 2:37 AM

Tina S. raises a good point about the differences in the way males and females are sexualized.

Consider the evolutionary arguments behind physical attraction:

Men should be looking for healthy women with strong secondary sexual characteristics (child-bearing hips and large mammaries), because those signal an ability to deliver and nurture offspring.

Women should be looking for healthy men who look like they're able to provide for the pack. Until recently (geologically speaking) that meant running down an antelope. Penis size was irrelevant.

With this sort of theoretical support, you could argue that superheroes are equally sexualized.

(I don't believe it for a minute, but you could ARGUE that.)

Comment from: Shadowtext [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 2:59 AM

Ever read "Cable and Deadpool" #9? Be careful what you wish for:

http://shiningbeam.net/images/Wade2.jpg
^---Page Scan from C&D #9 illustrating almost exactly this point.

Be warned that while not exactly "NSFW," it's not the most wholesome thing you'll ever see either.

Comment from: MasonK [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 3:35 AM

Eric: I would love to see this happen. This would get me into the comic book shop again.

Shadowtext: Augh! My eyes! Quick, someone pluck them out before I see this ever again!

Comment from: J.(Channing)Wells [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 7:14 AM

Something that nobody has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction is how the human male got this mammae-attraction into his head, genetically-speaking, in the first place. Since the relative physical size of the organs in question from person to person has little relationship to each's lactation capacity, and since in virtually every mammalian species swollen mammae are tied with late infant gestation (i.e., not the time when it makes sense to attempt intercourse), shouldn't the size of the mammae have an inverse relationship to attractiveness, by strict evolutionist construction?

(First post in weeks, and it's about boobies. Cripe.)

Comment from: John Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 8:04 AM

I'll cede the point that males and females aren't portrayed equally in comics. But I think in a lot of cases it's getting to the stage where it's fairly close. Comics like Runaways, Young Avengers, Thunderbolts, Manhunter, X-Factor, Ultimate X-Men, Ultimates, Ultimate Fantastic Four, Supreme Power, Squadron Supreme, New X-Men, Firestorm for a few issues there and Exiles do seem to have equal portrayal between women
and men. However the men do outweigh the women except in a couple of exceptions, the women are fairly strong characters.

Also in defence of the flesh-exposing costumes. Take a look at women and men in summer. The amount of women wearing showing more flesh then men far outweigh the amount of men who show more flesh then women. To a degree comics merely reflect this.

Comment from: Elizabeth McCoy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 9:13 AM

I would adore seeing a "reversed" comic.

Part of this is my deliberate wallowing in having a smutty mind. There's a reason I like my manga. And, for that matter, Girl Genius; yeah, Phil draws the curvaceous lasses -- but I'm busy drooling over all the guys. Mmmm, Oggie and Maxim and Dimo for his attitude...

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 9:18 AM

Odd question...is it in the best interest of the comics industry (or, possibly more accurately, does the comics industry understand it's in its best interest) to acknowledge or change the sexual double-standard?

As you point out, the superhero market has been in decline for years now...and while trying to reach out to other demographics, such as girls, may draw some of them in, I wouldn't be surprised if many in the industry fear that it wouldn't bring in as much business as it loses--in teenage boys who won't buy the comics.

I'm not much of a comics fan, and I doubt that's objectively true...but what's important is whether or not the industry believes it.

Comment from: Fabricari [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 9:35 AM

If you consider the shelves of manga graphic novels being made to appeal to 15 year old girls, I'd say that your wish has been granted, but not in the way you think. Because, as a male, you're thinking in terms of visual sexuality. I've read a couple of these recently and I find them probably as distasteful as any girl would find superhero comics because the male personalities (not physiques) are distorted to suit a female fantasy.

I don't hate these comics, though. They're bringing a larger demographic into comics. And (I've mentioned this on Comixpedia) these girls will grow up conditioned to the language of comics, creating a healthy adult audiance for more mature graphic novels.

Comment from: MagnoliaPearl [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 10:36 AM

I think the main problem is that the male superheroes are sexualized in a way that the male artists/writers/creators THINK that women like ... but they generally miss the mark. Myself included, I can't think of a single young woman who would say that the number one feature she finds attractive in a man is "Mr. Universe-style oversized muscles." Men are designing female characters that they find attractive. When women get in to writing/designing superhero comics too, and design characters that they honestly do find attractive, maybe then we'll see more equality on that front.

Comment from: David Wintheiser [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 11:20 AM

Not to take anything away from MagnoliaPearl's comment, but I think the sexualization of male superheroes isn't primarily about the reaction of potential female fans, but more to avoid a negative reaction from male fans - they do as much as they can without blatantly turning off what they see as their core demographic. (Admittely, Eric makes this point in his original essay.) I think the same is true in fantasy art as well as superhero comics.

Case in point: Dragon Magazine #294

The illuminating part of Dragon #294 waasn't the issue itself, but the letters to the editor that were printed in the next few issues, most of which ran generally along the lines of, "Ewww, don't do that again, when I got that issue I felt icky and bad!" Even more illuminating, *none* of the letters complaining about the art mentioned the covers of issues #293 or #287; those issues, each of which had come out less than a year prior to #294, were instead mentioned by those who chose to defend #294. Tellingly, the folks who didn't like #294 then responded by minimimzing the other two issues: the figure in #293 is androgynous enough so that it's not completely clear whether or not a woman was intended, while the figure on the cover of #287, while clearly female, is also a good outsider, and how could anybody imagine a Lawful Good defender of light and holiness in a sexual light?

Hmm. Interesting.

I'm not trying to blame the folks at Paizo, who appear to be doing what they can to equalize things without abandoning the field: for every female drow in form-fitting leather (#298), there seems to be a guy in a chest-baring swashbuckler harness (#301). (Though again, citing Eric's original essay, note how the drow in #296 are posed to emphasize the form-fitting leather and the bewbies, while the guy in #301 is posed to draw as much attention as possible away from his washboard abs. Curiouser and curiouser.)

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 11:22 AM

"Odd question...is it in the best interest of the comics industry (or, possibly more accurately, does the comics industry understand it's in its best interest) to acknowledge or change the sexual double-standard?"

Well, to be honest, you can't say that the status quo is in the best interest, either. Sure, they'd possibly risk sales in the teenage boy department. But aren't they already steadily losing those sales? You're talking about losing sales that in all models you're going to lose anyhow.

There's some merit to the idea that if you're going to lose those sales anyhow, it couldn't hurt to look for other sources while you're at it.

As for how men in general got interested in mammae, beats me. I know that it's been considered proper for a woman to cover them for ages. People tend to desire what they can't have or see... and the larger they are, the more that is needed to cover them. That's just a guess, though.

You know what would be kind of interesting? If they made an entire issue of a comic catering to less common interests. Imagine a foot fetish issue, where all the female characters get extreme closeups of their feet (like stepping on a fallen foe), some start wearing open-toe sandals instead of boots, and lots of kicking.

Hey, the BDSM crowd already got catered to with Wonder Woman... let's give some of the other kinky folks a turn.

Comment from: Amadan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 11:25 AM

Uh, there are people who actually argue that superhero comics nowadays don't primarily appeal to teenaged boys who've never kissed a girl and have no idea what actual females look like? (Not the silicon-enhanced versions on their computer screens, which is as close as they ever come to the real thing.)

Rivers in Egypt, and all that...

Ya know, I wouldn't mind so much the rare well-written superhero comic being full of Hot Chicks if the modern-day version of Hot Chick was not increasingly "the physical frame of a prepubescent boy, with melon-sized implants in chest and butt."

Comment from: Pyrthas [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 12:05 PM

Amadan, the problem that Eric's getting at isn't that there are people who argue that comics aren't sexist (although I'm sure someone out there does), but rather that people dismiss that sexism as unimportant or harmless (there have been examples of this in these comments, in fact).

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 12:30 PM

You're talking about losing sales that in all models you're going to lose anyhow.

True...but I feel that the decision-makers may be looking at the models and saying "well, we could lose these sales at a rate of X percent a year, which gives us Y years; or we could lose them at a rate of X' a year, and maybe picking up Z percent a year, giving us Y' years...but even with that factored in, Y is greater than Y'."

Now, the reason I said I wanted to know whether the comic industry knew what its best interest was is that I wonder whether it is doing just that calculation...with bad data.

Comment from: JRedekop [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 12:32 PM

There's a good take on this at http://odditycollector.livejournal.com/97166.html -- what if Green Lantern or Superman were presented like the way Frank Miller's Wonder Woman cover?

Comment from: Jon G [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 1:20 PM

Wouldn't reversing the gender of Hulk just be a step in the opposite direction? All I'm saying is you would have a dumber, bigger, and topless She-Hulk.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 1:21 PM

Hm. A few people have mentioned manga (particularly shoujo manga) is marketed to girls and 'meant for' girls, versus superheroes being meant for boys. Which bothers me in two ways, really. 1) that's not the point of the essay (and it's always dangerous to fall back on 'that's not my point,' because people take away what they take away), and 2) that doesn't actually change the absurd level of sexism in comics.

Well. Karen Healy, over in Girls Read Comics (and they're pissed!) said something that nailed why this makes me uncomfortable better than I can, in a post that explains that she doesn't actually read manga.

Well, duh, what was I thinking? I have boobs and like sequential art; of course I'm obligated to read manga! As the trolls from the first GRC column will be all too eager to inform you, manga is comics, but for girls. And thus, women have no right to insinuate themselves into superhero fandom or demand that it stop frequently being misogynistic tripe, because there are already comics for them.

And that makes the point in two ways. (See the balance here.)

1) It doesn't matter whether comics are 'meant for boys' or not. It really doesn't. What matters is they're astoundingly sexist. Even if only boys ever read them (which is untrue) that doesn't excuse the sexism, because it ultimately reinforces that sexism in those readers. It affirms it. It makes it okay.

Imagine we were discussing racism instead of sexism (and racism in comics is another essay, to be sure). The defense that "hey, these are really meant for white comics readers. Black comics readers have The Boondocks right?" would draw slack jawed horror from most readers.

2) More importantly (far more importantly), there are plenty of things out there that have been 'meant for men' or 'meant for boys' in the past, whereas women have had their own things. For example, executive jobs. Or careers in law. Or voting. Women had librarian jobs (here comes librarian hate mail) and teaching and homemaking and raising children.

The problem with implicit sexism is it seems right and natural to everyone involved. Of course there's only one girl on this team of super heroes. Of course the two girls we have on this team of superheroes dress like porn stars and only have conversations with each other that are either catty or talk about the dreamy men they'd like to have the sex with. These things are for boys. They're for men. It's okay. It's to be expected.

(Of course the City of Heroes costume creator only added breast size adjustments later on. And of course the smallest breast size would still qualify the girl to be a bikini model. That's endemic to comics! What, you wanted to play someone like Kitty Pryde or something?)

The thing is? Girls do read and buy comics. They buy manga now because it's what there that isn't hostile. In the nineties, a much, much higher percentage of Sandman's readers were female than most other comics. Women want to read and enjoy comics. They want to dream, they want to fantasize, just as much as guys do.

Over on the manga side, since it keeps being brought up, there's at least as much manga meant 'for boys' as 'for girls.' While I'm not going to claim there's equality in manga (for one thing, I'm not well versed enough in it to say one way or the other), there certainly is an acknowledgment that half the potential audience isn't male, and gosh, it might be nice to have them reading (and paying for the privilege).

But even if nothing any comic book company did would bring any more girls to the table, that doesn't change the innate fact that implicit sexism is not a good thing. It's bad. And it needs to be addressed.

The first step to addressing it is acknowledging it. And doing something that forces people who figure 'it's not so bad' or 'it's just the way it is' or 'there's no sexism in comics' to see just how pervasive it is a step in that direction.

Comment from: Fabricari [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 1:52 PM

"They buy manga now because it's what there that isn't hostile.."

I don't mean to be be belligerent, but you may want to reconsider your statement. I see a lot more damaging content in manga than ever in American superhero comics. There is a whole lot more objectifying. And that's not including the pedophile imagery, beastiality, the violence and so on.

Sexism in comics is not going to go away any more than pornography of any other kind is going away. The solution is to create more content, more choices. And that's what is happening in Manga. The female fantasy comics of the subserviant, idiot romantic male is just as indulging. Simply reversing the gender roles of sexual objectification isn't going to appeal to girls, like you alluded to, that will most likey attract more of a gay readership. Most (not all) women's fantasies aren't wired the way men's are.

As more adults read comics, they're going to bore of the stereotypes - it's the responsibility of artists to offer alternatives, not censor.

If the entire point of your essay is to have folks acknowledge sexism in comics, well, I guess I figured, "no duh," all along. There will always be people in denial - or simply just not mature enough to recognize it. Maybe a more suitable follow up would be, "what do you do about it?" Sexism has always existed in art, whether the artist was deifying women or objectifying them. Or whether a man is portrayed as a sex fiend or submissive him-bo.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 2:15 PM

Simply reversing the gender roles of sexual objectification isn't going to appeal to girls, like you alluded to, that will most likey attract more of a gay readership.

Nor have I ever said it would.

If the entire point of your essay is to have folks acknowledge sexism in comics, well, I guess I figured, "no duh," all along.

Which brings us back to '"Of course superheroes are sexualized to aim at teenaged boys" doesn't acknowledge it. It dismisses it as irrelevant.' "No duh" doesn't acknowledge it. Not really. It once again says "well, of course this is the way it is. We all know that."

Do I think you're right? Do I think that, as you say, 'The solution is to create more content, more choices.' Well, yeah. I think so too. And I think that is happening. From what I understand, there are more choices in manga right now than there are in superhero comics. (I do not pretend to be well enough versed in manga to know if those choices are positive, equal or not. I'm willing to happily accept you're right absent someone else chiming in to debate you.)

Here's the thing: manga is outselling superheroes. Significantly.

For many reasons, not the least of which is economic. However, saying "look, this is the way superheroes are. There's no changing it. All we can do is give alternatives elsewhere' is to me absolutely throwing in the towel. Of course we could change it. It wouldn't even be that hard to change it. If Paul Levitz and Joe Quesada put out a joint statement tomorrow mandating new editorial guidelines for their respective companies, it wouldn't end sexism in comics but it would certainly change it.

And no, that won't happen. Not right now. In large part because there is a widespread acceptance of the situation, both in terms of those who think there is no problem, and those who acknowledge the problem but 'hey, what're you going to do?'

Maybe doing the team books gender swapped, all poses intact wouldn't change anything. But for anyone who actually read those issues, it would be nigh impossible to pretend the problem didn't exist. And if enough people were forced to confront and acknowledge the problem's existence... then maybe, just maybe we could start to make some headway with the problem.

Maybe.

The one thing I'm not going to do, however, is decide that nothing can be done. Not about this, not about the current "comics for twenty to thirty year olds in lieu of 8 year olds through the teen years" problem, or about any of the rest of it.

But before we do anything with it, we have to broadly acknowledge it. And acknowledge it as a problem that can be worked on, not as a natural law of the comic book universe.

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 3:06 PM

I honestly had no idea that some people still claim that superhero comics are not sexist; that's kind of like saying that wrestling isn't fake. But I guess you get that a lot since you decided to write an essay on the subject.

I also cannot understand how these comics even survive. They are not only practically excluding females from their readership, they're deterring almost any man who is older than like, sixteen. I'm twenty-two, and I'd rather be caught reading Penthouse in a plane rather than be seen flipping through most 'mainstream' american comics. Not because they're nerdy (no problem with Disney comics) but because they're so ridiculously oversexed it's not funny. I'm an adult, I can go get me some porn if I want to.

Attractive sells, softcore does not. See the changes in most superhero films and the new Lara Croft: Even the video game industry is starting to get it, for crying out loud!

Comment from: Nentuaby [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 3:38 PM

Eric, I'm a little disappointed in you here. Not because every word of the essay isn't true, but... Well...

I've seen this before. The exact same essay. I don't claim you plagiarized it, of course, it's only that every idea expressed is about as original as the Kryptonite Condom meme circulating since Mallrats. The last person I saw write this screed even took the time to photoshop Green Lantern into a buttshot cover.

That said, vote with your wallet. There are *plenty* of comics that don't fall prey to the same foibles. They also happen to be the same comics that are vastly more mature in a myriad of ways. Y is an extreme example... In more traditional superhero veins you get dozens of miniseries, the best ones- Astro City, The Authority... Even "reboot" universes and out-of-continuity stuff has a much lower quotient of this crap. "Exiles," I submit, could pass this test.

Comment from: Coff [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 3:40 PM

Y'know, I think the idea has merit. It might be true that men in comic books are also represented inaccurately ( I'm comparatively certain I've seen Cyclops drawn with extra abs, and bulging muscles that don't actually exist in a human male. this is neither here nor there), but they rarely wind up looking like chippendales. Like David Wintheiser points out, men are usually posed in such a way as to detract from their sexual characteristics, and bulging muscles. The exception is, of course, when they're about to deliver a swift beating. "Look, I have muscles. They aren't there for looking pretty, they exist purely so I can kick ass". Now, I haven't read superhero comics in quite some time....I got fed up 'round about 2001, after the third x-men continuity shift in a year. However, I seem to recall that the female superheroes were most often depicted in "Hello world, meet my breasts" and "Are women actually supposed to be able to bend that way?" poses. I would give ALOT to see male superheros in those poses, if only for a laugh. If it weren't for the nigh-on-inevitable copyright case, I'd suggest this as a project for the various and sundry webcomicers that read this. Might just make a good point.


or it COULD be that I just want to see male superheroes in semi-pornographic poses and revealing outfits. The comic book industry could probably use more homoeroticism.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 3:51 PM

I've seen this before. The exact same essay. I don't claim you plagiarized it, of course, it's only that every idea expressed is about as original as the Kryptonite Condom meme circulating since Mallrats. The last person I saw write this screed even took the time to photoshop Green Lantern into a buttshot cover.

I'm honestly not surprised. I mean, it's a simple, obvious idea.

I'm still glad I wrote the essay, though.

That said, vote with your wallet. There are *plenty* of comics that don't fall prey to the same foibles. They also happen to be the same comics that are vastly more mature in a myriad of ways. Y is an extreme example... In more traditional superhero veins you get dozens of miniseries, the best ones- Astro City, The Authority... Even "reboot" universes and out-of-continuity stuff has a much lower quotient of this crap. "Exiles," I submit, could pass this test.

This to me is one of the major disappointments of the Ultimate Marvel stuff. They were in a prime position to start over and -- if not eliminate these issues, well, at least get a lot closer.

And... well. Yeah.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 3:57 PM

1) It doesn't matter whether comics are 'meant for boys' or not. It really doesn't. What matters is they're astoundingly sexist. Even if only boys ever read them (which is untrue) that doesn't excuse the sexism, because it ultimately reinforces that sexism in those readers. It affirms it. It makes it okay.

This is true only if you believe that someones fantasy life re-enforces their actual beliefs and behavior. I don't believe that in the slightest.

Fantasy life is escapism. Back when I was fifteen, in the years following a delayed and somewhat traumatic (from my perspective, anyway) puberty, my fantasy life revolved around wishing that interacting with people wasn't nearly as complicated as it was. Yes, life is a lot simpler when you're a musclebound guy travelling with beautiful flying women in low-cut spandex.

Of course, the difference between simplicity in someones fantasy life and a similar kind of simplicity in the real world is that simplicity in the real world comes at the expense of another human being.

In a few years I got over my aversion to that particular social complexity. When I did, my fantasy life changed, and the things I bought that reflected those interests changed as well.

So should we insist that comics be designed to make the readers fantasy life be more realistic? That strikes me as... missing the point of fantasy.

I think it also likely that I'm missing the point, but this is the only reaction I have at present.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 4:11 PM

This is true only if you believe that someones fantasy life re-enforces their actual beliefs and behavior. I don't believe that in the slightest.

...and....

So should we insist that comics be designed to make the readers fantasy life be more realistic? That strikes me as... missing the point of fantasy.

I think it also likely that I'm missing the point, but this is the only reaction I have at present.

That depends on what fantasy the person is actually trying to get from the comic in question.

If the fantasy in question is 'boy, I love hot chicks in suggestive poses,' you may be right. (And how can we deny that -- I've read Fathom too.)

But it seems to me the core fantasy here is "being powerful and idealistic, capable of defeating evil hand to hand, flying through the air and striking back."

If that is the core fantasy... if that's what comic book fans are coming to the well for... then the fact that these fantasies are also sexist causes a reinforcement of cultural norms outside of what the fan is coming to the comics for.

It is, in a word, extraneous.

It's not a question of making a fantasy life more realistic. It's acknowledging that said fantasy life may have subtexts, intentional or not, that actually hurt people.

Go back to one of my other comments. What if we were talking about racism instead of sexism. What if I suggested making all the white heroes black and all the black heroes white. Would you be honestly saying that at fifteen you would prefer a world where you're surrounded by white guys and a token black "to make things easier?" I seriously doubt it.

I don't think the musclebound guy traveling with the beautiful flying woman needs to have that woman to be in low cut spandex to still be simple. And even if she were in low cut spandex, I don't think the guy needs to be posed in action shots and the girl in butt, crotch and breast arching shots to be simple and enjoyable. I think the girl and the guy can both be in action shots, with about the same amount of skin showing, and still have the fantasy life intact.

If it really can't... then what does that say about all of us?

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 4:46 PM

'"Of course superheroes are sexualized to aim at teenaged boys" doesn't acknowledge it. It dismisses it as irrelevant.'

You can acknowledge something and not dismiss it, but not dismiss something without first acknowledging it...

From the characters' perspective most characters are sexualised, male or female -- putting on spandex or a cape is the ultimate "hey, look at me, you see only what I want you to -- and don't I look great in this skintight, crotch-hugging getup?" From the creator perspective, female characters are more often sexualised using nudity, and the predominantly male and the-lady-doth-protest-too-much straight production teams are more likely to self-awarely perv over their own creations.

When, on rarer occasion, female creators are in the production team and opting to perv over their designated characters, it generally involves wish-fulfilment control fantasies less focused on nudity -- though there are exceptions, of course. (Many of which seem to be collected at scans_daily.)

Harmful? As with any objectification and depersonalisation, if carried over to dealings with others. Objectification's fine in a mutually agreeable relationship, depersonalisation's almost always a prelude to treating people like shit.

Comment from: quiller [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 4:53 PM

As the question was asked, I'm of the opinion that male attraction to larger female breasts is due to the fact that breasts tend to be the female characteristic that is the most visible difference from males. More breasts therefore winds up equating with more female. And hey, it is also one of the features the changes the most post-puberty, so attraction to full-figured women differentiates you from a pedophile.

It would certainly be an interesting movement for female superheroes to actually protect their mammaries rather than sticking them out there to get hit in combat. I could actually imagine the scene where the superheroine gets changed following a mission and comes out to find a male colleague going "umm weren't you a ..." when noticing her suddenly more pronounced cleavage. Some measure of bindage would make sense for the women of large cup sizes.

Of more concern really is the social interaction between women, when that is 90% stereostypical then you get flat writing and reinforce the wrong ideas in male readers. That being said there is a tendency for women who are in a minority in a group to be competitive with one another for attention. Cattiness certainly does exist, and in many ways one woman in a group of men is a more stable social situation than 2 women in a group of men. Though as noted, this stuff is fantasy, and maybe one is better off steering towards how you would want things to happen more than how they tend to occur in real-life. There is a balancing line there, but probably the most healthy social dynamics really would be one woman in a group of men, an even ratio or all women. (All women except for one man would probably be the worst possible dynamic.) Of course, I was considering the social dynamic from the women's perspective there, one woman in a group of men isn't necessarily the healthiest from the men's perspective, particularly when said men are pretty high in ye olde testosterone.

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 5:02 PM

Something that nobody has ever been able to explain to my satisfaction is how the human male got this mammae-attraction into his head, genetically-speaking, in the first place.

I once heard a human evolution theory that stated that a loooooong time ago human females went into heat (just like most other mammals) and it wasn't until that occurred that the breasts would swell to a size larger than the males' breasts. All that changed when humans started spending an inordinate amout of time in/near water in order to protect themselves from predators and gather food. At that point the breasts stayed larger, bolstered by extra body fat, to help keep the core warm (since there was a better chance the women and children were hiding in the lake than the men, who were fighting.)

I rarely if ever read superhero comics, mostly because they're an inconvenient-to-purchase money vacuum that make it almost impossible to read one given series about one set of charactes without a billion crossovers and extra issues to buy.

When I do, I rarely pay any attention to the women. The mens' action attracts me. They're well-built active people who solve problems using a variety of techniques. They get stuff done. So the current sexist marketing is working. I want to be those people. And if I want to be them, I can only imagine the desire is that much more for men.

Would I like to read comics where the women get to be the active people who do stuff? Yes, that's why I read the Chicks in Chainmail series of books.

Financially, though, as an outsider to superhero comics I'd say if the current models are failing because they don't appeal to a wide enough range of readers, let them fail. Entrenched big companies rarely have the resources or foresight to totally remake their industries. It's only through the development of new companies and new industries that we get truly new innovative products. There's no point in trying to stop the cycle. Let them fail, then look for the new comics where people are treated as equals and promote them instead.

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 5:10 PM

Would you be honestly saying that at fifteen you would prefer a world where you're surrounded by white guys and a token black "to make things easier?" I seriously doubt it.

Whilst perhaps not admitting it as an adult, teens (like people in general) do prefer environments in which things reaffirm their personal identify -- skin colour, affluence level, and so on. It's biological in origin; psychologically, "different" = threat. How that's expressed in culture may be as curiosity (often patronising), distrust/suspicion, increased incidence of violent encounters (fight/flight response), etc.

Socialisation operates by constructing a norm to anchor around, with identified differences that are regarded as anathema... that shared opposition is another point to anchor around.

It's not entirely hopeless. Some of us anchor around an appreciation for fiction (and porn) that offers realism (and happy participation, in the case of the porn.) People do learn tastes for comics other than run-of-the-mill superhero stereotypes, and we can help by pointing that stuff out and helping it to remain available in a sea of dross. Ditto for novels, music, and every other form of media.

On a general level, bringing up kids to try new stuff (tricky whilst getting them to also observe boundaries that protect them, at times, but possible and a worthy goal) will foster the mindset needed to be actively for it. Whilst producers and retailers bear responsibility for content, they're also distributing what sells, and cycles like that change very gradually if at all.

Comment from: Shaenon [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 5:10 PM

"Consider the evolutionary arguments behind physical attraction:

Men should be looking for healthy women with strong secondary sexual characteristics (child-bearing hips and large mammaries), because those signal an ability to deliver and nurture offspring.

Women should be looking for healthy men who look like they're able to provide for the pack. Until recently (geologically speaking) that meant running down an antelope. Penis size was irrelevant."

Actually, human males have ridiculously large penises compared to most other primates, much larger than they really need to get the job done, suggesting that they did evolve for display--either to other males or to females. You're supposed to be flaunting those things, guys!

I also call bullshit on pointing to Robin as an example of scantily-clad male superheroes. First, he's one guy among dozens; second, he hasn't worn shorts in decades. Nowadays, both the current Robin and Nightwing go around fully clothed.

I actually wanted to rant a bit about this stuff on my Livejournal at some point, so I'll log off now.

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 5:34 PM

did evolve for display

People keep saying things like "evolved for" or "evolved in order to", so we need more and better science teachers. Changes occurred and either did or didn't prosper in the environment; if last-chicken-in-the-shop penises didn't actively prevent genes being passed on, that change could stick around.

Flaunting may be in some minor way be instinctual, but as a behaviour doesn't persist past the first solid kick in the knackers, or slash of claws from an animal hostile towards cavemen. Behaviourally, if any flaunting of size is to occur, a non-hostile environment must be found, extra non-evolved protection (or skill) needs to be acquired, or someone's about to leave the viable gene pool.

Nightwing and the rest presumably have very thin but very effective (no doubt researched with bat-dollars!) body armour underneath those hugging bodysuits...

It's interesting how standards for "fully clothed" have changed -- going around without a jacket, going out in public wearing longjohns, the age of the speedo... next up is simply coating genitals with bodypaint.

Comment from: Wistful Dreamer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 5:34 PM

D&D had this conundrum within the past half decade. They had to ask, "do we continue to focus on out shrinking base (men born in the seventies or earlier), or do we reimage our product to attract new patronage (from females and the current generation of youngsters), possibly risking our core base?" Given how jury-still-out it is for D&D, I'm not sure what to say for superheroes.

That said, Eric is right. Simplistic reimaging of female sexuality is not the primary thrust (don't even think about it) of superheroe comic escapism. Superhero comics are all about self actualizing and the pretense of personal power for an audience that feels powerless. The only real thing that can't change is that the superheroes must be people the audience wants to identify with. They have to be able to leap over tall buildings. Possess (in whatever context) sexy women cohorts is secondary. During the relatively jiggle free eighties (yeah Storm, that mohawk is soo sexual), I often felt that the female characters were more masculinized so that the readership could identify with them. I wanted to be rogue as much as collossus. I fealt sorry for the put upon Shadowkat as much as the put upon Cyclops and Nightcrawler.

Comment from: Wistful Dreamer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 5:35 PM

D&D had this conundrum within the past half decade. They had to ask, "do we continue to focus on out shrinking base (men born in the seventies or earlier), or do we reimage our product to attract new patronage (from females and the current generation of youngsters), possibly risking our core base?" Given how jury-still-out it is for D&D, I'm not sure what to say for superheroes.

That said, Eric is right. Simplistic reimaging of female sexuality is not the primary thrust (don't even think about it) of superheroe comic escapism. Superhero comics are all about self actualizing and the pretense of personal power for an audience that feels powerless. The only real thing that can't change is that the superheroes must be people the audience wants to identify with. They have to be able to leap over tall buildings. Possess (in whatever context) sexy women cohorts is secondary. During the relatively jiggle free eighties (yeah Storm, that mohawk is soo sexual), I often felt that the female characters were more masculinized so that the readership could identify with them. I wanted to be rogue as much as collossus. I fealt sorry for the put upon Shadowkat as much as the put upon Cyclops and Nightcrawler.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 5:41 PM

It's interesting how standards for "fully clothed" have changed -- going around without a jacket, going out in public wearing longjohns, the age of the speedo... next up is simply coating genitals with bodypaint.

Actually, Alan Moore did that one,in Top 10.

Comment from: shadebug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 5:54 PM

See, you have a fundamental problem here in that, in so far as public image goes, men and women are not equal.

See, women have a graduated level of how revealed or sexy they might be. They have safe and obscene naughty bits that can be accentuated or revealed to evoke corresponding reactions. The female form is such that it has more curves and, therefore has far more ways to be accentuated or revealed.

The male form however is practically either normal or obscene. Whereas a woman can have her breasts accentuated without appearing to be offensive or overtly sexual a man has no equivalent.

I keep seeing the suggestion that these male counterparts might have overly accentuated crotches, but the reality is that for a woman to produce the same effect she would have to be sporting a cameltoe, and as far as I know the mainstream press doesn't do that.

in the end we see that what seems to be an overly sexist portrayal of women is merely an exaggeration of normal women, which is what a superhero comic should be.

Standard fashion for women in general exposes far more skin than that of men. We see exposed midriffs, plunging necklines and kneelength skirts. men on the other hand have two options, on or off. You can have a tight shirt or you can have no shirt at all. You don't expose subtle hints of flesh as a male, it wouldn't be attractive and the fashion industry doesn't cater for it.

So, superheroes being extreme versions of normal people would surely dress themselves in extreme versions of what normal people wear.

I'm not sure i made any sort of cogent point but it's an issue that always gets me thinking a bit too hard, so i'll leave it at that

Comment from: Elizabeth McCoy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 6:56 PM

" I see a lot more damaging content in manga than ever in American superhero comics. There is a whole lot more objectifying. And that's not including the pedophile imagery, beastiality, the violence and so on."

I think that you can find all that in manga, because manga is not just one genre. You have yaoi manga (woo!), you have romance manga, you have horror manga, you have action manga, you have manga aimed at boys, you have manga aimed at girls, you have horror action manga aimed at boys, you have horror action manga aimed at girls, you have magical girl manga aimed at boys or girls, you have Ranma 1/2 comedy manga which is probably aimed at everyone Rumiko Takahashi can aim it at and rake in the dough and ditto Inu-Yasha.

You have hentai manga full of the nastiest ickiest stuff possible. And you have stuff where all guys are over 18 and no, there is a wonderful gradation between "shirt off" and "shirt on." (Mrow!)

Saying that all manga is evil sexist stuff is overbroad. As a whole, Japanese culture has its stereotypes, and after a bit, one can recognize them (and some are just as pernicious and limiting as the American ones...), but not *every* manga or anime has the "lolicon tentacle rape" thing going.

I'd find something insightful to say, but I have to get the kid to bed.

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 7:50 PM

Alan Moore did that one

Cool -- I never noticed, but Top 10 is so nicely eclectic visually sometimes it occasionally all blends together. And of course the Engineer is wearing her nanite blood in the Authority.

I was thinking more about regular society and the way bathing costumes have progressed from men sitting in deckchairs with a suit and sleeves, to whole-body costumes, down to speedos and thongs. The next step's more likely to be greater acceptance of nudity as being sexual only in the eye of the beholder than paint, really. Canada and parts of Europe are doing well in this regard.

I see a lot more damaging content in manga than ever in American superhero comics.

Because that's what you've read of superhero comics and what gets imported in the way of manga... rather than biographies of how such-and-such famous sportsperson rose to the top of their profession, or how a business succeeded with visionary management, or how an average guy recaptures his love for fishing. Manga's a medium pitched to all ages in Japan, and the country has an ageing population.

Conversely, most stores in the US will happily sell covers with Catwoman (not so much Wonder Woman these days) in bondage, or an issue with Sue Dibny being raped in moderately graphic detail as part of a big DC event.

To my mind it's probably worse to legitimise violence towards women with overt sexual tones as a plot device than it is to publish stuff that's specifically marketed as fantasy spank lineart. Teenagers can very possibly take away "this is how control is gained and exerted, this is something you can threaten with" whereas they can't very well take away "then you grow tentacles and the catgirl sprouts a penis."

Comment from: John Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 8:07 PM

Eric Burns said:
1) It doesn't matter whether comics are 'meant for boys' or not. It really doesn't. What matters is they're astoundingly sexist. Even if only boys ever read them (which is untrue) that doesn't excuse the sexism, because it ultimately reinforces that sexism in those readers. It affirms it. It makes it okay.
But is this anything that needs to be actively changed, when it's changing on it's own?

I saw a thread on a comic forum the other day on how Ms. Marvel in her new ongoing reacted to her first problem. She called for a man to come fix it. The males in the thread weren't very happy. So either that's going to have to change, or the comic will fail. I did try to read it myself and felt that the conversation between the main character and another female was terrible, so I dropped it 2 pages into it.

The point to those two examples is the negative reaction from male readers to sexist portrayals of women. So is this something that really needs to be actively changed? Or will comics change on their own in order to keep their male readers?

If it's changed on its own it will not change overnight. But it will change. On the other hand, if you want to force change externally, how are you going to go about it?

Maybe doing the team books gender swapped, all poses intact wouldn't change anything.
I've seen people in the past point out ridiculous poses that women protagonists have in order to show off their tits and ass. But then a few months later I saw the exact same pose with a male. And shortly thereafter I saw quite a few poses with males that show off their chest and ass. Now I don't know how often it happens with men versus women so the double standard may exist there, but it doesn't exist in the type of poses that happen.
Eric Burns said: not about the current "comics for twenty to thirty year olds in lieu of 8 year olds through the teen years" problem
As a twenty-something who only recently got into comics, I would absolutely hate it if that problem was fixed. It is however addressed by Marvel Adventures and Marvel Next. I really hope this "problem" is never addressed anymore then it currently is.

Eric Burns said:
This to me is one of the major disappointments of the Ultimate Marvel stuff. They were in a prime position to start over and -- if not eliminate these issues, well, at least get a lot closer.

I suggested some Ultimate comics when I provided a list of comics that don't have this problem anywhere near as much as you make out it is. And I did that because I honestly believe it. So could you provide some specific examples for me?

quiller said:
Some measure of bindage would make sense for the women of large cup sizes.
You mean like Spider-Woman?

quiller said:
Of more concern really is the social interaction between women, when that is 90% stereostypical then you get flat writing and reinforce the wrong ideas in male readers.
Perhaps I'm reading all the right comics but I cannot say I've seen this in any modern comics. Could you provide some examples?

Comment from: VioletSamurai [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 8:22 PM

Mr. Burns, thank you for writing this.
Thank you for posting this.
Thank you for being the sort of person who thinks this.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I've been reading WebSnark for years, in part because of your astute literary analysis and criticism, and in part because you continue to consistently renew my ever-decaying faith in humanity.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 9:03 PM

You know what the problem is in saying "manga is for girls", at least in terms of this discussion? Manga is a style. It's a very broad style, too - anything that can consider One Piece, Akira, Sailor Moon, and Inu Yasha all in the same style has a very broad definition.

However, "superhero comics" is a genre. It's often done in a particular style (someone will undoubtedly correct me on this, but I think it's generally called fantastic realism or something like that), but it is by no means tied down to it. Thus, you're really comparing apples to oranges when you compare them both. And it doesn't even address how you deal with a superheroic manga (which it seems Marvel has experimented with at times; I'm not too up on recent doings in comic books).

Maybe one solution would be for superhero comics in general to step back from the sexual fantasy fulfillment and move mroe towards the fantastic power fantasy fulfillment. The latter seems much more universal and less likely to strike people as off.

Also, to some extent, maybe it's time to retire some of the older heroes. Sacrilege, I know. But there comes a certain point in which too rich of a backstory becomes a burden that keeps new fans from coming in. My example is Spider-Man 3, the upcoming movie. My wife liked the first two, so she's been ravenous for news about the third. She found out about the villains, so she asked me about them. Explaining Venom involved alot of patience, snark, and dealing with bewildered stares.

Maybe it's time for some heroes to step down for a new generation.

Comment from: Fabricari [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 9:13 PM

One clarification:

When I mention "the shelves of manga graphic novels being made to appeal to 15 year old girls," I am talking about a subset of Manga, a popular genre of Manga, to underscore that diversity already exists.

This is not a conversation about how many sub-genres exist in Manga, nor about how much I absolutely love the idiom. I hope American comics can one day be as diverse. Even though some of it is not for me, it's a lot healthier because of it's diversity, and I think closer to what Eric would like to see in comics. Just a guess, though.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 9:21 PM

See, I thought the reason was because comic artists couldn't draw small breasted grown-women as superheroes. Or even worse, draw varied shapes of women's breasts. They just look like seeing a Buckminster Fuller house from the sky. And they never vary.

Besides, I have more of a problem of how Barbish skinny these girl's waists are. And I mean Barbie the doll. No wonder superheroines tend to have very noticable breasts and asses. The asses aren't in the Sir Mix-a-lot catagory, but you see the skinny waists, the other parts just seem to stand out. They only time their bellies get big is when they're about ready to have super children.

Which brings me to another point: ever notice there's no such thing as an ugly superheroine or villainess? Or even a homely one?

And maybe if they had more interesting storylines and didn't go to the Infinite Crisis Well as often as they do, maybe people will read comic books more often.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 9:23 PM

Oh, and the Marvel Universe is in some sort of Civil War. Does that mean Gambit is General Robert E. Lee?

Comment from: John Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 10:30 PM

miyaa said:
ever notice there's no such thing as an ugly superheroine or villainess? Or even a homely one?

I agree. Gertrude Yorkes is the definition of classic beauty. And don't forget the ever hot Deadpool along with Nightcrawler. Yummy.

And let's not leave out the hot villains like Penguin who was obviously lifted off the latest issue of Playgirl. Or the modern day fabio, Kingpin who is second only to Vulture.

Comment from: Polychrome [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 13, 2006 11:41 PM

You may wish to read the section you quoted a little more closely, John.

Comment from: Teague [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 12:23 AM

I think you have with the people saying "Yeah, it's sexist, so what?' is that it isn't clear what you want the superhero industry/audience to do with the realization once they've got it.
Do you think comics should become equally sexualized, or desexualized? Should the superheroes wear bulkier and more unflattering costumes? Should there be more comic series focusing on imagery that women can sit down and masterbate to?

As for your idea for the gender swapping, I don't see how it would have much effect beyond shock value. I think just as many males would be aroused by the more modest, but still form-fitting spandex costumes, and just as few women aroused by guys in mini-skirts and fishnets. I thought that the average woman finds a man more attractive in a tuxedo than a banana-hammok. It doesn't seem any more effective than doing this to any other genres, like say a western movie with the women in ponchos and pants with the men gussied up in frilly dresses and make-up.

There are plenty of female characters who are as strong physically, mentally, and emotionally, if not stronger, but they still show off a lot more skin.
What is your idea of the ideal presentation of superheroes? Yes sexism is there, but now what do we do about it?

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 12:38 AM

John, the comment was about female characters, unless most of those you just mentioned have undergone sex changes very recently.

A lot depends on the artist (eg, Pat Lee's humans come out ugly by default.) Take Oracle, for instance, who ranges from quite realistic to surgically enhanced depending on who's drawing her. Or the artistic chaos that was Generation X after the first half dozen issues. Which gets taken as the 'default' or 'real' character? First? Longest-running? Favourite? Most credible?

I thought the reason was because comic artists couldn't draw small breasted grown-women as superheroes.

The first time you lose your backbone over a problem, I'll kill you, Henry. I won't wear one of those damnfool spandex body-condom things. I don't have the bust for it."

Most of the Ellis-era Stormwatch artists (Jim Lee being a notable exception) did pretty well, actually.

I think just as many males would be aroused by the more modest, but still form-fitting spandex costumes

Yup. Like full swimming constumes tend to be sexier than bikinis to a lot of people. There's the still the small issue of some artists cramming in as many bum and tit shots as possible, though.

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 12:41 AM

Whoops -- missed opening quote on that Jenny bit.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 12:49 AM

1. Stop equating superheroes with being some sort of sexist ideal body figure made for the bedroom?

2. Ignore the problem because the comic industry is losing more readership as a whole anyway?

3. Develop superhero webcomics that show you can draw superheroes without drawing them so Stan-Lee like?

4. Read the Tick?

Comment from: John Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 12:50 AM

John, the comment was about female characters, unless most of those you just mentioned have undergone sex changes very recently.
Aah, missed that. Thanks.

Yup. Like full swimming constumes tend to be sexier than bikinis to a lot of people.
It isn't sexier (then again I don't think Teague was saying that), but I think you'd be hardpressed to say it isn't sexy.

Comment from: William_G [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 1:00 AM

Oh, nonsense.

It's not the titties that keep girls away from the spandex stuff.

It's the writing. Everything i've read on the situation suggests that girls are drawn to comics that feature strong characterisation and interaction.

The inbteraction in New Avengers is:

"Hey Logan"

"Hey Pete, eh."

"S'up y'all?"

"Hey, Luke."

"Jessica sho looks fine, yo"

"Yup.. Not as fine as MJ, but yup."

"Totally, eh."

BEEP BEEP BEEEP

"Look out!"

"Skrulls, eh!"

"Sweet christmas!"

And they fight.

Comment from: John Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 1:17 AM

It's the writing. Everything i've read on the situation suggests that girls are drawn to comics that feature strong characterisation and interaction.

That would explain why the amount of females reading comics is increasing. I'd also argue that the fact it's seen as geeky keeps them away (males seem much more willing to embrace geekiness then females).

The inbteraction in New Avengers is:

I take it you haven't actually read a New Avengers comic?

Comment from: Paragon_Kobold [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 4:14 AM

I want to see gender-reversed DEFENDERS...

Comment from: John Lynch [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 4:32 AM

I want to see gender-reversed DEFENDERS...
Heh. I saw a random Defenders comic from the 70s or 80s and stopped reading it after I saw one of the costume's of a female (hint: she would have been better off wearing a bikini).

Comment from: ShelBelle [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 5:48 AM

I'm too tired to actually argue a point so I'm going to comment on one commenter whose comments I liked.
Comment from: miyaa
See, I thought the reason was because comic artists couldn't draw small breasted grown-women as superheroes. Or even worse, draw varied shapes of women's breasts.

I vividly recall an old issue (maybe 5yrs ago) of X-men. It took me noticing that the girl was coming out of the wall before I realized it was Kitty, not Rogue. Even Storm had the same face, just different coloring. If an artist only has one 'pretty girl' face, he probably doesn't do much better on varying the rest of the body...
(though it is worth noting there's some good artists out there, who draw individuals, and who are capable of making a b-cup look gorgeous (I

Besides, I have more of a problem of how Barbish skinny these girl's waists are.... Which brings me to another point: ever notice there's no such thing as an ugly superheroine or villainess? Or even a homely one?
There have been - but they almost always get makeovers, and/or were stunningly gorgeous before some 'tragic accident'. Madame Masque. Viper. the female Thing. Callisto. I was nearly violently ill when Marrow was cutesified, and promptly stopped reading X-men. (haven't been back and from what I've heard, I haven't missed much) I actually liked her just as she was. Female, fugly, and bitchy.
I've got one for you in return - how many heroines/villainesses do you see that are over 30? Where do women go in comics between the ages of 29 and 60?

Comment from: Paragon_Kobold [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 6:46 AM

Comment from: John Lynch

Heh. I saw a random Defenders comic from the 70s or 80s and stopped reading it after I saw one of the costume's of a female (hint: she would have been better off wearing a bikini).

------------------------------------------------

Was that Cloud? (The girl dressed in a... cloud!)

That character _was_ actually gender-reversed. 70s Defenders was sort of weird.

Anyway, I was thinking of the original line-up of Dr Strange (As the fully dressed one), the Hulk, Silver Surfer, and Namor the Sub-Mariner.

Comment from: j.mcc [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 9:19 AM

Opinion follows

I don't want to sound dismissive, but who cares? It's funny, because Eric, I believe you've written a bit on Twisp & Catsby, throwing around the idea that they're not "for" everyone, yet this rant seems to indicate that you can't apply that philosophy outside of the instance where the term was coined.

Superhero comics are intrinsically male mythology. They're the campfire stories men toss around when they get back to nature. In them men are tough, obstacles are larger than life, and women are, if nothing else, desirable. This lore isn't for women by design and trying to shoehorn [more*] gender equality into them would only serve to make it no longer the same genre. You can't have female friendliness without turning it into something else entirely. What that something else entirely is I'm not sure, because, really, I have no idea what female mythology looks like. But that's what should be marketed to women rather than trying to change up existing superhero comic archetype.

If you're a woman who happens to like Marvel and DC's flagship product, more power to you, but your appreciation for it is akin to me being a tampon fanboy; and I certainly wouldn't presume to move that tampons should be easier for men to use. That would be totally misunderstanding what I'm a fan of.

*I say more because the fact that women are clad at all is the product of previous efforts at making it a more universal product. If there was no univeral marketing effort put in, the genre would be blatantly pornographic instead of thinly veiling it like it does currently.

Comment from: Paragon_Kobold [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 9:38 AM

The most obvious explanation for the way women are drawn in superhero comis is simply that the artist are (nearly) all males, and simply like to draw sexy women.

Comment from: Scarybug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 10:45 AM

Re: Breast size and mate selection -> In other apes the females breasts only swell when they are in heat and ovulating. Obviously this is best time to mate, so males are selected for that have an attraction to larger breasted females. In humans, females breasts become large after puberty, again a signal that this, and not before is the correct time for mating. Human breast size doesn't fluctuate much after that, but humans use sex as pairbonding, so its more important to survival of a family that a pair mate continuously even if not for the express purpose of procreation. Thus men and women are selected for that are continously sexually attractive.

Comment from: Scarybug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 11:00 AM

Re: Sexism and clothing -> It has been said regarding the short skirts on Star Trek (TOS) that in the sixties, short skirts were a sign of sexual liberation, not exploitation. (Knowing what we know of roddenberry, we can take this with a grain of salt) If you look at the way men have subjugated women in the past (and the present) you will notice a theme if *dictating* what is okay and not okay for women to wear. Sure we can objectify women by encouraging skimpy outfits, OR we can BLAME women for the fact that we are attracted to them and force them to cover up every inch of exposed flesh thereby removing their power over us.

So my contention is that it is not what women are depicted as wearing that is sexist. It does not matter how much or little skin is exposed. It is the act of men telling women what to wear that is sexist.

And personally, I find any rule regarding another person's dress morally repugnant.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 11:55 AM

So my contention is that it is not what women are depicted as wearing that is sexist. It does not matter how much or little skin is exposed. It is the act of men telling women what to wear that is sexist.

By definition, isn't it the artist (or editor) dictating what the character wears?

As well as what the "camera" focuses on?

No one's discussing telling women what to do. We're discussing what editorial and artistic choices are being made depicting women.

Entirely different kettle of fish, SB.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 1:03 PM

It has been said regarding the short skirts on Star Trek (TOS) that in the sixties, short skirts were a sign of sexual liberation, not exploitation. (Knowing what we know of roddenberry, we can take this with a grain of salt)

But no more than a grain. Gene did put women in slacks in the second pilot, and it didn't last. Majel lost her part in the first pilot as the ship's XO because women in the test audiences said, "Who does she think she is?"

Remember the maid in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

Comment from: ebullientsoul [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 1:28 PM

Amen to Eric.

Comment from: Joshua Macy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 1:34 PM

I'd suggest that if you want to see how men are objectified and sexualized to appeal to female audiences, you look at the covers of romance novels. Bare chests, rock-hard abs, guys who look like they live in the gym, shirts open to the waist, yes. Hugely bulging crotches, netted tights--no. And it's not like these are less sexual images--in the more extreme covers some of these guys are dressed in nothing more than a strategically placed sword or anaconda.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 1:57 PM

"That's some snake you have there Marco."

"Yeah, I know. I'm hoping the next shoot, the artists will have me wear an overgrown loin cloth. I don't want to be like Sergio who got bit by his snake doing his session. At least this one is drugged up."

"Ever thought about having a portfolio up on Playgirl?"

"Nah. Besides, if they did see me in the nude, I'm not sure if they'd like what they see."

And this is why I respected Fabio much more after the Nationwide commerical where he ages much more rapidly. Althrough the make-up made him look too much like Jack Palance.

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 2:41 PM

Superhero comics are intrinsically male mythology.

Bullshit. Plenty of women enjoy dress-up-and-beat-the-crap-out-of-evildoers fantasy. And occasionally (moon is full, wind's in the right direction...) men enjoy comics in which the protagonists fight with their brains.

Comment from: Abby L. [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 2:54 PM

I'm disappointed that I missed commenting on this yesterday. I would have to say that part of the reason that women aren't interested in superhero comics is because women so rarely write or draw for superhero comics. (Obviously I'm generalizing here, please don't get on my ass about it. I love superhero comics, myself.) I know that we have our Devin Graysons and our Gail Simones, but these are few and far between.

I said last week at Narbonicon that I was trying my best to combat the sexism in superhero comics by drawing a whole storyline where my male character was clad in nothing but pajamas. And later shirtless for no real reason. But there's only so much one person can do!

It's cyclical really, women who may want to write comics are turned off by the atmosphere of the companies and the comics themselves, and therefore we get few people around to change the way the system is set up.

Comment from: Mitch Clem [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 5:23 PM

Dude, I just did a comic about this last Thursday:

http://mitchclem.com/rockcity/index.php?comic=45

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 6:14 PM

Dude! I read Rock City. How did I miss that?

Anyway -- good one.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 6:46 PM

Also, j.mcc, your comment about being a tampon fanboy, besides being a little disturbing, is off because there's a huge difference between comics and tampons.

Comics are completely a entertainment option, and under no circumstances are they necessary for anything. Tampons are a personal hygene product that's necessary (if you don't wish to use similar options) for avoiding embarassing situations.

Also, worth noting that I've never heard of any woman really enjoy the usage of said products; she just picks them because she's not fond of any of the alternatives. You'd never hear anyone say that about comic books.

Now, if you want to actually make that comparison less disgusting and more apt, I'd suggest talking about becoming a fanboy of Lifetime or Oxygen (the cable networks, not generic living or breathing). While I'd still disagree with the sentiment, you'd at least compare apples to apples.

Comment from: Tina S. [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 8:00 PM

Teague writes:
As for your idea for the gender swapping, I don't see how it would have much effect beyond shock value. I think just as many males would be aroused by the more modest, but still form-fitting spandex costumes, and just as few women aroused by guys in mini-skirts and fishnets.

Because it's not just the outfits? Seriously, am I the only person who is getting this? The point is, hey, look, unrealistic people in unrealistic outfits aside, the women get breasts or crotch or butt filling the panel, or if you see their face they're in some insane and improbable supermodel pose, and the guys get Manly Poses of Manly Aggression.

William G says:
Oh, nonsense.

It's not the titties that keep girls away from the spandex stuff.

It's the writing. Everything i've read on the situation suggests that girls are drawn to comics that feature strong characterisation and interaction.

Right. And girls don't play FPS games because they only like adventure games with deep meaningful plots or The Sims. Same attitude, different medium, and still wrong.

The number of people to whom the idea of comics appeal but the actual rendition of said comics turns off is decidedly non-zero. (Games, too; there's a reason I don't own the later Tomb Raiders, and it isn't because I don't like the gameplay. Also why I never bought Dead or Alive.)

In some ways, it's worse with comics. There are strong women in comics, and there are damn well good stories in comics, but it is tainted by two things for me:

a) The fact that even the strong women have a tendency to go "Oh, yay, a man, teehee, he can solve our problems", probably while in some Marilyn Monroe pose.

b) The fact that the more panel time a woman gets, the more I see her ass and tits.

j.mcc writes:
Superhero comics are intrinsically male mythology.

So... no woman ever dreams of saving the world, or helping people?

You know what's really funny about this? When I was a little kid, back before we really grokked the idea of gender differences aside from "girls/boys have cooties" and "boys don't play with dolls", we used to play things like cops and robbers, cowboys and indians, and, yes, superheroes and villains, albeit on a fairly simplistic scale. Girls, and boys. Together.

Then we grew up and apparently forgot how.

You can't have female friendliness without turning it into something else entirely.

So.... changing the poses so they weren't T&A would totally destroy the underlying message?

Somehow I can't bring myself to agree with this.

Comment from: William_G [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 8:04 PM

I take it you haven't actually read a New Avengers comic?

Aw, christ... Don't go getting all fanboy on me, John. It was a gag.

Comment from: William_G [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 8:10 PM

Right. And girls don't play FPS games because they only like adventure games with deep meaningful plots or The Sims. Same attitude, different medium, and still wrong.

My claim is not what you're claiming my claim is.

So if you could stop swinging the "first year sociolgy class cudgel of gender politics" around before you put out an eye, that'd be cool.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 9:18 PM

Thus spoketh Tina:
The number of people to whom the idea of comics appeal but the actual rendition of said comics turns off is decidedly non-zero. (Games, too; there's a reason I don't own the later Tomb Raiders, and it isn't because I don't like the gameplay. Also why I never bought Dead or Alive.)

Ah, then you ought to be thrilled that Dead of Alive: Beach Volleyball was so well recieved, it spawned a sequeal called Dead or Alive: Extreme Volleyball. It's the envy of every Japanese dating/hentai game.

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 9:56 PM

The fact that the more panel time a woman gets, the more I see her ass and tits.

Ass I'll readily grant you, for many comics. Tits... comics usually aren't sequences of panels with just head shots. Whether their portrayal is viewed as sexualised depends far more on the comic, artist and, rather crucially, the reader. Having breasts in a panel or characters having above an A or B cup doesn't equal a tit-shot.

Comment from: storiteller [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 10:14 PM

Superhero comics are intrinsically male mythology.

Erm...and that's exactly why Powerpuff Girls are so incredibly popular? So is it all pre-adolescent boys watching these adorable little - but very powerful - girls fly around and save the world.

Comment from: Kris@WLP [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 10:37 PM

I would just like to say that I've never pretended -not- to be sexist with my comics. }:-{D

That said, if there was significant demand for Chocolate Milkman, with aspects just as exaggerated as the female version, I'd give it a try. Same with The Misadventures of Chinpo-kun. However, Patricia is the Wolf would be a non-starter, I think; not only is a lot of the humor there based on role reversal, but the physical, er, dynamics of the gender swap would be, well, highly unfortunate...

Comment from: Kris@WLP [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 14, 2006 10:51 PM

Also, there's something else to consider: the LEGAL double standard regarding people as sexual ideals. Current mores and laws encourage the sexual objectification of the female and strongly discourage the same for males- even taking into account the fact that males can go topless and, generally, females can't. Depicting males as sex objects on the same level as women are in mainstream comics today would lead to the banning of said comics in many places and possible prosecutions for indecency and obscenity. Even where the law didn't take the comics out, retailers would refuse to offer them for sale.

In short, it's not -merely- the comics industry that has a bias favoring sexualizing females over males; it's the American society as a whole.


Comment from: Scarybug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 15, 2006 12:10 AM

I muddied my point somewhere in my tangent above. I was just saying that skimpy outfits are not intrinsically sexist. It's the objectification. And yes, the artists are the one's dictating what the women wear. I don't disagree with your central point. I just had a quibble with one of your premises.

Comment from: Tina S. [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 15, 2006 1:08 AM

William G, if you can't see how "Superheroes are a male thing" and "FPS games are a male thing" are nearly precisely the same, or how the two topics conflate and overlap, then... well, I already thought you were missing the point, so there's no change there.

This is not some academic viewpoint. This is the viewpoint of an actual woman who actually likes both a wide variety of games -- including City of Heroes, Unreal Tournament and Soul Calibur, respectively a superhero MMO, an FPS, and a fighting simulation. And someone who used to read a hell of a lot more comics, but who is genuinely bothered by the idea that I should just put up with the stupid rendition of impossible breasts and tit shots just because "it's a guy thing". It's not, and one reason why more women don't find those things appealing is because of the way women are portrayed in them. Period.

When I was a teenager, many of my friends read comic books. Many of them played D&D, and later, Champions. This means friends of both genders. This is the real world. Men and women both like such things.

My female friends have gone to see Batman, Spiderman, V for Vendetta, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Daredevil (though most of them thought it sucked, but that's true of the male friends, too), and, of course, X-Men. They like the genre. I like the genre. In actual practice, the idea that it's a male-only appeal sort of breaks down.

So if anyone here is 'swinging around the sociological stick', it's you. The idea that comics only appeal to guys (or that story and characterization only appeal to girls) is profoundly a strictly academic one; out in the real world, we know better.

Probably more to the point, if you think that superhero comics don't contain some pretty well-detailed, intricate stories, often involving strong characterization and interaction, you have not read any of the comics I have over the last 20 years or so.

Comment from: Ununnilium [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 16, 2006 2:04 PM

First, on superheroes being a "male power fantasy": Ahahahahahaha. Hahahaha, ahahahaha. Ahahaha ha.

Moving on.

Most of what I was going to say has already been said by one side or the other, but I think anyone who's really thinking about this issue would do well to read http://www.kalinara.blogspot.com/ . It's fun!

(Also, I don't point at New Avengers as a good example of anything about comics, except "what is decompressed storytelling".)

Comment from: toshi.m [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 17, 2006 5:24 PM

My apologies for the epic post that follows. It's been a slow day at work.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the movie "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" yet. Here's a movie where both of the people with super-powers are female, the villain is a wimpy guy with machines, and the powerless love interest is male. Almost a subversive concept - Uma Thurman, the Super Ex in question, described the movie as a "gender-bending comedy" in a magazine interview I read somewhere.

** SPOILER ALERT! IF, YOU KNOW, YOU CARE **
But even here, there are a host of gender issues in the movie, albeit less clear-cut ones. Thurman's character is completely mentally unbalanced by her power- she's a psychotic stalker and an abusive girlfriend (who not only threatens and beats her boyfriend, but arguably rapes him as well).

This may be a "genderbending comedy", but if the genders were reversed, it wouldn't be a comedy at all. It would be something more like an exploration of the dark side of adolescent power-fantasies, where the psychotic need to maintain your power (control) spills over into real abusive relationships. We're invited to laugh at the beatings and the rapes and the stalking, because Thurmans's a *girl*, so of course she could never do any real damage to a *boy*, and wassisface the guy is a *boy*, so of course he's not damaged by painful, nonconsensual sex. The abused partner attempts to escape, but is harrassed and physically threatened until he comes back. Does this sound like a joke to you?

Oh, I laughed in the theatre, while I wasn't thinking too hard about it. It was only while talking it over with some friends that someone brought up what a creepy thing it actually was. Even with super-powers, the happy ending for the girls in the movie still involves boyfriends. It still involves super-model beauty and perfect hair.

** END SPOILERS **

This is a case of the superhero genre being brought into a different medium with the *express intent* of mixing up the sexism issue. And to be fair, some of the problems mentioned above - revealing spandex costumes, T&A shots - did largely disappear. But it laid out a host of other troubling aspects of both the super-hero genre and modern gender politics.

Comment from: MagnoliaPearl [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 17, 2006 7:19 PM

I'm suddenly envisioning the "Super Ex-Girlfriend" trailer with genders reversed. Oh my God, how terrifying. But then, as you are pointing out, shouldn't it be terrifying either way?

It's probably a movie that ain't worth thinking too much about, but I also resent the idea that superpowers make men heroic, but it turns women into psychotic power-obsessed criminal freaks.

Too bad. I liked the idea of a superhero romantic comedy. Putting two worn-out genres together tends to invigorate them both. Well... not in this case, but yeah.

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