Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Objectifying Women in Comics - The Other Debate

I try not to get too political on this blog. I look at politics the same way drag racers look at speed limits. They're best ignored until the law comes back to bite you. But every now and then, I feel the inescapable urge to comment on a major controversy that won't go the fuck away. And since this controversy happens to involve women and how their boobs are portrayed in comics, I just have to say something.

It started when I read a recent article on CBR about the portrayal of female characters in comics. It's one of many articles that have emerged over the past few months where men and women alike complain about how women are being portrayed in modern comics. It was sparked largely by this.

That's Starfire, the bonerific heroine from Red Hood and the Outlaws, one of the new 52 that DC relaunched last year. She went from the happy-go-lucky alien babe to the mindless sexbot and for some very understandable reasons, people had a problem with that. Now it could have been contained to just this one issue and the result of some overly shitty writing on DC's part. But no. Like Ozzy Osborne taking a piss on the Alamo, it had to become something much bigger than it was. Now it's become a feminist boondoggle that has scrotums shriveling, ovaries kicking into overdrive, and drunks like me banging their heads against the wall for reasons that don't involve running out of blow.

I'm already a frustrated drunk to begin with and I was content to just let other people fight this out, but it's gotten to a point where there is no debate anymore. People are starting to miss the fucking point and I feel compelled to bring it up since nobody else will or at least won't without a few shots of tequila in their system. So for all you men and women, get ready because I'm going to go on a rant about gender issues. I'm probably going to offend some women and some men. There's absolutely no way around it in this politically correct world so please bear with me because I'm not just ranting this time. I'm actually going to try and make a valid point in this debate that I hope will set it to rest in some ways.

First off, I get it. I understand why women are upset with how they're portrayed in comics. That's not sarcasm or cynicism either. That's the honest truth. Women do have a reason to be upset with a lead female character like Starfire is turned into a glorified blow-up doll. They have a right to be upset when characters like Rogue, Power Girl, Catwoman, and Huntress are posed in ways that encourage masturbation. They're right when they say there's a double standard when it comes to men and women. Now does that mean I agree with the article on CBR and all others like it? Well it's not that simple. See, the debate for me goes like this.

Outraged Woman and/or Man: "Women in comics are being portrayed in an overly sexualized, objectified way that's insulting and demeaning!"

Me: "And?"

I know what you may be thinking. I'm implying that I don't care about their argument, but that's not what I'm saying. If I didn't care I would say "So what? Now where's the nearest bar?" But I didn't say that. I said "And?" because that argument isn't a complete thought. It's only half the debate. The other half is supposed to be the solution or at least what you think is a viable solution. At no point do I ever hear anybody propose such a solution. It's just "This is a moral outrage!" and that's it.

Well there's a word for that kind of talk. It's called whining. It's what little kids do when their parents tell them they can't get a candy bar at the check-out line in a grocery store. In the adult world when you point out a problem or criticism, you at least try to advocate a solution. Bringing awareness isn't a solution in and of itself. It can be part of the process, but at some point you need to put something down on paper or you're just wasting time and breath.

The writer of the article was Kelly Thompson on CBR. She's a good writer and she makes plenty of valid points. But I ask both her and every other man and woman who has made the same argument. What's the alternative? What's the solution? Hell, what's the compromise? What is it? What would you do to make things different? Those are not rhetorical questions. Those are real questions that need to be answered if your argument is to have merit. Don't play a game of hypothetical and paint a picture of an ideal world in your head where this issue didn't exist and everything was all peaches, cream, and imported vodka. Give the rest of us, the readers and the male audience that are the targets, a viable solution with the keyword being viable.

Let's start simple. How would you want them posed? You want them all to pose like the men? You want every female character to do absolutely nothing to distinguish themselves from the other gender? That almost implies that they're ashamed to be women and want to be men. Same goes for clothes. You want Rogue, Catwoman, and Huntress to dress like men? Wearing baggy blue jeans and a shirt that says "Ask Me About My Prostate?"  More importantly, how would that be just as memorable or viable in the comic market? Would men still buy it? Would more women buy it? How do you know this? Flip these images of Hulk and She-Hulk and tell me they work just as well.

Let's look at it form another angle here. How much objectification is really at work here? Thompson claims that women are built like porn stars while the men are built like athletes. Are they? NFL linemen are considered athletes. Sumo wrestlers are considered athletes. Fuck, golfers are considered athletes. The men in comics are NOT fucking athletes. They're male models. Pretty boys. Jocks. The kind that make up over 99 percent of all the douche-bag antagonist in every 80s teen movie ever made.

Moreover, do comics do this because of or in spite of reader tastes? Comics don't exist in a vacuum. They're part of a market that relies both on sex selling and selling quite well. That market uses evolutionary biology to full effect. Men are visual creatures. That's not an opinion or a criticism. That's a scientific fucking fact. Here's a study that proves it in a way no whining can resist. Like it or not, men are going to respond more strongly to the presence of sexual imagery than women and comics are a visual medium. To be against using sexual connotations in comics is akin to being against birds for using wings. Now is the current situation excessive and egregious? I would argue yes. It is. But again, what the fuck are we supposed to do about it?

Finally, there's a reason why men aren't dressed up in the ridiculous outfits that female comic characters wear. It's the same reason why men don't pose like women in comics. It's because, and I know this is a politically incorrect thing to say, men and women are different. Men have a penis, balls, and hair on their ass. Women have boobs, a vagina, and ovaries. There are a long list of other differences and like every other animal in nature, those differences result in different manifestations of behavior. This isn't even about comics anymore. This is about fucking evolutionary biology. It doesn't justify the current situation, but it does imply a different perspective.

I know we live in a multicultural society that values equality and shit, but men and women are still fundamentally different at the end of the day. Whining about them not being completely equal is like whining about the sky being blue. It's just plain whining and it's no better than that little kid making a scene in the grocery store I mentioned earlier. It's not going to make the imagery of Emma Frost flaunting her sexuality or Namor flaunting his male bravado any less potent.

So I'm all ears. What do we do about the current situation? What do we, the consumers, propose to Marvel and DC and every other publisher out there as a reasonable solution that will ensure they're just as viable if not more so as an industry? I don't know what it is and I've yet to hear anything from anybody that offers something tangible. Maybe someone on this blog can offer something. I know I come off as a raving nut job here, but I'm not being disingenuous when I say I respect women. But I respect men as well. I'll comment on boobs as much as I'll comment on dicks. At the end of the day, it doesn't change anything. So for this debate about women and comics and all debates like it, I implore the morally outraged parties to quit with the fucking whining and start proposing viable solutions. Nuff said.


  1. The universe must be trying to tell me something. So much of my random web surfing has come back to feminism these past few days...

    I understand the sentiment, and I agree that at some point some of these groups really are just whining whilst expecting others to fix the world for them. And the lack of solutions they offer may be akin to them thinking that the solution should be obvious: simply "Don't do that" or "Do the opposite" of whatever is bugging them.

    The trouble I have with modern feminism is that I've never seen a more splintered political/social cause in my life. It really doesn't seem like any of them can really agree on anything. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is often held up as a great feminist show, yet I've read essays from women about how it wasn't as progressive a show as many say for such reasons as all the main actors were both thin and pretty.

    It basically boiling down to women's advocates saying that the comics, film, "insert offending institution here" need to "do this". Well honestly, no they don't. If they're making money they aren't likely to change things up to satisfy the whims of a small section of the audience, who as I just noted can't entirely agree on what they want anyways.

    Bottom line: if you want to see change happen then make it happen yourself. If you've got time to spend an hour writing a blog about why the industry sucks, then you have an hour to spend writing a story or designing a female character who's reasonably proportioned and keeps her clothes on. Then you can let the market decide if they're interested or not. Who knows? Maybe you'll be one of the lucky ones.

  2. Point well taken, Adam. However, there's a problem with creating a new character from scratch. It won't catch on in a crowded marketplace. Like it or not, many of the established heroes, male and female alike, were created decades ago. Many before the modern feminist movement. Some, like Wonder Woman, were created by a man with bondage fetishes. Creating a new character just doesn't always work out well. Most of the characters that Marvel and DC creates are rip-offs of others anyways. And that won't change what's already going on. My point is what do the whiners propose we do with the current situation as it stands? I've yet to hear something viable.


  3. Indeed, which may in fact be the problem. Much as I love many classic comic characters, they've been around for decades and can never truly be allowed to go away otherwise the fans will stop caring. Sometimes a new character can finds its own success but it's usually a self-contained limited series or piggy-backing off an existing franchise. Sometimes the industry is just the way is. For instance, as much as guys like looking at comic book cheesecake, why is it Marvel and DC can't get them to care that much about a female solo series even with established characters?

    Don't get me wrong. I pretty much agree with the women saying that the over-sexualization of females in comics has gotten ridiculous and borderline creepy in some instances. I do wish the creators would tone it down and portray women in a more sensitive light. There is a saying that comics are legal porn for teens after all. But as much as we could ask the publishers to reign it in, this stuff became popular for a reason. Namely a lot of the fans like looking at this stuff and a lot of the creators like making it this way. If they were to take the more inclusive route and try and make the characters appeal more to women (or at least less offensive to them) would a lot of the male fanbase quite buying the books? I don't know. It certainly wouldn't change my buying habits, but that's all I can vouch for, and the big houses probably aren't overly keen on risking their surefire dollars to do the right thing, especially when the offended demographic isn't really their target.

    I'm not familiar with Marvel or DC's marketing habits and whether/how they've seriously pushed for women to get into comics as I don't pay that much attention to this stuff, but everyone pretty much knows that comicbooks are widely seen as a "guy" thing. So in the end the publishers may not care what women think so long as the men are still buying. It's like the restaurant Hooter's: pretty much anyone can eat there including children if they've got an adult, but no one sees Hooters as a family style restaurant and I don't think they've ever marketed themselves as such. They don't think women care about them and they're doing fine without them so why shake things up.

    Sorry to be a downer, but until the publishers seriously make an effort to be less skantastic on their own I don't see any of this changing unfortunately. That's why I suggest they make their own characters. If the market lacks something you want, the only sure way to get it is to make it yourself. It's really hard, but not impossible. Manga is hugely popular among women for example.

  4. I think the way it is is fine by me. I like this page and great topic!

  5. Thanks for the comments guys, but I don't see the comic companies pulling back from sexualizing women (and men) anytime soon. Not because they can't, but because nobody has given them a viable alternative. That's the major crux of my article. Yeah, it is a problem. But what would the publishers gain by putting more clothes on women? Would that make the comics sell more? Would that make more women buy them? If not, then why the fuck would they do that? I'm seriously open to alternatives here, but nobody has done shit to offer one so until that changes nothing else will change. It's as simple as that.


  6. Since Adam brought up manga, what's really interesting is that manga has just as much (if not more) T&A than comic books.

  7. Oh compared to some manga, Marvel and DC might as well have been produced by nuns. There are gratuitous panty shots, close ups of boobs, and raging stereotypes that most feminists should bitch about but don't. It's just picking and choosing what to be pissed off about and it's bullshit.

  8. I had to read this again because its probably the most well-thought out article I've seen in regards to this subject.

    I can't help but notice that I rarely ever see attractive women crying sexism whenever images of beautiful scantily clad women are used to sell a product such as comics. Its almost always some bitter frumpy chick.

    Your thoughts, Jack?

  9. George Carlin once asked why is it that every woman that is so against abortion is a woman you wouldn't want to fuck in the first place? But the writer of this article didn't exactly put a picture of herself to go along with it. We don't know how attractive she is. We really can't assume either. I think the issue for women is that comics and so many other media are pushing for this idealized body type for women and most probably will never attain it. Same for men. I'm no slouch, but I know I'll never look as good as Cyclops or Superman. And I'm okay with that. But people like pretty pictures and beautiful people. Is that really something worth bitching about? Thanks for the comment.


  10. Well actually, Thompson does have a small picture of herself attached to her articles, but its only a head shot and its really hard to tell if she's attractive or not. One of the most common arguments I hear from these women is that constantly seeing these images of beautiful scantily clad women will influence a man's attitude and behavior towards women. Is it so hard to believe that a man might actually base his understanding of women on actual empirical reality instead of fiction? I don't believe that the comic industry and other mediums are trying to make women who don't have the "idealized" body feel bad about themselves nor do I believe that they have a responsibility to alleviate women or men of their insecurities.

  11. It goes back to the study I cited. Men are visual creatures. They are more influenced by sight than other senses. Women are influenced in different ways. They're still sexual. Look at the sales if 50 Shades of Gray. They won't watch porn, but they'll read the shit out of it. It just makes too my logical sense that if men see these beautiful women in pop culture that it'll influence their behavior. There's just one problem with that. It's called evidence, Sherlock. Get some.