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She Has No Head! – No, It’s Not Equal

So I’ve been sitting on this post for nearly two years.

Why you ask?  Well, because I knew it would cause a ****storm, as any comics column that’s remotely controversial does, especially it seems when written by a woman. I had also decided, partway through writing She Has No Head! that I was going to take a decidedly more positive tact for the column, primarily focusing on books that are good, and what I’d like to see more of, supporting creators that are getting it right.

But there’s a lot of talk these days, and many good columns written about women in comics, feminism, and in particular the sexism of comics by way of the objectification and hyper-sexualization of female characters and related issues. Most people who read this column regularly know how I feel about these issues.  The short version is that I think it’s a big problem that extends far beyond comics and like other media, it really affects the way people view women, and how women, especially young women, view themselves.  I don’t think “it’s just comics” and it doesn’t matter.  I think media is a powerful thing in our society and that there’s a trickle down effect in seeing these portrayals reinforced over and over again. These portrayals shape how we view and value women and contributes to everything from sexism in the work place to eating disorders. I don’t think comics are the only media to blame, but it does happen to be the medium I write about, so here we are.  However, this column is not actually a discussion of my thoughts on this issue, it’s an answer to the oft repeated knee-jerk response I see to these pieces.  When I read the comments section of a piece that talks about these issues, without fail, in the comments section I come across one idea over and over again…

“The, “Comic books are sexist to women” argument does not work, simply because it is not just women who are being objectified.
It isn’t about ‘how’ the characters are objectified, it’s about the fact that they are objectified at all.  And men and women are both idealized in ridiculous fashions. That is why the argument on how women in comics are objectified will forever be flawed, because it is not an objective criticism.”

This particular comment was on the excellent David Brothers piece for Comics Alliance.  These comments come in a variety of different flavors of course, and the one above is not particularly offensive or rife with vitriolic hatred, as they often are, but it’s the idea itself that is just painfully shallow. You can find some version of this comment (many versions in fact) on any piece about sexism and objectification in comics.  And so, sick of seeing this completely flawed and tunnel vision argument repeated ad nauseam, I decided to break it down once and for all in my column. Because while you can personally decide that you LIKE seeing objectification of women in your comic books, and you can decide that you are quite content with the status quo, or that you don’t think it’s detrimental to women and it doesn’t bother you, the idea that women and men are treated visually the same in superhero comics is utter crap. In other words, “No, It’s Not Equal.”

When I look at the way characters are rendered in superhero comics for more academic purposes, I look at four primary categories: Body Type, Clothing, Beauty, and Posing.  So I’m going to break each of them down…here we go!

1. Body Type.

Both men and women are given crazy nearly unattainable idealized bodies in comics, we can all agree on this.  But that is where the equality ends.  Men are generally portrayed with idealized ATHLETE body types.  While women are generally portrayed with idealized PORN STAR and SUPERMODEL body types.  Which would make sense if the women were not actually superheroes.  But they are, and so making them porn stars and supermodels doesn’t make a lot of sense.  If women, like men, were rendered like gymnasts, swimmers, runners, boxers, tennis pros, and body builders, you’d see far fewer objections, because that would make things quite balanced. An idealized athletic form that few of us can achieve but many of us would admire or like to have, is imminently reasonable for a superhero form, but that’s not what we get, instead we get idealized (and wholly unrealistic) supermodel and porn star types.

Image from Howard Schatz's ATHLETE

And the larger issue is not the believability, but the connotation. An athletic male form suggests strength, power, and ability – all traits that make sense for superheroes.

Porn star and model body types suggest beauty, sex, and frequently, submissiveness. None of those qualities tie directly to superheroes.

Birds of...Porn?

It’s important to remember that idealization of the form is not the same as sexualization of the form.  Something can be idealized without being sexualized.  But in superhero comics, because the forms that female characters are based on have their roots in porn and models, the form becomes even more sexualized once it is idealized to perfection. Is there anything wrong with perfection in fictional stories? No. Is there anything wrong with superheroes being beautiful sexual beings? Of course not. Is there anything wrong with titillation for the sake of titillation? No, not in the right context.  But because the vast majority of female superheroes are rendered this way, it leaves context out. It becomes ALL about titillation and sex, regardless of context.  And that creates a problem.  And it’s one of the many ways that anyone interested in looking at things objectively can see that…no, this is not equal..

2.  Clothing.

As readers of superhero comics we call ALL agree that most superheroes, both men and women, are subjected to the incredibly unforgiving spandex, latex, leather, etc.  Spandex (etc.) is skintight and leaves little (if anything) to the imagination, but women are simply not dressed the same way that men are.  Men, almost universally are covered from head to toe, while women are regularly subjected to: swimsuits, thongs, strapless tops, tops with plunging necklines, stiletto heels, boob windows, belly windows, thigh highs, fishnets, bikinis, and – apparently all the rage lately – costumes unzipped to their stomachs, etc.  This is not equality.

As always, the problem is context. Wonder Woman wears an incredibly revealing strapless swimsuit, while every single one of her male teammates is fully covered...including either full masks or high necked collars!

While it might be possible to give Emma Frost a pass, what is the excuse for Rogue being unzipped to her stomach and Storm's extremely revealing strapless swimsuit? It's particularly obvious when they're standing next to five male teammates fully covered head to toe, with two showing their bare arms at most.

Let’s look at ten of the (arguably) most popular marquee superheroes – Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Flash, Captain America, Wolverine, and Thor.  Every single one of them are covered – almost literally head to toe.  The most flesh you’d see on any of them are Thor and Wolverine’s arms.  Scandalous!

And now let’s look at ten of the most popular marquee superheroines:  Wonder Woman (strapless swimsuit, sometimes a thong, sometimes heels), Catwoman (regularly unzipped, frequently heels), Ms. Marvel (swimsuit, sometimes a thong, thigh high boots), Storm (strapless swimsuit, thigh high boots, sometimes heels), Batgirl (fully covered, sometimes heels), Black Widow (regularly unzipped, sometimes heels), Invisible Woman (fully covered – for now at least), Black Canary (swimsuit, sometimes a thong, fishnet stockings, sometimes heels), Rogue (as of late – constantly unzipped), and Power Girl (boob hole, swimsuit, sometimes a thong, sometimes heels).

Apparently there is a rampant zipper problem in superhero comics...i.e. that they don't actually work...

Namor and Emma, two characters whose silly costumes make character and context sense.

Of those ten women, only one has been consistently covered up the way her male counterparts are – Batgirl.  The rest have been (or are being) subjected to a series of costumes that are quite frankly, bizarre. That make no sense for what they do, or who they are. And I’ve left off many of the worst offenders – the Star Sapphires and Psylockes of the bunch.  You’ll note I’ve also left off characters like Emma Frost/The White Queen, who you can actually make an argument for dressing provocatively.  And that’s where we get to the why.  Why do these costumes make sense?  When a male character has a crazy revealing costume it’s for a reason. Namor sometimes wears a Speedo. But that makes a certain amount of sense both from a job perspective (he lives in the ocean and is nearly invulnerable) and from a character perspective (he’s a known lothario and braggart who seems like he’d enjoy showing off his body).  Similarly, Emma Frost’s insanely sexy costumes (she frequently wears what is essentially lingerie to fight crime) make a certain amount of character sense (she’s an extrovert that constantly trades on her looks and makes no attempt to hide this) and now that she can also turn into a diamond, she can be nearly indestructible when she desires and she likes to show off her pretty diamond skin, so the more skin available, the better as far as she’s concerned. And so like Namor, Emma makes some sense.  But Emma doesn’t makes sense if she’s standing next to Storm in a strapless swimsuit and thigh highs, Rogue with her costume unzipped to her stomach, and Psylocke in a thong swimsuit.  It’s as if Namor, Wolverine, Cyclops, and Colossus were all wearing swimsuits.  What sense would that make?

Again, you can like to see things this way until the cows come home. You can personally love those sexy costumes and think they’re wonderfully designed and never want it to change, that’s your prerogative, but let’s not pretend it’s equal, okay?

3. Beauty.

Like idealized forms and spandex, beauty is a common denominator in superhero comics. It’s just a fact. Not unlike Hollywood, superhero comics tend to show a world full of people that are exceptionally attractive (and mostly white, but that’s a whole other post).

However, men are still allowed to look a bit like “monsters”…on occasion.  For women it’s incredibly rare, unless they ARE in fact “monsters”.  And even when they are “monsters”…they’re still frequently possessors of beautiful bodies and/or sex appeal.

Beauty, being perhaps even more subjective than body type idealization is tougher to talk about, but one of the most obvious examples of this disparity between male and female superheroes is in The Hulk. Bruce Banner as The Hulk?  Frequently drawn as a pretty terrifying monster and certainly not considered stereotypically handsome.  Jennifer Walters as She-Hulk?  Stone. Cold. Fox.

Monster and stone cold fox. Hmmm....

Let’s look at the villains shall we?  Here’s a random selection of some of the most popular villains my boyfriend and I could think of for both genders:

From top left: Catwoman, Dark Phoenix, Poison Ivy, Saturnyne, Star Sapphire, The Baroness, Enchantress, Cheetah, Viper, Elektra, and Giganta - all drop dead gorgeous and built like brick houses.

From top left: The Joker, Mephisto, The Vulture, Lex Luthor, Galactus, Green Goblin, Sabertooth, Loki, Penguin, Dr. Doom, and Darkseid - less drop dead gorgeous.

The disparity is a little alarming, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want or expect all characters to be unattractive. I understand that we all want to lose ourselves to a degree in fantasy. That fictional worlds provide an escape that we all want. Hell, I grew up wanting to be these heroines because they were powerful and beautiful, I’m not immune to it. We’re all socially conditioned to want youth and beauty, and we’re all conditioned to think specific things are beautiful, but that doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to educate ourselves against it.  And it doesn’t make it equal between the sexes.  It’s much more frequently true that women are required to be beautiful no matter what, while men have much more flexibility.  From anti-heroes to superheroines, and from femme fatales to full blown supervillains it’s rare to find a female character that isn’t drop dead gorgeous.  There have been examples of it over time – Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos’ Jessica Jones from Alias was a very ordinary looking woman by mainstream comics standards.  But like many female characters that start out less stereotypically attractive (Marrow, Angel Salvatore, Callisto, etc.) Jessica Jones has now been reverted to drop dead gorgeous type. There are examples of women that break this rule in superhero comics, but it’s exceptionally rare.

4. Posing.

Posing is perhaps the most persuasive argument in the arsenal, because it’s such a prevalent and well-known fact that there’s an actual term that has been coined. The brokeback. The brokeback pose is when a female character literally looks as if her back is broken, because that is how she must pose in order to show readers both her tits and ass simultaneously. When a word has been created in order to name this phenomenon, I feel like I should just be able to say BROKEBACK! and let that be it, but in the interest of not phoning it in, let’s talk a little bit more about this and look at some examples.

Even before you get to something as extreme as brokeback you can look back at the athlete vs porn star images on which our characters are based.  Because while male superheroes pose somewhat ridiculously quite often – they are still posing as athletes, heroes, conquerors, and badasses.  They generally look powerful and in control.

I mean...what is Tigra even DOING?

In contrast female superheroes are generally not posed like athletes or superheroes, but as pliant submissive porn stars and preening supermodels. With alarming regularity they don’t look like athletes, heroes, conquerors, or badasses, but as nothing more than soulless beautiful objects and sexual temptresses, and so that is the assumption readers can make as well.  Women as objects. Women as sexual. Women certainly not as heroes.

And this is the most damning evidence that gets us to blatant objectification and hyper-sexualization.  More specifically, that the sexual aspects of a man are not highlighted with regularity in superhero comics.  In fact, the areas generally considered the most sexual are frequently glossed over in representations of male superheroes.  Meanwhile all of a woman’s most sexual aspects are put on most prominent display, which brings us back to brokeback and the attempt to show as much sexuality as possible in every single image.

Just look at this stuff:

Brokeback or bust baby!

You almost never see men posed this way – i.e. overtly sexually. In fact, when it does happen (Nightwing!) it becomes a whole “thing” unto itself, that’s how rare it is. And there are entire memes devoted to comparing the way male characters pose with the way female characters pose.

And again I have to say, you are free to like this, and to advocate for it if you think it’s really the best thing about superhero comics and something that you love about the medium and genre no matter what, that’s your prerogative, but please, stop with this cry of “It’s equal!” because it’s really really not.

I’ve frequently heard the argument that superhero comics are primarily male power fantasies – that men want to be those powerful men and they want to have those beautiful sexy submissive women on their arm and I’m sure there’s a certain amount of truth to that.  But I think it appeals to the lowest common denominator. Superhero comics can be (and frequently are) so much more than that, and they can (and should) appeal to a much wider audience, for everyone’s benefit including their own.  One way to do that is to actually make the representation of men and women in superhero comics a bit more equal.  Cause it sure ain’t there now.

602 Comments

Well put.

I like a certain amount of sexiness in comics, but the industry has taken that to an untenable point.

Saying that it reflects societal attitudes is used an excuse but it is true… it just isn’t an excuse. Why try to imitate the basest parts of society?

[...] I posted a big piece today for She Has No Head! called “No, It’s Not Equal”, it’s liable to cause a shitstorm, as these pieces seem to, so if you’re a fan of my [...]

I think the “Jessica Jones” problem is symptomatic of a larger problem in comics: Many artists only know how to draw one female body type and face, and just switch out clothing and hairstyles. (See that Benes Birds of Prey image above.) So you get Michael Gaydos drawing Jessica Jones as a distinct person, and then Mike Deodato drawing her like he does every other woman.

Also, because I’m a pedant: One medium, two media.

Fantastic piece, and dead on. Sometimes it takes an examination like this to change some minds, though I fear there will be many that are still too defensive to think about it.

Completely agree. Some of those examples in the last series of images actually made me do a double take. “REALLY?! THAT got published?”

Nicely done. Well-reasoned and supported by your examples. Very eye-opening.

“It’s as if Namor, Wolverine, Cyclops, and Colossus were all wearing swimsuits. What sense would that make?”

Colossus’ old Dave Cockrum uniform did expose a lot of his chest and arms. This made sense, since (like your example with Emma), he was showing off his organic steel bod. Much of which was often shown off, down to swim suit proportions, when the torso costume was burned/blasted off in battle.

He’s now much more covered up than he used to be.

Aside from that, overall an excellent article. I like cheesecake as much as the next person, but for dessert, not as soup, salad, and entree, too.

Thanks for posting this essay Kelly. There can never be to many voices of reason. Especially when the issue seems to be getting worse rather than better.

And what gets me the most is that some of the best artists in the industry (artists that are good enough at their craft to know and do better) contribute equally to the problem as artists (Ed Benes, Jim Balent, Mike Deodato, Cho and others) who’ve built their careers on the objectification of women.

And what about the writer’s role in all this? You mean to tell me that Bendis (who writes fantastic female characters), Fraction, Johns and others don’t have the clout to push for change?

Can’t Bendis say ‘Hey, by posing Ms. Marvel like that, you’re undoing all the strength I’ve written into the character’? Or Lienil Yu or Mark Bagley say “Sorry, but that’s not how a woman needs to look.” or “That costume is practical.”?

I think they can, but just don’t. And I don’t understand why.

Thanks,
Kevin-J

Very much agree. As a ten year old my Vampirella comic was kept hidden from my folks, and I thought it was great. But it was really one step away from action porn. Since I’m all “grown up” that shit just seems gratuitous and is laughable. Sexiest shot of a woman I have seen recently, is in the recent Batwoman, a super tight shot where she grins after realizing she is bullet proof. It was both bad ass, and hot.

Ms. Thompson, thank you for this post.

Big flaw with your first point – the idealized Male Pornstar build IS the Athletic build. Big biceps, washboard stomachs and strong jawlines are to girls what ridiculously large boobs and long legs are to men.

Great post with great points. I really have only one quibble. The male body type is athletic. Isn’t it also a porn body type? Aside from being “well-endowed”, what would the difference be?

I’d much rather see all (or nearly all) of the female characters drawn with athletic bodies than porn bodies. Darwyn Cooke’s Wonder Woman was perfect with a warrior’s body type. I’d love to see more examples of this type of thinking in comics (and elsewhere). By the way the photo of female athletes that you use is from a great book by Howard Schatz called “Athlete”.

I couldn’t agree more.

The only thing more disturbing than the way women are portrayed in comics is the degree to which some male fans will go to justify and defend that portrayal. Guys: Grow up.

That’s what I was getting at when I said this IS a reflection of society.

‘We’ say that the ideal male physique is ‘strong’.

‘We’ say the ideal female physique is ‘sexy’.

But saying that is a reflection of society is a reason to challenge it, not accept it.

Great post. One thing I didn’t really think about until Brothers mentioned it (in the post you link to) is one hidden reason for this: Artists want to sell their pages to collectors after they’re published, and any page that has both breasts and a butt can be sold to a breast-man or a butt-man.

I remember a heated debate between John Byrne and Todd McFarlane at a con right after the Image books came out. Byrne pointed out how that they contained no un-sellable characterization pages. He said he proudly maintained a huge file at home of un-sellable pages that he called “The Adventures of Steve Rogers” He presciently warned McFarlane that the Image heroes would mostly be forgotten, because they lacked all that characterization. McFarlane didn’t want to hear it.

So, irony or ironies, after all that long fight to get artists the right to re-sell their pages, did that ruin comics? (or at the very least, make them far too salacious toward women?)

Dead on about the posing problem. It’s like every female character has to fight their battles ass first. Maybe a kick now and then? But I can’t agree with the costume problem. Basically, all superheroes are drawn nude with different color added. How in the world can Cyclope have all those abs showing through leather (or whatever) is beyond me. So even if you can see Wonder Woman’s boobs (which, honestly, I don’t care), you can also see everyone of Batman’s curves and muscles.

I do find it amusing how modern costuming and posing has changed from when I first started reading comics in the late 70′s cuz I use to love the way men were portrayed. There was a Green Lantern tale where the villain wore the absolute smallest bikini briefs I think I’ve ever seen drawn – and a cape of course. There was Cosmic Boy in the Legion (and an often half-naked Timber Wolf), and a shirtless Hawkman. I still have an issue of World’s Finest where both Batman and Superman, thinking their suits were contaminated, each stripped NAKED in their respective bunkers, forever answering the question about whether super-heroes wore underwear.

As a gay man, I have zero interest in seeing sexualized women though I accept it because I know most comic readers are straight guys. However I notice it every time I see it – and it is very often, as in at least once whenever any female character appears in an issue. I will point out that while men are practically wearing burkhas nowadays, their anatomies for the most part are pretty detailed and the costumes are practically painted on (though I also admit that having them clothed does lessen the sexual impact compared to women).

For me it is the posing that really heightens the sexuality. I would really like to enjoy Red Lanterns without having to see Bleez’s ass thrust into my face every other page. I stopped reading it because it had become so blatantly obvious that every issue could be summed up as such: words, words, red, punching, bleeding, ASS IN MY FACE, ARCHED BACK WITH ASS IN THE AIR, red, words, words, bleeding.

There are ways to draw a buxom and curved woman without making her into a porn star and I think it is funny that Batwoman is where I turn to for an example. Secret Six also had good examples of sexy women who didn’t do brokeback (you have no idea how amusing I find that term). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention when naked Bane graced the book, but it was not done gratuitously and served a plot point.

If men were portrayed this way, it would be called porn and pulled from the shelves.

I agree with David in SLC. If men were shown in this way, it would be called porn and removed.

But instead, it is sexy and I suppose helps sell comics. It’s sexist and shows readers that it is fine to objectify women.

IT ISN’T!!

Excellent article!

Whenever I read articles like this most of the “blame” are aimed at the artists, since of course, it’s their actual work. But much like the problems in other media (movies, TV, etc…) those who make the decisions, those who call the shots, seem to escape unscathed.

Yes, it’s the artists who draw the female characters unrealistically, practically falling out of their outfits often bent into incredulously achieved shapes, BUT it’s the editors who sign off it.

When looking at the “big two” (DC & Marvel) it’s the editor’s job to not only make sure the books get done on time, but it’s their job to hire the talent and to make sure that talent not only can tell an entertaining story, but to also stay true to the characters.

Following what was written here, look at the character of Rogue. A woman who can’t touch another person. Someone who must constantly make sure that they never come in contact with another or dire consequences will result. Yet, these artists examples shown here have her running around with flesh exposed. Why? Well, for the obvious tit illation of course. See, here’s where the editor needs to do their job. It’s the editors job to make sure the hired help stay true to the characters they’re portraying.

We can rant and rave about how the talent are depicting these characters, but until we hold those those in charge to blame, it will never, ever change.

Can Rogue control her touching power nowadays? I haven’t kept track of what’s going on in X-verse…but yeah, as some pointed out back in 80s Colossus did show a good deal of skin while Rogue covered as much of herself as possible…
It is true that male porn star body type is mostly indistinguishable from the athletic type, the difference is largely on the amount of clothing and posing. Though of course not all athlete body types are equal, wiry long distance runners or beefy shotputters are not that common sights in superhero comics either (but arguably not completely unrepresented).
The beautification of women is a problem, even when some average-looking female character is created the next artist getting his hands on her will turn her beautiful. Examples abound.

But the worst offenders are the poses. Not all get it wrong, several examples pictured on the costume section have nice poses, but those brokebacks…

But yes, it’s nice to blame the artists or companies or whatever, but all in all if books with brokebacks, zipper problems and whatelse sell better than books without, can the companies be blamed for doing them? It’s all very nice to say that the world should not be like that, but what were you planning to do about it?

Male superheroes do not have an athletic build. They have a male bodybuilder build, which is more likely to be found on a pornstar than an elite athlete, as it is a physique mostly about visuals than about practical strength and power. There’s a reason why you rarely find elite athletes in any sport with a bodybuilder physique: they’re horribly impractical. Those physiques may attract women but they aren’t good for much else.

So I disagree that male bodies in superhero comics are any less sexual or pornstarish than female ones.

I’ve got a couple action figures on my desk of the “later” Super Friends. The ones created specifically for the show: Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, El Dorado and a character that never made it to the show, Golden Pharaoh. When I was growing up there were some things that bugged me about all those guys: 1) They were all guys; 2) They replaced Green Lantern and the Flash for this? 3) They were all obviously designed for their ethnic diversity more than their innate coolness. Even as a child I could tell that.

But there another thread that tied this specific group of characters together and separated them from all the other Super Friends: They were all HALF-NAKED! Apache Chief wore skorts and a leather vest. Samurai wore a Speedo and a vest. El Dorado wore leggings and a cape. And Black Vulcan wore a freakin’ UNITARD! Every time the portrayal of women in super-hero comics comes up and the argument of the “idealized male” gets thrown out, these are the first guys I think of. They’re really the only accurate comparison to the female costumes that are presented to us: Unprotected legs and arms, fully or semi-exposed chest, leather… I had a friend who referred to them as the Super Village People. The only women’s costume component that isn’t represented is thigh high boots.

So the next time somebody throws out the argument of “idealized male” vs “idealized female,” throw an image of the later Super Friends at them. People can ignore the photoshopped Superman with bare legs because that’s clearly not how he was designed. But show them the later Super Friends–characters who were DESIGNED TO LOOK LIKE THIS–and get get someone to defend how ridiculous they look (except Apache Chief, who will always be awesome).

I also think to be a really fair analysis, one needs to take into account how different male fantasies about women are from female fantasies about men. Male fantasies about women are far more visual and sex-based. Female fantasies about men are less visual and more well-rounded, but can be just as shallow, like the rich, handsome Prince Charming who comes to rescue her from all her problems including poverty, boredom and subpar lovers with a seemingly endless supply of money, status, good looks, muscular physique and asskicking skills. This Prince Charming archetype is just as impossible for average men to attain as the woman who looks like a pornstar is for the average woman to achieve, and is just as shallow and objectifying. And it’s as prevalent in female-targeted genres like Sex and the City movies and rom-coms as the pornstar hot woman is in male-targeted genres like superhero comics.

Any article that takes a big ol’ swing at the “brokeback” posing in comics is just ducky by me. You can’t write it off to the anatomical incompetence of some of the artists: it’s intentional, it’s sexist, it’s stupid, and it needs to go away.

I think the assessment of costume design here is mostly accurate. Sure there are always a few exceptions and/or additions we could all come up with (Colossus’ Silvestri “uniform” was swim trunks, boots, and a pair of gauntlets…but one or two here and there don’t make up for the industry standards). Over the years, the X-books as a whole have been better than most, with most characters having full-body coverings; Storm was the exception with characterization that explained her skimpier attire. Then came the 90′s, where Psylocke’s full body armor was replaced by a ninja swimsuit, storm’s full back leather body suit & cape went back towards swimsuits and thigh-high boots, etc. It’s emblematic of the industry as it stands: women supers will wear less clothing than men and for no other reason than zomg girlz have teh b00bs! Sigh.

Maybe comic artists all need a subscription to the last 5 years of “The Body Issue” of ESPN the magazine, which shows a wide variety of athletic body types for both men & women. (It’d be nice if every male hero didn’t look like an underwear model, too, but the pornstar/supermodel imaging of female heroes is more problematic)

I don’t subscribe to the view that “brokeback” posing and hypersexualized art will outsell more normal and anatomically correct art. Especially if the non-hypersexualized art does a superior job of depicting action (a lost art in today’s pin-up world). I promise you, people will not miss the T&A if it shows better action and flow of the story.

The men in porno movies aren’t women’s fantasy of men. They’re men’s fantasy of men, just like male superheroes. They exist for the man watching to imagine himself in their position (so to speak).

I agree 100% with this article. Great job, Kelly.

I buy whatever I want to buy. I’m not stupid, the comics I gravitate to are the ones with the attractive artwork. I find that most current DC/Marvel isn’t attractive artwork. I’ve being buying independent artists comic books instead.

The companies are producing comics because they own the IP rights and can do whatever they think will produce the most amount of money. As long as people are still buying it, they don’t have to change. Pandering to straight males makes them money and they don’t seem to care if it alienates females.

The internet democratizes opinion and gives everyone an even starting playing field, if you don’t like what’s currently out there, you’re free to produce something you would like, and then see if you can do better. People have done this, people have had their comic books funded via kickstarter, and have large enough fanbases that they can work full time, solo on their comics.

@michaelP If I could like this comment a million times, I would. There was an article on (I think) Jezebel about a month ago discussing the success that a male pornstar called James deen has been having in the industry because he’s actually attractive for female viewers, as opposed to the usual muscles-and-tattoos bros that usually populate pornography. It also said that men like to see unattractive, hypermuscled men in porn because viewers think that they’re less of a threat to the viewer’s chance at sleeping with the pornstar – I.e. well, she’d rather be with me (the viewer than him, because he’s nasty-looking. I wonder if there’s a similar phenomenon happening in superhero books.

Wow, what a great post! Kelly, thanks for taking the time to do this.

I agree with all your points, but for me the most pervasive problem in comics is definitely that pesky ‘brokeback’ posing for the ladies. Personally, I can turn a blind eye to swimsuits, boob windows, thigh high boots, etc. simply because I’m so used to it. I’ve read comics for 30 years (I am old!), and have seen the costumes degrade on a year-by-year basis. I’m numb to it by now, sadly. But… yeah. The way women – supposedly strong, powerful, kick-ass women – are posed in comics is just ridiculous. And it becomes even more disturbing when very young female characters assume ‘certain’ positions…

Cheers,
Kaz

“The men in porno movies aren’t women’s fantasy of men. They’re men’s fantasy of men, just like male superheroes. They exist for the man watching to imagine himself in their position (so to speak).”

True. If men want to get a woman’s idea of an idealized man, read a romance novel, the trashier the better. According to them, all men really need is a strong chest and a head to put his cowboy hat on while he’s saving a kitten from a raging stream at the back of his ranch.

The irony of this article appearing the week of Mardi Gras does not escape me.

Some people need to relax. It’s all a grand spectacle. if you have a problem with these flamboyant costumes then do not look around the real world, much less the extravaganza that is Mardi Gras. Please do not look up pictures of the Drum Queen in Brazil.

Comics, are the imaginings of the artist after seeing the costumes of Mardi Gras or any other such celebration of life. It’s all a show. it’s hear to entertain. It’s here to use costumes and masks and things that we don’t wear in our daily life but we keep hidden. It’s our inner selves coming out and living without restraint. There are good and evil and seeing it we all learn from.

Some of the artists–not all working today, but SOME go a little overboard in some people’s view, but it’s them being true to their voice.

It’s odd you mention how the costumes with zippers down are rampant but only a few characters are shown multiple times. Not so rampant.

I think the artists draw from life around them. Remember when Silvestri used to draw the X-Women with 80′s hair and leg warmers?

I think the problem is more with American style prudism. I’m sure some of the women of Brazil have no problem celebrating in costumes and seeing women in costumes. Please note, that Deodato is also from this area and how he draws reflects the life around him. It may not be to your liking in America but it may fit the life and celebrations he sees in Brazil.

There are parts of this I agree with and parts I don’t.

Fair or not, the fundamental way super-hero comics as a genre find an audience is by presenting a fantasy that people actively long for. If young boys didn’t, on some level, wish they could be Batman/Spider-Man/Wolverine etc. then they wouldn’t buy the comics. So physiques matter in this sense. People don’t generally want to escape to a life that has the same “flaws” as their own. While young men perceive a flaw to be lack of large muscles, young women perceive a flaw to be lack of large breasts. While I wholeheartedly agree that this is unfortunate, unfair, and ridiculous, it also is what it is. So given this, it makes sense for male superheroes to be portrayed with the muscles 14 year old boys don’t have, and for female superheroes to be portrayed with the breasts 14 year old girls don’t have. Again, I’m not saying I think this is fair, only that it makes sense within the context of A) what the superhero genre is metaphorically offering, and B) what young women often wish for.

And I wish I could change the minds and self esteem problem of so many young women. I have always been a guy with a preference for average sized B and C cup breasts, but I can’t tell you how many girls I’ve dated that had what I thought were fantastic breasts, but they wished were significantly larger. And that goes back to your comment about how superheroes, men and women, should be portrayed with athlete bodies. The problem is, that’s not what both sexes want. If you asked a young man what body he wished he could have, he’d probably name a pro athlete. But if you asked a young woman the same question, they would name a super-model. Give a girl the option of looking like Maria Sharapova (who is stunningly beautiful) or Kate Upton, and they’d choose Kate Upton almost every time. I agree that this reality sucks. It’s unfair. It’s stupid. But it’s also depressingly accurate. So it doesn’t make sense (in terms of moving product) to portray superhero women with the bodies of Maria Sharapova if the young girls that we allegedly hope will be buying comics would rather they look like Kate Upton.

But while I somewhat disagree with your stances on the problems of beauty and body type with female superheroes, I completely agree with the problems of clothing and poses. I agree that there are some cases in which the sexualized costumes make sense: you named Emma Frost, and I also think Poison Ivy and Enchantress are okay given that their villainy is based on seduction. I also don’t have a problem with Psylocke and Elektra having legless costumes given their ninja schtick (makes sense for the same reason female sprinters have nothing on their legs–increases speed and mobility), although the thongage is completely out of control. And I’m also more or less okay with Storm’s costumes, because they’re just variations on Dave Cockrum’s original design from 1975, which I don’t think was sexualized. Everyone else, though, is going off the deep end.

Rogue especially makes no sense, because it has consistently been a hallmark of her character to show no skin. Even Jim Lee, who is not known for covering girls up, had her completely clothed in his 1991 redesign for her. The problem lies in artists like J Scott Campbell, Michael Turner (sorry if this comes off as disrespectful to the dead), Mike Deodato, Ed Benes, and David Finch. All of these guys are generally good at drawing dynamic superhero action, but for some reason, they just can’t help themselves when it comes to women.

Today on DC’s blog, they revealed Gary Frank’s variant cover for Justice League #7, and it has Wonder Woman front and center. I thought it was the perfect example of how to draw a super-heroine as beautiful, sexy, and powerful, without making her a sex object. The costume is not overtly sexualized, nor is her pose. Her breasts are modest (for Wonder Woman) and fairly covered, and her pose reveals no ass or back breaking. If all super-heroines were drawn like this, I think people would generally have no problems, or at least fewer. Here’s the cover:
http://dcu.blog.dccomics.com/2012/02/21/exclusive-first-look-at-justice-league-7/

oops, Please forgive my misplaced commas and spellings of my post and please focus on the content of my message. I apologize for the grammatical errors. eeyores? earers? You know what I mean. Call me a doofus for my message but not my spellins’

@Kisai Comic book fans aren’t necessarily creators.

Even in this comment thread, there are people saying that overly-muscled male body types are also porn body types, and that the body-builder physique is sexual to women.

When’s the last time you saw a woman sneaking a peak at a body building magazine for sexual thrills?

The hyper-muscular body builder physique is not actually attractive to most women. It’s a fantasy of male strength/power, not a female sex fantasy.

Take a look at male models, actors, music artists and other celebrities who are considered highly attractive by straight women. None of them have overly-muscled, bulky bodies like male superheroes typically do.

I haven’t gone through all of the comments to see when the “But there’s an in-story reason for…” and then an excuse as to why a character like, say, Storm, runs around near naked…

But if there are any, it should be mentioned that more often than not (like Storm in particular), these in-story reasons run parallel to the character’s creation so the character gets to dress all revealing from the beginning.

The ONLY real character who I can think of that’s discussed above that has a legitimate, in-story reason for suddenly dressing the way she does is Rogue. Since her inception in 1981 her story has had her dress from head to toe because of her out of control powers, and ever since she’s gotten that under control, it’s understandable why she wants to show some skin. It’s like when fat people get themselves into shape and cant wait to head to the beach. (And yeah, I’m being serious, and yeah that happens all the time, to men and women in real life).

Rogue’s full body costume from the 90s was a lot more attractive than the zipped down look we get now. But I think another commenter nailed it on the head when they said some artists just draw the same woman with minor changes in detail. Artists like Greg Land are notorious for this. It’s all the same woman…and all his characters either make sexy faces or goofy ass grins. Even in mourning!

Thanks for mocking REAL sexism with this obnoxious stretch in reasoning. I am disappoint. It’s so poorly constructed as an argument.

Thank you so much for this article. My girlfriend Heidi and I have been having this argument on and off for awhile now. I will admit I have used the “they’re all distorted” defense in the past, though even then I didn’t even buy it. I have struggled though with what is the answer, I don’t appreciate the way women are drawn in comics, and it makes me uncomfortable the way women are usually portrayed in an unnatural, hyper-sexual way. The best I have been able to come up with, as far as how to change it; has been that that is far from why I read comics and I do my best to avoid books that seem to be centralized around it. Books that seem to be all about “sexualizing” women and feature all female in bikini casts (Looking at you Zenescope). I appreciate you breaking it down for me though, since as a male, I seem to have problems identifying all the prevalent issues since i’m not the one being objectified. I think to a certain extent I can just never know what’s wrong, why something is offensive, without a little pointer. So again thanks, we cannot break down these problems until they are identified.

Great article. I’ve read many takes on this subject and I have to admit this is one of the better ones.

One point that I want to make with the comment about Storms costume. I agree in modern context that it’s more than a little odd, but it is also her classic costume. She has had an almost completely covered costume that she wore for years in the comics, but returned to the classic one not too long ago.

It reminds me of the issue of pants on Wonder Woman. While there definitely is a lack of equality with her costume design compared to the rest of the JL, I think there were some who were more concerned with the character losing her classic look than the fact they wouldn’t be able to see her thighs anymore.

That being said, i’d definitely like to see more athletically drawn female superheroes and for the brokeback pose to be left back in the 90s.

Get over yourself! This is not new information, its the same cycle of comics “journalism” over and over as the new class of journalists replace the old (to paraphrase Mark Millar).

We’re talking about comic books people = PAPER CARTOONS.

So many more important battles to fight in the world.

Seriously. The intellectual dishonesty here is disgusting.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…okay, sorry…I love the “Get over yourself, there are so many more important battles to fight in the world” comebacks.

We’re talking comic books…on a comic book website. Unless you accidentally typed in this url when you meant to go to a news site, that argument holds no water here.

Male physiques in ‘straight’ pornography aren’t sexualized ideals, which is the major flaw in any “well guys in comics look like male porn stars, just like girls in porn look like female superhero characters” argument.

In fact, male physiques in “straight” porn is specifically used to distance the target audience from relating to the guys in porn too much, which is a sort of latent homophobic move. Satan forbid we watch porn and while popping a boner at some large-breasted and hyper-thin woman in a sexually submissive position, we realize we have some physical similarities to the guy and thus, fear that our sexual attraction to what’s on screen actually be TO THE MAN.

*cue dramatic music*

The hyper-muscled male physiology is a male POWER ideal, which is nothing similar to a female SEXUAL ideal. Learn the difference, nerds, and just admit you like your fictional sexual idols to be portrayed in submissive roles. You’ll feel better.

Even in this comment thread, there are people saying that overly-muscled male body types are also porn body types, and that the body-builder physique is sexual to women.

When’s the last time you saw a woman sneaking a peak at a body building magazine for sexual thrills?

That’s a faulty premise. When do women in general look at the visuals in magazines of ANY type for sexual thrills? In general visuals alone don’t do it for women. That’s why they’re more likely to get turned on by romance novels than by beefcake pictures of men. That’s why an open secret about Playgirl is that it was more popular among gay men than among straight women.

To tell you the truth, the Barbiedoll pornstar blonde aesthetic one finds in a lot of porn with the big, globelike breasts and rail thin bodies, AKA Jim Lee’s Source Material since the 90s onward, is not that attractive to the average man either, just like the bodybuilder physique isn’t to the average woman. Both types actually seem to be the ideal only to each other. Check out the website hotchickswithdouchebags.com or go to any “meathead” guido party and you will see those waifish breast implant porn chick types and those bodybuilding meathead types hooking up like crazy.

The hyper-muscular body builder physique is not actually attractive to most women. It’s a fantasy of male strength/power, not a female sex fantasy.

There is a demographic of women that do indeed love this type of man, just like there is a demographic of men who do like the rail thin pornstar type of chick with the huge, seperated globelike breast implants. Sadly, both genders overestimate how many of these people of the opposing gender there are out there that actually like these respective aesthetics.

Every phenomenon you are describing has a correlating example when the genders are switched.

There is a very REAL war on women. This indefensible BS undermines very real problems. The writer should be ASHAMED of her half truths and insane manipulation of facts.

This is easily the most disgusting thing I’ve ever read on CBR.

sigh….

you all make me very sad for the human race.

Sorry, were all clearly missing the point here that the only people complaining about Super Heroines physical forms are SWAMP DONKEYS themselves!!!

clearly they dont see them as role models & obviously are oblivious to the power levels of some of these Female characters have in comparison to their male counterparts!!! nice & equal.

again, problem is the SWAMP DONKEYS ARE CLEARLY INTIMIDATED & JEALOUS of the fine figures these characters have. get a stair master & get into a program or counciling! theyre COMIC BOOKS CHARACTERS!!! FICTIONAL CHARACTERS! FREAKS!

damn SWAMP DONKEYS!!!

I agree wholeheartedly with this article, but do have a question: why would you not consider it to be character-appropriate for Storm to dress the way she does? Admittedly, I’ve not read an X-Men comic in ages, but I seem to recall that she thought clothes and modesty were a strange and artificial social construct (likely because she grew up alone in the rain forest), and remember a lot of older X-Men stories where she’d be (tastefully and always concealed) naked. I think she said a few times that clothing was uncomfortable, and she only wore them out of consideration for those around her who considered them necessary. I can see her, if clothes make her feel awkward and she considers herself more or less exempt from societal norms, trying to get away with wearing as little as possible.

In fact, male physiques in “straight” porn is specifically used to distance the target audience from relating to the guys in porn too much, which is a sort of latent homophobic move. Satan forbid we watch porn and while popping a boner at some large-breasted and hyper-thin woman in a sexually submissive position, we realize we have some physical similarities to the guy and thus, fear that our sexual attraction to what’s on screen actually be TO THE MAN.

Are you serious?

“Get over yourself! This is not new information, its the same cycle of comics “journalism” over and over as the new class of journalists replace the old (to paraphrase Mark Millar).

We’re talking about comic books people = PAPER CARTOONS.

So many more important battles to fight in the world.”

People on here will flame you, but so true…comics everybody!

To all the guys who say that the male athletic type and the porn type are the same: No, they aren’t, especially given that it’s not women that porn caters to. In fact, I’d wager (without any hard data) that comics and porn have the same demographics and appeal, which is primarily to men. So, the men’s bodies, if they are indeed the same as male porn bodies, are still based off what men consider ideal, not what women do.

You Got A Point…

*slow clap … the serious one, not the sarcastic one*

I agree with this article completely. Sometimes it feels awkward with the over sexualization in comics, and this is coming from a guy.

Who the fuck watches porn for the men? There’s a reason all-girl porn is so popular.

They didn’t put Wonder Woman in pants as much as they put her in skintight leather that was even less practical than the star-spangled butt floss they had her in until Simone, LoPresti and Scott came along.

Go look at those early issues of JMS’ run — seems like the artists went out of their way to show her rear end threatening to burst the damn things apart. At least Chiang’s version of Lee’s outfit shows how Diana can be powerful, feminine and sexy without looking like two tons of fertilizer in a one-ton truck.

And. let’s not feed the trolls, please? Thanks for avoiding them so far….

If the female characters didn’t pose like that, how would we know if the artists can even draw a butt?

Good article, I dont really put much thought into these things, probably because I am not a woman.

Anyway. I like cheesecake in my comics. I am not ashamed of it, and I will not be made to feel ashamed of it. Cheesecake rocks.

I agree with all the points you made, and would even like to add one Powers think of the various powers male and females characters are given most women are given more passive powers. I mean name ten male characters who are just phasers, or just telepaths or just turn invisible or have powers usually given to female characters.

I’m not sure I agree with the author’s assertions regarding beauty and body type (even a cheesecake artist like Benes gives his women some pretty defined musculature, and beauty is so subjective that it’s barely worth discussing as more than an abstract concept), but the article is spot-on regarding the ridiculous costumes and posing aspects of objectification. I DO feel that the male characters are objectified, but no, it isn’t “equal” to the grotesque portrayals of women in mainstream superhero comics. Sadly, this will never change…at least, not until the publishers stop building their entire marketing models around courting the same shrinking core of wanking fanboys and start trying to cater to other demographics.

Of all the arguments against this topic, the most irritating has to be the utterly ridiculous “it’s just comics so we shouldn’t waste our time talking about it” line of thinking. Putting aside the fact that we should indeed confront sexism — or any other injustices — where we perceive them, I will point out as others already have that this is a website about comics where comic fans discuss comics. And what you’re arguing isn’t that Kelly’s position is stupid, but that comics themselves are stupid, which obviously nobody who frequents such a website is ever going to agree with.

In other words, why are you even here?

it’s ala true. Man those woman are really really good contortionists, they’re on the back and can turn around to punch and see things, just wow!

Excellent article. While I agree with every point, and the over-all conceit of the article, I would like to forward one particular observation in “disagreement”. This is directing the attention to ‘Comics’ as something of an abstract culprit. I would contend that much of the blame (if we can concede to call it that) ought to be directed towards the artists (and to a degree writers as well) rather than the over-all phenomenon.

These are artistic choices made by individuals who are, I think , are demonstrating certain implicit biases and viewpoints in their depiction of women. In the reading of interviews (many of them on this very site) I am somewhat surprised by the…tone with which editors, artists and writers speak about the sexuality of the characters; a tone that seems to suggest an incredibly juvenile understanding of what makes an individual (male or female) valuable, motivated, and human.

Now I grant that these are fictional characters. Obviously, But each artist has the opportunity in his or her work to depict them as realistic characters. The choices being made (or perhaps NOT being made) are on that level, and I sometimes wonder if that doesn’t say more about the general immaturity and poor artistry of the creators involved in comics, or if its more of a mandate editorially to “sex things up”.

I dunno. Just food for thought.

If the dudes justifying the portrayal of women in comics can honestly say with a straight face that men are portrayed equally, after seeing the covers of Catwoman and Voodoo #1, then I don’t know what to tell you.

It isn’t the same.

Well, hey, as it’s been pointed out, “it’s comics, everybody,” and since that’s apparently enough to justify sexism, then I can only imagine that racism and homophobia and bigotry would also just be “PAPER CARTOONS” and not matter. Oh wait, I’m being told that’s wrong?

People have the right to draw and write whatever they want, but society also has the right to have standards and hold artists up to those standards through purchasing power and activism.

I really appreciated your article. As a woman who has just recently picked up reading comics, I often feel the same way. I don’t have a problem with sexy, strong women in comics, and most of the time I can dismiss the super-cheese panels with a laugh and a “wtf.” Sometimes, however, it does make me feel like an outsider, as if the comics were definitely not written for women, and specifically not for me. Your article summed up all of the complicated emotions I experience when I read comics, and helped me solidify what it is that bothers me about some of the images of women portrayed in them. Thank you!

The dumbest thing about fan-service like this, as Linkara pointed out in one of his many spectacular Atop the Fourth Wall videos, is that the reason why this stuff exists in the first place no longer exists. Fan-service (which is what this is) existed basically because you couldn’t get your hands on porn when you’re a boy who’s just starting to find yourself attracted to girls. So you get half-naked women and Gen 13 shenanigans from comics until then.

The thing is, now, with the internet, it’s easy for teenage boys to find free porn websites that are a thousand times more explicit than any kind of comic fan-service, and not get caught by their parents. No one is going to spend $4 on a comic where all they get are half-naked women punching robots and hired goons, when they can go online and watch a video for free involving actresses… doing things… to each other. If you catch my drift. So really, I can’t see why artists would continue to do this when all it does is make people take the medium less seriously as an art form and insults the intelligence of the people reading it.

However, I agree with T. – the males in comics do tend to fit the average girl fantasy of what their dream guy would be – a chiseled underwear model with perfect hair and wardrobe, lots of money, and some kind of status as a captain of industry or socialite. They’re brooding types too, which women also love because they’re something that needs to be taken care off, someone who needs their affection to show them the world isn’t all that bad a place. Yes, women tend to get objectified more and in more exaggerated ways, but you can’t just shrug off male objectification either. The Prince Charming stereotype even shows up a lot more in other mediums that tend to have a larger female audience, like “chick flicks” and such.

Yes, men are shallow, but you’re being naive if you don’t think women are just as shallow too.

Just want to put my two cents in.
I agree that women are sexualized in the mass media while men are not, but male role models and portrayals in the popular media can be just as unattainable for men and can lead to a continuance of the same stereotypical roles being moved along down the generational chain.
Honestly it seems silly to me to even compare the two. Both portrayal of men and women have very separate issues in which they need to deal with and comparing them is like comparing apples and oranges. I also think it is difficult to sat which is “worse” as men and women react very differently to these issues both as groups and as individuals.
I say this to point out the people who say “well look at men in comics, it is just as bad” as well as this article. Men, I know we can not be Superman or look like him or whatever, but it really is not the same as saying a woman cannot or should not be like Catwoman.
I hope that made as much sense as it does in my head.

Well, regarding female preferences on male form, it’s not like Fabio doesn’t exist. I have seen enough covers of romance novels to not believe that “women don’t look at athletic builds” claim (though indeed it does seem to help if the guy also owns a ranch and saves kittens).
Some artists go for bodybuilding type for men (and there might be a correlation to make between male bodybuilders and female brokebackers), while others indeed go for more generic athletic type. There are sports which develop decent amount of muscle mass all around the body, even if in some sports it is a detriment, and several more realistic artists seem to take their cues mainly from wrestlers (which is not a bad comparison for many superheroes, even if it does not make sense for characters like Spider-Man and Nightcrawler, who are traditionally shown to be leaner).

But it is true that bodybuilder body type is a male power ideal which explains the popularity. I guess from this we can deduce that the target group of today’s superhero comics is predominantly male (no s**t, Sherlock).

I’ll concede the points about poses and clothing, as those are completely true and the evidence offered is fair and balanced. That’s just lazy art and going for the ‘cheap pop’.

I will not, however, concede the points about body type or ‘monstrosity’. To call the male body type “athletic” and the female body type “model” is loaded and wrong. Outside of Spiderman or the Hulk, there’s basically two body types for men. There’s the bodybuilder type and the really-big-bodybuilder type. So everyone looks like a professional wrestler, which lends itself as much to the world of modeling and acting as it does to ‘athletics’. Don’t dismiss the fact that every comic-male is a model if he’s not a monster.

Speaking of monsters… I count two aliens, one demon, two masks and three characters with absolutely no physical deformity to them (unless you’ve got a phobia about baldness). I feel as though you’ve set this comparison up to support your argument, not objectively.

I’m seeing talk of male porn stars and I gotta say, the only requirement I’ve noticed of male porn stars are big penises. I’ve seen fairly chubby, greasy, male porn stars having sex with… well, the types of girls I see in superhero comics. There are a few muscle-y guys, but not enough to say male superheroes have porn star bodies.

yep and yep.

Wonder Woman looks looks totally moronic in her grandma bathing suit.

Um, there is a reason for Storm wearing a skimpy outfit. In early issues of her appearance, she actually walked around naked because she was not embarrassed of her body. In line with her background status quo, it makes sense she would find too many layers of clothing annoying.

Swamp Donkey, Queen of the Babes

February 21, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Everyone saying “women just aren’t excited by visuals” should peek in on tumblr sometime. Seems like every third post is a photo of a man in a nice suit. Most of the people passing them around are women. I can assure you the bulk of the conversation does /not/ focus on the contents of his bank account. :[_]

“I also think to be a really fair analysis, one needs to take into account how different male fantasies about women are from female fantasies about men. Male fantasies about women are far more visual and sex-based. Female fantasies about men are less visual and more well-rounded, but can be just as shallow, like the rich, handsome Prince Charming who comes to rescue her from all her problems including poverty, boredom and subpar lovers with a seemingly endless supply of money, status, good looks, muscular physique and asskicking skills. This Prince Charming archetype is just as impossible for average men to attain as the woman who looks like a pornstar is for the average woman to achieve, and is just as shallow and objectifying. And it’s as prevalent in female-targeted genres like Sex and the City movies and rom-coms as the pornstar hot woman is in male-targeted genres like superhero comics.”

THIS

Men are portrayed with athletic body types? No, I’m sorry, but they’re not. They are portrayed as the pinnacle of body building perfection. There should be just as wide a variety of male body types as female. The Flash should be well toned with much larger legs, Aquaman should be much leaner, Batman should be leaner as well, allowing more fluid, swifter movement…In fact, the majority of the characters should be smaller. No, they all look like the idealized version of male perfection.
I do agree that there needs to be a wider variety of body types…for both sexes. And I do agree with the “posing” issue…And sure, there needs to be a wider variety of costume designs for women…However, you yourself said that you fell in love with these heroines because they were powerful AND beautiful. There IS a power that comes from confident beauty and showing it off. There IS a power that comes with being objectified. Storm, Batgirl, Rogue, Invisible Woman…no, it doesn’t make sense that they would be wearing swimsuits…But Power Girl is a character that has owned her sexuality and derives power from it, Black Canary WOULD likely wear a costume like her previous incarnation…she’s a martial artist and a gymnast and it would give her a less restrictive, wider range of movement (we DO see what actual gymnasts wear…unitards…or “swimsuits”)…and Wonder Woman, well, they could take a variety of inspirations from different amazonian cultures for her, but there is a possibility that covering the beautiful female form would not be thought of by a group of women who live isolated together on a peaceful island…but they are also warriors and as such would have armor to protect them…and with Wonder Woman you get armor with skin showing…not necessarily the most realistic, but reasonable.
I agree that there is much room for improvement in the depiction of women in comic books and I do agree that there is a double standard when female characters are being sexualized and then the instant a male character is drawn anatomically correct with a bulge in his pants (which SHOULD be there, it makes gambits uncomfortable and they cry pornography), but I’m more concerned with HOW the women are depicted not how they’re dressed. Black Canary is a powerful, strategically minded leader who was painstakingly built up as a character until she co headlined her own book an became the leader of the Justice League…then because of editorial decisions she is depicted as a whiny, overly emotional female who can’t handle leadership and so she quits and in her own book Andrew Kreisberg turns her into an incompetent sidekick and gets pushed out of the book so Green Arrow has his own title again…not even so they can both have their own solo titles. To me, this treatment is much more problematic and damaging than the fact that she wraps fishnet stockings.

@Roger Howlett
Ummm… Swamp Donkeys? Seriously? You have such an enlightened point of view.

And, once again Kelly, you have rocked it. This post is on the tip of a lot of people’s tongues when it comes to the problems with superhero comics. A slew of people have written about it, but that’s apparently not enough for the industry. More posts and more efforts for change with better hiring practices and representation is needed. And you’re helping us take a step in the right direction.

more bullshit from yet another snarky hipster “journalist.”

To me nothing is more indicative of the sexism in comics more then the way that some artist draw woman as if they were all interchangeable. Look at Frank Cho’s Miss Marvel, then look at his Valkyrie, the essentially the same character visually with different clothing on. Ed Benes Greg Horn and pretty much every mainstream artist you can name tend to struggle with this. People like to rip Characters like Big Barda or Powergirl, but at least those characters stand out in a comic book world filled with cookie cutter heroines.

Study after study has shown that what most women are attracted to in men are broad shoulders and a narrow waist, basically a torso that is shaped like an inverted triangle. Not so coincidentally, most male characters in comic books are portrayed as having broad shoulders and a narrow waist. Then they are given bodybuilder type muscles and coated in spandex, hardly what the average adult male looks like. Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that that amounts to sexualizing them. The reason male characters and female characters aren’t sexualized in the same way is that men and women find different things attractive. Male characters are designed in such a way as to appeal to most women, and female characters are designed in such a way as to appeal to most men. It’s very simple.

I will admit that I do not notice or look for the sexist costumes or the butt/crotch/boob shots. I see them, but rarely. They’re just NOT why I read comics so I don’t notice them. I do think though that there is SOME practicality to say PowerGirl having a boob hole (one she has openly admitted in comics). Heterosexual men will stare at the boobs instead of her. Sexy women are distracting to men. That I get to some extent, though some are ridiculous (like the nimbo Psylocke, who wore a completely covered outfit before being a ninja bimbo).

All that being said, as a gay man, I’ve stood there as a prominent artist from one of the Big 2 (I will not say who) talked about how he modeled background characters or various women in the comic after porn stars. He, of course, expected me to know who they are, which I didn’t, but they heterosexual guy next to me knew them all and nodded emphatically over the suggestions and mentions of the porn star. He clearly got it and it was clearly aimed for him to enjoy. I found the conversation rather uncomfortable, but I found it rude to tell him I didn’t want to hear something that he thought was important to reveal and some of it was not about female porn stars.

It should ALSO be mentioned that while some want to find the editors/writers accountable, they’re JUST AS BAD as the writer sometimes. I’ve heard tales of Quesada (EIC at the time) and Bendis laughing and joking about how they found some woman hot. Rumor at one point was that Quesada was in love with Spider-Woman and that’s why she magically started appearing everywhere in porno poses on covers. Male writers have openly admitted to lusting after their female creations even when they are UNDERAGE GIRLS! It’s rather gross and there are numerous artists well known for drawing inspiration from porn stars. The problem is? The readership DOES enjoy this. Look at that insipid Comic Men. The first episode they spent time talking about which female hero they’d like to sleep with. Male writers and artists are constantly putting their own sexual desires onto characters (see recent Catwoman or when Spider-Man didn’t have a GF and every woman in the world suddenly wanted him). And male readers seem, by in large, to enjoy this.

I don’t think we’ll ever get to a time where there aren’t women sexualized in comics, but there are artists that do at least try to make both sexes rather hot. :)

“I’m more concerned with HOW the women are depicted not how they’re dressed. Black Canary is a powerful, strategically minded leader who was painstakingly built up as a character until she co headlined her own book an became the leader of the Justice League…then because of editorial decisions she is depicted as a whiny, overly emotional female who can’t handle leadership and so she quits and in her own book Andrew Kreisberg turns her into an incompetent sidekick and gets pushed out of the book so Green Arrow has his own title again…not even so they can both have their own solo titles. To me, this treatment is much more problematic and damaging than the fact that she wears fishnet stockings.”

THIS AS WELL!!

“Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that that amounts to sexualizing them. The reason male characters and female characters aren’t sexualized in the same way is that men and women find different things attractive”

OH YEAH THIS TOO!

This is a good essay Kelly, but if we really want things to change, we need to take it up with the editorial and the artists. The thing is, most comic readers are straight (white) guys and they want this. It’s almost a certainty that this artistic approach is requested – I highly doubt that Bill Sienkiewicz chose that ridiculous pose on the Black Widow cover, for instance.

As far as kowtowing to the Lowest Common Denominator – read any DC comics lately?

Great article, Kelly. Can’t agree enough.

My pet peeve: Thongs. There is no justification for putting a female hero (or even a female villain) in a thong.

I don’t presume to speak for all straight woman, but the bicep-bigger-than-his-head, thighs-bigger-than-his-waist look isn’t the least bit sexy. The hyper-muscled male characters may work as a male power fantasy, but they aren’t very attractive to me. As Rebecca said above:
“The hyper-muscular body builder physique is not actually attractive to most women. It’s a fantasy of male strength/power, not a female sex fantasy.

Take a look at male models, actors, music artists and other celebrities who are considered highly attractive by straight women. None of them have overly-muscled, bulky bodies like male superheroes typically do.”

I agree with a lot of what Thompson said in this article. She makes plenty of valid points. However, I do have some disagreements. Moreover, I think she and everyone else who has written about this issue has also missed a few very important points. I can’t fit all those points into this post, but I did do a column on it in my blog. The jist of my issue with the premise of this article is “What’s the alternative?” And not just an idealized What-If. What is the viable alternative for publishers of all kinds to satisfy the points raised in this article? It’s one thing to just talk about it, but what do we do about it?

I actually agree with 85% of this article you’ve made some excellent dead on points. I think the industry needs to change based on artistic integrity. However I’d disagree with you that true sexual equality in superhero comics will be good for expanding the audience. Books will not sell as well, I honestly don’t think the audience of females and forward thinkers out weighs the other side. People who don’t read superhero comics will defiantly not start because of sexual equality. I think focus should go into making sure sexism doesn’t seep into alternative comics.

Well done article with one major problem, your first point is not valid. Male characters are also drawn as male porn stars, it just so happens that male porn stars share the exact same build as athletic males. This generally carries over to your other arguments as well (minus the clothing point). Male porn stars do not do as obviously use suggestive poses as females, typically it would be a pose indicating strength or power which is not at all dissimilar to the poses of male super heroes.

Now don’t get me wrong I’m not saying everything is equal by any means what I am however saying is your only looking at this from one persepective, how the male thinks oddly enough, and not how the female does.

What you’re talking about has become so ubiquitous, it’s borderline subliminal. Thanks for pointing it out.

Beautifully written column. I have no argument whatsoever. The author is dead-on correct on every point.

I like this article. Nicely written. Nice examples.
The brokeback phenomenon can be explained quite simply:
1. the artist in question doesn’t know how a woman’s body looks from different angles, so they draw the things they want to see even when implausible/impossible.
2. The artist in question doesn’t draw very well, and isn’t interested in improving, so they hide behind ‘cartooning.’ See #1.
3. The artist in question is a man, and because all superheroes are essentially naked with separations of color overtop (faster to draw because they didn’t mess with wrinkles and easier to color outlandish schemes than mess with color theory), we must keep in mind that male fantasies are built in adolescence. Comic artists sit in a room for 12 hours every day drawing naked women with color on; not a single part of their 12 year old sexual fantasies are untouched, in this way, by superhero comics.

There is absolutely an element of disparate sexuality in comics, and without question this is because the majority of readers are male as are the creators, they always have been, and so as tradition marches on we see perpetual motion in the way these characters look. It’s silly, and it’s something I’m not interested in drawing unless there’s a reason in the story. I’m not turned on by Wonder Woman, because there’s a wealth of real women in real life that turn me on; but if I drew Wondie month to month, maybe that would change and somehow ink on paper from my own hand would excite me.
Maybe not.

On the subject of body type, there’s an interesting point to be made.
Porn star body types highlighting beauty and sometimes submissiveness can be translated as the female ideal, the model of reproductive health. The same can be said for the men, jacked, no fat, all confidence. This is not as sexually attractive for women as it is for men…but why? I don’t know. I want to look like Superman. I do. No qualms, let’s do that operation yesterday if possible. But Superman looking like he does isn’t threatening to me, because I know that unless he’s got something interesting to say the market for women who only care about looks is small.
I think what’s happening is that women want to look healthy as a matter of course, but because the examples in superhero book are so exaggerated there is a disconnect in the way that extreme examples of sexual virility are portrayed on the page and the way women think of their own sexuality. It’s been said that women view their physical sexuality through the male prism, while men inhabit their own sexuality, not knowing and sometimes not caring what any specific woman let alone women in general think about it. I don’t know why, but if you’re a woman I’m guessing you might know what I mean, so maybe you can tell me.
Ultimately the path to femininity is not the same as the path to masculinity–it’s a far different course, frought with different emotional pitfalls and physical ideals.
Before we denigrate the ideals of sexual health as exaggerated by superhero books, we must first define ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ to determine if the way women are built is inappropriate, or simply the way artists depict the build through dress and pose. A healthy body, fit and tuned, is a beautiful thing–a sexual thing, as designed by evolution–and perhaps it isn’t the body that some women find offensive but more so what that body is wearing and doing, and how those decisions impact the way a female reader thinks about the character’s motives, the story, and about herself in the real world.
Heady shit, to be sure.

One aspect of the underlying human condition that the article doesn’t touch on is the disparity between what men and women find sexy. What turns us on, respectively, at the onset of attraction. It is, I believe, at the root of why female superheroes dress the way they do.
Men are turned on by the way you look, and if you’re hot, men want to have sex with you then and there. No names. No questions. No childhood stories or emotional backage. Uht! Nothing. Quiet. Let’s GO.
Women are turned on by what they see, but want to have sex based on what they hear. Sex therapists will often say that the biggest sex organ on a woman’s body lies between her ears. Women don’t sexualize men in the same way woman are sexualized by men because our evolution doesn’t require it.
So to the point of superheroes:
The author fails to recognize that the disparity is not one of purposeful sexism, but one of convenience. Men default to objectifying women in power-based fantasy because this is the way men are programmed by their genetics, reinforced by a society built by genetically similar men and women. Sex sells, because it’s the one thing everyone wants. And comics NEED sales.
Artists know what their inner 12 year old wants to see, and they know what the majority of their socially retarded man-boy market wants to see. It isn’t hard to put that puzzle together, even if you object to its existence.

I don’t know. I don’t have any answers. It’s tough.
Maybe these sorts of articles are great sounding boards for exploring states of consciousness. Maybe it’s mutual masturbation, the author can be insulted and the reader can be sympathetic, but no change is affected. Maybe this article isn’t supposed to affect change, but simply express one person’s point of view about herself, and the things she sees in her favorite fiction.
Maybe none of these.

Keep going. Keep talking.
Have sex once in awhile.
It’s fun.

Cheers,
M

I’m ashamed to say this: as long as comics is published, read, and bought by male-dominated generation: It will NEVER be equal.

Sex sells. Unfortunately, unless everyone is raised by feminist ideals,. “Equality in comics” is a pipe dream.

Wish it was otherwise, and maybe, just maybe in a generation (or two) , the scales will balance.

Good essay, Ms. Thompson. Maybe the E-I-Cs of various comic publishers will read this blog and strive to make some changes.

The pessimist inside me knows that $$$ will prevail, at the expense of womankind.

@tom Fitzpatrick – Hey if sex sells how come Voodoo or Catwoman aren’t DC’s top selling books?

The one and only issue I take with the entire article is that saying women are objectified in comics suggests that you think they’re seen only as sex objects which by and large is not the case.
I think DC are a bit more guilty of more objectification than Marvel but when I think of Rogue or Storm or your choice my first thought isn’t their costume, it’s their actions.

If you’re going to say women are objectified in comics then it needs to be backed up not just by carefully chosen panels and cover art which are designed to be eye catching it needs to actually look at the characters and stories. Porn objectifies women because it portrays them as nothing but sex objects. Comics do not.

I’m not saying the entire article is wrong but just because something is sexist doesn’t mean it’s also automatically objectifying women.

I would just like to point out to everyone saying that women don’t get off on visuals, that they’re grossly oversimplifying things. Some women don’t get off on visuals, just like some men don’t, just like some gender queer people don’t. And, shock of shocks, some women (many, in fact), do enjoy watching porn. As a woman, I can, in fact, tell you that I highly enjoy watching porn. However, the typical body type of dudes in heterosexual porn made for straight men – definitely not my thing and, as many others have pointed out, are generally intended to cater more to the target audience (i.e. straight men, and a certain portion of straight men, at that) and their fantasies (whether or not it actually does is debatable). There are some women that like that body type, but not all or even the vast majority, as far as I’m aware. And in comics, as in a large chunk of mainstream porn, the general target audience is usually straight men, and superhero body types are usually more about playing up societal expectations of “manliness” and playing into perceived male fantasies of power than anything to do with female sexuality. That’s not to say that some women probably don’t enjoy the way superheroes are drawn–but is the general intent “I’m going to draw the Hulk shirtless because it’s sexy and more people will buy this comic”? My guess is, probably not in general. He’s drawn that way because it shows off his strength and relates to his character. Compare that to some of the reasoning (or often, non-reasoning) behind female superheroes being drawn, costumed and posed the way that they are and compare the two.

Also, as much as I love porn and eroticism and sexy women and men and everything in between, there is a difference between sexy and sexist. The line is hazy, yes, but if more attention is paid to a female character’s body and use as a sexual object than her characterization, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Here is a stupid question…when DC tried to put WW in pants wasn’t it a lot of women who griped the most across the net? Make up your minds.

Nothing new to see hear, folks. Sexy, attractive entertainment is more desirable than women or men that look average, and wear the clothing you and I wear.

I mean, seriously? This has been going on forever, form Leia in Star Wars, Kate in Lost, etc…..

Men enjoy women, and 99.5% of readers do not get aroused or stimulated by these images any more than any other film, tv, magazine or advertisement.

I can separate fantasy from reality, woman are not under assault from superhero comics.

I keep seeing it asserted, yet you guys couldn’t be farther from the truth – NO ONE BUYS COMICS FOR SEX/FAN-SERVICE. Seriously, internet porn made comics with this kind of stuff obsolete. I say this as someone who likes naked, attractive women A LOT – I’ve never bought a comic for fan-service. I can say that with a straight face, because I grew up with the internet. I’m not paying hard cash for something that doesn’t have actual explicit sex because there are thousands of websites where I can get that for free. Sex doesn’t sell anymore, at least with comics, because instead of having to substitute porn with J. Scott Campbell comics I can watch Japanese schoolgirls vomit into each other’s mouths if I want (anyone who watches South Park will get that joke). All for free.

The reason artists draw this, I think, is because it’s easy. Most artists learn from looking at other people’s stuff, and because that’s how women were drawn in the comics they read, that’s the way they learned how to draw them. This phenomenon may have started as an editorially mandated thing way back in the days before the internet when fan-service actually did sell, but like I said, nowadays you aren’t going to see a sales bump because a female character is now being drawn more sexually.

And I take issue with people ripping on Psylocke’s ninja costume. Do people not realize that real, old school Japanese Ninjas didn’t wear anything? The most they ever wore on a mission was like a sumo diaper, all because it gave them more freedom and they couldn’t risk wearing clothing because it makes sounds. When your whole job is sneaking into someplace that’s heavily guarded, you can’t afford anything that could possibly give you away. The idea of ninja’s as pajama-clad guys with swords is more a myth constructed by Hollywood than actual reality. So from a technical standpoint, Psylocke is actually overdressed as a ninja. It makes sense that she’d have a skin-tight outfit that gave he limbs more freedom. Ninjas need to be agile and quiet.

It’s interesting how some of the characters you’ve highlighted have had their portrayal and costumes change since the 70s or 80s. Look at all the following female heroes back when they first appeared and compare to now: Psylocke (originally fully covered: a full suit of armor plus cloak with a hood at one point!), Rogue (even through the 90s fully covered, plus with a jacket), Black Widow (the old gray outfit and the old black outfit were both full coverage originally). Things are becoming MORE sexualized. It’s not even as if this has always been at a constant level!

After all this talk I’ve only got one thing to say: As a man I refuse to feel guilt for enjoying the sight of a beautiful and/or sexy woman whether it’s in person, a photo, film or drawing. The sexual fantasies of men seem to be on trial here. My fantasies are my own. I embrace them. Would a woman find them repugnant? Could be. Frankly I don’t care. As long as no one gets hurt I don’t think you can judge someone for what turns them on.

Be careful when critiquing sexism. Your critique may just be prudery in disguise.

A TV model I know who reads comics has no problem with the way women are depicted because I think it reinforces that she is desirable. So perhaps that’s why she has no resentment or jealousy toward their depiction.

I would argue that conceptually there is more sexism than the costumes. Most Female characters are solely defined by their sexual exploits. Storm for instance, is often revered as a one stop sex-shop : lesbian, bisexual, straight. I agree with most of the article..but I think its important not to blanket everything on aesthetics.

Ive seen more than a few ripped shirts on men, huge wide angle crotch shots..and I hear no complaining there. Not TO mention the countless shirtless scenes in Superhero movies where the hunk loses his shirt for no reason other than to show off his goods.

The argument is sound when pertaining to story. I mean what exactly is it that Female superheroes do? That is my litmus test.

Rogue who last time I checked..had to avoid human contact due to her mutation now battles foes breasts out.

Clearly comics are a product of the 50′s. All one has to do is look at the lack of diversity in major superhero groups. Minorities and women are often there just to fill panels.

My challenge to creators is give them (women, minorities, etc.) something to do. Emma Peel from the 60′s AVENGERS TV SHOW dressed as provocatively as any superhero but the respect level never was in dispute.

Martin Luther King said it best we are judged by the content of our character. Lets not put fig leaves on statues and think it will fix this problem.

When I hear Fems argue for more representations of fat, slovenly, lazy men as love interests in female power/sex fantasy oriented Romance Novels, maybe I might give a damn about their hissy fit over superhero comics.

I think your point about how females should be portrayed as athletes, not porn stars, makes sense. BUT, might it be possible that the male athletic form is the sexy equivalent for males? I’m a gay man and I find the athletic built sexy…and in gay porn…that’s what they look like. Might it be possible that both genders are unfairly sexualized, but that sexualization would look differently? I also realize this is more relevant for the body type discussion, and not necessarily for the other areas you discuss (pose being one….). Though in all fairness, I’m not sure seeing Hal Jordan in a Star Sapphire outfit would be tittilating to me…not b/c the outfit won’t be ‘sexy’ per se…but I just don’t get hot and heavy on pencil drawn figures. Just something to think about…

I also love how you once again vindicated Ms. Frost’s outfit choices. I love that woman.

@mk – “when DC tried to put WW in pants wasn’t it a lot of women who griped the most across the net? Make up your minds”
Actually The issue wasn’t the pants for many people (and come on there are LOTS more male Wonder Woman fans. We’re the 7% according to DCs* survey) it was the changing of an ICONIC costume.

@jayne “We’re talking about comic books people = PAPER CARTOONS.”
What does that even mean? That some mediums aren’t worthy of criticism? That because you can boil them down to something silly they don’t matter?

*depending on whether you count 167 in-store surveys or 5000 online surveys.

Women, particularly this author, need to get over themselves. Just one of those articles that every woman in comics publishing HAS to write. Its been written dozens of times before, it won’t changed a single thing, and quite frankly its pointless. If you want to change one of the key foundations of western society (sex roles and relations), go ahead and try, but have fun slamming your head into a wall.

@brianw – And commenter like you just have to get over themselves by adding nothing to the discussion.

Great article, Kelly! I should note that Emma Frost simultaneously represents the problem and the solution. On the one hand, she’s got an improbable build and skimpy wardrobe. On the other hand, it’s explicitly acknowledged that her body is the result of plastic surgery and a calculated attempt to gain control through manipulating others. And even if Marvel tries to retroactively hook Emma up with everyone, she’s not a fan service character when written and drawn correctly, because she’s the ultimate ice queen. If you were on fire, she wouldn’t spit on you, and she makes that clear; her sexual appeal is meant to frustrate more than titillate.

In other words, Emma is a fully realized character, and the sex appeal is part of that character, not all of it.

In response to the argument that the athletic male body type is also a male porn body type:

I’d argue that a large percentage of straight porn films feature men who aren’t athletic at all. In fact, many of them feature men who are flabby and out-of-shape looking.

@BrianW. Wow. You’re what’s wrong with the world.

@Sue (DCWKA): Beats me. I think it boils down to personal taste. Maybe whomsoever doesn’t like the writer/artist/character.

It’s a screwy world, and welcome to it! ;-)

@mk:

You’re not serious, right? Are you telling the author of this article that she’s a hypocrite because other people made a complaint about a costume, and because they’re the same gender as her then she must obviously be included in that group of people? Not to mention, ignoring all the -male- complaints about the costume because it wasn’t her ‘iconic’ swimsuit. Unbelievable.

Though, if I remember right, quite a few comments I read about the costume weren’t that it had trousers involved, anyway. It was because the new costume didn’t look as explicitly ‘American’ as (IE, didn’t base itself on the Stars and Stripes as much as) the original… and yet it was still pretty explicitly based on American iconography. It might make minor sense if she wasn’t, you know, an Amazonian clay warrior.

Great article. But just so we can all have a laugh, here is a link to a classic Marvel trading card that turns the table.

http://all-fantasy-art.bravepages.com/site-pics/Cardpics/UltraPrint-95Fleer-XMen-Bishop-BorisV.jpg

I just read this whole comment thread, and now I’m going to go kill myself.

I’d be OK with putting everyone in jogging pants.

At the end of the day comic books are written and consumed overwhelmingly by men, its fantasy not real life. I think the characters from Twilight are representive of men but im not going to cry about it because im not the target audience. Can anything just be fun anymore?

^ *aren’t representative of men

When you can prove that comic book publishers gets a majority of their money from female readers, then you’ll have an argument.
When most of the readers are males who’d rather see a sexy female, the publishers have to cater to them to stay in business.

A really good article. But I do want to mention one thing: if Emma Frost gets a pass then so should Voodoo. The character has been shown to be willing to use sexuality to achieve goals. It was also mentioned in the character’s thought boxes as a useful tactic.

I see your point, but I like cheesecake and I don’t mind seeing it on or covers or splash pages. When I don’t like it is when it is an anatomically impossible pose, that’s just bad art, or when it doesn’t fit the character. The stomach window on Huntress could only have been added with the thought of making her a little sexier but it ends up just being stupid. If the character is indestructible and has the personality for it I don’t care. The artist wants to do a pin-up page? Ok, fine by me. But maybe it should be left out of the story pages. I’m ambivalent about the whole thing so my post may not be the most clear.

And I’ve always loved that cover from Birds of Prey.

“Here is a stupid question…when DC tried to put WW in pants wasn’t it a lot of women who griped the most across the net? Make up your minds.”

I don’t know about most women, but my wife hated the idea while I liked it. Actually I’d rather Wonder Woman was in Greek-looking armor than a bathing suit or tights, but for some reason that’s hardly ever an option.

“Most people who read this column regularly know how I feel about these issues”

But that won’t stop me from yet another 2,000 word complaint on the subject!

@MarsHottentot — that Sienkewicz Black Widow comic was edited by a woman (which doesn’t mean that it wasn’t requested, but does mean that it’s more complicated in this specific instance than “men doing things for men”) and, considering a lot of Morgan’s work on the character was a direct (if simplistic) challenge to the male gaze, I doubt the writer was requesting swivel-spine, either. But I think there’s a semi-subversive element in that cover, because we actually look upon the female T&A through the framing device of Daredevil’s butt.

And yes, this phenomenon of oversexing isn’t new to anyone with eyes to see it, but neither are the dozens of comments by grumpy men who really need to be pandered to. If the best you can come up with is “I’ve heard this before” — well, we’ve heard that before, too. Arguing in favor of a sexist status quo is much less original than arguing against it.

It would be nice if the people in this comment thread stopped comparing comic books to romance novels. Honestly, I can’t think of a single person who reads romance books, let alone girls my own age. Not to mention the overall community/fanbase in comics surpasses most media, let alone this tiny genre of books.

I agree with the person who pointed out the male athletic body type is NOT the male porn body type. Seen enough fat hairy dudes plowing a tiny asian girl to know that much. And just to be clear, I would be perfectly fine with more varied representations of men’s bodies in comics as well as female bodies. Give me skinny dudes, muscley dudes, shorter dudes, what have you.

Also, reading comments that argue women want their men to save them with cowboy hats and rivers of money is almost as sexist as these stupid comic book poses themselves. I hope you realize that you are perpetuating ignorant misogynistic ideas of women by saying these things. Sure, a small group of women want a strong male in her life, just like a small group of men want their girlfriends to look like supermodels.

Otherwise, it would be great to see less hostility in conversations that point out sexism in something that is obviously sexist. No, you should not be ashamed for your fantasies. You should be ashamed of horrible anatomical contortions, though (if you’re the artist).

To those pointing out “nothing will change” and “it’s a conversation that’s been had before”… just because it probably won’t change doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be written about. Otherwise men genuinely wouldn’t know why it was sexist or why their girlfriends rolled their eyes at the covers in the comic store. Just look at the comments from men here who have thanked the author for pointing out things they hadn’t noticed before.

There’s always room to grow. Okay now I am going to go kill myself over the guy who said there comes power from being objectified.

There is no excuse for Rogue ever having a costume that doesn’t cover her body completely. PERIOD.

All Ms. Thompson is asking for here is a little equality. I don’t think she’s doing ‘due dilligance’ as a comic book journalist or trying to change societal norms. She asking an important question as regards ‘why’ one gender is portrayed one way while another is portrayed in almost an opposite fashion. I hope creative teams and editors will think about this article when they’re proofing their work.

I’m going to be blunt about this, I sometimes get off on these inappropriate depictions in comics.
But when they are thrown at me without context it kind of seems a bit immature and annoying.(i.e move your tits I’m trying to get my story on) Although when I see Emma Frost or Black Cat its fine because it is central to their character. But it sometimes insults me to see Psylocke, Storm, Ms Marvel, Rouge, or other female superheroes who dress and look like streetwalkers and the only reason I can think about for them to look like this is pandering. But what we really need is men getting this treatment, not just Nightwing. I want to see Spiderman, Captain America, and Batman sluting it up lol. That would be intresting.

I’m just gonna…leave this here, because David Willis already said it better than I can.

http://www.shortpacked.com/2011/comic/book-13/05-the-death-of-snkrs/falseequivalence/

This is an ongoing discrepancy that unfortunately has no easy answer. I think initially drawing women in this ‘style’ (for lack of a better word) was done as a way of getting around censors in the 50s-60s — and at the time, pre-teen/teen boys were pretty much the ONLY audience for superhero based comic books. So in a way, they were drawing for their demographic, during a time in which objectifying women was not only accepted practice, but in some ways encouraged (hello – it was also the heyday of men running the advertising world).

Sadly, times have changed but the mentality hasn’t — despite the fact that comic books are now a non-gendered interest.

I want to see more comic books geared toward women with kissA$$ female heros and scantily clad, sex god males. THAT would make me a very happy GeekGurl!!

Unfortunately, unless readers stop buying comic books that insist upon portraying women in this way, there will be absolutely no incentive for artists/publishers to change what they are doing.

“It would be nice if the people in this comment thread stopped comparing comic books to romance novels.”

Because it’s an effective argument that you can’t deal with?

“Honestly, I can’t think of a single person who reads romance books, let alone girls my own age.”

Considering the persistent existence of the genre, not to mention the box office figures of the likes of the Twilight Saga and romantic movies in general; you’re either talking out of your ass, or a tomboy.

“Not to mention the overall community/fanbase in comics surpasses most media, let alone this tiny genre of books.”

More than live action television, movies, video games, and magazines? A media that is confined mostly to hole-in-the-wall direct market stores, along with a trade paperback section in Barnes and Noble that Is FAR tinier than the sections devoted to romance novels? in comparison to the wide mainstream availability of the aforementioned media? Please.

Even if superhero comics were theoretically bigger than the above media, it would not change the fact that such massiveness would be built on male purchasing power. Period.

Great post, Kelly!!! And awesome job finding visual proof of the disparity. I think it’s actually gotten much more severe in the past couple of decades — I remember as a kid, certain characters (especially Wolverine) would always get their costumes shredded and run around half-naked, showing off muscly chests and such. And while female heroes sometimes had goofy costume designs, they were rarely posed in the pornstar positions we see all of the time now.

Don’t disagree with your article. Good well thought out points. However, I do not see things EVER changing. 1. In todays culture, SEX sells everything 2. Comic readership is overwhelming male. I think comic reader demographics would have to see significant change before any significant shift in the presentation of women and how they are drawn in comics will change. The comic book publishers market to their main buyer/demographic…not to their minority demographic of readers.

I can’t read through all of the comments. There was a point where my mind just kind of melted from the misogyny of some of the commenters. I can say that this is a wonderful article. I have been a comic fan for ages, and there have been times where I’ve looked at a page and wondered how someone thought that the page looked good.

I also can say this. To those comparing the athletic build of Superheros to the athletic build of male porn stars to try to shoot down what Kelly has said… You guys DO realize that MOST of porn is created for a MALE viewer. Much like most comics. Porn is still a power fantasy. Guys want to imagine that THEY are that athletic hot dude banging that beautiful submissive hot chick. I can’t speak for every woman out there, but I don’t find the super athletic build in pron to be all that attractive. Then again I don’t find porn in general to be very attractive. So yeah. Your argument there is a bit invalid, and misogynistic.

Well, I totally agree with everything you said, but considering the first point, that female superheroes have supermodels bodies while male characters have athletic bodies is mostly because the heroes are made to be models for the viewers.
Who doesn’t want a body like that? If they portrayed every female superhero like those women, seriously, who’d want to be them?
In our culture, that’s not a beauty pattern, so…this explains.

The problem with the line of thinking people like ‘RX-78 Alex’ present is that they’re missing the point. The point is: things should change, things can change, and hopefully by being brought to the attention of fans and the creative community, things will change.

Women are not viewed as equals by many, many men. Its ignorant to pretend that this is ok in any medium; be it TV, magazines, or even a little ‘hole in the wall’ community like comics.

Johnny Sarcastic

February 21, 2012 at 6:48 pm

“… I think it’s a big problem that extends far beyond comics and like other media, it really affects the way people view women, and how women, especially young women, view themselves. I don’t think “it’s just comics” and it doesn’t matter. I think media is a powerful thing in our society and that there’s a trickle down effect in seeing these portrayals reinforced over and over again. These portrayals shape how we view and value women and contributes to everything from sexism in the work place to eating disorders.”

This is the part of all articles like this that irritates the hell out of me.

I am under the impression that women are no longer to be viewed as fragile flowers, under need of protection from things such as this? Yes, it’s unfortunate that the media throws these images at us. But the media throws the perfect, ideal images at us about EVERYTHING ALL OF THE TIME. That car? Perfect, won’t ever break down. That taco? Stuffed to the brim with only the best of authentic Mexican ingredients.

A little bit of personal responsibility here, please. As a man, I agree with you – the comparison of objectification between women and men in comics is no comparison at all. Men are by and large affected less by seeing ‘prime specimens’ in print than women are, for whatever reason. But it cannot be the media’s fault any time self-esteem is damaged to the point of an eating disorder. There are some excellent examples in this thread that are likely being written off as chauvanistic – much like I imagine this post is – but the fact of the matter is, when a man says “yeah, well, it’s hard to live up to the men in Sex and the City,” that’s no less silly than having poor body image because of magazines, is it?

Maybe that example strikes you as silly because… it is silly? Exactly as silly as claiming that a woman’s poor self worth is because TV told her so?

I guess all of those parents that thought their kids killed themselves ’cause of music were right all along. It really was the media that did it.

I think a lot of the commentators are forgetting the fact that the article is addressing the idea of equality between the portrayals of male and female characters in comics.
It’s true, there’s a huge inequality between how men and women are portrayed in comics and that definitely needs to change. I say this through gritted teeth because there are some things I would like to see stay the same while there are things that are completely ridiculous that changing would only mean a much better world, overall.

The Brokeback thing is dumb. Right out, it’s stupid and needs to go away.

Body shape can be a bit more varied; I’m down with that. I try to portray women of many varying body types ( I don’t know how successfully, but I do try) and I think that that’s something that can only be beneficial to the medium. On an aside: I’m still having a hard time drawing pudgy men… gotta work on that… ANYWAY…

Costume designs just have to be BETTER. I’m tired of hearing about what’s real and what would work in the real world and seeing seams on everything. Just make a good looking costume. Period!

If there’s a more revealing female costume that looks better than a less revealing one, then the more revealing one should win out… that should be it. Of course, context is something that comes into play when designing a costume (why Rogue’s costume SHOULDN’T be unzipped) but practicality is thrown out the window when a man living in a city full of Gothic structures is wearing a cape.

I guess this could easily be resolved if more male characters were put in budgie-smugglers. That’s how it went down in Golden Aged comics. Dudes would walk around in bare legged short shorts accented with a vest and maybe wrist bands. Good times!

I commented to a friend that Namor’s fish-scale undies costume is MUCH smaller than Power Girls [old] costume and any female costume in mainstream comics (only because Verotik’s Satanika’s costume is the smallest that I know of with it consisting of nipple rings) as part of an argument about why they were changing her costume. After this article, I’m ashamed I made that argument, though, I still feel that there can be made a compromise.

I’m not going to get involved in the mud slinging – I just wanted to take a second to thank you for eloquently (and with examples, no less) pointing out an issue that has always bother myself, and other female comic readers that I know. Not only that, but the oversexualization in many comics actually stopped my friends from reading when I tried to get them interested in the genre. The ladies aren’t asking for much – all we’re saying is a little realism and a little decency goes a long way (think Amanda Connor – balancing boobs and actual body structure.)

Johnny Sarcastic-”I am under the impression that women are no longer to be viewed as fragile flowers, under need of protection from things such as this?”

I’m sorry. Are you sitting her saying that women should be treated like their weak and can’t do anything or think anything for themselves. Cuz if you are, I’d like you to come out and I’ll show you just how weak I am.

I understand where you are coming from, but the media does play a role in how women view themselves, and how men view them. I’m not saying (and I’m sure that Kelly isn’t) that it is the ONLY thing that influences it, but it’s part of a whole. I know many girls who have had eating disorders. I myself struggled with one. I have also struggled with depression and poor self image before. In some of the group therapy sessions I have had one of the MANY common themes among women with these problems is how they feel that they can’t live up to the expectations that media has presented them with. I know logically that this is fantasy and that we are all beautiful how we are and blah blah blah. But it didn’t stop me from struggling with my self worth for years. There were other factors as well, including but not limited to school bullies during my teens, problems with my education, and so on and so forth. But those contributing factors tend to change from girl to girl. But something to do with the media is still there for most of us. I have known many girls who became anorexic or bulimic because they thought it was the only way to become thin and beautiful and become a supermodel. I have known others who suffered from the diseases because they thought that they wouldn’t be able to attract a significant other unless they looked like the girls on tv.

And yes, it does strike me as silly, but unfortunately you don’t magically stop having problems with your self-worth because you realize that it’s silly.

So I’m sorry. You still sound misogynistic, foolish, and ignorant.

When I was a really young girl I absolutely loved watching the superhero cartoons, and got the odd gift of a comic. Batman, X-Men and Spider-Man have always been my very favourite.
The (male) villains were dark and mean, the heroes had conflict, and the women (villains and heroes alike) made them weak – why wouldn’t I look up to that?

Now, in my twenties, I only ever purchase graphic novels that portray characters in a realistic way.
I don’t mean I avoid anything with outlandish super powers, or any extent of imagination. What I mean is, I enjoy credibility. I appreciate reading and watching things that feel as if the whole team behind it has used their brains for the good of the story. That the characters are real enough to have depth and make their own decisions – be it their costumes or what they have for breakfast! For their efforts and brainpower I exchange my money!

The superhero genre has become so formulaic it’s patronising. I literally roll my eyes every time I see yet another female character in something that’s skin-tight, boobs enhanced beyond belief, and pose at the most ridiculous times. What’s more, costume-wise, I often find myself saying “well, that’s impractical/uncomfortable/painful.”
I constantly wait for a realistic female characterisation. By this I do not mean women who act like they’re from a convent either. Sexual empowerment is a trait women love to wield, but those who use it wisely know there’s a time and a place, which isn’t mid-battle with an alien threat. I know there are men and women from all sorts of backgrounds and sexual orientation that would appreciate comic creators reigning in their labidos and the mentality of “Sex Sells = Sex. All the time. Always.”

I never hear my male friends who are avid comic readers discussing how hot the women are, only the powerful striking moments! The stunning battles, the heart-wrenching defeats, the witticisms and dark confessions… And I know for sure a load of T+A didn’t pull them in to reading the comics in the first place!

Another side of me though, understands the poses. As an artist, and I stress a heterosexual female one, it has always been alluring to draw the human form in the strongest ways possible, enhancing every detail and curve, and wanting to portray all those curves as much as possible. There’s something incredibly boring about drawing someone in a baggy jumper! Despite wanting to fight the stereotypes and clichés, designing females of all ages who look it and of appropriate and varying weights, I still find myself trying to enhance everything to be its most beautiful – lips, eyes, waist, bust, hips, thighs, dainty hands and ankles…. The same applies to my male characters. Unless they’re overweight I always draw their proportions a lá superhero/athlete; broad shoulders, slim waist, long legs.
This could be after a childhood of superhero fascination and absorbing the artistic formulae, but I can’t help wonder if we’re just all compelled to make people look as attractive as possible, no matter who they are. Maybe we’re simply compulsive beauticians?

The problem with this article is that the writer hinges most of her points on subjective opinion and sweeping generalizations and then states it as omniscient fact. That’s not to say there isn’t a few good and valid points here but given that the writer casts herself as the victim no less than three sentences in by letting us know that any criticism that comes her way will most likely be filed under “you’re only saying that cause I’m a girl” catagory. And given the tone of the comments by the writers cheerleaders towards the criticism that has turned up in the comments, then why should anyone bother to say anything here other than some generic sycophancy?

@Sue

re: “Hey if sex sells how come Voodoo or Catwoman aren’t DC’s top selling book”

For the same reason that comic books that women claim “gets it right” such as Birds of Prey isn’t doing better? Sometimes something just fails whether it’s loaded with objectification or not. Incidentally, Catwoman has had fairly stable sales based on the numbers, meanwhile, BoP is plummeting like a stone. But I always like how when something that readers hate does poorly it proves some point of theirs. But when something they like does poorly, then there are a plethora of excuses. It’s easy to spin something to make a point, isn’t it?

Sigh.

Again with this nonsense.

Go to your facebook page. Check your friends photos.

You will find most men in loose-fitting jeans and t-shirts, possibly suits if you’re a professional. Maybe shorts in the summer… that go all the way down to their knees. With a rare few, you may find dudes with “good bodies” showing off their bare chests, but half of the time, it will be ironically.

Women? Cleavage, cleavage, and more cleavage. Leg, leg and more leg. Shorts and skirts are super short in summer. And no matter the time of year, women will be wearing skin-tight shirts or tops specifically designed to show as much cleavage as possible. If the woman thinks her stomach is flat, she will also wear midriff-bearing clothing at every opportunity.

What do all these people on your facebook pages have in common? They all dressed themselves in the morning.

So, once again, please stop with this feeble attempt at blaming men for all the problems women have in the world.

@AgainWithThis – who on earth are your friends, hookers and strippers?

Kelly, you can write this column every week as far as I’m concerned. It’s funny to see guys (heterosexual men I’m tempted to say) being threatened by this. Perhaps being gay gives me a different perspective because when I see women in comics being sexualised there’s no hormones getting in my way, but women in skimpy costumes just looks silly.

My biggest problem at present is Wonder Woman. You reinvent everybody but leave her in a damn swimsuit? Finally an opportunity to drag that poor woman into the 21st century and you leave her in her underwear? Missed opportunity DC.

Jesus christ men are embarassing. And I am one.

Johnny Sarcastic

February 21, 2012 at 7:31 pm

“I’m sorry. Are you sitting her saying that women should be treated like their weak and can’t do anything or think anything for themselves. Cuz if you are, I’d like you to come out and I’ll show you just how weak I am.”

I wasn’t saying that, no. I was saying that I was under the impression that women are equal, and as such had the presence of their own mind to refute the “hate your self-image rays” that all of us evil men are bombarding you with constantly through the media.

I make this assumption because as a human being who is subjected to the same media as you every day, I do not succumb to poor self-worth because, for instance, I do not have a nice car, or a full head of hair, or abs. I do not search only for the rail-thin, huge-breasted supermodels that you presume all men want because that is what media tells you. Nor do I run out and buy McNuggets every time the television tells me to, no matter how delicious they look. This is because I am a self-aware person; I assumed women were the same in this regard.

However, after reading through the rest of your comment, I have to assume that, unfortunately, you are not one of these women I have read about.

Threatening someone on the internet because they have a differing opinion showed me exactly how weak you were, thanks.

To me, you’re the one who sounds foolish and ignorant. There has to be a point where you take personal responsibility. It is not always someone else’s fault when you have problems, for Pete’s sake.

Change the society itself and comic books will follow.

To me, Bird’s of Prey has the most attractive illustrations of women in all of the new DC. It’s also one of the better first story arcs. Guess I’m in the minority.

Very well done. My response (no, it’s not spam and yes, it’s relevant to this article about sexism in comics): http://sixgunwizard.blogspot.com/2012/02/does-sweet-rack-have-place-in-comics.html

*Breaking News!* Men like looking at pictures of sexy women!! This and other ground shattering revelations at 11…

[...] in how they treat men and women" response to sexism in comics. #ddtbEmbedded Link She Has No Head! – No, It’s Not Equal | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources Leave a CommentName *E-mail *WebsitePersonalized (email address-based) comment photos can be [...]

And this is part of why Kitty Pryde is my favorite female superhero. I really hope they don’t break her zipper…

Picking and choosing images that support your opinion whilst omitting all the ones that contradict it doesn’t seem very honest. The current Birds of Prey and X-Men books featuring the characters you mentioned don’t portray most of them the way you show here. Isn’t that worth acknowledging? Poison Ivy, Black Canary, Katana and Batgirl are all completely covered with only Starling showing the tiniest amount of skin. In X-Men: Legacy, Rogue’s main book, she is completely covered and not unzipped. Even in Uncanny X-Men, where you have the likes of Emma Frost, you also have Hope and Magik who are completely covered. The same can be said of the female characters in New Mutants and Wolverine And The X-Men. Justice League International also features four female characters who show nothing more than their arms. There are many other respectable depictions of women in comics apart from the ones I’ve just mentioned and you misrepresent the facts by not showing this in your article. I can only assume this is a result of ignorance or bias, neither of which are good foundations for an intelligent argument.

Thank you for writing this. Just, thank you.

I’m kind of getting fed up with seeing my fellow female comic readers giving Emma Frost’s outfit a pass. Emma’s costume, contrary to what you seem to think, was a “uniform”. The uniform of the Hellfire Club’s White Queen. Unlike what we see in the recent Xmen film, The Hellfire Club wasn’t a strip club and Emma wasn’t using sex to get her way or to help get Sabastian Shaw get his way. She had a defined position that didn’t include stripping or seducing. Black Queen “Selene” (the only other woman in the inner circle) wore the same “uniform”. The rationalizations that it was just “her way” didn’t come till long after the characters inception.

So it’s not like Emma said “hey, I should make a sexy outfit to distract men so I can get what I want”, she has a power that could do that for her. Black Widow on the other hand was expressly created to be a spy who traded on her looks and seduced men to get information. But if she so much as pulls her zipper down then the people that sign off on Emma’s outfit throw a damn fit. WTF?! I find it hard to believe that someone as smart as Frost is SUPPOSED to be, with her ability to control minds, would go into battle in an outfit that put her damn labia on display. If it’s okay for Emma then it must be okay for Selene. If it’s okay for Selene then….see where I’m going here? How about a little god damn consistency with our opinions. Ok? Because saying its “okay for emma” invalidates the entire debate over objectification because over sexualized costumes like the ones that Emma wears isn’t all that much subtler than those belonging to Lady Death.

Lets just keep it simple for those that are prone to rationalizing or just having a hard time parsing the difference and simply say no more G-strings or thongs PERIOD! Is that so hard?

@Kelly

If you manage to get to this comment, I applaud you. So read this and weep: in the case of comic books AND the entertainment industry, to paraphrase an old (and somewhat cliched saying) saying: “if you want something done right, DO IT RADICALLY.” Sure, peaceful protests can turn the tides of ruling powers, but for something just as powerful as the entertainment industry, you’ve gotta go the Teddy Roosevelt route–though in this case, speak softly AND rationally at first, but ALWAYS carry the proverbial big stick with you, when dealing with a bunch of dollar-eyed twits who will keep this status quo as long as there’s money to be made with the “sex sells” ideology. You can vote with your dollars, sure, but what’s to stop them from being stubborn and pushing on so desperately? Or if they do pay attention and make a half-hearted attempt to address the issue, but still does not sway the consumer? Voting with your wallet is a good thing, sure, but as PT Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” That’s not a good thing–it means there’ll still be plenty of rubes who will still buy into the mindless T&A shlock thrust at them in 22 pages for $3.99. No, you want to really make changes in the state of the industry today, not only should you vote with your wallet–YOU’VE GOT TO CON THE INDUSTRY’S BIGGEST PLAYERS. It would take a hoax (or hoaxES) of Wellesian proportions to trick the comic companies into making changes to the content and the industry itself for the better–and I encourage this, the use of deceit, trickery and all the charms of a use-car salesperson, to greatly change the comic industry for the good of the consumers (and the creators). Why do I think this would and SHOULD work? Because it seems like the tried and true methods just aren’t enough, no matter how long they’re used. That’s why I pin my hopes that someone or some people will someday use con-artistry to change the industry for a brighter tomorrow. If Alan Moore was “swindled” in his dealings with DC, then why shouldn’t DC be swindled into making ACTUAL progressive moves?
For the record, not every comic book from the Big Two follows this style–I don’t know if it was you I related this to, but by George Marvel’s G.I. Joe run in the 80′s had the best depictions of women characters both in terms of physique and characterization: Scarlett fit the gymnast bill despite having a full bust; Cover Girl, being a former fashion model, somehow retained her particular physique despite being quite the capable Joe operative AND a tank driver; Lady Jaye probably has the most average build of the lady Joes, but is still a capable covert ops agent, plus has the distinct honor of taming the most chauvinistic Joes, Clutch, Shipwreck, and Flint; and Jinx, despite being a lithe ninja, didn’t even have the stereotypical skin-tight getup you’d find on most lady ninjas–you look at the actual toy and her depictions in other media, her getup is a little baggy. Even the bad girls had standards–sure, Baroness was the drop-dead goregeous first lady of Cobra, clad in a black bodysuit, but you never saw her (90% of the time) in any of the poses you described. Same thing with her toy packaging. Zarana also falls in line to this, and of the two, she had the average build, but was also a capable character–the Dreadnok’s best undercover operative since she’s a trained method actress. She’s not just seen as Zartan’s sister–she can act! Maybe even better than any real-life actress could.
Also for the record, I believe you’re seeing this problem because of the way comics are drawn NOWADAYS. Ever since the 90′s, female character proportions started to become everything you describe, made “worse” when most comics began to be more “photo-realistic”, if you get my drift. Maybe if the characters had more of an animated influence here and there, we’d see more of a difference.
Back to my point at hand, if you want this kind of problem addressed for future generations, don’t just vote with your wallet–con the company into accounting for all body types in comics. Con them into making positive changes for the better.

And once again I am embarrassed to be a fan of comics.

Not because of the sexist depiction of women (that was already embarrassing), but because of the moronic trolls that come with the territory.

Thank you Kelly for a great article and don’t let the mouth breathers get you down.

I see what you’re saying, but the Hellfire Club was based on a real-life organization of the same name in 18th-century Britain that was essentially a sex cult. Even if Emma didn’t design the costume herself, it makes more sense in that context for the female members of the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle to dress that way. Emma just happens to have a personality that would continue wearing the same uniform after joining the X-Men.

I don’t think the issue is that no women would dress provocatively. After all, some women dress that way in real life. I think it’s an issue that a disproportionate number of heroines (both as compared to real-life women and as compared to the heroes who are more covered up) dress that way even when it doesn’t fit their personalities. Sue Storm Richards in a bikini and leather coat?

1. its comics… not real life

2. let’s just enjoy the medium for what it is: incredibly good-looking people saving the world. Its been that way since Action Comics #1 till now.

Everything from fully covered but fully muscle- toned Superman to Vampirella only lends to the fact that they are all sex-symbols

I think this was a great article. Dreaded the comments as usual because I know how folks are.

1.) I have always seen through the “Well men are depicted just as oppressively as the women are” card.

It is a common and useful tactic used all the time in many debates and is sloppy. Rather than debate the topic at hand, throw out a roadblock and sit back and smile knowing you can hide behind it and not really have to look at the issues.

Some people really feel there is a problem with the portrayal of men in comics. Many just rely on the ease of deflection and then seduce themselves into thinking they really feel that way. Its the easy road.

The thing is it is insulting to me as a fellow man. We all know there is a problem with the portrayal of women. And yet we cry and say “not this again.” or “but what about us?” Tired of that laziness.

Do we really have a problem with the portrayal of men in comics? If we did why dont I see more proactive articles about it from men? Not isolated articles. Why dont I ever see men talking about male image in comic books proactively? Why always defensively? Surely we didnt give up on the issue if it ever existed?

2.) Image is one of the strongest influences on our society. Its power for implanting behavior or fomenting behavior in society is often overlooked but is so pervasive. The majority dont like to be aware of it but it is there. I used to think “Why should I worry about the type of body images portrayed in the media, or modeling industry when there are more important issues to worry about.” “Why worry about positive depictions of race in some industry that isnt even worth my time?”

I was so foolish! The battle for image might be the most important one of our age. Especially in this type of society we have created.

If only for the fact that people not effected by inequality will usually shut off in response to anyone who is effected. Articles like this will always run into that wall. While those who can see the problem will likely agree with articles such as this. It is a worthy topic to discuss.

@x except women are saying that they don’t feel that IS a model for them, nor is that a body they would feel powerful with.

This is a great piece and pretty much encompasses all of the myriad of issues we’ve been complaining about forever xD

To add to that, there’s also the issue that when women die, they’re still being posed for sexualization, because that’s what women in comics are for, looking sexy, looking porny, existing as sex objects for the (presumed to be) hetero male reader first, and heroes, second (if at all).

http://eschergirls.tumblr.com/tagged/sexualized_in_defeat

There’s a bunch of examples from my tumblr xD

I am a guy, and I agree with this article. I often buy comics that I feel uncomfortable reading in public because of their depiction of women. I just want fun stories, not “cheesecake.” I wish modern artists actually understood human anatomy. It’s not just female posing, you often see weird, impractical, or ineffective poses during fight scenes. I get annoyed whenever I see a character hit multiple bad guys coming at him from different directions at the same time. You can’t kick someone in front of you and punch someone behind you at the same time with enough force to do serious damage.

@ Kelly Thompson:

This is terrific work. It is easily the best thing that I have ever read on the subject. You hit every point and did a nice job highlighting the interactions between them.

@ AgainWithThis?

Yes, men and women dress differently in life. I see a woman dressed like Huntress on a weekly basis. I once saw woman dressed exactly like Wonder Woman, except in black. She was wearing a black bustier, black hot pants and a black tiara. I get it.

However, what do not see is all women dressed like that. There are more than a few women who rarely show any skin at all. There are more than a few women that dress in a way that hide terrific figures. Needless to say, there are also a wide variety of body types.

On a case-by-case basis, very few costumes are hugely problematic by themselves. However, it is different matter when you take them all together. That is what Kelly has done in the article.

@Roger Howllet.

Wow kid, you are both sexist and ignorant.

@Roger Howlett

NNNNNNNNNNNEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDDD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I 100% agree…great article

Broken zippers, or pinned? I’ve tried to pull off that look before and let me tell you–if you have breast even remotely approaching the size of comic book women, it won’t stay mid-zipped at a stress point like that, even with a really good bra beneath it. It SURE as hell doesn’t work without one. The moment you move, breath, or just stop holding it together, the zipper will pull open at least another several inches down.

Superhero comics are adolescent male fantasies. That why the men are big bicep male Adonises and the women are large breasted barbies in scantily clad clothing. For it to change more women need to create more of the comics. Most women do not read or have an interest in superhero comic. Women and girls that I know that read or have read comics read titles like: Buffy, Fables, Sandman, and Elfquest. Is it it funny that the women in those books were not drawn as scantily clad barbies and even the men were not beefy adonises. Some of the men in those book were kind of androgynous which is typically more appealing to women than to men. I recently listened to a podcast that said that when Crossgen comics were being published that a significant number of their readership were women but they were not classic super hero comics.

Ugh, the comments section on this thing. It’s enough to make you wonder why any of us even bother to try to make an intellectual point. Comic book nerds will defend to the death their creepy cartoon fetish porn, and everything else choking the creative life out of superhero comics.

I wholeheartedly agree with this article. The men who defend their cheesecake comics can do it all they want, but here’s the reality: women ARE changing things. They’re changing things by creating comics that appeal to women – and not just “romance” comics like the misogynists think all women read. I support the increasingly popular female comic creators who are making a living off their artistic vision and serving the very large demographic of women (and men) who want to read comics but avoid superhero comics due to the cheesecake. Now that readers have alternatives and aren’t forced to read cheesecake if they don’t want it, the superhero genre will suffer.

With their exaggerated and constant sexualizing of female characters, creators of superhero comics have chosen to cater almost exclusively to a small subset of heterosexual males, and now as they find their profits are shrinking, maybe they’ll realize that they brought it upon themselves.

P.S. I’m a woman, I love looking at male erotic art and beautiful men, I do not read romance novels, I do not find the usual male superhero body type to be sexually attractive (prefer a leaner build), I’m a professional artist making 100% of my income off my art (some of which is comics), I grew up wanting to be a hero and not a supermodel, and I hate Prince Charming-type characters. So some of you can quit with your assumptions on what “women” want, because guess what? Not all women are the same, despite what your education in comic-reading has taught you.

@Taozen
NO, that was NOT always the case–comic characters only became what you described once the “grim n’ gritty era” came upon us after Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns were released; then you had the Image age with Liefeld doing this and Lee doing that and Silvestri and J. Scott Campbell making it worse and on and on and on. Look at the time frames, genius–comics only became male power fantasies, as you put it, when the 80′s ended. Get your time periods straight.

Don’t mean to be rude, but your complaints come off as delusional and a bit psychotic (and I am a girl). Just relax a bit. You pay too much attention to these characters’s costumes. To me, it’s all about the writing. This is what is important.

Even as a small boy I got annoyed by how often DC felt I needed to be subjected to a shot of Wonder Woman’s butt cheeks. Comics aren’t FOR that, you weirdos.

@Eric North

“For the same reason that comic books that women claim “gets it right” such as Birds of Prey isn’t doing better? Sometimes something just fails whether it’s loaded with objectification or not. Incidentally, Catwoman has had fairly stable sales based on the numbers, meanwhile, BoP is plummeting like a stone. But I always like how when something that readers hate does poorly it proves some point of theirs. But when something they like does poorly, then there are a plethora of excuses. It’s easy to spin something to make a point, isn’t it?”

Her argument was completely relevant about Voodoo bombing and Catwoman not doing blockbuster sales as the other person was putting down the point that “sexuality sells” and was insinuating that in order for a female oriented book to be successful, it has to be oversexualized. Which, as the break out successes of the new Batwoman and Batgirl titles show, not at all. Hell, even this new Wonder Woman focuses more on an epic story and is not over the top with in your face sexuality and Azzarello’s title is selling much better than the WW titles prior to it. I also think titles like “Catwoman” and “Red Hood and the Outlaws” were helped by the amount of controversy they generated and people had to just sneak a peek what all the fuss was all about, whereas “Birds of Prey” was one of the New 52 titles which DC hardly made any effort in marketing. The fact that it is still in the Top 70 is a testimony to the pull of the title. Still, neither here nor there.

Bottom line is, the three bestselling female titles out there- “Wonder Woman”, “Batgirl”, and “Batwoman” put story and character first and have really dialed back on the objectification (especially the latter two titles). And THAT is a fact to consider and which is wholly relevant to the topic at hand.

First of all, is nobody going to mention Cyclops’s one-eyed trouser-snake on that X-Men cover up there? There has been a ot buldge portrayal over the years as well; lest we forget. Both genders are often over/hypersexualized, and I will grant that it happens more to women than it does men (unless that comment about rescuing kittens comes into play). SOME of it can probably be attributed to paying homage to the original costume, current fashion, that superheroes of any kind are more prone to be active and in good shape (thus, having better bodies) or that athletes (at least gymnasts and swimmers) wear similar unitards for mobility — but fighting crimes in heels never made sense (unless they can fly; although, I do know some women capable of moving just as well in heels as they do out of them).

It’s common for women to show a little leg or clevage in leisure, business or formal attire, so I’m willing to grant Rogue some leeway, as her costume seems more chic than trampy (and she zips up from time to time, like in that AvX cover with Carol Danvers), but Huntress’s short-shorts are definitely guilty of unadulterated T&A. But I don’t blame the costumes, as I’ve seen the same costumes drawn by several different people and even the worst offender on this list can be tastefully drawn. It’s the exaggeration of the female figure I think is the biggest part of the hypersexualization (a lot of truth to that “artists learn to draw one body type and just make slight alterations” comment (though, to be fair, it’s a lot of work to continually come up with brand-new and unique physiques all the time and mastering new anatomies striking different poses. after all, even Tony Stark has ‘brokebacked”.) Not that it’s because they all have enormous breasts or a bare butt, it’s that the emphasis is often focused on those things. Ironically, Power Girl, who is reknown for her gi-normous breasts, was “anti-hypersexualized(?)” by Amanda Connor who embraced them as a part of the character’s unique body type.

But as was stated in this article, it isn’t that there aren’t exceptions or that women are always hypersexualized, it’s that they are disproportionately hypersexualized more than men in frequency and degree. Which is true. Just look at the New 52, especially Starfire (whom i loved in the Teen Titans cartoon and was a great hero for young girls, but got a new identity as an emotionally damaged alien that simultaneously uses casual sex as a means of intimacy and a defense system, totally abolishing everything that I loved about the cartoon character, but it’s a good buddy book if you pretend it’s a completely different character – side-tracked) and you’ll see DC bringing sexy back because they feel that it sold a lot of Marvel books back in the 90s. Maybe it did, but I personally don’t need sex in my face all of the time, and when I do, there is always pornography.

In closing, let us not forget heroines who are typically not hypersexualized and who are generally positive role-models: Spider-Woman, Supergirl, The Wasp, The Invisible Woman, Storm, She-Hulk (but not Red She-Hulk), Batwoman, Batgirl(s), Hawkgirl. There may be others.

P.S. I think Batman is often hypersexualized as well, and I’m not just talking about the nipples on the suit in the movie, but if his costume is designed to be slash-proof, bullet-resistant, etc., then it should look like Kevlar/armor,, not painted abs.

Not every guy wants superheroines drawn this way. I don’t. In fact I’m less likely to buy a book that looks too T&A to me.

[...] and comics, from the sexualized costumes, to one woman’s experiences to a lot more articles on sexualization. I don’t know if I’m just finding these this week or if it’s actually just been a [...]

awesome post, as always!! and jeez, the comments, i don’t even know where to start… sheesh.

Great article! The misogyny in some of the comments is more than a little off-putting, but as much as I’ve come to expect to articles on this topic, unfortunately.

One point I would bring up to all of the people saying that comics won’t change until women make up a larger part of the readership (and, honestly, I think that the number of women who read comics is vastly underestimated the majority of the time, but that’s another issue) – you can’t put out work that large objectifies, oversexualizes, down-plays and many times degrades women, and then blame women for the inherent sexism in your comics because they don’t want to buy your work. Saying that things won’t change until women make up a larger part of the readership (and implying that it doesn’t matter if female characters are portrayed in a sexist manner doesn’t matter as long as straight guys are the bulk of people reading – many of whom, I might add, don’t agree with that portrayal, either) is just shifting the blame and avoiding the issue.

Firstly, why should women have idealised female bodybuilder body type when society’s perception of beauty is one of supermodels?
Also its the same for men that is society’s perception of beauty is that of a body builder type.
In actual fact too much muscle mass would not be useful in speed or close combat.
so im gonna say this article is another feminist crying themselves a river

What about Supergirl’s new costume ? The drastic change from cute to b*tchy-looking costume is unbearable. Strangely, it’s totally opposite of Power Girl’s new costume case, in which DC removed her old boobs window and make her wearing a new fully dressed costume.

Thank you for this post! The problem isn’t that it always happens for women and never happens for men, but that it’s a completely different degree. As an athletic woman with some experience in fighting, I do look at many of the female characters and think 1: No effective fighter would ever want to or be able to contort their bodies like that, and 2) No fighter would be able to fight in outfits like that. Seriously, physical activity with unfettered breasts is PAINFUL. And fighting in stiletto boots throws off your center of gravity. I don’t demand that everything be completely realistic, but I think there are a lot more ways to have effective and vaguely realistic female characters that are also sexy and fun to look at. It doesn’t have to be an either-or situation.

@V

re: “in order for a female oriented book to be successful, it has to be oversexualized. Which, as the break out successes of the new Batwoman and Batgirl titles show, not at all.”

Oh right. Batwoman. The title that couldn’t go 4 issues without having a lesbian sex scene. Good call. That helps your point. Hey, at least it wasn’t in the first issue like in Catwoman, right? LOL!

Now, can we hurry up and get to that first woman wiill no doubt post about how dudes don’t like seeing hot lesbians having sex and how that was TOTALLY different so I can laugh my ass off?

These would all be great arguments if not for the fact that undeniably, men are portrayed with *equal* idealisation in – and this should be stated – superhero comics. You are though far more likely to see women with the physiques drawn by comic book artists – Jim Lee and his ilk aside – walking around than men, covered in rippling muscles with nary an ounce of bodyfat. Men like that don’t exist outside extreme bodybuilding, and weightlifting circuits.

The difference is, we don’t have articles all over the internet complaining about how terrible and degrading to men that is, which given the percentage of the readership made *up* by males, you’d think there would be.

The truth is, you’re talking about comic books – they’re not depicting reality for either sex, or the world we live in, they’re a form of art and entertainment and should be treated as such, not taken so seriously. If you’re someone who gets offended by such things, maybe you should just avoid either superhero books, or specific artists – J Scott Campbell springs to mind – because that’s logic. If you don’t like something, don’t buy it, read it, watch it or partake in it. I’m a girl, I don’t buy books that are overtly T & A, I don’t whine about it because life’s too bloody short, and nobody put a gun to my head and told me to read comic books, an art form more geared at men anyway -=- and as someone pointed out, men like looking at pictures of women, and men like sex. Neither are bad, neither have caused wars, famines or major social degradation.

Also, it should be pointed out that all of these generalisations *only* apply for the most part *to* superhero books. Indie comics provide a more balanced, more varied depiction of women *and* men both physically and in characterisation – perhaps it’d be more fitting and more positive to promote such books than to complain about the big two?

It’s been done to death, but smaller books, publishers, writers and artists could always use the support.

-Emm

“. You are though far more likely to see women with the physiques drawn by comic book artists”

Um no.

Not those physiques. If you mean “attractive thin women”, I think they call that “confirmation bias”… you’re looking for what you want to see (and you’re probably extrapolating a lot from what you absorb from the media too).

And as usual we get the “I TOTALLY FEEL JUST AS OBJECTIFIED BY COMICS, I SWEARZ BUT YOU DON’T HEAR ME COMPLAINING ABOUT IT SO THAT’S PROOF THAT YOU SHOULDN’T EITHER”.

Hey, white people don’t complain about racism as much as PoCs either, that must mean white people experience just as much racism but are just less complainy right? xD

Occam’s Chainsaw strikes again.

@Jack except that it’s a) not a bodybuilder’s body, it’s an athletic body (Spider-Man is an example for instance) but exaggerated, but it’s still meant to be an athletic body, like female heroes are pornstars but exaggerated and b) let’s pretend that the artists think MALE PORNSTAR when drawing the character (cuz I’m sure they are… they aren’t thinking “muscles = power” at ALL, they’re thinking “GOD I AM DRAWING A HOT STUD” xD ) so… where are the nipples? where’s the large penis? (there’s plenty of times where we see camel toe, exposed nipples, braless breasts, etc etc, check my blog) How come they’re covered up, or in ARMOR, instead of me being able to see their pecs and abs? c) Let’s not pretend you actually believe this okay? You really don’t need to defend this as if you actually believe that you’re being sexually objectified when you read comics and you’re just sucking it up and not complaining. Let’s be honest. You like this, you like powerful men and sexy women and THAT’S what you want to defend. But let’s not pretend this is some sort of equal fantasy (and an “equal” fantasy btw, includes what the OTHER side wants, and so far… female fans don’t want this.)

Also why is it female fantasies (like Yaoi or even Justin Bieber) constantly have NON body builder men in them then? Why are female fantasies of men not like what you claim they are? Or do hetero men now know what hetero women want too? Hetero men know EVERYTHING xD

“Also, it should be pointed out that all of these generalisations *only* apply for the most part *to* superhero books. Indie comics provide a more balanced, more varied depiction of women *and* men both physically and in characterisation – perhaps it’d be more fitting and more positive to promote such books than to complain about the big two? ”

Because nobody can do both. e_e

How about instead of complaining about transphobia and racism in mainstream television and movies, we just ignore that it’s there and focus on indie media? -_o

How about instead of complaining about racism in Major League Baseball, we focus on the happy stories in the Negro Leagues?

This thing called “multi-tasking” that humans can do… it’s pretty amazing.

Also, maybe you shouldn’t read comic articles about sexism in comics. There’s plenty of comic articles for you to read that are about how wonderful superhero comics are. Go read those, it’d be much more useful to talk about how great they are, than to complain about how much you dislike this one. xD

(That btw is not to compare racism in the past with this issue, it’s to point out how silly the concern trolling tactic of “YOU SHOULD NEVER COMPLAIN ABOUT PREJUDICE IN THE MAINSTREAM, JUST FOCUS ON THE POSITIVES” is e_e People can multitask. Clearly these trolls can. xD )

There’s a lot of men in this thread telling women what they like sexually.

Please stop doing that, you aren’t in my head.

The male characters in comics are not [usually] sexualised. They just aren’t. I never open a comic and get turned on by the weirdly-built guys in it because the men, just like the women, are painted to appeal to MEN.

In a way, I wish they’d draw male superheros as real, attractive men instead of male power wankery so that I could join in the eye-candy party too.

@ericnorth re: “Hey if sex sells how come Voodoo or Catwoman aren’t DC’s top selling book”

For the same reason that comic books that women claim “gets it right” such as Birds of Prey isn’t doing better? Sometimes something just fails whether it’s loaded with objectification or not. Incidentally, Catwoman has had fairly stable sales based on the numbers, meanwhile, BoP is plummeting like a stone. But I always like how when something that readers hate does poorly it proves some point of theirs. But when something they like does poorly, then there are a plethora of excuses. It’s easy to spin something to make a point, isn’t it?

But @ericnorth you did exactly what you accused me of. You skipped over Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Batwoman where the characters don’t fall into the tropes that Kelly outlines above and are all of which are selling in the top 25 to rebut my comment and instead cherry picked Birds of Prey and Catwoman (selling below Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Batwoman). Again my question is if the idea is that “SEX SELLS” is the most concise soundbite to Kelly’s argument than why do books from DC that don’t even have chicks for the most part (wait there’s Aquaman where Mera is dressed head to toe) fill the top 10?
“It’s easy to spin something to make a point, isn’t it”

Holy shit, the comments. Holy shit.

@Kath exactly. Somehow they know best, what WE want. XD

Just a big THANKS for writing down what bothers me to the extreme. The more we talk and point out that this kind of image of women isn’t okay the sooner we will see a change. I love comics, I only want comics to stop treating women like its porn.

This is essentially about censorship. Saying bad art doesn’t deserve to exist because it offends your political beliefs is not acceptable in a free society. Maybe you wouldn’t jail an anime fan for child porn or assassinate a cartoonist for depicting Mohammed, but you are on the same side of the fence as the people who do. If only there was some sort of legal defense fund for comic books.

“When you can prove that comic book publishers gets a majority of their money from female readers, then you’ll have an argument.
When most of the readers are males who’d rather see a sexy female, the publishers have to cater to them to stay in business.”

Publishers don’t HAVE to cater to a male audience, because that audience is rapidly shrinking. In order to stay in business, they need to expand readership, and all they would need to do to reach new readers is NOT be immature and sexist.

There are a lot of women out there who would start reading comics, but are turned off by the overt objectification. Your suggestion that publishers should ignore them completely is just wrong. If anything, publishers should be trying to tap those girls.

Oops…that last sentence might have be construed as demeaning and objectifying towards women…

@Ronald

Now we’re the government? xD

So what corporate decisions CAN the consumer complain about that isn’t equatable to government censorship, imprisonment and apparently assassination? xD

Also, Ronald, please stop censoring people, it’s almost as bad as assassinating people Not quite, but you’re on the same side. Ms. Thompson just wants to express her opinion. Stop trying to censor her!

@Ritchard

“the Hellfire Club was based on a real-life organization of the same name in 18th-century Britain that was essentially a sex cult. Even if Emma didn’t design the costume herself, it makes more sense in that context for the female members of the Hellfire Club’s Inner Circle to dress that way.”

I know all about what Byrne and Claremont based Hellfire club and White Queen/Black Queen on. It was an old Avengers episode. Here’s a clip that spells it out….

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxSpTKE5Jno

A scene where Rigg is the object of objectification by men. So if you’re trying to rationalize Frosts over sexualized costume by pointing to more objectification then your rationalizations are even more off the charts than Kelly’s. “It’s okay that Emma wears a thong cause women in 18ths century mens clubs also wore thongs” is a pretty lame rationalization. It’s kind of like saying that thousands of years ago women walked around naked so that must mean that Red Sonja’s metal bikini is totally not objectification. Once you make it okay to cross a line for one character, then it’s okay to cross it for another character. Get it?

I love the Emma Peel character and I enjoy many of those old 60s episodes. But newsflash: this isn’t the 60s. And when Byrne/Claremont created Emma Frost, it still wasn’t the 60s. There is no damn justification for Frost dressing in lingerie. The characters history objectively shows that she was created to be over sexualized and objectified. There are lots of ways to make a character like Frost look sexy without looking ridiculous. And to those women who continue to rationalize it and justify it, then I just want to say that you’re wrong, you’re part of the problem and you suck. Wake up.

The fact that female characters in mainstream comics receive unequal treatment because their bodies, outfits and poses are often designed to look as sexy as possible doesn’t mean they are made to look like mindless sex objects. Sexy doesn’t equal sexism.
I bet there isn’t any male fan that likes a “brokeback” superheroine pin-up drawn by, let’s say, Arthur Adams because it reminds him of a sex doll. We like it because it’s sexy, but also because (despite how unrealistic it might be) it looks alive, and that has little to do with porn.
Frankly, all these people obsessed with measuring outfit lengths, breast sizes, and poses sound too much like censors.

Disclaimer: I am not attempting to argue anything. I’m genuinely curious about this.

Has anyone with a good knowledge of anatomy done an analysis of Empowered? It’s very obviously trying to push (and satirize at the same time) the sexy-superheroine thing, but is it good or bad at it?

Thank you.

I like my escapist entertainment just the way it is, thanks very much. However, Greg Land should not be allowed to draw comics, such is his grubby and pathological need to photoreference porn mags when drawing women.

I know a woman wrote this because it was just nagging and bitching

subby the avenger

February 22, 2012 at 5:11 am

total agreement with you here Kelly.

it is embarrassing for me to bring my wife and daughters into the comic book store with me.
one look at the covers on the stand, and they look at me
“why arent they wearing more clothes?” and they are not talking about the guys.

keep fighting the good fight.

Reminds me of a recent webcomic that made me laugh.

http://www.superstupor.com/sust01252012.shtml

Good points all around. I’ve noticed it for sometime myself. And it is something that goes even further. Dwayne McDuffie pointed to an issue DC had with Static Shock, and the cover that showed SS and his girlfriend kissing. Basically being hormone charged teenagers. DC had a problem with it, and wanted it changed. McDuffie, however, pointed out a cover of Legion of Super Heroes where the cover had one of the female members, back to the reader, first thing you see is her butt, looking over her shoulder with a “come hither” look on her face. So, it doesn’t just boil down to the fact that women in comics are sexualized, but only white women in comics can be sexualized.

No wonder Ms. Thompson waited two years before she posted this blog.
She knew exactly the fury of hotbed shitstorm of dialogue this topic would’ve occurred.
Especially when everyone has their own opinion on this or that.

Sort of like opening up Pandora’s box.

Nearly reminiscent of those days where her early blogs would invite such discourse when she first arrived at CBR.

I’m curious if the number of comments on this blog exceeded those other blogs that had similar and rampant discussion.

>> JanArrah: The problem is? The readership DOES enjoy this.

Not that I disagree with you, but… (and playing Devil’s advocate)…

If a readership likes something, how is this a problem? If the majority who buy the comics enjoying seeing the art as shown, then why should this change?
Who wants to sell somethng only a minority appreciates (and buys)?

Sex sells and sells it well – I go into a local Newsagent (in the UK) and see those small crossword books (that little old ladies pick up and fill in at home) and even these have a random picture of a pretty girl, with a pencil.
Even women’s magazines (weekly mags for middle-aged women who like to knit! ;) ), have an attractive female model (nothing outrageous, of course, but it’s still a good looking woman).

So, if comics sell to largely teenage boys and young adult men, are comics giving them what they want, or are they fueling their young minds/hormones and directing them in an unreasonable direction?

I’m a 34 year old married man and, whilst I used to find women in comics titliating (when I was a teen), I have since discovered real women and don’t overly ‘notice’ the attempts to titilate. Yes, sometimes, I notice and go “ooh!” remembering what my teen self would have thought, but certainly don’t ‘appreciate’ them enough to crack one out to!

So, no, I wouldn’t be adverse to women’s body shapes and dress-styles being a bit more ‘realistic’, but I do feel that, as a ‘fantasy’ medium, these unbalanced views (of men *and* women, depending on the context) are not something to get enraged about.

Anyway…

Lots of females having their period all over the place. If you girls can’t appreciate comics then go sit in the corner, play with your barbies and wait for a man to come along and put you to work making his dinner and his children.

One of DC’s alternate universes is a gender-swapped one. You know where there’s Superwoman, Batboy, Robin the girl wonder, etc.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to explore this issue using that universe? A world where the men are sexual objects and it’s all about female power fantasy…

[...] She Has No Head! – No, It’s Not Equal She Has No Head! – No, It’s Not Equal | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources. [...]

Emma Frost does give a lecture about her outfit and sexism in Classic X-Men. She also explains to Sebastian Shaw that he’s as much of dog as every other man she’s met in one of the Unlimited Issues for the Hellfire Clubs dresscode.

Perfect.

However there is also a problem with presentation of men in comics. We all know that men in comics are a man’s fantasy of themselves and the companies seem to think what men want to be is what women want them to be and its not. I want every man to look at Michaelangelo’s David. He is the perfect man in sculpture form. He has no defined abs and no bulging muscles. He is lean and athletic. His body is defined and he has a soft face. Men don’t have to be that strong, or angry or feral. Even characters who we are told are desirable like Thor aren’t really drawn to be attractive anymore, just an angry dumbass with a club

Kelly, I enjoyed the article.
Every time I see a female character in ridiculously skimpy outfit, I wonder how she can get into a fight without the costume falling off. Maybe they use Super glue to keep the costume in place.

Great article, really spells out the problems concisely and clearly!

If I had one issue with it though, Kelly, why you hating on Loki? He’s sexy as fuck.

I totally agree with every point in the article. I am disappointed that the trends that are mentioned still occur. I just have no faith that these things will change in my lifetime.

There is absolutely no incentive for the big two to change the way they design their characters. It isn’t gonna happen. I wish it would, but why would they change a formula that makes them money? Sex sales. It always has in media. The voices of people such as Mrs. Thompson are drowned out by a room full of immature Peter Pans. I for one would like to see a change but do not have much of a voice myself. I just choose not to buy stuff that is hyper-stylized like this.

The female audience for comics is larger than it has ever been. I think this is great. The female audience is still a minority however. Until the big two feel the pain in their pocketbooks nothing will change. I realize now more than ever that money is all that matters to the VAST MAJORITY. Few people care who they step on as long as they make a buck.

We need more female artist. I think that is the first step in solving the problem.

STOP LIKING WHAT I DONT LIKE

BAWWWW

The ‘it is what it is and that’s how it will always be because people like it and therefore should never change’ argument is the dumbest thing ever. Gooooood grief.

Why change anything, ever? Why allow women to vote? Or let them out of the kitchen? Civil rights? Who needs em!

The status quo is juuuuust fine. Dudes arguing that its their hobby and they need to catered to with hypersexualized women obviously don’t understand what equality means.

Wes: “Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, El Dorado and a character that never made it to the show, Golden Pharaoh. … They were all obviously designed for their ethnic diversity more than their innate coolness. Even as a child I could tell that. … They were all HALF-NAKED! Apache Chief wore skorts and a leather vest. Samurai wore a Speedo and a vest. El Dorado wore leggings and a cape. And Black Vulcan wore a freakin’ UNITARD!”

Two thoughts come to mind: 1. Because they were non-white characters, they were automatically more feminized, and/or, 2. The artists felt the need to show as much flesh tone as possible to reinforce the fact that they were non-white.

@AgainWithThis – (making a sweeping generalization about the women on “everyone’s” facebook freinds list – “Women? Cleavage, cleavage, and more cleavage. Leg, leg and more leg. Shorts and skirts are super short in summer. And no matter the time of year, women will be wearing skin-tight shirts or tops specifically designed to show as much cleavage as possible. If the woman thinks her stomach is flat, she will also wear midriff-bearing clothing at every opportunity.”

WOW!! Out of about 100 women on my facebook friends list, I don’t think any of them dress like this at all. You know, it’s one thing to argue a point-of-view, it’s another entirely to make up a bunch of obviously untrue b.s. to support it.

@AgainWithThis – (describing every woman on his facebook friends list) “Women? Cleavage, cleavage, and more cleavage. Leg, leg and more leg. Shorts and skirts are super short in summer. And no matter the time of year, women will be wearing skin-tight shirts or tops specifically designed to show as much cleavage as possible. If the woman thinks her stomach is flat, she will also wear midriff-bearing clothing at every opportunity.”

WOW! Out of maybe 100 women on my friends list, I don’t think there are any who behave like this. All of the women I know have more sense and self-respect than that. You know, it’s one thing to argue a position on something, but another entirely to make up a bunch of obvious hogwash to support it.

It’d be easier to buy the “sex sells — whaddya gonna do?” (and it’s more juvenile counterparts) if the industry was thriving growing and expanding during the hyper-sexualized era — instead of desperately trying anything to revive it’s flagging business —

“What you like” is a product that isn’t long for this world — because there’s not enough trolls to buy it. Changing it is necessary for survival, dudes… in addition to being the right thing to do.

I’ve loved comics ever since I was a little girl, and because of my anthropological background I love researching and analyzing and discussing comics, so I read a lot of blogs dealing with comics… at work.. where I have to be careful no one sees. NOT because I’m goofing off reading about comics (that’s kinda the norm here), but because of the images so often accompanying the blogs are not safe for work… not pin up pictures, not random artist’s depictions, regular scenes from comics are not safe for work. There is somethign very wrong with that.

There seems to be a background radiation of sexism in society, and one that is protected and lovingly coddled by the institutions that keep it in place. I’m sure I can come up with a ton of 1984esque rationals for this, but I think it just boils down to “it’s easier than to change”; if ‘the industries’ admit a problem, then they will either have to do something about it or admit to keeping the status quo.

To the commenters responding with negativity or who are defending this form of hypersexualization – would it be ok for your mom to pose like this in pictures splashed across the nation? What about your teenage daughter? (and YES, I know it’s not THE SAME, but at least think about it, it may cause you to consider things from a different perspective).

Yes, sex does sell, and there is nothing wrong with a bit of cheesecake; I want the escapism of comics just as much as other (male) readers and beauty and sexuality are of course a part of that escapism – one of my first (and most influential) crushes was on Wonder Woman (the other was Aragon from LOTR)! But as a commenter above states so well – “I like cheesecake as much as the next person, but for dessert, not as soup, salad, and entree, too.”

So, thank you Kelly for writing this, even knowing the meathead responses you would (and did) get. The argument for better treatment of women (and PoC, gay and bi) characters IS important and people are (I believe… I hope) listening. If it’s not talked about, it won’t get fixed, and this really does need to get fixed.

I’ve loved comics ever since I was a little girl, and because of my anthropological background I love researching and analyzing and discussing comics, so I read a lot of blogs dealing with comics… at work.. where I have to be careful no one sees. NOT because I’m goofing off reading about comics (that’s kinda the norm here), but because of the images so often accompanying the blogs are not safe for work… not pin up pictures, not random artist’s depictions, regular scenes from comics are not safe for work. There is somethign very wrong with that.

There seems to be a background radiation of sexism in society, and one that is protected and lovingly coddled by the institutions that keep it in place. I’m sure I can come up with a ton of 1984esque rationals for this, but I think it just boils down to “it’s easier than to change”; if ‘the industries’ admit a problem, then they will either have to do something about it or admit to keeping the status quo.

To the commenters responding with negativity or who are defending this form of hypersexualization – would it be ok for your mom to pose like this in pictures splashed across the nation? What about your teenage daughter? (and YES, I know it’s not THE SAME, but at least think about it, it may cause you to consider things from a different perspective).

Yes, sex does sell, and there is nothing wrong with a bit of cheesecake; I want the escapism of comics just as much as other (male) readers and beauty and sexuality are of course a part of that escapism – one of my first (and most influential) crushes was on Wonder Woman (the other was Aragon from LOTR)! But as a commenter above states so well – “I like cheesecake as much as the next person, but for dessert, not as soup, salad, and entree, too.”

So, thank you Kelly for writing this, even knowing the meathead responses you would (and did) get. The argument for better treatment of women (and PoC, gay and bi) characters IS important and people are (I believe… I hope) listening. If it’s not talked about, it won’t get fixed, and this really does need to get fixed.

My two C-bills. The article itself is excellent, hitting on the problems, especially Rogue. Betsy Braddock’s needed a new costume for ages. She’s past the ‘action junkie’ staget that came with the swimsuit.

Aside, I remember looking at Betsy’s chest (not rack) in some of Jim Lee’s work and realizing that it looked more like she had well developed muscles, with breasts on top. Kind of like some of those female olympic divers. It may have been a fluke, but it was there.

Aside the second, I also remember a scene where Jubilee (back when she was a kid) looks at Betsy, then at Bethany Cabe (I think) then down at he own chest and fumes. That made me laugh.

For both male and female costumes, a lot of time form should follow function. Starfire and Cyclops and Havok (for example) should be scantly clad, their ‘schtick’ is based on absorbing energy after all. While Dani Moonstar, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Captain America should all invest in some form of body armor. (Pet peeve. Dani’s on an island with Madison Jeffreys, you know the guy who basically rebuilt the Box armor and vindicator battlesuit from spare parts? And they can’t get her decent armor?) Emma Frost, knew her body was a weapon, even before the diamond form. As others have pointed out, Sebastian Shaw wore similarly little clothing. Storm had very little modesty, and her power protects her from environmental difficulties. Personally I’d think Rogue would be still weaing a more concealing costume, and dressing ‘normally’ in downtime. She may have her powers under control, but she doesn’t have the Ms. Marvel powers to keep her safe anymore.

There should also be exceptions. Unless there are major changes to Dust’s personality, for example, she’s never going to be in spandex, no matter how powerful she gets. Of course I also think the Blob needs to cover up too. ;-)

Some characters are ‘iconic’ enough that they get a pass. Superman wouldn’t look right in a speedo fighting crime, for example. I actually liked the ‘boob window’ for PowerGirl when I read on wiki the origin that she didn’t ‘know what to put there’ compared to Superman’s logo. Plus she’s nearly invulnerable. Mon-El OTOH, bring on the skin.

Though the Star Saphiers need to get away from their stripperrific costumes. I thought they were the ‘love guardians’ not the lust guardians.

Great, really thought provoking and well-argued piece. Yes, agree that it makes sense for Namor and Emma Frost to be in speedos and lingerie because of their powers and personality. But Rogue is a character who historically covered up because touching her flesh might leech someone’s powers and consciousness from them.

Think comic creators could do with covering up the ladies a bit more and exposing a bit more of the guys (e.g. Colossus and other invulnerable characters). If we’re gonna have cheesecake, let’s even it up by having a bit more beefcake too…

For all those claiming that the ‘body builder’ or ‘porn star’ male image is what women want to see, consider the list of People Magazines “Sexiest Man Alive” winners:

1985-02-04 Mel Gibson
1986-01-27 Mark Harmon
1987-03-30 Harry Hamlin
1988-09-12 John F. Kennedy, Jr.
1989-12-16 Sean Connery
1990-07-23 Tom Cruise
1991-07-22 Patrick Swayze
1992-03-16 Nick Nolte
1993-10-19 Richard Gere
1995-01-30 Brad Pitt
1996-07-29 Denzel Washington
1997-11-17 George Clooney
1998-11-16 Harrison Ford
1999-11-15 Richard Gere
2000-11-13 Brad Pitt
2001-11-26 Pierce Brosnan
2002-12-02 Ben Affleck
2003-12-01 Johnny Depp
2004-11-29 Jude Law 31
2005-11-28 Matthew McConaughey
2006-11-27 George Clooney
2007-11-26 Matt Damon
2008-11-25 Hugh Jackman
2009-11-18 Johnny Depp
2010-11-17 Ryan Reynolds
2011-11-16 Bradley Cooper

Count me in as a guy who enjoyed the good girl art when I was younger. I still think that Wonder Woman can get away with her look and unlike more recent comic fans, I think of Emma Frost as a villain so I can sort of understand her look in a femme fatale sort of way. As a married father with a daughter that I would love to share my lifelong joy of comics and superheroes with, I’m embarrassed about alot of the depictions of women in certain comics. It goes beyond the artwork itself, which borders on hilariously stupid at times, but the way that characters are written. I’m not talking going back in time and criticizing old comics for their depictions, there are plenty nowadays that the writer obviously views females in a relatively negative light. I will say as far as equality goes, while I don’t discount a female feeling uncomfortable about depictions of female superheroes (the supermodel/pornstart description is very accurate) I’m athletic and work out regularly and alot of the reasons that I do is because of the way that male superheroes are drawn. I admit that those depictions are an influence on how I view the preferred male body. If more female superheroes were drawn to look more like the female athletes rather than supermodel/pornstar, there may be something more admirable to aspire to rather than an unrealistic Barbie doll look.

Very good article highlighting the disparity. I would add that that much of the display of women in comics is trying to exploit the primitive “lizard brain” if you will, of men. Men respond more to visual aspects of human figures and even more so to the exaggerated human form. Neurobiologically it comes to assessing if the person is a mate or a threat. (not to say women cannot be a threat, but we are talking about a primitive impulse, not an informed one) It is not that women do not have this but it is not as dominant in the female brain because there are more connections between the left and right halves of the brain which allows greater input of other aspects than just the visual. The reason that porn stars are portrayed as they are is precisely because the exaggerated form will grab the brain’s attention much quicker and focus on the “doesn’t look like me” aspects of the breast and buttocks. (Reading _The Tell-Tale Brain_ by Dr. Ramachandra will belabor this point in his chapter on art). It is understandable why this is encouraged in comics (a visual medium) because it sells! Even if male readers do not get off on the pictures, it still grabs their attention. The unfortunate consequence is not only does it reinforce an expectation that in some cases interfere with normal human relationships but it shifts the value away from good story telling and characterization. There is enough beauty in not only different forms of female bodies but also in action and character that I think there is room for the artists and writers to make use of it in comics and be more “evolved”. (Shi is a great example of a beautiful non porn star shaped character that was successful) it is simply up to the consuming public to vote with their dollars to be supportive of such efforts. While I enjoy the art in comics, I follow the stories and get my personal fulfillment met in the relationships in my life. A change to more realistic and practically dressed female characters would not diminish my interest and I would be more apt to share some of these comics with my children.

Thank you very much for this article.

For those who say this isn’t a major world problem, it’s a major problem in comics and this is a comics website.

Really interesting article, however, there are alternatives. I have a self-published comic in which I recount both real and imaginary encounters with comic pop band A-ha. I include myself in the comic, as it fits with A-ha’s original Take On Me video concept, and I did meet Morten Harket, and he really is a comic hero that doesn’t conform to the Greco-Roman god physique. However, I just drew myself as me, in my everyday attire. I’m a single parent, and many regard this fact as being “heroic”. So it’s up to female comic writers to redefine how women (and men) are defined, either as heroic or otherwise, within comics. I note that most of the comments are by men too. Considering that comics such as Spiderman and Batman are of interest to kids as well, as a parent, it denies an audience by excluding kids. As a woman, I do prefer to see Batgirl than some of the more ridiculous characters. Strong female heroines / role models are good and should be reinforced, not objectified.

Just wanted to say thanks for a great article – I feel like you really hit the nail on the head with these arguments.

And to pick up a point that was discussed earlier in the comments thread: There were several comments stating that the male porn star build is similar to the male superhero build, and then claiming that this is therefore what women find attractive. Mainstream heterosexual porn is marketed primarily to straight men, and arguably, the emphasis on overpowering physical strength is because those men are meant to be stand-ins for the viewer – in other words, a power fantasy. As a number of commenters brought up, yaoi, fan art of male characters, and other forms of visual art that are frequently produced by women, for women generally promote a different physical ideal.

One comment I feel I have to make, particularly directed at T.

Yes, women do have idealized men. We have romance novels and movies pervaded with the ideal man, designed specifically for women. This is truth, and I do not debate that.

HOWEVER, I must make the statement that, while there are several cases of idealized men (sexually and otherwise), they do not pervade an entire medium. There is a romance novel section, a chick-flick genre, but open up most any big-name comic, and you will find the sexual idealization of women in it.

My point is that idealization is something that is going to happen. And people want it, and that want should be respected. However, when unequal idealization becomes the -norm-, and people struggle to find something that isn’t gratuitous booty shots, then there’s a problem.

For something that’s been two years in development, this is a remarkably weak essay. Rehashed critical opinions and a minimally discussed catalog of snapshots? I’d say the claim of sitting on this to avoid controversy looks wholly disingenuous because this looks more like sexist-baiting to bump up pageviews. I imagine the traffic on the Comics Alliance post must have looked tantalizing.

This essay is good and you should feel good.

Great article with a good argument- I do agree that depicting every single woman in comics as a sex-bomb is a bit far fetched and probably contributes to the misconceptions wider society has about comic readers, that we’re all sweaty palmed desperate perverted man children…BUT

…I would say that it is more accurate and analogous to compare female superheroes and their attire to our own pop stars (rather than porn stars). The clothes women in comics fight in aren’t that different from the outfits Gaga, J-Lo, Shakira, Rihanna et al. wear to dance in- It’d certainly be easier for Beyonce to shake her thang (or whatever it is those people do) in a pair of sensible shoes than stilettos, but the stilettos get worn regardless. If Comic artists are taking flack for an unrealistic depiction of women perhaps consider this- I’ve always thought that superheroes occupied a similar place in their societies as pop stars do in our own- iconic, instantly recognisable ‘brands’ family friendly yet being sexually provocative at the same time. Maybe this is where male artists get their inspiration from…

I’m continually baffled that this subject is even controversial instead of just a statement of the obvious. But it’s nice to see the major sites taking it on.

(CA’s comments section got permanently stupider after Laura Hudson’s series of articles on the subject following the New 52 relaunch. Now any thread on the site that goes on for more than a dozen posts will inevitably have some idiot complaining about the site’s bias against DC and Hudson’s chip on her shoulder, regardless of what the article is actually about.)

You’ve also done quite a good job of heading off the usual non-rebuttal rebuttals — “Men are objectified too”, “Emma Frost has a good reason to be scantily clad”, and so forth.

Thanks for posting the article, shitstorm or no.

You people are so damn sensitive.

First, as has it has been noted by previous commenters,male and female sexualization is pretty much the same, just different ways of expressing sexuality. Now, sure it’s your right to express dislike towards something, but we’ve heard these things a million times. After a certain point it just becomes plain bithcing. I mean, what’s the negative impact sexualization of women AND men really has on society? Anyone in his right mind knows that all these images we see in comics have little if any reflection in the real world, or they’re gonna realise as much eventually, so it’s not like they’re gonna have unrealistic expectations or anything. Likewise, i find it doubtful that someone’s self-image and confidence would be hurt by the undeniably high standarts in comics. I’d like to believe people reading comics are smarter than that. Anybody looking for role models in the media is misguided at best and an idiot at worst. Bottom line is, entertainment is just a form of escapism. That’s the whole point, it doesn’t always correspond to reality. I’m not saying that comics are cheap and unimportant entertainment, therefore not worth arguing about, just that this sort of heated controversy is too much.

I’m really sick and tired of people being offended by everything. If you don’t like it, don’t read it,
simple as that, nobody shoved it down your throat or anything. Apparently there are a lot of people who like this sort of thing and are willing to pay for it, so it seems to me that you’re the minority here. Just support
something else that is more to your liking. You’re not gonna make anyone feel guilty for liking things like this,
and you’re certainly not gonna make the artists ask for your permission and your opinion on how to express
themselves, because at the end of the day it does boil down to artistic expression. Art always has and
always will try to approach perfection, which in this case partly translates to sexuality, no matter how
off-putting it might seem to you personally.

But i guess you really have to make an issue out of everything and always bitch about stuff, huh?

My 7 year old walked by as I was reading a book recently, she pointed at a panel with Black Cat and asked “Why is that girl showing her boobs?”. We had a long conversation about how appropriate and inappropriate dressing like that would be in real life, and while it was uncomfortable at times, by the end I think she kind of understood. However, I didn’t have a good answer for her when she pointed out that Black Cat was the only one in the book who was inappropriately dressed.

When a 7 year old can see the difference between how men and women are portrayed in comics and so many “adults” can’t, you have to wonder what’s going on.

Thanks for this. This is every thing I’ve wanted to say when I have these kinds of discussions, but didn’t know how to articulate. I do find it sad how often these articles have to come out, restating the same obvious point (it’s not equal). Hopefully, if we all make enough noise, we can eventually change this. Keep up the good work :)

Sadly it’s not a trend that will not end anytime soon.

I just wanted to stop by and say THANK YOU Kelly for this post! What gets me is how people who disagree with topics such as this become so upset and defensive. Not only that, it annoys me how people (the majority appearing to be men) just don’t get it. Is it really that hard to understand???

This whole article seems to me like it’s based on the idea that male and famle objectification works the same way. But the thing is, it dosn’t. See, for example the argument is made that males are seen posing in ways that make them appear powerful and in control, while females are shown in submissive poses and therefor women are objectified and males aren’t. The way i see it, if you look at pictures in magazines like playgirl the men there are shown in exactly the kind of “powerful and in control” poses you see in superhero comics. Because that’s what is supposed to turn women on (if that’s acutally the case or not is a completely different matter).

Same thing goes for the body types. Females look like porn stars, while males look like athletes? Well, i’d say males look more like bodybuilders than athletes, which of course is exactly what male porn stars look like. And the explanation that they look this way because it makes sense given what they do is pretty weak, if you ask me. Not only because their muscles on top of muscles wouldn’t make them anywhere near as agile as they are but also because even the ones whose powers come from magic rings or alien tec have the kind of body someone like Batman has.

So what i’m trying to say is, you can’t just take a male fantasy and compere that to a females. Males are simply exploited in different ways than females are, because female have diffent desires. Of course, i’m simplifying VERY much here, but the strong, masculine man could be seens as the same feamle fantasy as the kind of women described in this article.

In comics, especially superhero comics, characters are often portrayed in very one-dimensional kind of way, which sometimes remind me of cliches from the 1950s. At least that are the gender expections reflected in those characters. But in a lot of ways those are equellay degrading for male characters than for females. I guess it’s hard for females to look at it this way, but the fact that male characters always have to be this perfect and strong alpha-male who saves the day and never show any weakness objectifies them just as much as the female characters suppository are – if not more so. In fact, i’d say the women in comics are allowd to act against their sterotype, to act strong and powerful more so than male characters are allowed to show their sensitive side.

And as far as the clothing argument goes, i also really never got that. Yeah, some feamle characters wear short skirts, show cleavage and stuff like that, while the male costumes don’t show a lot skin (even through they’re tight enough to pretty much show their physique the same way than if they were completely nude). But really, isn’t that inspired by the real world? After all, there is a lot of female clothing that shows skin, while males usually just don’t wear skirts, dresses with deep cleavage or whatever. And while it may not be very practicable, there are also doznes of examples for male costumes that are anything but practicable.

Of course, if you want to look at it like that, if you want to find reasons for why women are being objectified in comics you easly can. But as far as i’m concerned, that’s a very one-sided viewpoint, which ignores a whole lot of aspects that are really problematic in superhero comics and which the portrayal of females is just a small part of. But what i don’t really get is why these kind of articles accuse people who don’t think the major agenda of comic books is degrading women to sex objects as much as possible of dyining or justifying that objective fact. Personally, i can’t see what i would gain from trying to prove something isn’t true that i very well know is. If i’d think the comic medium would objectify it’s female characters in major way i’d have no problem admitting it. But i don’t, at least not more so than in any other medium, society itself or compared to male comic book characters.

I have no argument with this article. But I will say that the best way to make change happen is to talk with your money. If you don’t like the way things are being portrayed in a comic, don’t buy it. That’s the fastest way to kill at tv show, comic book, or product. If nobody buys it, it’s not made for very long.

That’s why there’s the rise of plus size models and plus size clothing. Enough women stopped buying smaller clothes and started buying plus size ones and retailers paid attention.

If you find a comic that portrays women the way you want buy tons of it.

And I will confess that I am a man. I love powergirl (ongoing series pre new52) equally for her feisty personality and her amazing body. But I also love rouge back in her covered up days. more for her personality than her body.

The point is buy what you like and avoid what you don’t. If enough of us do it things will change.

daniel the demon cleaner

February 22, 2012 at 9:54 am

Jesus, this is one long read.

But @ericnorth you did exactly what you accused me of. You skipped over Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Batwoman where the characters don’t fall into the tropes that Kelly outlines above and are all of which are selling in the top 25 to rebut my comment and instead cherry picked Birds of Prey and Catwoman (selling below Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Batwoman). Again my question is if the idea is that “SEX SELLS” is the most concise soundbite to Kelly’s argument than why do books from DC that don’t even have chicks for the most part (wait there’s Aquaman where Mera is dressed head to toe) fill the top 10?
“It’s easy to spin something to make a point, isn’t it”

I don’t know. I would say the comics you mentioned have the “sex sells” rule pretty well covered. Wonder Woman was plenty naked in the first issue. Batwoman (I’m always puzzled when people describe her book as objectification-free) is a hot latex clad lesbian, and whenever Williams draws her, you can see her nippels on every page. I haven’t read Batgirl, but I saw some preview art, and it looks like 90′s Image comics, so I kinda doubt it’s just good clean fun. As for Aquaman, Ivan Reiss is a Jim-Lee-type-artist, he certainly does not shy away from cheesecake. Plus, Mera has a huge cleavage.

Wooo! Look at those comments fly! You do good work Kelly, this was a good well reasoned essay. Stirred up the hornets nest a bit, but that’s good to do every now and again. And no…. it’s not equal. ;)

Also If you’re going to use the xmen use them all.
Emma frost is blatent sexism.

But for every Emma there is a Jean Grey, Frenzy, or Polaris
All of whom have consistently had costumes that cover most of them up.

I can’t find the post I read last night but someone asked why no credit was given to DC for their recent efforts. I notice of all the examples above only four are from recent DC publications of the New 52: Justice League #1, Catwoman #1, Voodoo #1, and Bleez (from Red Lanterns). Voodoo trades on her sexuality as a tactic to disarm and distract; it was explicitly stated in the comic. Catwoman also trades on her sexuality from time to time when it suits her. So if Emma Frost gets a pass for that ridiculous outfit then so should Voodoo and Catwoman. So that leaves two examples from current DC issues: TWO in that past six months of issues.

Birds of Prey: all covered and no offending examples
Power Girl: costume redesigned, no boob window
Batgirl: still fully clothed
Batwoman: fully clothed
Huntress: no more stomach window
Supergirl: Fully clothed, no sexy poses I can remember, and even got rid of the mini-skirt
Wonder Woman: attempted costume redesign, until they gave in to fan response. It may still be a swimsuit but at least they tried right? Also she is being drawn very well and powerfully in her own series despite the swimsuit.

In the current publications, I think Hawkman shows the most skin of any character. Ha!

If two recent examples are the worst that can be found to illustrate the point I think a lot has already changed and it’s unfair, not to mention intellectually lazy, to not acknowledge and cover the recent efforts being made. And honestly since DC did try to redesign Wonder Woman’s costume I think there is only one good example that supports the authors point from the New 52.

All right. So. I’m obviously not going to get into these comments.

Just wanted to stop in to say I’ve read them all and thank you to those of you who offered support, and also to those of you who offered intelligent, well-reasoned feedback, whether critical or otherwise.

For a whole lot of you, I have to be honest, you neither understood the piece, nor appear to have tried.

And with that…carry on!

Great blog post, thanks for raising awareness. I agree JLA is case in point, as one of the (if not THE) largest selling books out today. Thought it odd (to say the least) that DC piled even more costume on the JLA men with those collars while REMOVING costume from WW after she’d just belatedly gotten pants (both of which originated from Jim Lee designs). Some of the finer creators, like Jim, have daughters. They should read this and take to heart.

And to you, Kelly, I will say that there are plenty of people who read it but did not comment… but still want to give support since we liked it. Kudos for this!

[...] jump and read on for some separate, but related material, also posted to Comic Book Resources, by Kelly Thompson that questions just how equally men and women are portrayed in the comic book medium.   [...]

I’ve read all your articles since you started She Has No Head! and I have to say, IMHO, this is your best writing to date. Really well crafted and a pleasure to read.

I find it a little amazing that this article got over 200 comments, however. The subject of this piece, that women are more objectified in superhero comics than men, is so obviously true to me or just about anyone else (as Brian pointed out above, a 7 year old can pick up on it in seconds), that it almost seems like the equivalent of stating the sky is blue. And yet, the trolls come out of the woodwork and bash away, insisting that sometimes the sky is in fact grey or at sunset it can be reddish-orange, or at night it is black with twinkly stars! It boggles my mind.

My favorite comment:

I know a woman wrote this because it was just nagging and bitching

That one made me laugh my ass off. That dude must be hanging out with the wrong women, or maybe has a truly horrific mother? I found that comment especially laughable because of the obvious restraint you used when writing this article… some of your earlier pieces didn’t have that restraint, and suffered for it, and I was particularly impressed with your obvious growth as a writer.

I don’t always agree with you, but I must applaud you and truly hope you keep up the good work and continue to become an even more polished writer.

Christopher Slager

February 22, 2012 at 11:07 am

Fascinating post. I have one critique, you didn’t finish it. Your points were amazingly well voiced and demonstrated exactly what you wanted the audience to understand. However, the last paragraph or two, you lost steam and it became apparent, you weren’t sure how to finish the discussion. I’m disappointed. I really wanted to see how you brought this around and gave a strong conclusion that would stay with me beyond the article. Instead you gave a sort of trite ending with a bland platitude about making it more equal. With such a powerful voice you reasoned us all the way through the discussion but I feel you let yourself forget the idea of what you were writing to end in a more compliant less argumentative tone which didn’t match the struggling idealism and boundless provocation provided in the rest of the piece.

I totally agree that there is a lot of objectification of women in our media. However I think it is more serious and more harmful in many channels other than comic books. Why?

1. Comic books get into the hands of people more by choice than via other channels. For example, you have to go to a store that sells them (which are few and far between) and you actually have to buy them. I think it’s more of a problem when it’s more accessible and public such as television and outdoor advertising.

2. Comic book art is unreal. I may be wrong, but I would guess that most people don’t feel they have to live up to the impossible proportions and perfect beauty found in illustrations, be it comic books, animation, action figures. Nobody does or can look that good. No matter what you won in the gene lottery or how much you spend on plastic surgery. But when real humans look perfect, whether in real life or in photoshopped photography, there’s more a chance of a feeling inferior.

Also, I think that objectification and idealization in all art has been going on since time immemorial. As long as people are willing to buy the stuff, and artists enjoy making the stuff, it’s going to exist. Mind you, I’m not saying that makes it right and harmless. It’s just pure economics and free personal expression. And I do admit that the female images depicted in many or most of these books are often either soft-porn or just a step below it. And I admit many or most male readers specifically enjoy a dash of that stuff in their comics. Just like in other mediums such as movies, television, and video games. But I believe that until our species renders itself extinct, there will always be images created, sold, and consumed purely for physical pleasure.

But there are plenty of comic books that don’t contain such objectification. Just as there are plenty of movies, television shows and video games that don’t. So use the power of your dollar to support the ones that don’t.

Another way to fight it is to learn to accept one’s self and not buy into society’s expectations. Of course, that’s not as always as said. Many people are raised in environments that don’t foster thinking independently or outside-the-box. They are so entrenched in the game that they have no inkling that there is a more substantive and fair world outside of the game.

Many excellent points in this article — thanx very much for writing it!

Way too many responses for me to read, at least now, so forgive me if I’m reiterating things already pointed out, but three things came to mind:

1. It looks like, in the upcoming Worlds’ Finest series, Powergirl is getting an at least slightly toned-down sexysuit. I believe the boob window is gone, but it may still be a bathing suit, showing legs — altho, if I recall correctly, not her arms.

2. The editorial points out the attention given online to Nightwing’s butt and the way it’s represented in comic books. Yet the actual comic book examples (as opposed to fan art examples) shown at that link don’t really show Mr. Grayson’s butt off all that sexysexy. Yeah, they show his butt, but they don’t particularly hightlght it or sexualize it to any significant extreme, I say. Certainly not compared to the rampant bootymongering among the portrayal of heroines and villainesses in comic books. THIS is the example we can come up with of the sexualization, or at leat the showing off, of the male bum in comic books???

Actually, Dirk Deppey, I think it was, came up with a much more obvious example blatant bootymongering of a male figure in a review he wrote of Morrison’s X-men for The Comics Journal. The review was accompanied by a cover image (by Silvestri?) of Wolvering facing away from the reader, but looking back over his shoulder, and his large, fairly round ass is undoubtably the focal point of the image. The caption to this image was adapted, I believe, from the review, with Deppey saying something like, “Making the world safe for something, something, and Logan’s fine, fine ass.”

2. At least two comments here have referenced Colossus’s 70/80′s costume, which did, happily, show off some skin — some chest and arms. Nice. But at the same time that costume always used to tick me off, too. Because it featured blue leggings — which disappeared when “metaled up.” You know, because we want more of that shiny metal skin showing off the fact that he’s, like, Colossus — but we sure don’t want a normal-skinned guy walking around showing off his legs — that’s what women do! — like some nerd, or like an outright fag!

I *like* men’s legs, fother mucker!!! Muck you!!! I always wanted to take over the title and FORCE them to draw his costume without those blue leggings ALL the time! (Or at least WITH them ALL the time — but preferably the other way.)

Matthew

this article is why women should be obscene and not heard

True True True, I do not know why this is still happening, I thought with the depopularization of books like Lady Death and Vampirella people learned the lesson, but its true, its always been so unequal. Especially liked your point about the sexuality of male characters being completely downplayed; the crotchlessness of them has always bugged me *cough*JimLee*cough*, especially standing next to a female with her tits hanging out. Both just seem so unrealistic. I know its comics but, yeah, the unrealism of the anatomy and clothing sometimes bugs me. You did say in your intro that some creators are getting it right… but missed that point in the article.

Funny… I didn’t see a single fat, short, and balding male on any of those comic book covers.

Remember what I was saying, Kelly? About this all being specifically requested by editorial? Here’s the proof, courtesy of Bleeding Cool:
http://www.bleedingcool.com/2012/02/22/zatannas-plunging-neckline/

Very interesting, but I have some constructive criticism (I didn’t read all the comments, so i might be reiterating things that have already been said):

Your distinction between “idealization” and “sexualization” is a little flawed because you’re referring to characters who were created by male artists. A man’s “ideal” woman is bound to be physically attractive, while a man’s “ideal” man is bound to be a strong, imposing figure (which accounts for the discrepancy between “athletic” look of male characters and the “porn star” aesthetic of female characters).

In other words, superheroes consist of male idealizations of men and male idealizations of women. I think that says more about the dearth of women in the comic book industry than it does about the portrayal of women within the comics themselves, but maybe that’s the real issue.

@Dick: “Funny… I didn’t see a single fat, short, and balding male on any of those comic book covers.”

Look a little harder; I see at least two.

This just in: Apparently DC changed the cover to today’s Justice League Dark 6 from what was originally solicited. The specific change? Dropping Zatanna’s neckline so that her cleavage is showing.

You are correct in your assesment, but I don’t think it make your right. A comic full of Tara Lipinskis or Lisa Leslies… while accurate…. seems pretty unappealing to me. Am I alone in that opinion?

@Jack W:

No, the Pop Star analogy doesn’t work.

Johnny Sarcastic

February 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm

@Kelly
Just because someone doesn’t agree doesn’t mean that they don’t understand.

There are a lot of well-thought-out opinions that are contrary to yours (and many others) in regards to this article. They are, however, being written off as the whining of misogynists by your comment, and of course many, many others in this thread. They’re ‘wrong’ because they ‘don’t understand’ the article; they couldn’t possibly just have a contrary opinion with valid points of their own?

That’s the equivalent to my saying that every single post from a man who announces proudly (on the internet) that he’s a man and he AGREES WITH YOU is actually coming from a basement-dweller, desperate for female attention because it’s been years since they’ve seen a vaginal wall. But I won’t make that assumption, because some of those guys might genuinely agree with you because they see your reasoning as sound.

I, for one, probably would have agreed with your article whole-heartedly if you didn’t blame the media for female image problems. The media is powerful, yes, but I’m an advocate for personal responsibility. If I grew up in a home that had male-on-female spousal abuse as the ‘norm’, it doesn’t count as a ‘get out of jail free card’ when I reach the age of 18 and punch my significant other in the mouth. Why? Because ultimately, a person’s actions have to be their own. If a person isn’t responsible for what they do then our system breaks down.

Further, as a man who believes in female equality, I find statements that allude to the female gender being so easy to manipulate by outside influences downright insulting.

@Kelly
I appreciate your sentiments.

To those who lambasted or proverbially ‘booed’ this column:

Aw, take off, ya hosers!!!

As a parent, I grapple with a whole other side of this. My kids have read Marvel Adventures and other comics, but now in middle school are ready to graduate to adult comics. My preference would be for mainstream comics to be pitched at the young adult level, and adult specific lines like Marvel Knights for 18+. I enjoy YA fiction because it avoids sex, violence and language that are often included for purely prurient reasons.

The problem is that the sex and violence isn’t adult, it’s puerile. I have the benefit of a non-comics reading wife who helps give a perspective on this that I often do not see from being immersed in the culture. Of course, the portrayal in comics is only slightly distilled from their portrayal in other pop culture. The problem comes in how much rarer the decent examples are. The comics you would want your middle school kids reading.

@Johnny Sarcastic:

You really need to read my comment again.

So many of you are just seeing what you want to see here, rather than what has actually been said. Your response to my comment is PERFECT evidence of that.

@Kelly
HEY! I’m NOTHING like the majority of commentators here. I actually know what I’m talking about.

Here’s an example of me ‘seeing what I want to see here’: if I was tasked with changing the face of superhero comics to be more reflective of actual people, I’d be acting more like R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket than whoever’s in charge right now.

Point is, I DO understand what’s actually been said. I’m not insulting your intelligence, so I don’t deserve to feel like you just did that to me.

Johnny Sarcastic

February 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm

@Kelly

I read your comment. I also read this article.

You admit that this entire post was written with the foreknowledge that it would be inflammatory, at best:
“…Well, because I knew it would cause a ****storm…”

In your comment, I did indeed see the following line that you’re surely intimating that I “missed:”
“…and also to those of you who offered intelligent, well-reasoned feedback, whether critical or otherwise.”

You will have to excuse me for also reading the following line in that same comment:
“For a whole lot of you, I have to be honest, you neither understood the piece, nor appear to have tried. ”

I don’t think it’s a stretch that I focus on the hostile part of your commentary when the entire article was posted with… well, let’s call it “intent to stir debate.” Again, it’s not that I don’t understand, it’s that I disagree.

“So many of you are just seeing what you want to see here, rather than what has actually been said. Your response to my comment is PERFECT evidence of that.”
You’re right. Thanks for your insightful response to the entirety of my post. I’d hate to think that you just saw what you wanted to see in it.

I agree with just about everything you say here. Your point about body type is particularly well expressed. But I’m afraid I must take issue with your ire for “the brokeback pose.”

My objection is outlined fully here:
http://wrongsirwrong.blogspot.com/2012/01/twisted-truths-justsayins-problematic.html

It was a response to another blog post about the subject, but I think it applies here as well. Basically, my point is that the pose (that is, torso twist with one leg up and the arm drawn back) is fine, and male characters do it too, it’s just the women’s costume designs and body types that makes it seem innately sexualized.

@johnny sarcastic – you should watch the movie or at least the trailer for Miss Representation and then you’ll get the problem with media that Kelly is referencing.

Thank you so much for this article!

[...] recently read Kelly Thompson’s excellent essay regarding sexism in comic art, and I think there is more here. Thompson limits her critique to superhero comics (thus, no [...]

Someone above mentioned Dave Cockrum. I think the closest we got to almost equal footing with male heroes sexualized in terms of clothing was what people term Cockrum’s redesign of Disco Era of Legion of Superheroes. I mean, remember Cosmic Boy!! Or even Colossal Boy and Tyroc with their short pants/briefs. And Grell really pushed it also after him. This was one uber sexy Farah Fawcett flip group (men even had that hairdo Lightining Lad, Chemical King, Element Lad, etc.)

Johnny Sarcastic

February 22, 2012 at 4:58 pm

@Sue

Thank you for that.

This is a strange forum for such a conversation, and I apologize if I came across as dismissive. There’s very little chance that any single person’s true point-of-view is going to come across in a manner such as this. Suffice to say, I appreciate that you obviously actually read what I typed and provided a counter-point.

I’m as tired as anyone of seeing hyper-sexuality in mainstream media, for sure. And, more on-topic, in comic books as well. I’ve gently tried to suggest comics to my non-comics-reading girlfriend for the past six years, and I find myself painstakingly trying to resolve certain criteria, foremost being “Is this story way too continuity heavy,” and a quick second being “how much boobage is she going to get hit with?”

I’m not trying to make excuses for the costumes, that’s for sure. But, I think everyone has to admit, that as far as ‘works of art’ go, the female form is aesthetically very pleasing to the eye (and I mean that in a non-sexual way). That’s what I’ve always assumed was the reasoning behind the silly poses women were drawn in sometimes.

Am I the only person puzzled over the 4’11″ long distance runner in the image from Howard Schatz’s ATHLETE being an entire head taller than the 5’1″ figure skater?

So I must admit that I stopped reading the comments after awhile since they kind of got repetitive. I’m responding to people who claim that sex sells and so that is why things shouldn’t change. It is entirely possible that someone before me made a brilliant point that ended this debate by now, so I apologize if I’m being a little redundant.

http://www.gamesradar.com/ask-gr-anything-do-boobs-actually-sell-games/

That’s an article about the presence of sexual imagery in ads for video games and their impact on sales. I’m pretty sure there is enough of a crossover between people who read comics and people who play videogames for this to be relevant.

If people argue that this whole medium is driven by male fantasies, ok straight male fantasies, what is the appeal to gay male readership? I am gay. I love comics. I am not moved either way about the broken zipper phenomenon. I do love beautiful female heroes (I mean Jessica Drew has the best hair!). You won’t see me going out of my way to buy a Zenescope, Vampirella, or Red Sonja comic just because it’s all scantily clad T&A. But I don’t necessarily buy a comic because it’s sexually loaded visually. Maybe I did when I was 12 and wasn’t clear which way I would swing and anything overtly sexual was titillating. I was obsessed with Starfire of the New Teen Titans. That was the most naked “anyone” I ever saw in my comic readership as a pre-teen. I remember my Mom being concerned that I kept tracing George Perez’ Starfire and sometimes would draw her completely nude. I am not going to stop loving Psylocke and Rogue (my two favorite X-girls) because of how they are drawn but I can still support why men and women are concerned about the disparity. I am not reading Superman or Aquaman because they are hot dudes. But I will admit that if Oliver Copiel is drawing Thor, the comic doesn’t even need to be scripted. He draws some pretty looking men. Maybe straight comic fans, male and female, will think gays like me don’t have a voice in this gender battle discussion. I am probably going to offend someone just for existing. But I will say, not as an excuse or a defense, I think it is true that men, gay or straight, are extremely visual sexual beings. And at the same time the overtly sexual images of women is prevalent in all media. I think the biological and the social mores go hand in hand and influence each other. Maybe men are more visually stimulated but there is also what society allows and says is ok to portray. But I think in the world outside of comics, a much bigger world, you are starting to see much more sexually overt depictions of men. Tom Brady and David Beckham in fragrance and underwear ads. Abercrombie modes. And these are products targeted to men. Who is to say if this trend will flow into other mediums. Maybe if gay guys were the majority in comics, you’d see male heroes with a lot more skin, booty shorts, and less humble packages in body tight unitards. Honestly, for me, I really hope not. I really enjoy comics for the strong characters (I know it sounds like the argument ‘I read Playboy for the articles), the soap opera of it all, the great stories, and the fabulous art.

Thank you for a well-balanced, thoughtful evisceration of the mindless argument that many (male) comics fans seem to revert to when challenged on the subject of women’s portrayal in comics. As a comic fan myself, I must admit that I never noticed the problem…not until I became a father, and my daughter, now 12, started collecting comics herself.

I recently stopped collecting DC’s comics for this very matter….and sent them a rather abrasive letter explaining why. Naturally, I’ve yet to receive a response.

Posts like yours make it easier to explain things to my daughter, beyond my own point of view, when she asks things like, “Hey, Dad: How come Wonder Woman wears a swimsuit?”

Awesome article, thank you for posting it.

You’d think that artists would want to treat their female characters with the same kind of respect they treat their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, aunts, nieces, etc. Is that so hard to ask?

Agree 100%. I’ve never been able to verbalize my frustrations with women’s portrayal in comics on so many levels. Which is sad, because any time I open my mouth at the comic books tore, I really need a well-constructed argument beyond “God, reading this book makes me uncomfortable as a woman.”

Just wanted to quickly add to the chorus of praise for this great essay! Thanks so much for braving the inevitable attacks it would garner, especially since there are CLEARLY so many that still just don’t want to acknowledge the inequality.

@Sue

“But @ericnorth you did exactly what you accused me of”.

Actually, that should read “you did exactly what I did”. It’s not an accusation, you did it. At least have the courage to own your spin.

“You skipped over Wonder Woman, Batgirl and Batwoman where the characters don’t fall into the tropes that Kelly outlines above and are all of which are selling in the top 25 to rebut my comment and instead cherry picked Birds of Prey and Catwoman (selling below Batgirl, Wonder Woman and Batwoman).”

Maybe because my comment wasn’t given to help make your fairly obvious point for you. Rather, it was to point out fan girl hypocrisies and inconsistencies. But I think the above comments made by Traci have done that far better than I ever could.

My point was that if fan girls are so insecure about a blatantly obvious thing such as the existence of sexism and the objectification and oversexualization of women in comics that they need to blog about it every other day to feel validated, then perhaps it would better serve them and you to make the point sans the hypocrisy and spin (or..lies, if you will). It’s kind of like saying the sky is blue over and over and then photo shopping a blue sky on a black and white photograph to prove your point. You don’t need to fabricate evidence. We all know the sky is blue. It’s a nice, sunny day ladies. Anyone with a brain can just look up.

I agree completley with your column and think it makes it quite clear that there is a lacking of equality between the portrayal of males and females in comic books.But i have to agrue against what seems to be the general or prevalent idea that all of or the majority of male comic readers want or desire this sexualization of women from their comic books. Because personally i just want great stories with great characters that i love told in new and exciting ways,like i hope we all do.

Ms. Thompson, thank you for a very fine post.

I haven’t read superhero comics for… um. A real long time. Stopped paying attention to the whole genre, in fact. I recently (last year or the year before maybe?) picked up a copy of Black Panther, because a friend of mine was the writer. I TRIED to read it. I really did. And I’d get a few pages in and put it down. After about two weeks of this, I realized that it was hyper-gratuitous way that the heroine was being portrayed in the art that was turning me off. As much as I enjoy seeing the female form, I found the obviously loving care that was taken to show how closely the spandex clung to her nethers as she was fighting for her life against a team of assassins to be… disrespectful.

(I’m trying to think of what that fight scene might look like written in prose, which is my medium. Perhaps something like this: “Black Panther ducked under the ninja’s blade, splaying her legs provocatively, and then spun quickly, catching him with a back kick to the chest that knocked him back and over the railing of the narrow catwalk. Her nipples strained against the sheer fabric of her costume, already stretched taught by her ample breasts. She dove and rolled, narrowly dodging three throwing stars as they whizzed by the generous curve of her buttocks.” and so on. I imagine it would get tiresome after the first paragraph.)

And I’m not the sort of person who shies away from sex, or who thinks that women (or men) can’t be sexy, even while doing their non-sex-related jobs. Or thinks that maybe they can but it’s wrong and objectifying to show it.

Thing is, there’s a whole world of tastes, and a whole world of desire, and whole world of sexy out there, and the vast majority of it does not look anything like what is being portrayed in superhero comics. What’s being portrayed is a very narrowly defined fantasy aesthetic, frozen in time and preserved in perspex, which is then foisted off on men (and women) as “normal.” It’s not.

It’s absolutely not normal for one body type, one form of sexuality, one expression of desire to be considered the only way for something to be sexy and appealing. That way lies madness, and bad porn.

Wow. Yet another rant on how women are objectified by comics. Same thing we read 3 minutes ago.
And frankly, like the last 300 blogs, vlogs, columns and whatnot on this subject, it simply doesn’t, and will never matter. Because comics are, and always have been considered “ADOLESCENT MALE FANTASY.”

Go back and read that again, slowly.

Sorry, but it’s true. The demographic for comic books and video games and such has always been the adolescent male, whether that’s an actual 14yr old boy or a 34yr old man in a state of arrested development, that is the demo. I get that you are a progressive woman and you love comics and video games and science fiction. That’s great. It still doesn’t change the demo.

Similarly we see the same thing in TV and movies and other media. It’s just the way it is. The ideal man is a musclebound, 6’2″ adonis, and the ideal woman is a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Megan Fox.
And, of course, they are going to be put in the most revealing costumes and most compromising poses. And they are going to be as beautifully drawn as the artist can draw. It’s supposed to be FANTASY. If you want reality, go outside. Read historical non-fiction. It’s a COMIC BOOK for heaven’s sake!!!

I understand that you, and everyone else (including myself) would like to see yourself in comics and on TV, but really, no one wants to see a fat guy or an ugly girl in spandex and a cape. I really don’t believe that they’ll ever re-cast GLEE with a bunch of ugly fat kids. And Robert Downey Jr. is never going to be in an IRON MAN movie with some 38yr old frumpy housewife as his romantic interest.

I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is. So if you feel you’re being left out, you have a few options. Stop reading the mainstream comics if they offend you that much, and find some indy comics that play to your sensibilities. Or try manga. Everyone looks the same in manga. Also you can change the channel or not go to that particular movie. This will send your message by not giving the corporations your dollar. You also can take it upon yourself to create your own comics or other media the way you feel it should be done.

But please stop whining. Be the intelligent person that you are and realize that no matter how much you shake your fist at the sky, it will never the exact shade of blue you want it to be.

@Rickman
Sit on it, Potsie.

Complaining about the depiction of women in mainstream comics is like complaining about the depiction of women in Hustler. It’s a male-dominated industry of primarily male consumers and creators. One of the few exceptions to this generalization is Gail Simone, who writes strong female characters in one of the books you are criticizing.

There is nothing I love more then a man telling me what I’m supposed to be attracted to. Or the lovely old line of ‘Men are visual women aren’t’. A quick peek at my porn folder will reveal that I just loves me some dirty naughty pictures, of men and women! AND if you were to look at the pictures of the men you’ll quickly notice that the vast majority of them are lean, tone and not bulky. Heck, some are downright skinny!

So yes men, keep telling me what I like. What gets my rocks off and what women like.

Oh and don’t forget the telling me that comics aren’t for me and that I shouldn’t complain about how they look. I’ve been reading comics since I was a little girl and playing games since I could hold the controller (after wrestling it away from my older brother) so I’m as emotionally invested in these mediums as you. By making comics more inclusive and less insulting you aren’t losing anything. You’ll still have your cheese cake out there but what you will be gaining by being more inclusive is so much better! New writers, with new views, less of the same old same old.

The people complaining about this are just like in the past when other people of privilege stopped being catered too exclusively. They get upset, defensive and fight hard to keep being the ones pandered too. They consider it a zero-sum game where if someone else is winning, then they must be losing! It’s rather ridiculous.

I mostly agree. Though at the same time, poses and outfits men find sexy on women might not be the same 1:1 comparison to what outfits women find sexy on men. And even then not every straight red blooded guy is gonna find Ed Benes or Greg Land art sexy.. or at least tasteful and fitting. They could be just as disgusted by it as women. (That Simone kept getting Benes on BoP was pretty awful. You can draw sexy women without always going brokeback and cheesecake. Hell, even for cheesecake it was over the top.)

Meanwhile, when we look at naked and half naked guys in female fan art and comics (usually Japanese shojo comics) they aren’t really a 1:1. Hell, even comparing male American comic fans to male Japanese comic fans and what they find sexy with female characters, you’ll find differences. Though generally if girls in America are reading comics, it’s manga, or web comics, or fanart.. and maybe some porn ones too. And having seen objectionable of males in such things.. what gets girls (and even some gay guys) going in terms of poses and sexy male characters is still different from these silly cheese cake poses.

Of course that doesn’t avoid the bigger problem of female characters just being used as pinups and not as actual characters for a story. Hell, if you’re going to make something all sex filled and titillating, why not just do all out hardcore pornography. The poses are halfway there. Why half ass it? uh.. so to speak. If you’re going to deliver story and character, don’t draw women like they stepped out of a Maxim shoot. That’s what Maxim and Hustler and Club and Club International and Swank and.. and.. I know too much about pron mags. My point being is that there are plenty of porn mags and even pg-13 skin mags out there. DC shouldn’t be filling their books with pin up artists. And maybe artists like Benes and others should just do straight up porno books. I’d actually be fine if there was more of a market for comic book porn instead of seeing it seep into actual non-porn titles. And of course there’s always books in the middle ground. Yet characters from Teen Titans or Wonder Woman shouldn’t really be those. At the very least label them as such.

Anyway, I’m rambling around a point here. I guess I’m saying there need to be clearer definitions for who these books are for and what they are. If you’re going to making porn and cheesecake for men to spank it to. Fine. Just don’t pretend you’re trying to sell a character you also are trying to sell to women and little girls as a company. DC is trying to have it both ways. Sell spank books to teen boys and man boys while also selling the same characters to women as empowerment figures. That isn’t going to work.

@ Acer.
Well played. I am duly chastised.
Never again shall I posit my point amidst such and eloquent opponent.

I’m sorry… Really? That’s what you’re going with?
Maybe you should sit this one out.
But thanks for playing!

@Rickman
I highly recommend reading @M ‘s comment that followed up yours.

Many people who are against changing comics (for the better) to include fairer depictions of women are tired of hearing about the problem. Their defeatist argument of giving up the game just because this is “the way it always has been” does nothing but panders to the hegemony.

Women are heavily invested in comics, too – whether they be superheroes, zombies, or independent zines. Comics should appeal to women rather than cut out 51% of the population. If the industry is to survive, it needs to appeal to women and treat them fairly.

As mentioned once or twice above. Readers and creators need to take a hard look at the women in their life whether they be mothers, sisters, partners, friends, etc. and ask themselves if they’re treating them fairly.

Honestly, holding up a J. Scott Campbell print to a woman and telling them it’s not sexist is kind of like telling a black person blackface isn’t racist.

It’s so apparent and needs so badly to change. Women and men like Kelly and the Comicsalliance crew as well as DCWomenKickingAss, are posting about this so much because it’s blatant, but it still needs to be said because it hasn’t changed. Each one of their posts is a step forward.

I’m so glad all these guys are around to tell us girls what we find sexually attractive and exactly how that attraction works. That’s primarily what I’m taking away from these comments, because by this point the usual shouts of “No, I have to have THE MOST toys! You can have what I give you!” is just turning into so much noise.

Boys. No one is trying to take your sexiness away. I think most folks here like a little cheesecake. But like Dave said: for dessert, not as the main course and everything else.

And look–this article isn’t even so much about stopping the sexy; it’s just pointing out that there’s a massive discrepancy in how the genders are portrayed. Why does this matter so much if it’s “just comics?” Because the stories that we tell as a culture, regardless of the medium used, are what inform our every day life. There’s no such thing as “just a movie” or “just a comic” when it comes to sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. If it exists, especially on such a grand scale, it’s because many people find it acceptable. And hey, again, no one’s trying to say you can’t have sexy comics. But the sexism…yeah, that’s got to stop.

But no, what I’m mainly commenting for is to tell y’all…please shut up about what women do or don’t find attractive. Yes, sometimes women want a little story and character and that’s hot as hell. And sometimes–a lot of the time–women just want some smut. Go on tumblr. Look up a pairing. Look up shippers and slash. It’s a huge part of the fandom, especially the female section of it, and you’ll notice that very rarely are any of those guys depicted as the muscle-bound “Adonis”-type.

Or, to protect your delicate sensibilities, just pick up whichever magazine it is that features the annual list of 100 Sexiest Men Alive. One again, not so much about the muscles. Tone is nice. Bulges all over…not so much. And yes, I’m aware that for some people it is, but, well, some guys like short, padded girls better than those twisty things up there too.

Also, what I want to know–these same guys who are so vehemently opposed to women being treated equally in comics:

Did y’all hate Brubaker and Cooke’s run on Catwoman? Do y’all hate Batwoman? The current run on Wonder Woman? And Gotham City Central–did that just stick in your craw?

Because basically, that’s what we’re asking for. More books of that quality. I’m…sorry, I guess…if you don’t want that sort of this in your comics, or if Catwoman’s just not worth reading if she HAS to have her costume zipped to the top while in action. That’s…that’s really a crying shame.

@Rickman
I’m not afraid to use the eloquence of Sideshow Bob and the blue-collar of Bob & Doug McKenzie in my repertoire of comebacks and counter-arguments, my good sir. I’ve said my piece in the course of this comment section, which did in fact offer an idea I think was good. And since I’ve done so I decided to be a little vigilant in the comments. You weren’t the only one who got targeted based on a defeatist comment. Just ask Taozen. And of course, speaking of the McKenzie brothers, I used their trademark comeback (“Take Off, You Hosers!”) while addressing others who shared your sentiments.

Your move. Otherwise, checkmate.

@Drew

In North America, romance novels are the most popular genre in modern literature. In a study from 2004, they comprised almost 55% of all paperback books sold. The genre is also very popular in Europe and Australia, with romance novels appearing in 90 languages.

Tiny genre, indeed. In case math isn’t your strong suit, with 55% of the market share, they outsell every other genre combined.

“No, it’s not equal.”

Agreed.

For me, the ideal is the Sandman series written by Neil Gaiman. That’s what started me reading comics, and so many comics have been a let down after starting there! It had an interesting story, good character development, and beautiful art, all without over-sexualizing the women or having a woman’s ass or tits on every frame.

It can be done, and with declining comic sales, they’re going to have to draw in a wider target group to survive. There’s still plenty of room for cheesecake, but comics can be so much more than that, and can reach out to people who want more than that.

Just because you are offended does not mean you are right.

Also, I think puritanical views need to be eradicated in many people and stop seeing “sex” or “skin” as an inherently bad thing. To those who argue that we wouldn’t want out “mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, et al” dressing and posing like these covers, [relative anatomical impossibility notwithstanding], I would argue that if they want to, it’s perfectly all right for them to do so.

There’s a grand amount of generalisation, straw man fallacies (really, when people resort to calling people who disagree with them misogynists and that they “just don’t understand”, the wheels have fallen off your argument), and more to try to fit everything into a certain moralistic viewpoint.

I think both male and female characters should be judged on the content of their characterisations, not on the thread count of their clothes. I think comics should start showing hardcore sex, in costume, out of costume, on rooftops (people who “read” Catwoman #1 still get that wrong, it wasn’t on a roof — not paying attention much, were we?), in alleyways. There is nothing “wrong” with it, but it’s your right to disagree.

Oh, gun barrel, you taste so good…

@Steve I wonder if you really read this article or you simply decided to post to address an issue that Kelly isn’t really discussing.

Kelly’s thesis is simple. If you say men and women are treated equally in comics arts, you’re full of it.

The idea that sex is bad? Where are you getting that from? I’m grown weary of this bullshit where every time a woman points out the fact that women are portrayed differently from men there is a set of folks who decide that’s the poster is a prude or “ruining comics” as I was told last night.

And the idea that you want hardcore sex in comics absolutely amuses me. Let me ask you why you would want to pay $2.99 to see comic characters fucking? There’s free porn on the net, Steve. Really. Google is your friend.

daniel the demon cleaner

February 23, 2012 at 4:43 am

I noticed a lot of people saying that they wouldn’t mind female cheesecake if men would be depicted as lean, tone and handsome, but isn’t that already happening. Becky Cloonan took over Conan and she totally dropped the Frazetta template. Marvel is publishing Daredevil with Marcos Martin and Paolo Rivera. DC has The Flash by Francis Manapul. Artists like Chris Samnee, Francesco Francavilla, Daniel Acuna, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Gabriel Hardman are doing steady work for the Big Two. I’m not so sure the bodybuilder physique is the norm. Back in the 90′s sure, but now, not so much. Finding something more aesthetically appealing if you’re not into bodybuilders and porn stars isn’t that hard.

You want to lay the blame at some people’s feet? Here’s a list:
Jim Lee
Todd McFarlane
Mark Silvestri
Whilce Portacio
Ed Benes
Greg Land (OMG the fetish porn lover/swiper)
Adam Hughes
…and so much more…

These are the people that not only made it acceptable, but the mainstay of modern comics to pose women in an explicit manner. Writers *could* have some control, but nowadays, they’re too busy to even write that in, and production schedules being what they are, editing a too-porny woman is considered a waste of time.

There’s a lack of willingness to address the issue from an editorial standpoint, because sex sells. It’s despicable, but as Alan Moore says himself, industry bigshots usually tend towards a heavy Conservative bias, and they’ll choose their money over society’s wants and needs.

Kelly, create a title that fits your ideal, put it out there, and see if it sells. You don’t have to read these comics, just like I don’t have to read romance novels featuring unrealistic, idealized male characters.

This article was incredibly refreshing. It articulated perfectly an argument I have been trying to make for years. If someone wants to argue that the portrayal of men and women in superhero comics is just a reflection of society- then I would agree. Society is sexist and so are the representations we see in comics. But don’t try to say that there is any semblance of equality there. And honestly, I have no interest in a genre that is trying to sell me the same sh*t I can see anywhere else (movies, magazines, advertisements). The ‘woman-as-sex-object’ act is tired, shallow and boring. I’m so sick of every female character looking like she just wants to get f*cked. If that’s your wet dream thats fine, but it sure ain’t mine. I’ll tune back in when I see some female characters with real depth and visual variation.

I agree with pretty much everything that Kelly says in her article, particularly the posing thing, but I would say that working in a professional office I do see my male colleagues are pretty much fully-covered up, wearing trousers, shirts (mostly long-sleeved but some with sleeves rolled up), a few ties but pretty much most open-collared these days, etc. whereas my female colleagues tend to show off more flesh in comparison, whether it’s wearing skirts, short-sleeved Tees or blouses, more open-neck or low-cut tops (hence sporting more décolletage), etc. None of which is to excuse the proliferation of (usually male) artists who seem to think it’s perfectly reasonable for super-heroines to go out fighting crime in their underwear rather than, say, movie X-Men-style leather gear, but does perhaps suggest that culturally women’s fashion is more geared to a higher skin quotient than men’s fashion and some of this *might* feed through into comic book illustration.

Hear hear. I think this is one of those things that everyone knows, but you need to keep bringing it up, because there are people who know it is true but still deny it. Yes.

Excellent article!
As a female comic book fan, I am incredibly annoyed at all the sexism spread on the pages. I like beautiful female characters (I am gay, after all), but there is a huge difference between having cute characters and porn star posing bimbos. I want to read about, and see, interesting, strong, female heroes, not a*s and t*ts. I mean, if you want porn stuff dudes, just get porn stuff!

All right. I’ve tried to stay out of these comments and I’m not going to fully engage, but at 307 comments in less than 48 hours, I think I’ve got to make a couple things clear.

Again I say, to those of you offering intelligent, insightful comments, critical or otherwise, thank you. And another hearty thanks for all the supportive comments – I have gotten a ton of email and retweets, twitter comments, etc., and they have been amazing.

As for the rest, I’m sorry but a lot of you are projecting things onto this column that simply are not there.

Nowhere in the piece do I say I’m offended.

In fact, the word offensive is only used once in the entire 2600 word piece and it’s to say “NOT offensive”. So that’s you projecting offense onto me. Stop doing it.

Nowhere do I call creators, fans, or the industry at large misogynistic. Seriously, re-read the piece, do a search for the word, it’s simply not there. Also, sexism and misogyny, not the same things. Look it up.

This piece is only intended to be an illustration of how the portrayals of men and women in comics are not equal. The piece is not intended to call out specific artists (it’s a nearly industry wide problem, and far more people than just artists are responsible for what we see in comics). The piece also does not attempt to make suggestions about how to combat these things, it’s simply to illustrate the problem and get people to acknowledge it. Judging by these comments, that in and of itself is a Herculean task that we are nowhere near being done with.

I go out of my way at least four times in the piece to be clear that art is personal and it’s an individual’s prerogative if they want to like what they see in comics, whether it’s equal or not. I’m not passing judgment on anyone, in fact, I go out of my way to NOT do that. So if you are getting defensive and seeing something that’s not there, I suggest you consider looking inward. I’m not doing it to you…but you may be doing it to yourself. And that is between you and well…you.

If you came here to say “it’s just comics, it doesn’t matter” get real with yourself. You read a 2600 word piece about this and then took the time to comment…it clearly matters to you. If it doesn’t, you should exit stage left, cause you’re apparently on the wrong website.

And to those of you echoing the refrain of “if you don’t like it, stop reading, but stop complaining” I’d ask you to take your own advice. If you don’t like what I have to say, stop reading, and also, stop complaining. See how fun that is?! Yeah, it’s completely counter productive. You should absolutely be able to complain and say that you disagree with my opinion, the same way that I should be able to deconstruct what I see as inequality between the sexes in their visual representations in superhero comics. See how that works?

To the hilarious idea that I’m some kind of “johnny come lately to comics” now that it’s “trendy”. Please. Do your research. Your ignorance is painful to us all.

Also, I don’t know what a swamp donkey is but it sounds awesome. Is it some kind of donkey alligator hybrid that lives in swamps? Badass.

Again, well said!

@Kelly
“I’m not passing judgment on anyone, in fact, I go out of my way to NOT do that. So if you are getting defensive and seeing something that’s not there, I suggest you consider looking inward. I’m not doing it to you…but you may be doing it to yourself. And that is between you and well…you.”

Oh, yeah. This. Great comment. Great article. That is all.

Kaz

I don’t believe we can give Emma a pass, she’s said she dresses provocatively to give her power over men. Her attitudes about what she wears is was written as part of another male porno fantasy where the woman takes charge as far as I see it. No one deals with the insecurities behind it and she can still be vane about her looks and body without lingerie.

I also think to a certain degree writer’s are getting an undeserved pass in public opinion at large and I’ve felt like character’s are written to cater to male fantasies as well.

Also sex is far too often used to demonstrate love, writer’s far too often for expediency and to cater to a fantasy, use sex to show character’s are now in love. When that’s the main way the comics and most media show love I think there is potential for a character to subcomciously in the reader’s mind to be more likely to be viewed as an object. Think about it, does sex really mean love or represent love? Not really it represents lust and desire more than actual love. Sex could be powerful for demonstrating two people who love each other coming together but really both male and female writers have rammed this into the ground so much it rings hollow.

I love Spider-Man, but have hated the sexual aspects of how Black Cat has been written. Black Cat is hooked on excitement and the rush of adrenaline from robbing banks or fighting crime alongside spider-Man. What does being an adrenaline junkie have to do with being hyper sexual? Nothing but it sure makes for a great male fantasy.

I may not have liked how black car was written from issue to issue in the past but I could put those aside because I loved the overarching journey she had taken. She went from being a love interest to one of the few people who new who spidey was, and someone that spidey relied on to protect his family at times. She cared for spidey and spidey cared for her on a level that was not defined by sexual fantasies forget Peter was married to MJ at the time their actions showed they had a bond.

Fast forward to spidey’s soft reboot and Felicia is now the only character in the superhero community that doesn’t know spidey is Peter Parker. Why? Because Felecia Hardy is much more valuable as a sexual fantasy than a character with a meaningful bond. It seems absurd that a woman who put her life on the line for Peter Parker and aunt may is now reverted into a sex fantasy. This has nothing to do with a stand against sex in comics, because there is always someone who throws that out there, but everything to do with Black Cat being a sex fantasy the male writers and editors want rather than a dynamic supporting cast member.

I write this because we tend to give writing a pass, and Felecia hardy is an example about how story objectifies women. No way you can tell me spidey should have more faith in Ms Marvel than black cat as far as his ID concerns, but Ms Marvel doesn’t represent the aggressive bad girl fantasy.

Hi Kelly,
Excellent article, very well said. And breaking comics sexist protrayals down into 4 types was a simple but effective device (apologies if that sounds too patronising.) As you’ve shown, it’s a subject that’s more complex than revealing costumes.

I’m an artist myself, purely amateur, not professional. Although I’m not always successful, I do at least aspire to show female superheroes as powerful first. If my drawings end up looking sexy, then that’s usually a secondary aspect. (Actually now I think of it, I’m bloody ecstatic if they have anything even approaching human proportions!) Check out my gallery at DeviantArt if you fancy a laugh.

I’ve been generally disappointed with the portrayal of female characters in superhero comics for some time, but some titles have recently taken a step in the right direction. The latest Wonder Woman and Batwoman series are truly excellent. And I’m still rather fond of the recent Steph Brown Batgirl, who at least seemed to be a well-rounded character, realistically depicted.

My favourite team comics are usually ones where the men and women are equals and the women aren’t token characters. Storm’s leadership of the 1980s X-Men was a golden era for me.

Back on the subject of costumes: I was rather bemused by all the fuss over Wonder Woman’s various costume changes over the last few years. “Pants!” “No Pants!” “Jacket!” “No Jacket!” “How dare you change her iconic look?” I couldn’t help thinking: “Can’t she have several outfits?” A similar shit-storm appears to be brewing over Power-Girl…

Anyway, I rambled a bit, sorry. It’s a very well-written article and it needed to be said. (Shame about some of the numpty comments.) Cheers.

Well, we’re still at this, and I have a bit more to say. it’s too much for the comment section here, so I put it up on my own blog.
http://comicexplosion.blogspot.com/
There you go.

I don’t believe we can give Emma a pass, she’s said she dresses provocatively to give her power over men.

Yes, only a sexist would EVER believe that women who dress provocatively to get power over men are a rare if not nonexistent phenomenon.

Oops, my comment should have read “Yes, only a sexist would EVER believe that women who dress provactively over men are anything except a rare if not nonexistent phenomenon.”

I give Emma a pass because it’s the sort of thing that makes sense for her character. No one, I’m sure, objects to their being women for whom “sexy” and “flirt” are part of their characterizations. It’s a problem when that becomes part of 90% of the female characters. It’s one of the reasons my favorite Emma was back in the Generation X days. Monet was a show-off, but not quite on that level, and Husk and Jubilee stayed pretty covered up, so Emma being so openly provocative in both her costume and her actions was something absolutely unique to her character in that context.

@Daniel–I’m reading Daredevil and absolutely thrilled with it. Paolo Rivera is another one of those artists who can draw beautiful women without having to make it look like he’s having a fantasy right on the paper. Well, he’s just a great artist all around, and floors me every time, though I can’t wait to see what Chris Samnee is going to do on the book. But…no, that’s not even sort of cheesecake. Matt looks nice, but not really sexual. Same goes for Manupal’s Flash–the art is very beautiful, and that’s always good, but I wouldn’t call it particularly fanservice-y. Nightwing’s been done with some good and proper fanservice, though, but it really was remarkable for that–in that it’s something of a rarity.
Nevermind that naming a few examples doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist. It’s like how everyone said “Gail Simone” when people pointed out that there weren’t that many women writing superheroes.

*to their being–to THERE being. …I’ve got to proofread these things better.

[...] and objectification of female characters within the medium. (A couple of outstanding columns here and here.) The argument that comic objectify women comic characters has been pretty thoroughly [...]

Manupal’s Flash — yeah, the art is great. And the artists really doesn’t specifically sexualize Barry Allen, but I gotta say one thing — he really does make Barry Allen very, very beautiful, I think. I almost hate it when Barry become Flash because it’s so nice to look at Barry, even if he’s just standing there, plainly, talking!

But, when female characters, in costume and out, stand around and talk, they MUCH more often don’t just stand there “plainly.” For one thing, it’s much more often than in the case of male characters, that we are looking at their butts when they’re talking. This is not UNIVERSAL, but it’s very common. A number of series I’m enjoying do this routinely. Example: recently one reader posted somewhere online how he had dropped Legion of Super Heroes because of the way Lightning Lass and Dream Girl were clothed and posed — when just standing around talking… they were sexysexy sexpots. I looked back at the comic books in question and he was absolutely right. And in a series, and especially in a medium, in which so many of the other female characters were not that far from that kind of depiction, the cases of these two characters’ portrayals ARE significant.

The problem isn’t universal — not on the male-depiction side, not on the female-depiction side — but it is pretty dang rampant.

Matthew

Read the comments, Kelly. Read the comments, before you think my reply was only about you.

Go on, do a search.

Excellent piece of writing. Passionate, but well-measured, It would be easy to lose your temper & go overboard,

@RJ: “The ONLY real character who I can think of that’s discussed above that has a legitimate, in-story reason for suddenly dressing the way she does is Rogue. Since her inception in 1981 her story has had her dress from head to toe because of her out of control powers, and ever since she’s gotten that under control, it’s understandable why she wants to show some skin. It’s like when fat people get themselves into shape and cant wait to head to the beach.”

Is that why she’s still wearing gloves up to her elbows?

Don’t get me wrong, I think “Rogue learns to control her powers and then totally overcompensates” COULD actually be a compelling story. But I don’t see any room for elbow-length gloves in it.

[...] Should Be Good, Kelly Thompson wrote an excellent, thorough post about the disparity between the way men and women are portrayeed in superhero comics. In talking about the article, Gail Simone expressed disappointment at some of the responses [...]

@T. Other than sleazy B movies how does a woman dressed in lingerie give herself an edge? What business woman thinks that way that wants to be taken seriously.

I feel like I live in a bubble where I’m the only one that doesn’t constantly see women posing provocatively or blatantly unbuttons their top to manipulate the decisions of me and my coworkers or my bosses.

I’m sure if AT&T had just hired a twenty something who always showed her navel and an extremely low cut blouse, the government would have agreed to their T-Monile merger

WAIT mean it works in the movies for guys right? You know, where they wear tight shirts and nut-hugger jeans to gain a strategic edge?

@laura totally agree that characters like Emma can exist and be shown to be dressed provocatively, but was Clarmont thinking of character diversity when he introduced her in lingerie, or all the women in the hellfire inner circle in lingerie, while the men were completely covered in clothing without a hint of what their bodies looked like underneath?

I’ll be the bigger person here and admit that yes, I am a swamp donkey.

Upon further review. Ive decided that.. Kelly you are completely right.

Some points illicit ZERO TOLERANCE.

Extreme sexual Objectification is one of them. Nothing wrong with a woman in a bodysuit ..but the Porn poses and extreme thong-wear is excessive.

Keep up the Good fight.

looking forward to your next article.

The males look like bodybuilders, not athletes…kinda of the male equivalent of pornstar /model. I’d like to see more jason statham body types in comics, but that’s more my personal taste.

alternative comics also don’t seem to be as riddled with exaggerated body types, why is that?

I just read Power Girl 7-8 (from a couple of years ago) and that was good stuff. If not exactly equality it certainly makes fun of the inequality.
As for serious problems in terms of costumes, in real life, women show more leg than men so I’m kind of okay with that. but I am artistaclly offended by costumes that cling like paint and breasts that are actually drawn as implants. Lets just marvel at that concept. The idea that someone, pencil in hand, draws fake boobs rather than big boobs is confusing as hell to me.
Worst offender of all though is not the actual costumes but the day to day clothes. When civeies are unfairly sexualised things are in a really weird place.

P.S. That basketball player on the right almost has an early Jim Lee pose going on doesn’t she?

One very important thing we must remember is that superhero comics haven’t always been like this. This thing really started with the Image guys in the 1990s. So any argument that this is some sort of innate, unchangeable state of superhero comics is flawed.

Yes, there was plenty of objetifying of women in superhero drawings before the 1990s, but not to the same extent as today. The Scarlet Witch, for instance, was dressed in a more provocative costume than her teamates, but she used to be posed a lot more realistically, and the “camera angles” were more normal too.

I don’t remember any artists pre-1990s doing a lot of deliberate butt-shots and boob-shots. Those things were rare, only happening when it made sense in the story. And even the artists who were known as drawing “sexy” were… I dunno… different than today’s.

You already had Adam Hughes, Alan Davis, Art Adams, a few others that drew very hot women, but there was an element of fun and whimsy in what they did. Their women looked like they were having fun too, they were not inflatable dolls with dead eyes.

@ Rene – Alan Davis also knew how to draw women with different body types. Just look at his Excalibur stuff: three female leads, one skinny (Kitty Pryde), one athletic (Phoenix), and one pure cheescake (Meggan).

Alan Davis is God. Every single character of his has a different body type AND a different body language. If the world made any sense, Alan Davis would be a superstar, not Rob Liefeld or Jim Lee.

@Rene Adam Hughes reminds me of Gil Elvgren. I mean, Elvgren was a straight up pin-up artist but his pin-ups were almost always as much about fun and whimsy as they were about being sexy. Hughes always has that element of fun, and his characters are always being sexy IN CHARACTER, as opposed to just being posed, as you say, like inflatable, dead-eyed dolls.

A very strong thesis, especially the dichotomy between beautiful female villains and hideous or deformed male viallains. (Although it should be noted that Adrian Toomes, aka the Vulture, was considered one the most sought after bachelors in his day. :) )

I clicked on this article just to see the pictures of the ladies. Thanks for not disappointing!

1. The Walking Dead
2. Fell
3. Alias (Jessica Jones/Brian Michael Bendis)
4. Freak Angels
5. Preacher
6. Bone
7. Strangers In Paradise
8. Ex Machina
9. Sandman/Death
10. Johnny the Homicidal Maniac
11. Punisher (any drawn by Steve Dillion)
12. Y The Last Man
13. S.C.U.D.
14. ANYTHING BY James Kochalka
14. X-Statix (formerly X-Force)
15. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen…I don’t know how long this post can be so I’ll stop there. Oh…um…Rising Stars, Queen and Country (hell anything by Greg Rucka)…etc…

This is a list of comic books.
“Duh,” you say. “what does that matter?”

Well these particular comic books buck the supposed entrenched, “never–gonna-grow up-because-women-are-nothing-but-sexualized-objects-treated,-drawn,-posed,-and clothed-by-little-boys” theory we have eloquently written above.
I’ve been reading comics since I was a child. Spider-Man to start, then slowly branching out like most of us tend to do. We come across story lines or cover art that pop out at us and we get caught up with Daredevil, or Batman, or (and I hate admitting this) Spawn. Oh damn!

17. Spawn (at least as long as I lasted…made it to issue 50 or so I think?)

Spawn had hardly any women in it at all come to think of it, Al Simmons had a wife. I remember it was supposed to be a big deal that she AND he were African-American, which to a 15yr old boy growing up in the south is not really that aghasting. (apparently aghasting isn’t a word) But she was mostly clothed, and barley made an appearance in at least the first 50 issues. (side note: How far did you get in that book before you realized that almost NOTHING had happened in it? Jesus that man {Todd McFarlene} could make you think stuff was happening with all his busy art, but I swear nothing of real note happened in that book. Ever.)

“What’s your point?”

I realize that this list contains many independent books. Meaning: NOT mainstream, and just…just…follow me here cause I can already see the arguments forming. Let me finish this train before you try and debunk me.

Seeing that we all here like (with some of us going all the way up to love) comic books, I really don’t see an argument against Comic Books as an Art Form being railed against me. So we as a group, we as a Community (awesome show btw) can all agree that comic books are art. AND I bet we can all agree that comics are more then just a visual art form; meaning that the story contained within, while certainly visual in that there are words on the page, is a whole other definition of the word: art.
So if we agree on that. Then can’t this argument be completely picked up and transposed into ANY OTHER ART FORM. Painting? Certainly there are paintings that show unrealistic or even sexist images of women. (mind you…if you know some of the like…like a museum that has art like that…just you know slip me that address, cool? We cool?…yeah…cool) Ooo…look at photography!

http://becthomasphotography.com/visualperspective/?p=436

http://www.theory.org.uk/mensmags.htm

Christ! I would link more articles about sexism in photography but I mean…just Google that crap cause it’s like page one of a billion. Maxim, Zoo, Nuts, Rolling Stone…you know all these right? I don’t need to list any of them. The point is…um…sexism in photography. It exists.

Pick ANY art form and you’ll find evidence of this trend. So it’s not comics specifically that’s having like a temper tantrum while the rest of the art world has grown up and played nice with the opposite sex. (well opposite to me, maybe not you…I don’t know you so…whatever man…or woman…) And see? Just that sentence up there…you know that one ^ up there. That was sexist. It assumed all the people publishing art were male. Ugh. God I hate being a sexist ape.
Point…MY POINT!
My point is this: In every art form there lies the ability to show your audience what you see when you look at the world, or you can show them how you WANT the world to be. Also, (which seems to be the case with Comic Books in particular) you can pander. You can give the audience what you think they want. And they will either correct you (see Valentines Day movie opening weekend numbers) or they will applaud you (see…anything good…like um…Matrix? the first one, not that werido vis a vie second one….)
So while I appreciate the writers views and can concede that yes there does indeed seem to be a lack of any realistic views of women in comics…wait. Hold on. I can’t concede that cause I listed like 15 books up there that directly disproved that theory. You can tell me that independent comic books are a rare breed and that comparing them to the more mainstream so called “cape” books is like comparing apples to oranges but we (the writer and I) both know that you can’t place a blanket stamp on an art form while excluding any piece of that form.
I can’t drive a Humvee and say that all cars on the road suck at gas mileage because that’s cherry picking and when making any argument about art one has to look at the art as a whole. And while some might say that the glass is half empty, I like comic books, I don’t like people saying that “Comics on a whole are portraying women in a sexist or misogynistic manner.” Cause according to what I read they don’t. I understand that there are books that do that, but that doesn’t denigrate the form.
If you (the writer) really have a problem with the past, present, or future path in which comics are coming or going then hey…why not give out some AWESOME titles that DON’T DO THAT. Show love to the ones who aren’t pandering. Who treat women as amazing, complicated, frustrating, and beautiful creatures like Terry Moore. That treat women with dignity, strength and even frailty, like Alias. Show anyone the first run of League by Alan Moore and they will point out that the only way that group worked was through the leadership of the main Heroine: Nina. The normal beauty Thorn Harvestar, and the tenacity of Rose in Bone. Show someone how Agent 355 is the ONLY reason Yorick (the ONLY MAN IN THE WHOLE WORLD) survives to the end of the story. Show them Mayko, the bartender in Fell who, FIRST ISSUE, brands Detective Fell with the Snowtown emblem.

These are the writers and artists you should be focusing your energy on. Turn that laser beam of frustration on what’s good about the comic world. Show the industry how you feel with your wallets (or pocketbooks). I have. Anyone can point out whats wrong with something. The airwaves, the news, the papers, the books. They are all full of people that have that ability. We want to fix it? So…you! WRITER! You’re the one with the soapbox. The webpage! This falls on you. If you think it’s this bad…and despite the theory that your thesis would start a ____storm, it seems like 80% of the people also think it’s bad. Then offer up advice on how to change it. Hell I have, and i bought fifty damn issues of Spawn. So how smart could I really be?

OH DAMN!!! The LUNA BROTHERS! Jesus, what number was I on?…
20. Girls (Luna Brothers)
21. The Sword (Luna Brothers)
22. Ultra (Luna Brothers) This one in particular speaks almost directly to this argument.
See? Three more right here to change a few minds. How many more to change the industry?

I enjoyed reading your article. I thought the argument was fair justified. This should start bringing in more creative ideas to attract other diverse characters besides “T and A.” I’ll still make my argument against you that will obviously lead to nowhere but it will be delayed since I’m to tired to make the effort and fined the resources that don’t exist ta make my case strong.

@Mark

Um…okay, I think what I got out of that excitable-reading rambling was that A) Most media display sexism so comics are not alone in this and B) But really, instead of writing about what’s wrong with comics, we should only focus on the good. So, going by that…

A) Yes. This is true. Sexism is still a problem in pretty much any entertainment medium (I’d hesitate to say that about painting because “painting” isn’t…well, okay, it’s a medium, but that’s like saying “There’s sexism in chalk drawings!”) As is racism and homophobia. The fact that a movie like “I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry” could be written, produced, and distributed at a time when our country is still denying consenting adults the right to marry should be a deep source of shame for all humanity. And if you can name one action movie starring a black guy who lives to the end, doesn’t NEED to be black for the story to make sense, and ISN’T WILL SMITH, I will give you a cookie. There’s still a lot of inequality in entertainment, which is a shame, because stories are how we express the way we see the world.

And this is a site about comics. So we will focus on comics. The fact that there’s sexism in other media is…well, it’s not moot, certainly. It’s a factor in the sexism here. But bringing it up has little actual bearing on the issue being addressed. It’s the “well, HE’S doing it too!” argument and we’re not talking about “him.”

B) This old chestnut. “Y’know, instead of complaining, you could focus on all the good things around!” It puts me in mind of that 1950′s mentality where a woman who seemed dissatisfied with her lot in life just needed some happy pills and to accept her role as a chipper housewife. There’s a number of problems with this:

Firstly, it assumes that the people complaining (or, in Kelly’s case, calmly illustrating an imbalance) only ever complain. Untrue. We’ll point out what’s good and what makes us happy. When we read an excellent comic, we will bother every single one of our friends until they read it too (mine are waiting for me to shut up about Daredevil, but that just ain’t gonna happen).

Secondly, it assumes that the people are “just” complaining, as opposed to actively doing something to change this. Kelly is a columnist, which is a pretty active role in a community as insular as the comic reading fandom is–folks who write columns and blogs are the ones we often find out about good work from. Plenty of other folks who are ticked off with the “straight white male” mindset of mainstream comics are actively creating their own comics, writing their own stories, etc.

It’s just that, well…there’s still this problem. And it bothers us. So…we’re gonna keep talking about it. And we’re going to keep talking about it until it’s not so much of a problem anymore, which may well be never, but may well be sometime in the not so distant future. Because even complaining isn’t “doing nothing.” No changes ever got made without some folks complaining a bit. We’re not going to “focus on the positive.” We’re going to focus on the whole dang thing, and that means we’ll laud the good and condemn the bad.

@T. Other than sleazy B movies how does a woman dressed in lingerie give herself an edge? What business woman thinks that way that wants to be taken seriously.

When did I say “lingerie?” I said that despite people in this comments thread claiming otherwise, in the real world many women are willing to “dress provocatively” to gain power over men. There are more ways to dress provocatively than just wearing lingerie, and there are more ways to hit the jackpot in the world than becoming a business woman.

Take for example the hot woman who dresses provocatively to land a billionaire and then never has to work for the rest of her life.

My point is that it’s silly to say Emma Frost should be bashed as a character because she uses provocative dress to get power over men, since many women (note I’m not saying MOST women or ALL women, just MANY women) in real life do just that. Just like many men will use finances and social status to get power over women. If comics choose to occasionally depict a male character doing this, I would not be offended.

Great read, a perfect summary of so much that is wrong with mainstream comics.
I’ve always felt embarrassed for the companies that have published Benes’ juvenile work and others of this nature.

Mark, the point is, sexism in superhero comics is somewhat greater than sexism in other art forms, I think.

There are limitations to how much you can distort and contort real-life women, for one. Compare comics to movies. Let’s take the most sexist situation you can imagine in movies, say, Megan Fox. Even Megan Fox doesn’t compare to what happens in superhero comics. Imagine if Megan Fox literally posed sexily in 50% of the scenes in every movie she made. Yes, she often appears sexy on the screen, and there are a few “gratuituous” shots, but if 50% of shots were “posed”, the movie audience would probably howl with laughter, it would appear so stilted and unrealistic.

And the clothes she wears in her movies, they’re often sexy, but they are somewhat appropriate to the situation and the kinds of role she plays. Now, in superhero comics, even comparatively demure women like Storm, Jean Grey, Sue Richards pose more sexily than Megan Fox, and in situations that are odd. It’s as if every female part in every superhero comic in Marvel/DC were given to an actress that is even more cheesecake-y than Megan Fox.

T – The problem is that all superheroines in Marvel/DC are depicted as dressing and posing like that. It’s not the occasional character. Also, for most character it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not like Wonder Woman or Storm really need to dress in any specific way to get power over men, they are already powerful in many other ways.

@Mark Whitaker – Your post is based on the idea that none of the stuff you tell Kelly to do – praising the good, digging out great comics to share, focusing on writers who get it, and yelling, “Buy this,” is 1) not happening and 2) needs to happen without calling out the inequality and crap.

It doesn’t. Kelly regularly praises comics. I do a podcast with her where we regularly call out great new comics and tell people to buy them. We regularly feature artists who we think “get it” and show case them. Kelly puts together a list of female friendly books. I highlight moments that show when women are treated well in comics. So you can try and paint the idea that this SHOULD be done, but it the reality it IS being done.

Now to your other point, which is one I also hear, which is we should ONLY focus on the positive. Why? Why we would want to do that or have to do that? Why must there be one without the other. What form of critical writing and theory says, “don’t talk about the bad stuff, just talk about the good stuff?”

And frankly I don’t even think Kelly’s column is that negative. It SHOWS that women are not treated equally to men when drawn in comics. It’s not every case. No one said it was. But there is strong evidence that when artists draw women they are more likely to approach them differently and that difference is in portraying women as more sexualized. You can’t deny what she showed and the list that you provided doesn’t discount it.

And yes you can “Pick ANY art form and you’ll find evidence of this trend” I’ll bypass that your argument is derailing 101 to say the reason she is focusing on comics is because she likes comics, writes about comics. Comics matter to her. They matter to me and they surely matter to you because you are here telling her what she needs to do when she writes about comics. So comics is the topic, not what happens elsewhere.

But what I truly can’t figure out is why you chose to write 13 graphs with links on why she shouldn’t write what she wrote. And then telling her what she should do differently. And while the stuff you told her to do is stuff she already does meaning that your research was focused on the negative and not the positive. hmmm.

But my biggest concern, one I get too, is that it’s not enough to stop criticizing and start praising but that she also has to “offer advice on how to change it”?

Okay, I am going to grab the bullhorn here and call out the advice in this column. See all the differences Kelly outlines?

COMICS, STOP DOING THAT!

Done.

Here’s my problem with Emma Frost: As as old time X-Men fan, I enjoy the Jean and Scott relationship. I sometimes think that Grant Morrison thought “Emma Frost is SO hot, Cyclops should be with HER!” Then I realize that Morrison is a better writer than that and I’m just projecting that feeling on to certain people in the fanbase.

Rene –

T – The problem is that all superheroines in Marvel/DC are depicted as dressing and posing like that. It’s not the occasional character. Also, for most character it doesn’t make any sense. It’s not like Wonder Woman or Storm really need to dress in any specific way to get power over men, they are already powerful in many other ways.

I hear you, but I was responding to a specific comment about Emma Frost and Emma Frost only. A commenter was saying that Emma Frost shouldn’t get a pass from feminists because she dresses provocatively to get power over people, particularly men, and this is a negative depiction. I was saying that whether or not you think it’s a negative depiction, there are many women in our society who do just this, like golddiggers and attention whores.

I understand feminism wanting to eradicate unfairly exaggerated negative depictions, but for some people feminism seems to mean that anything less than a glowing, positive, perfect depiction of a woman is offensive. There are women (and men even) who exploit their good looks for personal advantage. I agree if you depict all women like that it’s problematic, but acting like it should never be depicted either is also problematic.

Just wanted you to know I like your article :)

This is lame. The female figure is nice and it sells comics. Who cares if some losers are unhappy with their own bodies. Stop eating McDonalds or get off the couch.

@Gurl Lover,

I’m not even sure why I’m wasting my breath responding to you but here we go.

The human body period is beautiful and precious. But the idea that the female body is more sexual and ‘nice to look at” is something that has been engrained within our culture for centuries for one reason only: SEXISM. Because our culture has been driven and dominated by a STRAIGHT MALE perspective for years and years and years and therefore the only view you have been given is the idea that the female form is there for YOUR pleasure, for YOUR gaze and to be objectified.

The very idea that the female figure is somehow more “worthy” of being exploited because it’s beautiful is a load of sexist bullcrap. It’s a lie that has been used by MAN for years and years in order to justify the continued sexism and objectification of women.

And frankly, your assertion that it “sells comics” just flat out isn’t true. If that was true than Catwoman and Voodoo would be the highest selling books right now and they simply are not.

The most famous and highest selling comic of all time—The Death and Return of Superman—was a book that did not feature women looking like sex objects. There were women IN THAT STORY that played an important role in the narrative and were drawn beautifully. But the focus of that story was not on the female sex and the book sold in droves. No one needed Lois Lane to be wearing a low cut corset with her huge breasts falling out when she held Superman in the middle of the street in order for that book to sell.

Wonder Woman, as drawn by Cliff Chiang, as been selling very well in the new 52 and it’s been one of the books that most people have praised across the board. Cliff’s artwork has been praised, in part, because he understands how to draw Diana without exploiting her or presenting her through the male gaze in ways that many other artists consistently miss with Wonder Woman.

Batwoman has also featured beautiful art that has presented the female form without objectification and that book has also been very well received.

You assertion that all women who are concerned about the way in which women are continually mistreated within this genre are “losers” who are ‘unhappy with their own bodies” is so insultingly ridiculous that it almost doesn’t even deserve a response.

I’d encourage you to get off your own couch and actually go out and meet the kinds of women who enjoy this genre and support these characters. I’m sure you will find that they, like the male fans, are diverse and deserving of your respect.

Personally, I can only speak for myself. But I personally have not had McDonalds in about 5 years because I think it’s gross. I barely have time to sit on my couch between my family and my full time job and my hobbies. And I’m happy enough with my body to never hesitate to wear whatever the hell I want and to wear a two piece every single summer. Actually, I think I have a pretty great body.

As crazy as it might sound to you, I have very good self-esteem. It’s BECAUSE I have good self-esteem and feel great about who I am as a woman that I truly believe that the images that we sent to women within the media and specifically, within this genre, should dare to step outside the limited demographic of presenting everything through the male gaze and respect that I have a perspective and an opinion as a woman how I want to be portrayed. With respect. With dignity. With equalty. I dare to believe that i DESERVE that kind of respect. Imagine that?

But I’m sorry, clearly you know everything about me and women like me. Clearly you have a very educated, respectful view of equality.

My regards to the women in YOUR life. They are certainly lucky to have YOU on their side.

daniel the demon cleaner

February 24, 2012 at 9:37 am

Laura:

Matt looks nice, but not really sexual. Same goes for Manupal’s Flash–the art is very beautiful, and that’s always good, but I wouldn’t call it particularly fanservice-y..

Oh, sorry, when you and others mentioned “lean and toned” I just assumed you mean “good looking dudes and not bodybuilders”, didn’t realize there was sexy posing involved, then yeah, you right, there’s not a lot of that in superhero comics.

You can’t against so much overwhelming evidence.

I had a long post written out, but looking over it, I figured everything I had to say had already been said—and probably said better—so I’ll just say this instead:

Kelly, I love that you try to keep a positive focus on what’s being done correctly with females in comics, spotlighting female positive creators and creations. It’s much needed and has introduced me (and probably others; at least I hope I’m not the only ignorant one here) to many incredible stories and creators I otherwise would never have known existed, and I hope you keep it up. But articles such as this one are also vital, not only for raising awareness but for providing a place for discussion to explore the negative aspects of the treatment of women in comics, and hopefully to help find ways to curb that treatment and improve the industry. So thank you. You keep writing. And I’ll keep reading.

[...] fantastic article on Comics Should be Good?  Because it’s very, very important that you do.  Check it out here.  [...]

While I understand what the article’s getting at, itself purporting to be ‘controversial’, I’m not really sure if we’re meant to be seeing either side of the equation as villains or victims. Pointing out what obviously seems to be an issue is relatively easy, ditto selectively finding evidence, but as the writers states, it goes beyond comics into media as a whole, and I would say it goes further than that. I live in a town centre, and as I look out of my window to all the people going to the pubs and clubs, the males, without exception, are wears trousers/jeans, t-shirts and tops, but the females, in a great many cases, are wearing revealing dresses, short skirts and tight tops… and it’s winter! Are these women then objectifying themselves, and if so, for what reason? I don’t point this out to be argumentative but to make the point that the issue goes beyond the media to being fully ingrained into real-life culture. The media may or may not have put the standard into our collective mindset, I couldn’t say, but it’s there not and it honestly doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere because it’s largely been embraced. So the question is, is it an issue at all? I don’t have the answer, I’m not that smart, just food for thought.

[...] I think that there is often a problem with objectification of women in comics, I actually liked Power Girl’s old costume. Of course it’s ridiculous, but her cousin [...]

@Gurl Lover

Aw, take off, ya hoser!!

Johnny Sarcastic

February 24, 2012 at 7:07 pm

@Mary

But the idea that the female body is more sexual and ‘nice to look at” is something that has been engrained within our culture for centuries for one reason only: SEXISM. Because our culture has been driven and dominated by a STRAIGHT MALE perspective for years and years and years and therefore the only view you have been given is the idea that the female form is there for YOUR pleasure, for YOUR gaze and to be objectified.

Oh, wow. You are aware that art is subjective, and there’s no ‘wrong’ thing to like, right? I’m pretty sure that I find the female figure to be nice to look at for a myriad of reasons, and sexism isn’t one of them. Perhaps it is indeed because I am heterosexual, or, perhaps because I enjoy Renaissance artistic sensibilities more than art deco; heck, maybe it’s because I like circles better than squares or porcelain better than stoneware. I can still appreciate ‘David,’ for example, as a work of art, but appreciating the female form more than the male does not make me sexist. Dear Lord, the sheer … ignorance of that statement is literally mind-boggling.

The very idea that the female figure is somehow more “worthy” of being exploited because it’s beautiful is a load of sexist bullcrap.

This, however, I agree with.

It’s a lie that has been used by MAN for years and years in order to justify the continued sexism and objectification of women.

HAHAHAHA… ohmygod. You talk about things not being worth a response? This is seriously about as well-founded a statement as … well, I don’t know. It’s a silly satement, that’s all.

And I’m happy enough with my body to never hesitate to wear whatever the hell I want and to wear a two piece every single summer. Actually, I think I have a pretty great body.

Uh, well, good. High five?

As crazy as it might sound to you, I have very good self-esteem. It’s BECAUSE I have good self-esteem and feel great about who I am as a woman that I truly believe that the images that we sent to women within the media and specifically, within this genre, should dare to step outside the limited demographic of presenting everything through the male gaze and respect that I have a perspective and an opinion as a woman how I want to be portrayed. With respect. With dignity. With equalty. I dare to believe that i DESERVE that kind of respect. Imagine that?

So you’re exactly what media needs, then. Go be a force to be reckoned with? I’m all for having these media changes happen if only so conversations like this go away. Heck, lots of people on here are preaching the gospel of Gail Simone – if that’s “female friendly” writing, gimme more (I’ve just been calling it ‘really good’ all of this time, stupid me for not recognizing it as female literature). If so many women feel so strongly about these changes, why aren’t more of you DOING it? I don’t understand.

And, in closing, I agree that you (and all women) deserve respect. But, so do men. I may only have this post of yours from which to judge, but it certainly seems you’ve placed men as the ultimate villain in this world. You give us too much credit; we are not conspiring to control the media. If we are, I have never been invited.

By gum, it just wouldn’t be worth it.

I find this one (Johnny Sarcastic’s) interesting, mainly because of the contradictions it contains.

“I agree that you (and all women) deserve respect.”
vs
“Dear Lord, the sheer … ignorance of that statement is literally mind-boggling.”

Fact is, there’s reams of well-established theory in both feminist and sociological work that underpins Mary’s statement. And with the exception of certain militant separatist feminists, it’s not men that are the villains, but the Patriarchy, which is a system that (IMO) limits and oppresses persons of all genders.

Also, this statement: “You are aware that art is subjective, and there’s no ‘wrong’ thing to like, right?” – is wrong.

Johnny Sarcastic

February 24, 2012 at 7:33 pm

@Bernie

That was a pretty poor analysis of my statement. Those two lines that you quoted are not contradictory; you’re telling me that I can’t think women deserve respect while not believing that men are the villain of the story? Her statement adds up as, ‘if you think the female form is beautiful, it is because you have been brainwashed by sexism.’ I’m not sexist, but I think the female form is beautiful, so either I don’t exist or her statement is wrong.

Also, this statement: “You are aware that art is subjective, and there’s no ‘wrong’ thing to like, right?” – is wrong.

>
Okay, I suppose if the thing you like is truly distasteful then it could be ‘wrong,’ but then we’re debating whether or not it fits the definition of art at all, now aren’t we? Did you have an example rather than a smarmy comment?

@Johnny Sarcastic

Actually, everyone (including women) is – I’m not going to use “brainwashed,” because that really means something different – but “enculturated” to internalize sexism to some extent, simply by dint of being products of a culture that is structurally sexist. (Same with racism, etc.) For most of us, that sexism exists on a subconscious level. Why? Because unlike the asshats out there, people like you and me have killed off the sexism that we’ve seen in ourselves. Still, it’s there, and it’s up to us to try to pay attention when we’re called to the mat for it, and try to see things that we may be blind to.

The original article never claimed that it was wrong to find the female form beautiful. What it did was call attention to a trend in contemporary mainstream comics that displays female superheroes in ways that are clearly hypersexualized in ways that their male counterparts aren’t. It’s a representation of women that is demeaning and disrespectful. And it puts forward a very specific body type as the only acceptable body type, fetishising that particular female body in a very weird way.

The contradiction I referred to was that in one breath you were respecting Mary, and in another you were mocking her.

The theoretical underpinnings of Mary’s statements about the male gaze are statements about the system of patriarchy, which, while being chipped away, still exists. When she specified “YOU,” that was in direct response to a different commenter, one of the above mentioned asshats, and not you or me.

As to art being subjective – there are aspects that are subjective, but quite a bit is not. I worked my way through college and a few years after that as a picture framer, and I saw thousands of examples of bad art. I’ve purged them mostly from the insides of my retinas, but I’d direct you to MOBA for some vibrant examples: http://museumofbadart.org/

I would suggest that any comic book art that tries to represent things in a mostly realistic way, but poses the female characters (and only the female characters) in physically impossible positions for purposes that aren’t integral (or even relevant) to the story constitute Bad Art.

Leave it to Beaver

February 24, 2012 at 8:29 pm

@ Johnny sarcastic

I’m pretty sure that I find the female figure to be nice to look at for a myriad of reasons, and sexism isn’t one of them.

You’d be wrong. We view things in a very Pavlovian way, easily controlled by presentation and the history of presentation. They did a study about advertisement psychology. They measured crystalline structures beneath the eyes when changing demonstrates levels of sexual desire. They also used self reporting to confirm tests. They first showed pictures of boots to determine level of desire, very few of the test subjects showed signs of sexual desire. They divided the groups into multiple experimental groups and showed various pictures. One group had pictures of naked women followed by pictures of boots. Another just had naked women a third just had boots, and the forth had pictures where boots were shown in pictures with naked women and interspersed with those were pictures of just boots. The results were peculiar. The only time any real sexual desire was shown towards the boots was when women were first pictured with the boots. The structures changed the same way for the boots as they did for women. They even checked longterm responses showing pictures of boots months down the line. The experiment tricked the people into finding boots sexually desirous strongly for three weeks, mildly for 3 months and to a lesser extent for another three. After 6 months desire towards boots went back to norm.

Combine that with the “key word” experiment where people’s opinions regarding what is sexy, exciting, ugly funny etc were changed basically by suggestive advertising with specific words used, and you can see where your opinion of women is molded by the amount and type of advertisement and activity you see on a regular basis. for instance, magazines that have a hundred pictures of breast but only ten of legs, you are more likely to be more attracted to breasts. if advertisers are intentionally sexist then your attitude will be shaped by that sexism, whether you want it to be or not.

In many African societies the hyper skinny look of American women [models] is considered very ugly. Those African men prefer the traditional larger woman. As Vogue, Cosmo and GQ have pushed into these markets more men are saying American looking women are attractive, to the point where they find traditionally shaped African women to be unattractive. The only real cultural change in those regions where this view has changed were an increase of the availability of American magazines. Since many of these areas only get African television, and pretty much very few white women live in these regions, and most black women were aspiring towards being heavier, only the presentation of this American “ideal” in fashion magazines has changed their ideal. If you are only seeing sexism in comics, your ideal of comics will be shaped by that sexism, in the same way these African men’s view of what is sexy was shaped by the images that were presented.

I did want to mention something that’s been trundled about, the idea that somehow all readers want to read the almost porn pictures in comic books. Look at the numbers, they don’t lie, the bestselling books tend to have more clothing on than the least selling books. Often the reason they go to this very overly sexual femme fatale is because the book is not a high volume book and they believe they can sell to the more immature crowd. Basically they think you are idiots and are selling to that concept. If you doubt me checkout comichron for last year january. Look at the top and you find the more clothed female superheroes, look at the bottom and you find the more odd angled, under-dressed, or bizarrely shaped feminine leads with breasts that are bigger than Galactus’ thigh. Over sexualized superheroines or villains was half the reason I wasn’t allowed to read any comic book except the hulk and richie rich when I was a kid. Personally I think some of the best vilains are the ones who are overtly sexual and the best superheroines are the ones slightly introverted, but then that’s me.

So sick of the comments of feminists BAWWing over something. Please get educated.

Richard Reynolds

February 25, 2012 at 3:10 am

Think I’m gonna have to back Johnny Sarcastic up on one or two things.

I’m not sure the term sexism is being applied correctly in a great number of these arguments. The ‘ism would suggest some kind or hatred or prejudice, and for the most part, and as Johnny stated, I just don’t think most of the guys who create or draw these characters have any such agendas in mind. They’re just drawing what the majority deem to be beautiful.

I won’t argue that The Media constantly reminds us of what the state of beauty is, but I think we should consider that the impression was there from the begining, and just part of the male nature. Telling us that the things we find beautiful, and yes, the fact that we sometimes see a woman and immediately think about sex, makes us hateful (and don’t be fooled, being called feminist or racist means exactly that), isn’t entirely different from a religious person claiming a homosexual to be sinful, they too are just following their nature after all. Men literally can’t help but be aroused by the things that arouse us, and what arouses us is what we consider to be beautiful in a woman, that’s undeniable.

By all means have a go at changing perception, but in all honesty I think it would be trying to convince a lion not to eat meat, or fighting the tides. I’m not saying this to ruffle feathers or illicit a response, I genuinely see it to be the truth, and I loath that fact that I could be considered a bad or hateful person for seeing things this way.

Richard Reynolds

February 25, 2012 at 3:15 am

I obviously meant “sexist or racist” in that last post, not “feminist and racist” :)

@Richard R

You’re confusing sexism (which is treating people of different genders differently according to their genders) and misogyny (hatred of women).

Sexism includes chivalrous things like holding the door for a woman with an armload of groceries, because she’s a woman. The non-sexist version of that is holding the door for a woman with an armload of groceries, because she’s coming up to the door and you’d hold it for anyone who’s coming up to the door with an armload of groceries.

There’s nothing wrong with seeing a person you find attractive and, well, being attracted. There is something wrong with extrapolating from that that she (or he) is there primarily for you to be attracted to, and secondarily for all her (or his) other traits combined.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable for anyone to want equal treatment.

@ Matt, I disagree that the bulky and muscled builds often given to male superheroes are a popular fantasy among women. A relevant comic: http://itswalky.tumblr.com/post/13623571633/anyway-enough-porn-back-to-gender-issues

[...] a  look at the images of female superheroes, this is a good starting point: She Has No Head!–No, It’s Not Equal.   Apparently this is quite controversial in the world of comics, but it just seems logical and [...]

Well gosh, fellas, you’ve run rings around me and finally got me to admit the truth to myself.

I’m going to start my new life as a sexist with trying to take the vote back from women; after that, I think I’ll see if I can’t make it so we stop teaching them to read!

Sorry this comment is so brief, but I’ve got to go watch some violent porn. Hopefully one where she cries partway through! After that, I think I’m going to tell my girlfriend I think she’s fat or stupid or something.

@Johnny Sarcastic

You’re really not doing yourself any favors with this defensive screed, although you ARE living up to your username.

Although we’re getting very far afield here (far enough to possibly be turning back onto topic), sexism, by definition, implies a power dynamic based on gender, not just prejudice or hatred.

There is no society on this planet right now — or since the development of writing, for sure — that has been sexist in favor of women. Even the current Western world is still informed and controlled in large part by sexist cultural and political structures.

When Kelly demonstrates how that is exemplified STILL in comics, the reaction “Well, what about Batwoman?” is totally off the mark because it says nothing about the issues that are still prominent. You thought you were getting picked on by Carrie Bradshaw and Co.? Welcome to our whole life — not just one insipid series on HBO. Which, by the way, has nothing to do with comics — unlike this article.

That Greg Rucka can write and produce a Stumptown is great — in an industry that’s shoving Psylocke by Greg Land or any female by Ed Benes down our throats, it’s a candle in an avalanche.

You know how I learned how generous a person Gail Simone is? When Birds of Prey was relaunched during Brightest Day, she welcomed and defended Benes as the artist. She said she noticed differences. When the first issue showed Dawn Granger in a tee-shirt with no definition other than stretch lines across her bosom, I knew Gail was in big trouble. When Dove’s first appearance showed her brokeback posed in transformation, I resolved not to buy another issue. I don’t blame her, though; she has to work with these people, and maybe his latest work was better than his old work. She was simply acknowledging the sexist nature of the business. Tell me any male writer or artist in the business has to deal with that on a daily basis from a woman in power, and then you might have a point.

Oh, and as a Wonder Woman fan who hated the revamped costume, what exactly was less objectifying about putting her in skintight leather with stirrups anyway? It wasn’t an improvement any more than the the Bantustans in South Africa were. For those unfamiliar with literary devices, that’s called hyperbole, so don’t even bother to get on your soapboxes with “over-react much?” Find another way to show your intellectual vapidity.

Is that enough about comics for you?

Johnny Sarcastic

February 25, 2012 at 6:24 pm

@Casey

Well, at least I did one thing right.

Not defensive, there’s just no point in it anymore. Every time I see the words ‘sexist’ or ‘sexism’ being applied to myself, I hear Inigo Montoya say in my head, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Sexism:
1. attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.
2. discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; especially, such discrimination directed against women.

But, these fellows seem awfully educated, what with their studies about eye crystals, africans, enculturating and all, so I guess they must have got the memo from Oxford that said “part two of the definition of sexism is out.” So I can only assume that I am, in fact, wrong about the definition of sexism, and therefore probably wrong about a whole lot more. I guess I am just a cog in the male oppressive machine no matter what I do, or what I think that I think. Damn and blast my average-sized junk.

The worst part is I learned that art isn’t subjective, and that if my kid (or my palsied grandmother) is a bad artist, then I am in bad taste for liking their lousy stick figure house (or shaky sunset over water).

To be fair, since both my kid and grandmother are women, one could say … aw, nevermind.

Family trumps art every time.

Thanks for the article! I’m so happy about the amount of these arguments that seem to be popping up lately.
Now to read the comments that may distinguish my recently obtained happiness.

Great article! Hope the right people are listening to this stuff.
Made for a good start to my day. Thanks.

“I guess I am just a cog in the male oppressive machine no matter what I do, or what I think that I think.”

Yeah, pretty much.

@ Casey

Yeah, pretty much.

I’m jealous. It must be liberating to have an evil scapegoat to blame every time something doesn’t go your way.

@ Johnny Sarcastic

“I hear Inigo Montoya* say in my head, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Sexism:
1. attitudes or behavior based on traditional stereotypes of sexual roles.
2. discrimination or devaluation based on a person’s sex, as in restricted job opportunities; especially, such discrimination directed against women.”
__________________________________________________________________________________
A deeper look at the definition:
“The term sexism is most often used in relation to discrimination against women, in the context of patriarchy.”

While I agree with your stance on personal responsibility and free will, it is necessary to remember that we don’t live in a vacuum. Patriarchy is the backdrop upon which this argument has been painted. Its not about one (or a few) dudes being the villain. Its about an attitude/mindset that is woven into the very fiber or our society. Do I think that sexism would vanish if characters were drawn with average proportions and anatomically correct poses? No, of course not- that would only be addressing the symptom (one of many), and not the cause. But it might bring dignity back to a few of my favorite leading ladies.
_____________________________________________________________________________________

*Great reference btw

If women want comic book super heroines to be something other than fan service to horny 40-year-old shut-ins, then they should work on being something other than 3% of people who buy comics. This is like a person with no hands complaining to Wilson there’s no baseball gloves for them. Prove you’re a profitable demographic who will buy and maybe your complaints will carry more weight.

If women want comic book super heroines to be something other than fan service to horny 40-year-old shut-ins, then they should work on being something other than 3% of people who buy comics. This is like a person with no hands complaining to Wilson there’s no baseball gloves for them. Prove you’re a profitable demographic who will buy and maybe your complaints will carry more weight.

Women actually buy a LOT of comics. Usually in bookstores. Indies and manga and all sorts of stuff. They just don’t buy superhero comics in comic-book shops, most of the time, and considering the way this comments section has spiraled, it’s not hard to see why they don’t. The mystery isn’t why women don’t buy comics, it’s why Marvel and DC are so obsessed with only producing comics for hardcore superhero fans, often coming off as overtly hostile to broadening their readership at all. It’s supposed to be a mass medium, not a key club.

I’m kind of amazed at the reasoning here. Support comics you don’t like in order to encourage getting comics that eventually you might enjoy from that publisher? How does that work? In pop culture, if something sells well, you get a lot more of it– knockoffs and sequels and so on. You don’t get fresh new experimental takes designed to please a totally different demographic. That’s all Marvel and DC look at– the wallet vote. They assume that if something is selling, the public must want more of it. That’s why we have eighteen titles starring Wolverine. At no point does anyone in the X-office say, “Hey, we’re selling a lot of Wolverine. This gives me the confidence to pitch a humorous teen-romance comic starring Kitty Pryde.”

“Women actually buy a LOT of comics. Usually in bookstores. Indies and manga and all sorts of stuff. They just don’t buy superhero comics in comic-book shops, most of the time, and considering the way this comments section has spiraled, it’s not hard to see why they don’t. ”

But that’s not what this article is about. It’s about whining about how women are dressed in a genre of comics for whom women aren’t the main paying audience. It would be a ‘chicken or the egg’ situation if it wasn’t so blatantly obvious that men far outnumber women in the paying audience. And that most of those men don’t want to read about Thumbelina from MLF.

Additionally, the author never says what kind of comics are the guiltiest of objectifying women. He or she just launches into a rant and then uses the most convenient covers possible to support the argument. It’s clearly super-hero comics that are the worst offenders, but, again, they just aren’t made for women.

But that’s not what this article is about. It’s about whining about how women are dressed in a genre of comics for whom women aren’t the main paying audience.

Well, I disagree. I think it’s more along the lines of, “I’m tired of being told I’m whining when I point out something so obvious that you’d have to be a moron not to see it, and then hearing all the bullshit justifications for it when its obviousness can’t be denied.” For God’s sake, it’s in the title. It’s one thing to grump about pin-ups, but it’s quite another to point out that they’ve taken over an entire genre of comics storytelling.

To my way of thinking, she’s only mentioned one facet of it… the real left turn came when DC and Marvel made the conscious decision to direct virtually all their efforts into placating one narrow demographic of arrested-adolescent man-children. My feeling has always been that comics are better when they are trying for a general audience, and not just us.

But we don’t have to speculate because Kelly actually SAID what she meant. She then clarified her position in the comments. You can agree or not but it’s right there in print. There’s over three hundred posts up there bitching about things she never said.

“It would be nice if the people in this comment thread stopped comparing comic books to romance novels. Honestly, I can’t think of a single person who reads romance books, let alone girls my own age. Not to mention the overall community/fanbase in comics surpasses most media, let alone this tiny genre of books. ”

http://www.rwa.org/cs/the_romance_genre/romance_literature_statistics

“•Romance fiction generated $1.358 billion in sales in 2010.”

http://www.rwa.org/cs/the_romance_genre/romance_literature_statistics/industry_statistics

“And romance fiction continued its dominance of the consumer market at 13.4 percent (in terms of revenue of market categories), beating out mystery, science fiction/fantasy, and religion/inspirational titles”

I don’t have time today to explore every aspect of Thompson’s argument– much less to forage through the 300+ responses!– but one point with which I disagree is the covered/uncovered business.

The main problem with it is that she doesn’t delinate a particular period of time in which she’s making her survey. If she claimed, for instance, that she was dealing only comic books published in the last 10 years, then maybe her verdict that (for instance) Black Widow was seen “frequently unzipped” might hold water. I haven’t read enough comics from that time period to gainsay her. But I do know Marvel Comics pretty thorougly from the 1960s to the 1990s, and in none of those decades is it typical to see the Black Widow unzipped. I’m not saying it never happened; just that it wasn’t a regular thing.

The Widow also makes a pretty good counterexample to Thompson’s complaint that superheroines are invariably given the soft bodies of models. There probably are some artists who have drawn Natasha looking soft, but I’d say that the dominant image is the athletic one that Thompson says she wants. Admittedly Natasha’s boobs may be bigger than those of an average female athlete, but that seems the main concession to model-style sexiness.

No matter how much money romance novels make, comparing them to superhero comic books is still a false equivalence. If you really think women get the same stuff out of romance novels what men get out of superhero comics you’re a fucking idiot.

oh great let’s forget art adams and frank cho existed…make all the women look like men. get over yourself-applying this dumb gender studies junk to superhero comics(why someone expects superhero comics of all things to write the world’s gender ‘wrongs’ is beyond me) is like applying it to pro wrestling-a waste fo time and the fans hate you for trying. hey here’s an idea why don’t you start a petition asking why jwow from jersey dresses so trashy :D?

ahem fo from above should be ‘of’ :D.

@Casey

First you say this: “You’re really not doing yourself any favors with this defensive screed, although you ARE living up to your username.”

Then you call someone a “fucking idiot” because you disagree with their point. Thank you for living up to the hypocritical, thin skinned, dishes out but can’t take it fangirl stereotype and for making the misogynists actually look sympathetic. Congratulations. You are officially part of the problem.

Just wanted to thank you for this extremely clear and thoughtful post. It’s a little depressing that it needs to be pointed out like this, but the comments thread indicates that it does, and I can’t imagine it being done better. Nice work.

@Greg

re: “Women actually buy a LOT of comics. Usually in bookstores. Indies and manga and all sorts of stuff. They just don’t buy superhero comics in comic-book shops”

If that were the case then the numbers would bare that out. They don’t. If something like Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Batgirl, etc, “gets it right” then why don’t they do better on the charts? Why aren’t they in the top 10 or top 5? Why are people so desperate to ignore the facts and push the idea that women aren’t a tiny portion of the comic book marketplace? And please don’t fall back on the tired excuse of “marketing”. There are plenty of comics in the top 20 that aren’t marketed at all and yet there they are.

“I’m kind of amazed at the reasoning here. Support comics you don’t like in order to encourage getting comics that eventually you might enjoy from that publisher?”

The onus isn’t on women to support something they don’t like but what they claim they DO like. That hasn’t happened in spite of false claims by the comic activists on tumblr that it has. If Birds of Prey was in the top 10 then there would be more stuff like Birds of Prey. Women are half the population of the world. They are NOT half the population of the comic book marketplace nor were they ever. That’s as objectively true as the claims of sexism in comics. They have to prove their dollar exists. DC/Marvel et al aren’t going to come to them no matter how much they yell and scream and stomp their feet. They have to prove the dollar value of what they say they want to DC first, not after the fact. Now, you can call that bad business all day long and you would be right, but that’s the reality. Since a boycott would be meaningless given the size of their particular demographic, then speaking with the dollar is the only answer.

And I’m sorry but just because a woman buys a WW lipstick, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are interested in reading comics. In the same way that all fans Mens Health are not necessarily going to care about Spider-Man comics, women who buy a lipstick with WW on it are not automatically dying to become comic book readers. And all the female readers of Manga and Indies are not going to necessarily going to give a crap about Black Canary or Huntress. Gender specific audiences for one thing automatically being the same audience for something else is about as real a thing as El Dorado.

“No matter how much money romance novels make, comparing them to superhero comic books is still a false equivalence. If you really think women get the same stuff out of romance novels what men get out of superhero comics you’re a fucking idiot.”

Romance novels may or may not be germane to the discussion, but I was merely attempting to refute the specifc claim that the reason they were not germane was because “the overall community/fanbase in comics surpasses most media, let alone this tiny genre of books”. This is demonstrably false.

There may or may not be other reasons romance novels are irrelevant, but baldly claiming that only an idiot wouldn’t immediately see that they are, lacks, shall we say, persuasive power.

If that were the case then the numbers would bare that out. They don’t.

What numbers are you looking at? Comic-shop numbers? Previews? That’s hardly relevant. Ask at your local Barnes and Noble. Or even just go LOOK at the graphic novel selection in one. Roughly half manga, and the rest split evenly between superhero and indie and licensed stuff. Or take a survey at your local junior high school. Or look at ANYTHING outside of the rigidly insular world of superhero fandom and comics-shop retailing.

If something like Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Batgirl, etc, “gets it right” then why don’t they do better on the charts? Why aren’t they in the top 10 or top 5? Why are people so desperate to ignore the facts and push the idea that women aren’t a tiny portion of the comic book marketplace? And please don’t fall back on the tired excuse of “marketing”. There are plenty of comics in the top 20 that aren’t marketed at all and yet there they are.

First of all, your premise is so flawed I don’t know where to start. Top 20 of what? Diamond? Wizard? That’s a very limited sample. When I say “comics” I mean ALL of them. Newspaper strips, manga, indie, bookstore stuff, webcomics, and yes, superheroes. THAT is the “comic book marketplace.” That’s a huge potential readership of people who like storytelling in the comics form and a great many of them are girls and women. Superheroes are a tiny fraction of “comics.” Speaking of facts being ignored.

But what’s really been weird to watch is all the ludicrous defensive angry insanity at the very IDEA that maybe this depiction of women is over-the-top and demeaning, or that maybe it would be helpful in gaining a wider audience if artists dialed back the porn-star renderings a little. It’s like watching someone snarling, “What! How DARE you suggest I watch Baywatch to see the hot chicks in swimwear! This is a serious naval rescue drama! It speaks to the human condition! What, do you think they should all wear parkas?!!” Or. alternatively, “Sorry, but Baywatch is all there is. you can’t really do a search and rescue show on the water without some stacked babe falling out of her swimsuit. That’s just how the genre works.”

There’s no point in even trying to discuss the matter when that’s the kind of argument people are making…. and those are the arguments I keep seeing. “It can’t change, it shouldn’t change, and you’re an idiot to even suggest it.”

For those who haven’t figured out the false equivalence argument, it goes like this:

Romance is a genre.
Comic Books are a medium.

The equivalent of Comic Books is Books.
The equivalent of Mainstream Comics can be found in the Fiction & Literature aisle at B&N.

The equivalent of saying that Mainstream Comics isn’t written for Icky Gurls is like saying that fiction in general isn’t written for Icky Gurls, but there’s plenty of books for them in the Romance Ghetto. So quit the incessant whining, already.

I know “incessant whining” can’t be directed at my huge total of two posts in this thread.

I think you make a category error. Try this.

Romance (R) is a genre popular in the medium of books.
Superheroes (S) is a genre popular in the medium of comic books.

X is a popular genre, 90% or more of which is created by people of gender G, and 90% or more of which consumed by people of gender G. The typical instance of X aspires to entertain its audience by depicting tales of fantasy wish fulfillment, sometimes overlaid with a veneer of plausibilty, but at heart wildy escapist. Among the non-realistic elements in the mix are the characteristics of typical characters of the opposite sex to the reader/creators.

Solve for X and G.

If you don’t think (S,M) and (R,F) are both solutions to the above description of X, why not?

If you conceed that the above description applies to both, but misses some essential difference, what is it?

Please note that I am NOT arguing that men and women are depicted equally in the typical superhero comic, nor am I arguing whether this disparity is a good thing or not. (I’m not even addrerssing that). I am pointing out that neither are they depicted equally in the typical romance novel. My question is: Why is one an apparently outrageous (by the lights of many commenters, anyway) problem but not the other? Is not sauce for the goose sauce for the gander?

One suggested answer seems to be that the S-distortion is despicable because S represents an overwhelmingly greater proportion of comic books than R does of books. This would indicate that there’s no intrinsic difference between S-distortion and R-distortion, other than market circumstances. In other words, it’s not the nature of the distortion that is the most objectionable aspect, so much as its near-ubiquity. This makes sense, but isn’t perhaps clearly understood by many.

Or is it that some people think they discern an intrinsic difference in the way S caters to an overwhlemingly male audience with exaggerated male tastes compared to the way R caters to an overwhemingly female audience with exaggerated female tastes? Given the expected demographics of this website (comics readers), one wonders how many romance novels people here who think this have actually read.

It doesn’t work because R isn’t the equivalent of S.

The Big Two comics publishers publish primarily S. Combined, they constitute 78% of market share.

The Big Six publishing houses publish primarily F&L (which is to say, literature, and stuff that they think might make it to the best seller list).

Harlequin, the top publisher of romance books, does not make it to a top ten list of publishers by market share. The #10 spot is held by Scholastic, with a whopping 1.6% market share. So Harlequin has <1.6% market share.

An equivalent genre in comics to the Romance genre in books would the True Crime comics, or horror, or SF movie spinoffs, or something like that. The equivalent genre to Superhero comics is "Fiction & Literature."

Is the number of publishers as relevant as the popularity of the genre?

From the website I cited earlier:

Romance fiction was the largest share of the U.S. consumer market in 2010 at 13.4 percent.

Romance fiction: $1.358 billion in estimated revenue for 2010
Religion/inspirational: $759 million
Mystery: $682 million
Science fiction/fantasy: $559 million
Classic literary fiction: $455 million

Nevertheless, whatever the actual market share, I take it that you do object to the prevalence of the S-distortion more than the distortion itself? That is, if it were only in 1.6% or even only in 13.4% of comics that would be acceptable (as, presumably, R-distortion is, in at least the former proportion)?

if so, what’s the threshold? On the flip side, how big a slice of the market can romance novels capture before the dominance in the marketplace of their distortions becomes as objectionable?

Would it be cynical of me to suggest there’s no such limit to slice size, because distorted depictions of men by definition won’t be deemed as objectionable as distorted depictions of women? Yes, it would.

Just bypassing some of the more asinine comments (oh Butter, you’re just so adorable, we could eat you on toast. Really.) to put in two cents on the romance:

I work at a library. We move a crap-ton of romance novels. The only comparable genre is Mystery, and that’s probably because a)Mysteries appeal to everyone and b)if James Patterson or any similar author writes a book, the whole world knows about it and MUST READ IT, regardless of quality. Now, most of the folks checking out those romance novels are much, much older ladies who can’t even remember if they’ve read this one before, and they check them out ten or twenty at a time, because they get through them in a day or less.That said.

I don’t think it really works as a comparison to comics (a medium), or even to the comparison of Superhero comics (a genre). And it’s not so much because of the audience.

A romance novel is a done-in-one. The characters don’t really have to matter, because at the end of the day (literally. It can’t take much longer than that to read them), you don’t have to be involved with that character anymore. On to a completely DIFFERENT set of characters, never to look back at Lord What’s-his-name, the Secretly Sensitive Billionaire or Dashing Highlander, or whatever chest was on the cover of yesterday’s novel. Possibly you could make a comparison to the comics of yesteryear, the done-in-one stories made for under-tens, but even those comics had a sense of “tune in next month for another thrilling adventure!”

Superhero comics make their trade on character loyalty. Of course, people will follow a favorite artist or writer from project to project, but generally Superhero comics have to hope that folks who enjoyed The Flash will enjoy him whoever’s writing him (or whoever’s under the mask) because they’re invested in that character–they want to read more adventures with that character and see new stories told. They don’t just want to see Some Guy In A Cape punch out Bad Dude’s Robot–they want to see Superman destroy Lex Luthor’s latest dastardly scheme. That character loyalty is a double-edged sword: it can hinder character growth and make for the occasional stale story, but it can also lead to stellar moments of conflict that wouldn’t have the same impact without the years of history built up behind them.

Now, some romance novels do have the gumption to become series and give folks a chance to come back for more of the same characters. And those usually do it by easing up on the just-for-fanservice smut, and primarily by making sure that all of the characters are actual three-dimensional people instead of Reader Stand-In Fantasy #120. And, of course, just like comics, some are just plain bad, and will be mocked and derided as tasteless and awful, same as we do with comics.

If Superhero comics have to be compared to something “for girls” then the best comparison, really, is the Soap Opera: over-the-top, ongoing story with recurring characters, designed on cliff-hangers to make the audience return. Except…ooh. The Soap Opera audience HASN’T been returning the past few years now, has it. The folks who watched them for years are getting up there in age, or else they found more pressing/better ways to spend their time. And the genre just didn’t evolve well enough to capture the subsequent generations, and it never really successfully adapted to market itself to other demographics and now… dead.

Okay, I lied, I’m going to take a moment to wonder where the “women make up 3% of the comic-buying folks” stat came from, and also to refute the “women never read comics as much as men” by mentioning that the boys-to-girls ratio was a bit more equal back in the pre-”Seduction of the Innocent” days. And to mention it’s not like we’re not buying books, as Butter apparently thinks–we buy them, and generally like them until something like a brokeback porn-face pose occurs for no good reason.

I’m also going to point out that all of this–ALL of this–is completely besides to point of the article. The point was: the way men and women are portrayed in Superhero comics is not equal. You can tell women to shut up and get out of your tree-house all you like, but that one statement…look, if you’ve got eyes, you can’t refute it. You truly can’t.

@greg

Kind of hard to have a conversation about the presence of a demographic in the comic book marketplace when you immediately say that sales are irrelevant. If sales aren’t relevant in showing what peopel are buying then maybe you can share with all of us what is.

Yes, there are other comics besides superhero comics but since you singled out DC/Marvel specifically in your comment and since the main article is about sexism and objectification in superhero comics that you yourself spoke to in your comment then I thought it best that I’d center my response around what you were actually talking about. Given all that, I find your comment about everyone else being “defensive”, somewhat ironically defensive and odd in itself as you choose to go the “I don’t want to talk about what I was talking about, I want to talk about something else” route.

As to your final paragraph of blathering anger, I said very clearly in my post that DC/Marvel ignoring the female demographic was bad business. I’m not advocating for sexism in comics or failure of companies to be more inclusive. I’m only suggesting that we not fool ourselves about who’s reading what and that relying soley on crossing our fingers in the hope that the companies are going change before our own sales habits do might not be the best battleplan for a marginalized demographic. Internet outrage isn’t going to effect change. Money is.

In the future Greg, I suggest you not type angry. Your thoughts might come out a little clearer.

I’m not and never have been arguing against the article, I’m arguing against some of the more baseless comments: initially just that the romance novel/comic comparison is irrelevant because comics is a bigger and more important market than romance novels(!).

Pointing out the inaccuracy of this garnered the response along the lines that it doesn’t matter if that was inaccurate as only a “fucking idiot” could fail to see that there’s no important similarity between romance novels and superhero comics.

Nevertheless, and though in other structural dimensions other products may be a closer match(*), I think the key similarity between Superhero Comics and Romance Novels for the purposes of this discussion is neither market share nor serialisation, but the extreme (mirrored) skewing of the gender demographics of the readership, one being overwhelmingly male and the other overwhelmingly female, and the obvious effects this has upon the content of both genres, and how little appeal this content then has on average for the non-targeted gender.

(*Daytime Soap Opera is, to be sure, a good example, too, of a highly gender-unbalanced audience. Are the distortions of males in these shows harmless fun or objectionable stereotyping?)

I think I’ve at least shown there’s a case to be argued rather than dismissed a priori. I thank those who have been responding like adults, and bet dollars to donuts those who have been responding like children have read few if any romance novels, and so know not of what they speak.

To finish, more from the website already cited, showing more suggestive similarities (when appropriately gender-swapped) between the readerships:

Women make up 91 percent of romance book buyers, and men make up 9 percent.
The U.S. romance book buyer is most likely to be aged between 30 and 54 years. (“Buyer”, not (library) reader).

Top “offline” factors in influencing purchase decisions:
Enjoying the author’s previous books
Book is part of a series they’re reading
Description on the back cover or flaps
Recommendation of a friend or relative

For people who are saying that the men looks like porn stars rather than athletes. Here’s the thing,

male and females do not have the same roles in porn.

Most porn is made for a straight male viewer who, presumably, does not want to be aroused by a man. The man, therefore, is meant to be a musclebound powerhouse that the presumably male viewer can can insert themselves into. The woman is you want to insert something into if you get my drift.

Sound familiar?

So, the argument I keep seeing from men… repeatedly… is the “body type” one — that the “idealized” male form in comics is that of a bodybuilder *and also* a porn star. Of the many women I have known (myself included) very few, if any, have found bodybuilders sexually attractive. In fact, some friends and I were recently discussing how grotesque some body builders actually look. Let’s look at what women *actually* find sexy.

Go to your search engine of choice. I use Google, but you can use Bing or Yahoo! or whatever. Type in “Sexiest Men”. Go ahead, I won’t tell anyone. Do you see any bodybuilders or over-muscled porn stars? Sure, there’s the typical Brad Pitt, Chris Hemsworth, and Gerard Butler entries. But there’s also David Tennant, Johnny Depp, Hugh Jackman, Orlando Bloom, and Robert Pattinson. And these guys are ranked rather high!

Now type in “Sexiest Women”. Or just type “sex” and arrow down to the women entry you already had in there. I’m pretty sure there *aren’t* any female body-builders in that list, and probably only a handful of athletes. It’s mostly going to be movie stars, singers, super models, and porn stars. Just to be sure, I checked Maxim, AskMen, and Esquire. Isn’t it amusing that there are 16.6M results for “sexiest women” and only about 6.6M results for “sexiest men”?

But this goes to show how prevalent the problem is. Men have no idea what women find sexy. But women have a pretty clear idea what men find sexy because we are inundated with the media saturation of sexually gratuitous images of women. Plenty of women were swooning over Aragorn and Legolas in the Lord of the Rings movies. Not too many of us were titillated by the Uruk-hai’s more massively muscular physiques.

Women *want* to like superhero comics. We want heroes to look up to and idolize. When I was younger, I *loved* the cute and perky Bruce Timm Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) in Batman: The Animated Series. I still think Oracle is one of my favorite characters and she’s in a wheelchair! (or was, silly DC…). Kitty Pryde is also a favorite of mine, as I loved characters that were highly intelligent and not given to excessive fanservice.

The point is this: women aren’t asking for an elimination of what men enjoy in superhero comics. All we’re asking is that there’s some more variety and a fairer representation of gender equality so that we can enjoy superhero comics as well.

Short answer: forget about superheroes. I used to read everything Marvel and DC published in my teens (I’m 31 now), and I watched as everything got worse and worse. Or maybe I just grew up. I never stopped loving comics, I was just pushed away from the dumbness of the mainstream titles to the alternative ones. Go check out fantagraphics, drawn & quarterly, whatever. Let the crap go off your lives, hang on only to the exceptions, the ones that are actually good, if you find them (it takes a lot of work). As for you women, I’ll never understand what you want in that world in the first place. Go with your first feeling, run away. Go support other stuff, go MAKE other stuff, different stuff, good stuff. For your own sake, and for us men who are just tired and need something different too. Forget the nerds that show up to actually say this is a non issue. They’re doomed.

@Bill K

There is (and there always should be) space for niche markets. There’s nothing wrong with any given niche market being driven by a certain demographic. There’s nothing wrong with there being a Hustler Magazine (or Maxim, if you want to keep pr0n out of the equation), or Home & Gardens magazine, or GQ magazine, or Horse Illustrated, or Soldier of Fortune, or Byte. The problem occurs when the demographic for one particular niche is assumed to be the proper and correct demographic for the overwhelming majority of magazines.

If you try to make niche markets appeal universally to all persons, then you’re missing the point of niche markets. But the key to something being a niche market is that it’s a niche.

If you go into a Barnes & Noble (once you get past the nook kiosk) you’ll see a wide variety of titles. You can go to http://www.barnesandnoble.com/ you’ll see basically what you’ll see when you walk into the store. If you’re looking for niche markets, you have to dig deeper into the store (and the web site), to find the 2 aisles of romance books.

There’s no B&N equivalent in the comic shoppe world, but from my experience, the stuff that’s right up front is all Marvel and DC, so I went to those company sites to see how diverse what they are pushing is. And it’s superhero books. If you want anything other than superhero books, you have to dig. Maybe there exist comic book stores in which superhero comics are relegated to the equivalent of 2 aisles in the B&N, but I haven’t seen one.

There’s another way in which the difference in mainstream vs niche markets can be viewed, and that is by how the creators are paid. The median advance for a first time mainstream author will be ~$30k. Median advance for first time SF/F/H/M genre author will be in the $12k-15k range (which is why horror novels are now being called Supernatural Thrillers, because thrillers are part of the mainstream). Median advance for romance will tend to be in the <$5k range. I don't know what the pay scales are in the comics world, but I'd hazard a guess that the folks producing the Justice League get paid a whole lot more than the creators of (pulling title out of hat) Wasteland.

Great article. Alot of important info for me, since I`d want to draw these characters.

On another note, why does Rogue have a cleavage like that? Isn`t she supposed to cover as much of her body as possible, so that she wont accidentally kill someonee? Or is she depowered now…?

Very interesting read.

Are there any ugly super hero women/villainesses?

Any ugly women featured in super hero comics at all?

Ugly women in superhero comics? After Amanda Waller got centerfoldized, I think only supporting characters are left – like Spider-Man’s aunt May, Superman’s adoptive mom Martha Kent, and Iron Man’s secretary mrs. Arbogast. Even Batman’s dead mother is usually gorgeous when she appears on flashbacks.

Heroines and villainesses (is that the female word for villain?) are always centerfold-level babes, with the rare exception of characters specifically conceived as jokes (like Marvel’s Big Bertha, a supermodel with the power of becoming a morbidly obese woman at will – yes, I’m serious, this actually exists).

Otherwise, even if a female hero/villain was originally created as homely/common-looking women, they inevitably become superbabes when drawn by artists who can only draw cheesecake women – like Squirrel Girl and Jessica Jones for example.

I’m sure there are a *few* I’m forgetting, but the only “ugly” (Aunt Mae is ugly??? I thought she was just elderly! And I’ve *often* in the last few years seen Martha Kent drawn as a rather pretty older woman) villainess I call recall right now — unless she too has been Babe-ized — is Granny Goodness.

Matthew

Oops. I’m the ‘Anonymous’ right above. I forgot to fill in the header info.

Also, I wanted to give a shout-out to a cartoonist who (I think) deserves some props for going against the Brokeback Babe trend: Jesus Saiz. A while a go, when I was reading the first or second issue of (the latest incarnation of) Birds of Prey, I noted a particular panel where a badguy has lassoed Black Canary from above and is basically trying to hang/strangle her. A really good opportunity for a bondage/torture/babe-type moment… but, I really noted what Canary’s body looked like in that panel — it’s a big panel, with Dinah’s form basically stretched out, so you really see her shape, and there’s nothing blocking your view of it. And I noticed that she had, like, a waist. Not a tiny isthmus of body connecting her hips and her boobs, as you often see in the Super Heroine Babe. And not that utterly grotesque elongated midriff of a Michael Turner “girl.” A human, female waist.

And then I looked at her overall form. It was, for a modern super heroine, fairly thick. By no means overweight, at all. And make no mistake, Saiz draws all the Birds as physically beautiful women, no Ugly Ducklings of Prey here. If I recall correctly, no small breasts, either — but I don’t think anything quite as overdone as many other cartoonists, either. Still, it seemed to me that he was drawing Canary, and to an extent her colleagues as well, as fit, more-believably-bodied-than-the-typical-Super-Babe women. I really liked that, but, given that I read modern superhero comic books, I was pretty surprised by it.

Finally, Gene, with all due respect, whether the author explicitly states it or not, I think it’s pretty clear that she’s talking about modern — *current* — superhero comic books. She’s talking about the way things have been lately. From the citations included, and the language used, it seems to me she’s talking about how things are now and have been for, give or take, the last decade.

Matthew

I notice that in some of the more recent-ish comments, the question of why some of DC’s gal-centric titles aren’t “doing better.” It’s asked by Batwoman, Batgirl and Birds of Prey aren’t in the top five or ten.

I look at the top 100 Previews chart every month, and if I recall correctly, Batwoman is doing pretty darn well for a comic book. (As far as I’m concerned, ALL comic book sales, even the best of them, are utterly pitiful and disheartening, so I’m speaking *really* relatively here.) I think it’s commonly in the top twenty. And I believe Batgirl has been somewhere in that neighborhood, too. The person who questioned why it wasn’t in the top five or ten — does she/he not realize that we’re talking about a really, really flooded market here? There’s eighty thousand million reasons why you can question why many different books — including those *selling* well — aren’t in the top ten, much less five. If certain titles aren’t quite that successful, it’s at least in part because of all the Bat, Green, X and Avenger brand titles that have captured the marketplace, for one thing. Only ten titles can be in the top ten, and there’s a LOT more than ten titles out there.

What a weird argument.

And about Birds of Prey — it has a Hell of a lot more going against its commercial success than just it being heroine-centric. Gail Simone is one of two writers who has been intensely linked to the series in fan’s minds — probably in the number one spot above Chuck Dixon — is not writing this iteration. Arguably the most popular Bird, Oracle, is not in the series (or, indeed, in the DCU anymore). Most of the line-up consists of new Birds, as well. Birds was usually a title that sold not spectacularly, but certainly well. It had one very lengthy run indeed, and the second most recent iteration was cancelled because of the New 52, not because of sales.

I myself dropped the latest Birds of Prey for the same reason I’ve dropped about half of the New 52 titles’ I was reading: DC’s continued embarrassing plague of fill-in creators, sudden creator changes, and creators solicited not turning out to be the creators who actually worked on the comic books themselves. “New 52″ indeed.

Matthew

Lets see if I can come up with some ugly female villains:

The witches- Roald Dahl.
Miss Trunchbull – Matilda.
Female Disney Villains perhaps.
These are not superhero comics though.

With all these superhero universes around, you would imagine there was one with a female Grundy, a female Juggernaut, a female Blob (that x-men guy).

Though, Granny goodness was mentioned, and Bernadeth and Mad Harriet (maybe) goes in that category as well.

I’m not sure most people realize just how far the market for comics has shrunk, and how pathethic current sales levels are compared to what would’ve been considered laughable in the 90s. Seriously, today’s best-sellers hover around a level of sales that would’ve meant cancellation 20 years ago. The universe of people buying comics has been reduced to a frankly negligible and continually-shrinking group of diehards. And one of the many reasons for that is the increased reliance on T&A as a sales gimmick, which may pander to a few but does so at the cost of pushing away a much larger segment of the potential audience.

Don’t get me wrong: I love cheesecake in pinups, but it rarely (if ever) works well in actual stories. Gratuitous cheesecake overwhelms and degrades practically any story it’s used in, it cheapens the female characters and undermines any point the authors may try to make. Greg Land’s emotionless porn faces, Frank Cho’s magnificent xeroxed women, Ed Benes’ personal quest to twist every single female character’s spine… these things may work as cheesecake pinups but they definitely aren’t effective narrative tools, quite the contrary. When Wonder Woman shows up for a big fight in a ridiculous thong and DDD breasts popping out, any dramatic weight her appearance might otherwise have is scrapped away for the sake of puerile masturbation fodder. Excessive cheesecake in comics is a bad thing not because Sexism Is Bad (although it IS), but because it drives away readers by the thousands and consequently brings the industry that much closer to complete irrelevance (and to its inevitable disappearance, which is only a matter of time if priorities aren’t reconsidered).

Women DO read comics, if they don’t go for superhero comics it’s because too many of those portray women as objects. Saying “superhero comics aren’t for girls” is just confusing eggs and hens: superhero comics only are “not for girls” if they’re MADE that way – it was the sexploitative content that pushed those potential readers away, not the genre. When the whole mainstream takes a sharp turn towards inch-wide waists and balloon boobs, of COURSE you’re going to drive away all the people who might have identified with the characters you chose to objectify. When all your female characters look like pornstars and sluts you’re attracting the lowest-common-denominator wanker minority at the price of driving away a LOT more people – and not just girls either, I’m a male reader who dropped JLA because of Ed Benes’ gratuitous cheesecake for example.

Julien: good call on Bernadeth, together with Granny Goodness they’re two islands of ugliness in a world of hot women. Because even Mad Harriet can be sexed up a bit, not Donna-Troy hot but definitely prettier than Kirby envisioned:

http://media.comicvine.com/uploads/0/6535/1010873-furies.jpg

Correction: as the image I posted shows, there’s also Stompa to complete the trifecta of Kirby-created ugly villainesses.

But then again, I’ve long suspected that Stompa is just the Wrecker in drag.

Stompa has a bit of a Miss Trunchbull feel to her, although it is hard to tell by her appearance how she really looks due to her all covering outfit.

Still, kudos for showing minimal skin though. She’s definitely not showing any weakspots.

Finally somebody said that. :) The way women are pictured in (most) superhero comics is plainly stupid. I look at it and see a realisation of a teenage boys wet dream. :P

I can’t get anyone on the CBR boards to argue with me anymore, so I’ll post another of my responses from there over here, *maybe* elucidating my earlier commments:

My point is that while no one can question that superheroines almost always have large racks, Thompson’s overall charge– that they’re all drawn like wimpy models (my paraphrase) and with copious flesh exposed– isn’t as universal as she claims. Her charge *might* stand up within a particular time-frame, but she doesn’t specify one.

Actually, though I’m not going to claim that “boulder-shoulder” muscles connote *exactly* the same things that big boobs do– thus saving me from the equivalency argument– it is true that both are atypical of gymnastic athletes. Therefore a Schwarzenegger-sized Daredevil, if he’s compared to male Olympic level gymnasts, is just as unrealistic as a boobalicious Natasha, and probably for the same reasons: deliberate sexual exaggeration, what Joseph Campbell calls the “supernormal sign stimulus.”

Matthewwave said:

“Finally, Gene, with all due respect, whether the author explicitly states it or not, I think it’s pretty clear that she’s talking about modern — *current* — superhero comic books. She’s talking about the way things have been lately. From the citations included, and the language used, it seems to me she’s talking about how things are now and have been for, give or take, the last decade.”

It’s my argument, though, that though Thompson takes a good methodological approach by breaking down some if not all of the relevant manifestations of “l’difference,” the methodology is undermined if one is too general about the time-frame covered.

I’ll add that one thing I did appreciate about the essay was that Thompson doesn’t call for any jeremiads. She’s very explicit about saying, “If this is the type of thing you like, that’s one thing, but just don’t pretend it’s fair and balanced.”

We should add Terra to the short list of less than beauteous characters. George Perez was very specific about drawing her as a gawky girl with an overbite, and about as well-developed as Shadowcat. I didn’t do any breast measurements for the appearances of Terra II in TEAM TITANS (possibly because I was too busy crying out, “My eyes! The badness has put out my eyes!”) But the overbite was definitely gone.

This is dumb as hell, if “athletic” or “rugged” males, which are the two most popular type of males in comic books, aren’t “sexy” then I guess Harvey Pekar is the king of fuck.

T. -

I agree with you, man.

I remember people complaining about a scene in a science fiction show I watched, because there was a supporting female character that was shown as terrified during a gunfight and depending on the males to be protected.

Note: The same show had other female characters that were tough and competent and fearless. But showing even ONE female that was scared of physical violence and reliant on male protection was sexist.

But it’s also understandable that people would feel this way. When a class of people is historically depicted in a negative light in media, part of the reaction to that is over-compensating in the other direction. I like to think that people eventually find the balance.

Bill K -

I don’t think distorted depictions of ANYONE are a thing to be lauded.

And it brings me to the first post Johnny Sarcastic made on this thread. He basically says women are crybabes when they complain that negative depictions affect their self-steem, and that you don’t see men doing the same.

But males do suffer self-steem problems because they don’t conform to what popular culture says a man must be like. Just ask any nerd. We men are expected to be hunters, to be competitive, to be successful, to be brave, to be stoic, to have a big car, to have lots of women, to be strong. If you don’t live up to this, you’re a loser. We males aren’t as judged by our physical appearance, but our “manhood” is always being judged, just the same.

The reason males don’t complain as much about this as women do about THEIR gripes with our sexist culture is that males are also inculcated against complaining about it. Real men don’t whine, after all. :)

[...] attitudes towards criticism of the way female characters are portrayed in superhero comics. This is a good article on the subject, and the comments are filled with excellent examples of what has been enraging [...]

Johnny Sarcastic

February 27, 2012 at 9:06 pm

@ Rene

And it brings me to the first post Johnny Sarcastic made on this thread. He basically says women are crybabes when they complain that negative depictions affect their self-steem, and that you don’t see men doing the same.

Slow your roll there, pilgrim, that isn’t what I said at all. I said I was tired of hearing outside forces being blamed for personal problems. I later expounded upon that, but at no point did I say “you don’t see men doing the same.”

In fact, I went to great pains to avoid comparing the social pressures that men are under versus the ones that women endure, because that argument failed repeatedly in this thread as well as in many other similarly-themed conversations. That is to say, yes, there are pressures that men are under, but the odds are nobody that I’m trying to engage in conversation here is going to think they’re worthy of consideration.

Over the span of my comments I think I made fairly clear that I was simply “an advocate for personal responsibility.” I’ll reiterate (because how could I sleep at night if someone thinks the wrong thing about my internet alias):

I think that women are equal (even though I’ve been told repeatedly that I am sexist and in fact, I don’t actually think that). I think that saying that women are as influenced by the media as they are is doing women as an entire gender a disservice because it implies weak will. I do not think that women are weak willed, but I do think any given individual of any given gender could potentially be weak-willed; it’s inappropriate, however, to lump any group together (one could almost say … it’s sexist). To sum up; yes, media sends negative messages to everyone, women especially; no, it’s not a valid rack to hang your personal-problem fedora on.

Funny enough, I also agree with the heart of this article. Female characters in comics are by-and-large pretty atrocious. I only took issue with blaming the media for “female-themed” problems. Because, as I see it, if the media is “responsible” for that, then they are indeed responsible for anything one could potentially blame them for, and that’s just another step in removing a person from being accountable for their own actions.

But males do suffer self-steem problems because they don’t conform to what popular culture says a man must be like. Just ask any nerd. We men are expected to be hunters, to be competitive, to be successful, to be brave, to be stoic, to have a big car, to have lots of women, to be strong. If you don’t live up to this, you’re a loser. We males aren’t as judged by our physical appearance, but our “manhood” is always being judged, just the same.

Sure, but recognizing that these are outside influences is the first step, right? I don’t know crap about cars, and it’s always very emasculating when I have to take my car into a garage, but … I still own a car. I rally my willpower and self-esteem during the down times, and console myself with the following knowledge – he may be able to tell me what’s wrong with my brakes, but he doesn’t know who created Green Lantern.

PS – The ‘lots of women’ thing – I don’t know if this is personal experience for you or not, but eventually, those guy friends of yours that even halfway care about how many girls you’ve “nailed” go away and you end up with a girl that matters a lot to you. It’s so much better to look into her eyes and give her a low score card count that’s real than it is to get high-fives from your meathead pals. Stick to drinking beer with them and throw them the occasional lie if they really won’t stop razzing you. Good friends don’t care.

I’m sory for having mischaracterized your points, Johnny.

I have to go to work now, I’ll write more later.

PS – Nowadays, I don’t feel so strongly the pressure to be a “player”. I am finally in a stable relationship with a girl I like a lot. We’re about to move together, actually. But in my younger days, the pressure was huge. By the way, she isn’t big on comic books, her geeky interests lie elsewhere – Lord of Rings, Harry Potter, etc.

You don’t need one more person telling you this, but I’ll say it anyway: a fine article. Agree wholeheartedly.

@Johnny Sarcastic
“I think that saying that women are as influenced by the media as they are is doing women as an entire gender a disservice because it implies weak will. I do not think that women are weak willed …”

I think you’re misguided in thinking that you, women or anyone else escapes the influence of the media around them. It’s not about strength of will; we’re all hugely vulnerable to it. The media is a powerful force is deciding what is ‘normal’ and therefore what constitutes safe or risky behaviour. Because so much of it is sexist, women effectively have to spend a lot more time doing and saying things that are risky, because they go against the perceived grain.

Look at the start of this article, how the author has to spend a whole couple of paragraphs explaining how she’s steeled herself for a shitstorm. Why? Because she feels that her views, despite being obviously reasonable, are so much against the grain that people will want to punish her for them. That’s the crap that women have to put up with, and it’s not weak to decide, “You know what? I’ll keep my head down today.”

Johnny -

I agree with you about personal responsibility. I always hated those people who think they should sue McDonalds for making them fat. No amount of propaganda or media incentive can force food down their gullets. It’s ultimately their responsibility.

I suppose that, in the end of the day, my main concern with comics and fiction in general, isn’t moral. It isn’t about the message they should send. It’s aestethic, I think. Guys like Greg Land, Frank Cho, Ed Benes, just take me out of the story. It’s hard to take a story seriously when half the cast is drawn as obvious masturbation fodder.

It isn’t even that, I suppose. I like sexy. I like fanservice, to an extent. I am a guy. But older artists like Alan Davis could draw females that would give you wet dreams, but they did it in a way that was sort of appropriate to the story, and there was fun in it, and he gave those sexy women personalities in how he drew them.

With this crop of artists, the 1990s Image guys and their imitators, it feels contrived. The sexism becomes more evident and aggressive. There is a deadness about the art too. It feels very un-erotic to me. It’s almost grotesque.

Johnny Sarcastic

February 28, 2012 at 8:32 pm

@ Focksbot

I think you’re misguided in thinking that you, women or anyone else escapes the influence of the media around them.

Yeah, that would be misguided if that’s what I thought.

Except what I said was this:

To sum up; yes, media sends negative messages to everyone, women especially; no, it’s not a valid rack to hang your personal-problem fedora on.

And then, in response to Rene, I said:

Sure, but recognizing that these are outside influences is the first step, right? I don’t know crap about cars, and it’s always very emasculating when I have to take my car into a garage, but … I still own a car. I rally my willpower and self-esteem during the down times, and console myself with the following knowledge – he may be able to tell me what’s wrong with my brakes, but he doesn’t know who created Green Lantern.

I do not deny that the influence is there. Further, I indicated that I believe women get MORE of the negative reinforcement (by saying ‘women especially’) I do, however, disagree that it is okay to just throw your hands in the air and say, “it’s not my fault, it’s the media.” Rene uses a good example; suing McDonald’s because “they” made you fat. To further use Rene’s examples, how about the things he said that men are influenced to do? The influences are there; be tough, be a man-whore, etc. Do men fall into those patterns? Absolutely. Were they influenced by media? Most bloody likely.

Still, it is something that those men should have (and have all opportunity to) recognize in themselves and correct. Rene appears to have ditched the man-whore idea; so did I. You probably did, too.

I was raised in a home that never hugged, expressed love, etc. My mother had (and has) a wide variety of problems, which are ‘not her fault’ and yet still affected myself very adversely.

I admit, I’m still one of those men who refuses to cry – check that off as a virtue or a fault however you see fit. I do, however, take cues from my significant other and do things that I would never have thought of doing all of these years; some cuddling, a few kisses a day, and saying words like “I love you.” I am in no way a remarkable specimen of a man or a human being; if I can own responsibility for personality flaws, then so can anyone else.

I am just so damn tired of media being blamed for everything. And it is blamed for everything. It has been for years. We’re all comic readers; ‘Seduction of the Innocent,’ anybody? I sincerely hope that another fifty years from now people look back on the current fad of ‘don’t blame yourself, blame your emotional damage’ and laugh, because if they don’t, it’s going to keep sliding until nobody can go to jail anymore because they only shot that guy because they didn’t get enough Christmas gifts.

And Rene – thanks. I agree with you. The women shouldn’t be unrealistic, but there’s nothing wrong with them being pretty, just as there’s nothing wrong with men being depicted as handsome. A bit more variety on both ends would serve the market well, I think, from reading commentary from both men and women here. ‘Attractive,’ MUCH LIKE ART, is subjective. Of course our ‘heroes’ are almost always going to look better than us, but they should represent something that’s physically attainable.

For the record, I agree with every point you made. However, I must say. . .

Congratulations. You have expended a great deal of angst and structured reasoning to make the case that super hero comics are artistically designed with the adolescent male in mind. Perhaps next you would like to prepare a dissertation on the case that water is, in fact, wet.

RE: the “what about male porn stars!!!!” comments.

Porn isn’t typically made for women. The stuff that is usually is girl on girl OR they specifically go out of their way to find men more attractive to women. Not shockingly male porn stars – like male superheroes – are an extension of the male power fantasy.

I think some of the problem is that male superheroes have a lot variety in costumes and looks.
Women, not so much.

Superstrength in men is shown through bulging muscles.
Superstrength in woman…not so much.

(I think this was the point of the article.)

A quick call out to those who know more than me:

Are there any transgender superheroes?
Are there any crossdressing superheroes?

Thank you for this article. It illustrates very well some of the reasons I stopped reading superhero comics. I got into them late – I didn’t know anyone who owned or even read superhero comics growing up – and when I discovered them, I read (and bought!) lots and lots of comics. But after a few years, I just didn’t want to deal with the constant sexism anymore. I stuck with some titles for a while longer, but now it’s been a year since I picked up a superhero comic.

Of course, a lot of people argue that comics aren’t FOR ME. A lot of commenters here, for once. But it has been pointed out: sales are dropping. I’m not the only one who stopped reading. I don’t believe that the superhero genre will survive like this a lot longer; more and more titles will be dropped.

Daniel Huw Bowen

February 29, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Sort of a response/supporting argument (much less detailed and academic):

http://www.comicvine.com/myvine/elixir95/how-marvel-fails-women-whedon-will-right-this/87-78472/

long overdue and well said.

I haven’t read the comments yet (I was only just able to make time to read the post itself), and I’m not looking forward to the trolls, but honestly Kelly, I don’t know how you could have been more clear. Well said. Anyone still not getting it (and I know there are some, I’ve read them on Sue’s Tumblr) just doesn’t want to.

This.

Well, I tried to keep up with the comments but holy ****. I suspect a few people might have opinions on the subject. Anyway, liked the article, well done.

Comics are primarily for men… straight and gay. 1) Body type…. gimme a break. I didn’t grow up with a complex because I wasn’t as ripped as Superman… you shouldn’t get bent out of shape either. 2) Clothing… all superheroes wear skintight speedos… They are all naked with colors added… women get more flesh tone… so what 3) Beauty… as a gay guy I think some of the meaner looking dudes are HOT! 4) Posing…. maybe your strongest argument (especially in recent years)… but then again… Spiderman anyone?!?! He’s all about impossible poses and ass in your face every other frame.
As an experiment I grabbed a random comic of my large collection… and it turned out to be the very antithesis to your whole argument surprisingly…. Superman: The Man of Steel #16 October 1992.
a) it’s written by a woman b) the story is about violence against women… Superman nearly kills a guy for beating his wife c) on page 5 we see a nearly naked Superman in bed with a sheet strategically covering his crotch…. its HOT HOT HOT lol d) Superman’s butt looks great on pages 11 and 12 e) page 21 we get a sexy ripped Clark working on the farm in Smallville in overalls with no shirt… HOT!!!
So author slips a story in to teach boys it’s not okay to hit women… I think that’s great… but I have to give credit to the artist that saved me from a bad Lifetime movie by giving me a few frames of a ‘sexualized’ Superman! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

BTW Kelly… If you don’t like women oversexualized…. maybe you should reconsider the bedroom eyes and pouty open mouth you’re throwing in that pic of yourself…. looks pretty sexy to me. :)

“Male physiques in ‘straight’ pornography aren’t sexualized ideals, which is the major flaw in any “well guys in comics look like male porn stars, just like girls in porn look like female superhero characters” argument.

In fact, male physiques in “straight” porn is specifically used to distance the target audience from relating to the guys in porn too much, which is a sort of latent homophobic move. Satan forbid we watch porn and while popping a boner at some large-breasted and hyper-thin woman in a sexually submissive position, we realize we have some physical similarities to the guy and thus, fear that our sexual attraction to what’s on screen actually be TO THE MAN. ”

Seriously costa??? I feel sorry for you… evidently the only porno you ever saw starred Ron Jeremy.

Not sure if it has been stated in any of the previous posts but in response to Kellys question about what Tigra is doing, in the animal kingdom I believe it is known as “presenting”.

I’m very late to the party, but I just had to let you know how much I loved this article. It absolutely made my day. Thanks for braving the ****storm to make such a powerful point.

I loved comic books when i first discovered them. I was the only girl i knew who read them. Whenever i went into to comic book stores i never saw a girl there. I loved the stories characters and the endless soap opera quality but full of action instead of just people intrigue. And the art … better than movies when it was good and when so-so better than movies in the stories they told. But … and this is me reading more and getting older … I wanted them to have variety and to see all the things I don’t see in lots of books and movies. I wanted action comics written by women, diversity, and lots of different kinds of stories. All the superhero books were too much and all the guys taking center stage and finally all the unbelievable females. I can’t name one female superhero I like. Not one. The potential is there whenever I read a short bio of a female character but in the comics I can’t relate to any of them. Always going in a stereotypical direction. I don’t buy superhero comics. I don’t do Marvel or DC. I read comics but they are all the ones where people and story are believable and diverse and real. The cheese tends to stay out of those comic books. I’d love to read superhero comics again but I won’t read them written by guys. Women need to tell their own stories and draw their own comics. Simple as that. I don’t even like the idea of guys telling the story anymore. I don’t buy it. Like a bunch of women writing books about guys – oh romance books are that – and they suck too in the same way. 50-50 world needs that’s reflected. Why Wonder Woman and She Hulk and Batwoman at the very least aren’t written and drawn by women for women … i can’t begin to understand. Guys use these books to showcase and use their talents and if they make any kind of success they jump to the guys books. Couldn’t care less about the characters/stories. Can’t even maintain a great run for these books. Forgettable. Same goes for art styles from other places – love spanish artists and the asian artists and there was an african american artist i loved but the heroes, and characters were always caucasian. Now it’s also about transgender characters with different sexualities. Reflect the real world in those ways too without the tokenism/gimmicks. Tell the great stories and the sales follow. Seems like comics want to stay status quo – music and film industries would be better off with giving people what they want instead of trying to tell them this is what you need. Independents are where the people have gone. Risk and variety. Web comics have both. Lots of women there too.

* Completely unrelated but biggest general peeve with all the comic books, art on the cover should reflect art in the books. Bad art inside = bad cover. Can’t do a bad cover cause of course need to sell it – Don’t have bad art inside the book. I hate books with realistic art covers and then the inside looks like crap. Make the inside like the covers. I don’t know why anyone thinks this is ok. I bought books for the story and art. Nowadays graphic novels are where I am at. So much variety there. Different art and stories.

[...] after breaking the internet two weeks ago with my “No, It’s Not Equal” post, I’m recommending some great books that you should be reading that don’t fall into [...]

I think what’s being lost here is that we’re talking about comic books: They are cartoons that are sold for a profit. First, the cartoon part. Aside from artists like Alex Ross, most comic books feature cartoon drawings. They are caricatures, often purposefully made to look unrealistic. They are fantasy, highlighting physical traits that that artist wishes to accentuate. This can be done to further a character or story, or simply to sell comic books. Which brings us to the reason comic books exist: people buy them. The comic book artists, hired by large companies, are there to produce a product that will sell as many units as possible. As a business first, and art medium second, to survive, they must know their customers/audience. For comic books, the primary audience is now, and has always been, boys and young men. What do boys and young men want, in addition to kick-ass male superheroes they can dream about becoming someday? Women, of course. And since this is fantasy, why not draw the women and costume them so that the customers have no doubt they are women? Since the dawn of time, male artists have drawn women not only as they wish to have them appear, but how they think their audience wants them.

Comic books are fantasy, not reality. They are a for-profit pursuit. It the fantasies of men/boys change, or if the comic companies determine that its customers want something different, then the depictions of women will change. It’s just about business — and hormones.

I agree with many of the points of the article. I would only add one qualifier: while the ratio of exposed female flesh to male flesh in comics is way out of control, it’s also a fact that at least in the United States, women on average expose more of their flesh than men. Walk down any street, walk through any office, and tell me that isn’t true. Women wear skirts. Men don’t. Women can wear sleeveless in the workplace. Men don’t. So while I agree it’s gotten way out of control in comics, demanding an equal amount of revealed flesh would not reflect the real world.

I think your overall point about body type is excellent, however. I would partially qualify that by saying many artists are unable to render different male body types as well; the Hulk is an outlier more than anything. But basically all women characters are drawn like porn stars. Hell, there’s more diversity of body type amongst porn stars than these female comic characters.

I really like your article and your right about this stuff. When women wear outfits and poses like that all time with no regard to context it stops being sexy and starts being ridiculous.

Superman -

The flaw in arguments like those is that superhero comic book art has not always been this sexist. It is a post-1990s thing. I think it is less that it’s something men/boys want, and more that it is the inertia of the influence of seminal 1990s artists like Jim Lee.

And yes, us men want to look at sexy women. But if the amount of exaggeration and distortion gets too big, it becomes self-parody and you can’t take the story seriously any longer. I think these post-1990s artists cross the line from sexy into grotesque.

Loved reading this article … I agree completely!!

I know I’m late to the conversation, but thought I could add a point or two that might bridge the gap here.

Mostly I think it is important to understand that just because sexist imagry exists in comis doesn’t mean that the creators are sexist or that there is a sexist intent to the depiction.

A similar example can be made for race in comics, specifically looking at the rather disturbing imagry of African American characters (even theoretical heroes like Whitewash Jones, or Slo Mo Jones) in the 1940′s. There are no contemporary stories that would suggest that Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were racists and the Timely Bullpen at the time utilized a number of African American creators as well, but there the images were, primarily because it was the visual and story telling language of the day. It was cheap lazy work by very talented people, but in a field where you had to create and tell stories for a commercial concern in limited time, you often used that short hand.

It is easy to look at it now and say that these talented people should have known better and done better, but in the moment, it is just so easy to play to the norms, and that is what they did, and that is what writers and artists still do.

The reason these types or articles cause so much anger is because there is either an implication by the writer or an inference by the reader that at the core of the issue is sexism or racism on the part of the creator of the periodical or by those who enjoy them.

We live in a world with a complex relationship between sexual exploitation and sex positive feminism, and exactly where on the spectrum between sex positive feminism and sexual exploitation the various female characters fall in superhero comics is a fair topic for debate. But in order to thave that debate one needs to aknowledge both that not every depiction of sexualization is intended as sexual subjugation of the character or their real world group counterpart, and likewise that every honest criticism of the depictions of women in comics is an accusation of the creators or the readers on a personal level of sexism.

Our culture has moved towards a greater openess regarding human sexuality, and for many I think this movement has become a positive. An effect of this movement towards sexual openness is an increase how radical the sexual image of women must become to register as an idealized image.

When one looks at the art of the 60′s, the head to toe clothing of Jean Grey, Susan Storm and Janet Van Dyne didn’t prevent them from suffering from the story tropes of the day, or of them being seen in terms of sexuality. While the sexual idealization of these characters is certainly greater in costuming and layout, I think one can certainly argue that these and other characters have come dramaticaly further as characters.

This is not to excuse the depictions, certainly you could have female charcters who were strong, fully dressed (say like female SHIELD agents routinely are) and you could draw them in less provocative poses, but one could argue this would move them litterally and figurativly to the backgrounds of their stories.

Because female characters have a sexual power, use of that sexual power puts them into a more prominant position in the story visually and dramatically. Boulder (also called butterball) will even if writen better will never be a central heroic figure as he is drawn because it will always be hard to draw him in a central way that doesn’t imeaditally suggest humor.

Certainly one could make female characters more realistic in design with relation to breast size and felxibility, but would that result in more female characters or less? Would it in stronger female characters who place themselves at the center of a story, or weaker characters who fade into the background?

Along these same lines, to bring the issue back to race, one can ask if Luke Cage were not the highly sexualized African American Adonis that he is depicted as (he is a hero whose shirt is torn off only slightly less than the Hulks) would he be at the center of the current Marvel Universe? Would he be given stories where he is the capable leader and wise hero that he is? It is trading on cultural tropes regarding African American Males, is it exploitive and annoying? In many ways yes, but by embracing that sexual power, the character winds up in far more stories than he otherwise would.

It is the cultural language we live with, and that doesn’t mean we can’t always want better stories and better art that finds unique ways to make female characters interesting and central to the story without going to the well of sexuality, but in doing so, we should aknowledge that there is a good deal of advantage in the use of the cultural language as well in introducing to the larger spectrum of human awareness ideas that are in their own way subversive.

In the 1940′s having a black character outsmart and even kill white chacters would not have gone over well, but white wash and slo mo did just those things, and got away with it because they were written within the cultural language of the day. When you break with the dominant cultural language you draw attention to the fact that you are breaking that language and will make your work more suspect, and more easily dismissed as “political” however if you use that language you can often tell a story that violates those norms.

At least that is a counter argument to be made.

“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”
– Rebecca West

Thank you very much for posting this. I love comics myself, and often wonder if some of those costumes are practical – I mean, I practice martial arts, and even in a gi or robe, it’s bloody hard!
I would love to see more of this stuff!
Thanks again!

Kelly (the real one)

March 11, 2012 at 5:47 am

“So, many of you saw that I broke the internet two weeks ago with my post about the visual representations of men and women in superhero comics and the apparently still radical idea that “No, it’s not equal”.”

No offense, but you didn’t break the internet, what you did was pissed people off. An you pissed them off because you essentially fabricated a case where no case exists. If you are going to create a study, atleast do it properly…. You can’t remove all the context from something & then say “see, sexy is evil, boobs are a sign of the end times.”

for example you can’t take images of the most scantily clad character & then put them up next to the least scantilly clad female characters & then from that essentially say, “See, these images aren’t the same.” Of course they aren’t the same, they are of different characters, in different contexts: By definition they aren’t the same. You aren’t being clever pointing this out, you are being self entitled.

An yeah, i’m telling you this as a female reader.

You misrepresented so many things in this one article that any credibility you had went right out the window, the second you climbed up on your soap box. From the nonsense about comic images having there roots in porn through the nonsense about comics being a MALE power fantasy. The sexy poses aren’t there for the guys to drool over, they are there for US: ITS A FREAKIN’ POWER WISH FULLFILMENT FANTASY!

An lets not even pretend for a second that as women we aren’t in to that… If we weren’t into that there wouldn’t be a multi-tillion dollar a year global fashion & cosmetics industry, that sells needless products to us, using images significantly more racey & sexualised that anything comics has given us.

So stop playing the victim & get you self a big heaping spoonfull of intellectual honesty… Because what you did in this post was nothing short of spreading the most virulently self entitled misinformation i’ve seen in a long time & it vexs me to no end.

Fake Name (too)

March 13, 2012 at 10:00 am

Pretending to be a female now matt?

Apparently “Kelly (the real one)” couldn’t be bothered to actually read Kelly’s (the correct one) article. Talk about “virulently self entitled misinformation” [sic]! Absolutely nothing in this (badly-written and atrociously spelled) diatribe in any way reflects what Kelly actually wrote… It also shows a deep lack of comprehension if “she” actually read it (I’m really skeptical about that, though it’s possible – trolls come in all shapes, sizes and genders).

To be fair, while Hulk looks monstrous and She-Hulk is a fox, Hulk is written to be a monster while She-Hulk is able to function normally. In the 90s when Hulk was given Bruce Banner’s intelligence and humanity his design changed so he too looked more human, only still giant and green.

I agree with most of the information in this article. I have not read through very many comics lately but the ones I have read did show more female anatomy than male, which not only get’s bored but takes away from good action scenes. There is one simple fact no one has thought to bring up. Men and women’s bodies are built differently, and this difference has led to the over sexualization of both. Yes it is worse for women, but it is there in portrayals of both genders. It is oversexualization in that it is taken to the extreme of both builds. Men are biolgically built to be muscular and strong, it comes from humanities roots as hunter/gatherers where the man who was strongest could kill enough meet to feed his mate and offspring. This cultural memory of strength not only drives the Adonis like builds of so many superheroes but also the very concept of superheroes, the strong men with abilities above all others who can protect and provide for the weaker members of the species. Women are biologically built with large hips to bear children and large breasts to produce milk to feed there children. Ancient fertility idols show a pregnant woman with wide hips and large pendoulus breasts for this reason. But I digress. You’re trying to shove women into the same athletic body type as men, but the fact is as a whole women are not biologically built for that body type. of the picture of the women you have above, how many had to fight and train twice as hard as there males counterparts to achieve the same body type? the lean athletic body type is the exception, not the norm. Women are biologically built to store fat (mainly in there breasts) and trying to attain the athletic body type is going against nature. I’m not saying it’s wrong, I’m just saying that it is not the norm for any women except those who spend weeks/months/years working there bodies into that shape, while on the other hand there are many men born with an athletic build who don’t have to do much to keep it. The supermodel/pornstar body is the same way, at least the thiness of the waist. Many women go under the knife to get a porn body because working out to keep the thin waist sucks fat out of the breasts. As for the super model body, I don’t know what models you are talking about, but the ones who walk the runways are flatter than twelve year old girls. The one thing I don not agree with is your attack of the full body costumes. Yes most of them bear butt and cleavage, but compared to many other costumes and broke back shots are the larger concern. Lets fix that and then try and do something about thongs and zippers. Finally, like porn, the girls and comics are idealized, but studies show that they are really not the woman men want. On average men would choose women who is a size 10 instead of a size two. Again this is genetics. Men are attracted to women with full figures because genetics tell them that they are healthy enough to bear children. this is scientific fact. Finally, these arguments in a way are an insult to men’s intelligence. Yes there are many men who are pigs, but there are just as many men who divorce fantasy from reality. We watch porn and read comics, but then we turn around and listen to our mothers, and girlfriends and wives and treat them with respect and care. Finally, it is not “men” as a mass that has generated this objectification, as many men who have agreed with you on this article have said, but the rich white men who control many forms of media (including comics). They have done to women in comics what they have done with women in other will known forms of media. They have made the large chested, narrow waisted beauty the norm. And again despite this men still prefer women who are larger than what the media would have us believe. To all the women out there who read this don’t let the objectification of women in comics lead you to believe this is what all men want. and to men, don’t be brainwashed by what the rich white men who rule the media are trying to push as ideal beauty.

[...] Originally Posted by die-yng And what's wrong with appreciating a woman's beauty (aka drooling) as long as you don't do it so openly and vulgar that it is offending and still treat her like everyone else (which is hopefully good)? I just can't take this endless debate about women in comics being drawn to sexy or just as sex objects seriously, these are after all only painted pictures that no one would mistake with a real woman. Is it neccessary that a lot of them wear only undies, that cover nothing but their buttcracks? Or that they all have D-sized cups? No of course not, but I honestly don't believe this is damaging to women in general. After all, most of the superheroines and even the villains are strong and proud and present a positive view of the females of our species. It might not address fully your enquiries, but I believe this article might enlighten you a bit on some of the reason as to why people are annoyed at the way women are represented in comic books. She Has No Head! – No, It’s Not Equal | Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources [...]

hot,

“Women are biologically built with large hips to bear children and large breasts to produce milk to feed there children.”

But, we’re not talking about how women are biologically built, here. We’re talking about how superheroine comic book characters are creatively built. No real human male is built to do the things that superhero comic book characters do. No real human male can do half the physical things Batman can do. The leaping, the acrobatics, the falling or jumping from impossible heights and then finessing contact with objects and structures in such a way as to land or swing away safely — a real human male would tear his arms off.

(Hell, real human males can’t do half the intellectual and psychological things that Batman can do, much less the essentially superhuman physical feats that “non-super-powered” Batman can do.)

There’s no reason female characters’ bodies shouldn’t function and even look different than the real-life biological constructions of which you speak, in this fictional context.

Even if I were to buy your point here as some kind of real-life bottom-line, I don’t buy that this real-life bottom line should set some kind of fictional bottom line in superhero comic books — ultimately, that readers’ fantasies of womanhood, all flowing from that real-life biological construction of which you speak, must be played to in superhero comic books, over considerations of crafting superheroine characters who evoke impressions of power and competence primarily and those of desire secondarily.

For myself, I like it when I read a comic book and find a superhero character sexy, but it’s not a necessity. First and foremost, I’d prefer he look like he could function as a superhero. The sexy can just be a nice icing on the cake.

(And, anyway, who says superheroines DON’T work twice as hard as superheroes in getting and/or maintaining their superbods? I’m sure many real female cops — many real women in many fields — have felt the need to work twice as hard as their male colleagues in order to combat bias against their genders, and have indeed worked twice as hard.

Matthew

You should take a look at some comic book men this pic for example

http://www.intuitivewebdesigns.com/comics/graphics/superman/NewSuperman.jpg

or how bout this one here?

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a0/X-Men_Here_Comes_Tomorrow.jpg

Tell me this picture isn’t meant to draw attention to Supermans muscles and crotch

http://insidepulse.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/superman-1a.png

Both men and women wear skin tight outfits in comics.

Both men and women have impossibly perfect bodies in comics.

Both men and women do poses designed to show off what they’ve got in comics.

Its the same for both genders not like its only women who this is being done too.

Your fooling yourself if you think men aren’t sexualized or objectified in anyway.

Sexual Objectification means only being an object of sexual pleasure and nothing else very few women in comics these days are sexually objectified, sexualized yes most definitely but not objectified.

Save us from the clueless trolls… *bangs head on desk*

Your the one whos resorting to name calling mister, its a shame you’ve been taken in an conned by the fascists you call Feminists.

Who’s name calling? One, you assumed I’m not a feminist myself. (Men can be feminists, after all.) Two, you called us fascists. You, on the other hand, are indeed trolling and you do not understand what Kelly wrote, ergo, “clueless”. I didn’t call you a name, or even refer to you directly – but I did accurately describe your actions, so well that you applied my description to yourself. (Of course, I do include you in that group.)

Further, your samples bear absolutely no relation to Kelly’s samples, particularly as she expressly stated that idealized bodies is not what she’s talking about. You did not deal with Kelly’s actual points at all. Finally, your last sentence is patently false.

Keith B,,

I agree in part with Equalizer’s statement:

“Sexual Objectification means only being an object of sexual pleasure and nothing else very few women in comics these days are sexually objectified, sexualized yes most definitely but not objectified.”

I do think that there are more than Equalizer claims, but far fewer than Thompson’s essay claims. But then, it depends greatly on what period you’re addressing, and unfortunately Thompson doesn’t define those parameters.

LOL, so the mere act of wearing heels equates to “sexual objectification”. This kind of broad-brush tarring is counterproductive, IMO.

Hi I love your article, I’ve actually written a research paper on this for my high school’s graduation project! :D I talked about all the points you did. I was just wondering if it would be alright if I quoted some of this article in my final presentation for a “board”. I will of course cite where I got this from. I’d also like to maybe include some of your other articles!
Thank you and once again love this article!

[...] type portrayals, and the vast difference between male and female superheroes in an article called No, It’s Not Equal on Comic Book Resources. When I look at the way characters are rendered in superhero comics for [...]

[...] want to focus on one remark made by Kelly Thompson in the essay “No, It’s Not Equal,” regarding the inequitable objectification of male and female characters in superhero [...]

[...] No it’s not equal, from the really interesting She Has No Head! column at Comic Book Resources [...]

“That’s a faulty premise. When do women in general look at the visuals in magazines of ANY type for sexual thrills?”

OMG, really?!? Do you not know any women? It seems not, so let me clue you in. We look at visuals for sexual thrills all the time.

Women are just as visually sexualized as men are. But most women I know aren’t attracted to body builder types. We like them long, and lightly muscular. We often much prefer the hip bone/ abdomen line than we do the six pack ab and prodigious pectoral.

And the men in straight porn usually aren’t even attractive, let alone sexy.

That’s ridiculous. Comics objectify everyone. That’s the point of escapeism entertainment. The problem is once one person starts pointing a finger at how comics are drawn, you cross a very grey line labelled censorship. And I have a problem with how that person wants to change the way we’ve been drawing according to what she thinks is correct or acceptable. Comics are fantasy and like it or not, illustrators follow rules in how we draw characters to make them more than human, to make them super human. Take that away and they are no longer superheroes. So I say get over it!
Why attack comics when female objectification is so much more prevalent in other parts of society. Try knocking on Hollywood’s door… or XXX porn for that matter. And while you’re at it, how about going after zero-sized models or bingeing beauties. While I agree that women have taken a large brunt of object objectification, there aren’t a lot of them complaining about it. (Oh look! The lineup for breast implants just got longer!).
So please point your Xray gun in another direction.
You don’t like’m? Don’t read’em!

Lovely. Someone else who decided to rantaliate (lol!) without actually reading Kelly’s quite clearly expressed examination. Here are a couple links that may help those who genuinely don’t understand her point.

http://www.jimchines.com/2012/01/striking-a-pose/
http://www.jimchines.com/2012/04/posing-like-a-man/

In these two blogs, fantasy author Jim C. Hines discusses how women and men are posed on the covers of fantasy novels. Well, he does more than that actually, he shows us how they are posed. It’s funny and (hopefully) enlightening. In the first column he takes several fantasy covers with women on them and next to each is a photo of him trying to mimic the pose. Of course he got the usual “but men are objectified, too” blah blah blahdee blah”. So in the second column he does it again… recreating the poses of men on fantasy covers and posting them next to the covers. Enjoy!

[...] a mean-spirited, mutton-headed misrepresentation of the content of both Kelly Thompson’s article No, It’s Not Equal and the general feminist critique of sexist representations in comics. It’s not exactly clear [...]

Back in the day when comics were made it was generally The nerds who read them. These days it’s prettymuch the same. I myself read them and am a huge comic book fan and video game player. Why is it that now women have a problem with comic book women? Yes I realize that now women wanna branch out and become more than just the house wife and good on them for it. Get jobs and equal pay and equal rights and equal respect for it. I congratulate all women for it as its a big step. But if so stop expecting doors to e opened for u, seats pulled out for u and in general all chivalry. U are strong enough to pull a chair out aren’t u? My own girlfriend loves the sexiness of the comic book characters as they are comfortable with their bodies. They are in fact drawn to be sexy as it draws the male eye. I find lots of the female characters sexy not just for looks but for their character. They are comfortable with who they are such as miss marvel, storm (who is fully clothed) jean grey (fully clothed) or even abbey chase of danger girl (she wears jeans and a white t-shirt). So maybe u women out there (feminists especially) need to take a look and do your research. Ms marvel is one of the strongest characters with a very athletic build..or she hulk even. I can name off plenty of women fully clothed that are sexy for their characteristics. So maybe ladies out there need to stop thinking all us men think about is whether they have the “pornstar looks”

[...] of superheroines is still a dream. Even worse, classic superheroines have been reimagined into objectified, pornographic ideals – busty babes who make Barbie look downright normal, with boob jobs and pasties supplanting [...]

[...] of superheroines is still a dream. Even worse, classic superheroines have been reimagined into objectified, pornographic ideals – busty babes who make Barbie look downright normal, with boob jobs and pasties supplanting [...]

[...] in February, Kelly Thompson made an impressive demonstration of female body typing in mainstream super-hero comics. Because [...]

[...] has featured Black Widow in the standard “look at my ass!” poses we’ve sadly come to expect for our female [...]

Wonder Woman wears an incredibly revealing strapless swimsuit, while every single one of her male teammates is fully covered

When you consider that most of Cyborg’s “costume” is surgically grafted to his body, it becomes obvious that he is in fact even more naked than she on that cover. But I digress, your overall point is correct. It seemed for a while in the early 2000′s that DC was making an effort to fix this, but now that Dan DiDiot is in charge… :-P

strangely in the avengers movie it is Natasha Romanof aka Black Widow played by Scarlett Johannson who has the most clothes on…So prettymuch that is complete movie proof that blows the “Comics are sexist to women” out of the water. Yes at some points women in comics have had little clothing but it works both ways and back in the day it was just the nerdy guys or gamers who bought them so they needed to add sexy ladies to it to keep a form of interest.

Dear Mr. Cowardly Anon! Um, hello? MOVIE! Not comic book! Completely different medium. Directed and co-written by someone who has a history of respecting women in his portrayals of them. Which is kind of the point of the article: comics need to come into the 21st century regarding consistent portrayals of women. Even if this were a valid example, one example does not invalidate Kelly’s premise – she lists several in her discussion!

“strangely in the avengers movie it is Natasha Romanof aka Black Widow played by Scarlett Johannson who has the most clothes on…So prettymuch that is complete movie proof that blows the “Comics are sexist to women” out of the water.”

I do wonder if this is a joke. Or if there’s something in the film that isn’t in the commercials — I’ve only seen the latter.

1. In the commercials. Black Widow wears a full-body outfit and no “hood/mask”; Captain America wears a full-body outfit AND a “hood/mask.” Altho I believe they show some scenes of him NOT wearing the “hood/mask”, but more often he’s wearing it — how much does she wear one in the movie itself?

And then there’s Iron Man’s skimpy battle armor, of course…

2. Movies are not comic books — they’re movies. Altho what happens in movies can contribute to the truth of fanboy mentality/ies, it can’t change what has physically happened in comic books. And the choices filmmakers make can influene what comic book creators do around the time of the making of the film and beyond, but it can’t change the content of comic books that already exist. If Mark Ruffalo spends the entirety of The Avengers running down the street full-frontal nekkid, that fact couldn’t go back in time and change the content of the comic books the author is examining here.

Matthew

[Or something more reasonably stated. Bravo, Matthew!] :)

Cowardly simply for not showing my name? Hmm…seeing as everyone is a lot more open to voicing their opinions on the internet rather than face to face makes you as cowardly as the rest of us…Otherwise I will put 1 plain and simple statement forwards…They are comics made for a certain group of people who have their followings, love the art for how it is as it is all very unrealistic, especially in womens bodies and all that…yes sexy, sleek, slender, and if you all Do not like it then do not read it..Simple as that.. Don’t bitch and moan and say how unfair it is or how sexist it is. Its drawn that way for a reason..sexy women and men with superpowers who want to see it. I read Witchblade as its a badass comic…not just for the woman drawn completely unrealistic.

As for the main arguments made of how “Sexist” it is..Don’t read them if u don’t like them..You don’t see comic book readers and fanboys shoving them in your faces.. We are forced into our quiet little corners so as not to be shunned as geeks or nerds and yet You shove all your feminist bull into our faces when all we wanted to do was keep reading our comics of heroes vs villains with powers to escape the annoyances of life and see a world where the imagination can run wild. If you don’t like it..Don’t read it. Simple as that.

Sorry, but “shut up” isn’t a valid argument. Your position seems to indicate that you agree that there are inequities in the portrayal of women and that you like it that way. Obviously the answer is to not read the worst offenders of casual sexism (and books that are based on sexism have a different audience anyway). But that’s rather the point, isn’t it? If people don’t read it then it gets canceled. And if we dont speak of it and try to change, then change won’t come. And honestly, there are far better sources of wank material out there and free. Why offend most of your audience for no good reason? The point is to increase sales, no? That’s what the free market is all about.

Sorry, but “shut up” isn’t a valid argument

Agreed Keith however neither is its different for us because were women and we say so both arguments are invaild on the basis that their each Biased towards their own views on the subject. But that was the closed argument you used against me and the only difference present between the poses that were described and/or posted is that women’s poses were feminine and men’s were Masculine but that’s to be expected as Men are the definition of Masculinity while women are the definition of femininity its a matter of nature not social sexuality as you seem to think.

[...] concept isn’t all that new to me. (If you want a good rundown/starting point on the issue, here you go). So when I saw Kevin Bolk’s hilarious take on if the male Avengers posed like Black Widow, I [...]

I liked this article. Personally I just have to laugh at some of the poses the female characters are drawn in and how anatomically wrong the art is just so that the character’s large boobs and curvy butt can be viewed at the same time lol.

At times when the female characters are portrayed as sexy I think they can seem “strong” perhaps not physically but mentally (or maybe I’m just brainwashed), it can make some of them seem more confidant. Though I agree completely that other times it can completely detract the personality of the character eg. the recent Rogue (at least in my opinion).

Mostly though I just have problems with the over-sexualisation of younger females in comics. Like the way some 14yr olds look like they’re in their early/mid 20′s. I mean is it so much to ask that a pre-teen/early teen girl NOT have massive boobs and wear skimpy clothing?

So, what, we can’t have fantasies anymore? I don’t want to open up a comic book and see average joe, frumpy, couch potato-looking heroes and heroines with real world problems like paying the bills and a 9-5 job. That’s what my real life is like. Why would I want to read a comic for that? I WANT my characters to be insanely idealized because I want to spend time in a world where super heroes save the world and all men and women look like underwear models. Since that world doesn’t exist in reality, I’d like to have an hour a day to check in to that world through my films, television and comics. That so many feminists want to take that away because it’s an unrealistic and “unhealthy” idealization blows my mind. A world where good always triumphs over evil is an unrealistic idealization too but that doesn’t make it something that people shouldn’t want to be a part of, even of it is just through a comic. I understand the body image thing and that young men and women are adversely affected. But there must be a degree of personal responsibility to say to people, “you are responsible for your own health” and not to do things that are detrimental to your own body because you want to look like Wonder Woman. The answer is NOT to try to mandate that characters in all art forms look like the average guy or gal.

Please actually read Kelly’s article. None of what you wrote has any bearing on what she wrote.

No stories about paying bills and having a 9-5 job? I guess you aren’t a Spider-Man fan… =)

Mish you obviously haven’t seen any 14 year old girls recently i saw one the other day who was at least 5″5 with a DD chest

I’m not saying I disagree with your observation but in a capitalist economy, the consumer’s desire for something in a product usually leads the seller’s business. If people weren’t asking for or buying the sexed out comic books over the modest ones then the retailers would have nothing to sell or would have to change their product line. I think you give too much power to the retailer/media when you blame them though. The problem isn’t the retailer. The problem is the natural depravity of woman/man kind. Your dealing with an issue that is as old as the first humans. I doubt the problem will ever go away. To inspire people to go against these natural issues innate in them means that you have to be willing to have the guts to simply live these morals yourself. Yelling and complaining don’t inspire. Be willing to give an opinion – especially to those who will listen, but also be willing to accept that there are things in this world that are completely out of our control and will most likely take a huge wake-up call of some sort to inspire them to be better… or to stop buying sexist and sexed out things products that are ultimately demeaning to the entire human race.

This was phenomenally well-written. Every point was like a punch to the gut, they were all demonstrated so well! I honestly don’t know how you can argue with what you wrote.

@Equalizer LOL… yes I have seen a couple girls that age that have massive chests; I guess “I’ve” just never had a big chest :( lol

I play the MMO “City of Heroes”, which, although it’s heavily based on comicbooks, does a pretty good job of portraying female characters – and while the costume creator for player avatars allows for some of the more extreme comicbook outfits for females, there’s enough choice to let players dress exactly how they want to dress – even the power animations are unisex, so if there’s any implausible posing going on, it’ll be done just as much by the boys as the girls :-p

I also make digital comics and artwork set in the CoH universe, so I’m doing my little bit to help bring a bit of equallity to the comicbook world :-p

The difference here is that they don’t know which gender YOU are so they have to make the poses and other things unisex in order for the game to operate smoothly but in the case of the heroes in the comics they DO already know the gender of the hero/heroine. Id like to see someone talk more about some of the masculine posses that characters like Wonder Woman and She-Hulk do instead of bitching about female heros doing poses that are obvious feminine in nature.

[...] For a full discussion of this trend, check out Kelly Thompsons in depth article about these clothing situations: She Has No Head! – No, It’s No… [...]

This is one of the most retarded articles I’ve ever read. You use examples of Thor, Captain America, Superman, Spider-man, Batman all covered head to toe? They were created between 1938-1961. During an era where people had an uprising about the skimpy outfit Wonder Woman sported. Showing vag was o.m.g. in a porno mag. You can’t compare different societal eras just because they both have comic book characters.

Catwoman was an early female creation, however was also fully clothed as much as your male examples. As the character aged to modern times, so did her outfit which was still totally covering into the 90′s and still today. Maybe she had some implants or something a few years ago, or threw a zipper down a bit… but her character has always been mildly a seductress. Some of these outfits/designs are supposed to relate to the character, don’t forget. Look at how many women are written to be seductive in some way, shape or form. Catwoman, Enchantress (duh), Poison Ivy, Black Widow… with that characteristic they should seem appealing as possible.

The most laughable part of this article…. “porn stars or super models.” Get out from under the rock lady. Last I looked, supermodels are pale, nearly flat-chested in many cases, tight bags of skin and bones. Who looks like that in comics? I guess maybe if Apocalypse got Giselle to become Famine in his horsemen clique I could see your point. Porn stars? I don’t even know where to begin, lol. Just know that’s a very extreme and exaggerated comparison. I’ve never seen Scarlet Witch in a gangbang like Sasha Grey. And Sasha Grey doesn’t have huge boobs, just for the record. Just saying. Oh, right… they just *look* like porn stars. Yeah… I can totally see that in SHIELD Director Maria Hill. That blue/white FULL BODY uniform just screams “fuck my face.”

Let’s cross the ridiculous line of comic females/real females. Every woman I know loves to look good. My girlfriend will put on make up to go to the grocery store at 11pm. She loves to look good. Is she a porn star? Nope. Supermodel? in my eyes, yes. Without personally knowing any porn stars or supermodels I do know that looking good and feeling sexy empowers women. Same goes for men too. Really… who wants to look like shit and feel like shit?

Let’s dumb it down. Psylocke poses, moves and talks like a hot ninja because she’s supposed to be a hot fucking ninja. Ms Marvel rips shit up and looks hot doing it, because she’s supposed to rip shit up and look good doing it. You chose your targets very carefully and I applaud you for doing so. I haven’t seen any mention of Sue Storm or anything. I guess those few issues where she had the 4 cut out of her outfit on the belly button didn’t make her enough of a “porn star” to make this article.

It seems to me that your problem isn’t really with the media and how women are drawn/portrayed in comics. You can’t seem to relate to female characters to real life situations and feelings. If you ask me, your problem is with women that look better than you. And really, this whole argument is just your vehicle of ventilation.

Dudes don’t give a shit how dudes are drawn. More women need to quit bitching about how women are drawn. Get over it. Seriously… I swear. Women are typically drawn to look good, sexy and awesome. So? Imagine if they were drawn to look plain and typical and existed only outside of the spotlight? Women like the one here would still bitch.

I bet you read 50 Shades of Grey, didn’t ya?

T.’s posts are fairly accurate i think.
the mainstream media overestimates just how many people are attracted to those with these ‘ideal’ body types.

however, i think that a lot of women ARE pretty visual about things, but it’s less socially acceptable for us to admit that we watch porn or similar. i mean, if you looking at the amount of erotic fanart drawn of male characters it’d be pretty hard to deny that a lot of women are very visual. we generally just only admit to it when we feel comfortable that we won’t be judged for it.

…. and women take a sneaky peek at a well-formed male rear just as much as guys sometimes can’t help but look at cleavage. i’m guilty of this. most girls i know are guilty of this. i’m sorry on behalf of my gender, guys, but it’s often involuntary and some of you do have really nice butts.

I think another reason for the difference in clothing (that most people would likely deny, i’m thinking) is that male superheroes need to be anonymous. this is why they cover head to toe, to protect their identity. women superheroes reveal much more of their bodies, and often their faces as well. i think a part of this (aside from gratuitous sex) is because naked or near-naked women are objectified and sexualized to the point where their identity is pointless anyway. they become not a person, not a character, but a thing. a sex object for your pleasure.

@Mike S

Take your guard down.

Please. For one second.

One second and you can go back to doing whatever you were just doing.

Consider the fact that your girlfriend wouldn’t feel the need to put make-up on to go to the grocery store at 11pm if she weren’t *constantly* being judged on her appearance. She wouldn’t “like being pretty” as much if society didn’t constantly reinforce the idea the Pretty=The Most Important Thing.

But it does.

You seem to think this is only a problem for uggos and fatties (pardon me everyone, i’m trying to use Mike S’s vocabulary) It is not. This practice reduces “unattractive” women to nothingness, less than human, undeserving to even be in our eyesight. But it makes “attractive” women seem less than human too. They are not PEOPLE, they are WOMEN. They are BOOBS. They are a THING YOU HOPE TO FUCK ONE DAY. They are A HOLE FOR YOUR DICK.

And if she does NOT want to sleep with you (why wouldn’t she though, you’re a catch!), you reduce her further, you paradoxically call her a SLUT. You sometimes force your dick inside of her AGAINST HER WILL. You sometimes BEAT HER. You sometimes KILL HER.

This wouldn’t happen so overwhelming more often to women unless women were respected much, much less than men.

Unless they were seen as less important than men.

Unless they were seen as less human.

So take ONE GODDAMN SECOND to think about why you are so defensive about sexism.

Why is it so important to you to defend your ability to hurt women?

Stephanie get the Feminist bullshit out of your head before you comment

“Equalizer”. Huh. What an ironic name.

Why is it irconic? Because i don’t want to here indoctrinated bullshit, that i know to be false?

Is that why you write so poorly — you think English grammar and spelling are attempts to indoctrinate?

Your attempt at a veiled insult in the form of a question makes absolutely no sense but i’ll answer anyway. it was a typo and everyone has something that they aren’t very good at it and grammar just happens to be my own Achilles heel. The simple fact is Stephanie was bringing in unneeded conflict and false truth through the use of Ad hominem and shaming language, her comment was entirely off topic and insulting. All she was doing was promoting the demonization of men and victimization of women.

It wasn’t veiled — your several typos and grammatical errors betray a general lack of thought and reflection that makes your original posts and various responses the products of call-and-response parroting far more obvious than anything Stephanie wrote.

I’m sorry, but there are minimal standards for being taken seriously in a discussion — being able to write coherently and spell properly among them.

Stephanie responded to issues brought in by Mike S. — but maybe you misspelled his name when you wrote that. And that’s not veiled, either.

Socrates and Einstein were bad at it aswell but their considered some of the greatest thinkers of all time, therefore your argument is flawed, writing has nothing to do with the ability to think or reflect, infact writing systems were created “from” thought and reflection.

You’ve convinced me. This is what we need!
http://doonesbury.slate.com/strip/archive/2012/2/5

Whatever you say, Vizzini…..

Again I ask:

Why is it so important to you to defend your ability to hurt women?

RE: ‘Stephanie get the Feminist bullshit out of your head before you comment’
‘All she was doing was promoting the demonization of men and victimization of women.’

firstly, you’re not exactly avoiding the sensationalistic language yourself.

secondly, feminism really is not about painting women as helpless victims. if you think that’s what feminism is about, then you are sorely mistaken. additionally, feminists are often big advocates of mens’ rights and equality, and in no way wish to assert that men are all terrible, predatory monsters. many of us have male partners and friends who we love and respect a huge amount, so of course we realise that it’d be wrong to label you all as rapists or murderers.

feminism is not about female supremacy or the demonisation of men, so please, and i ask you with utmost politeness here, do not reach for the word ‘feminist’ when you are looking for an insult.

Emma you can deny the truth all you like but that what change the facts, i define feminism by its actions not by its words. Still im willing to admit that some Feminists lower on the totem pole actually do want that, the problem lies with those in power as it most often does, i used to be a male feminist active in several communities advocating for womens rights but i got tired of feminist leaders promoting Gender Superiority and hate of men. I just get somewhat angry when i hear (or in this case see) someone blaming someone else what something that isn’t there fault and saying things that are for the most part false and i could go on with a convincing post that refutes all of Stephanies points but ive done so before and been ignored.

Bernie Mojzes

June 14, 2012 at 3:29 pm

Okay, I have to say, this was one of the funnier things I’ve seen lately. I’m visualizing Mary Daly perched imperiously atop the Feminist Totem Pole.

Surprise. Men see women in a very sexual way MOST of the time and they are the readers (customers) of comic books.

You need a column complaining about God (or Darwin) and why they “unfairly” made men they way they are. That would be more to the point.

If you, as a woman, were really intelligent, then there would be no issues with body image, self esteem, etc. People need to stop blaming the media and tv, comics and movies for their own personal neurosis. Men, who are OVERWHELMINGLY the main customers of comic books enjoy seeing sexy and scantily clad women kicking ass. That’s the way it is. Not every comic book is that way, but the ones that are mainstream and cater to that particular audience does. I enjoy women that dress revealingly and women who leave some to the imagination. When I see a woman kicking ass, I personally would rather see her dressed like Aeon Flux than the Invisible Woman.

@Equalizer
I think it’s best to define feminism in the most basic way: ‘the idea that women should have equal rights and be treated equally’.
So I agree with Emma. It is sad to see the word “feminist” used as an insult by many and yes it is because of, as you said yourself, “some feminists” made it seem like a mass man-hating doctrine but that doesn’t mean that it is. The same way that ‘some’ people of every niche of society make things look bad. There are simply selfish, arrogant people no matter where you are and what you do. It’s wrong to condemn the entirety. Yes, there are ‘some’ bad people out there but that doesn’t mean that ‘everyone’ is bad.

Personally I’m not too fussed about the way women look in comic books. I’m an illustrator/artist myself and I admit when I draw fantasy women I usually draw them in the more ‘idealised’ kind of way though I do that with guys too. Heck in our ideal world we all want to be attractive, both men and women.
It’s when things get too far out of hand and people start being oppressed, hurt, and/or disrespected that it’s wrong:
*You ‘must’ be sexy or be demonized *women thought of as objects or property *women considered less important *etc. – It’s things like this that are wrong and what articles like this are trying to address :).

@Mish
Not if it doesn’t act that way, i believe in definition by action therefore i believe its better to define something as it is rather then as what its “supposed” to be, also i never said all Feminists hate men infact i agreed that many ordinary Feminists aren’t but Feminism and Feminists “are” Anti-male but don’t confuse anti-male with man hating that would be Misandry, Anti simply means against, opposed to or preventing, in other words Feminism is for womens rights and womens rights “only”. The radicals are the only Misandric Feminists but the Majority of Feminist leaders “are” radicals and all Feminists support Feminist leaders so it amounts to the same thing in the end.

@Equalizer:

I don’t know what feminists you’re hanging out with, but you need to do some better screening.

As a card carrying feminist, I can tell you that I am in no way “anti-male” and I’m sure my father, brothers, boyfriend, and male friends would all agree. I love the shit out of those guys and a whole lot of guys. Hell, one of my favorite feminists of all time is card carrying DUDE, Joss Whedon. You’re talking about a corruption of feminism. Does it exist and was it born of something, sure, but the vast majority of feminists simply want to have all the same opportunities that men do and it has nothing to do with hating or being anti anything. It’s just about equality.

Now…are there anit-male and/or man-hating feminists out there? Sure. It’s how the word feminism became such a “bad word” I suspect but look to any group and you will find plenty of bad apples rotting things through.

In the case of feminism at least, I can say that I believe they’re far more rare than you think. In fact, I don’t know a single feminist that is either anti-male or man-hating…and I know quite a few.

Thankyou Kelly! You’ve said exactly what I was going to say.

I know many women who identify as feminists and I can say with 100% certainty that none of them express in any way your “anti-male” sentiment. I’m also know many women (including myself) are simply pushing for the basic right of being seen as equal and not inferior.

The people I know (including myself) are also very vocal about the protection of ANYONE’S human rights be they men, women, children, animals, etc. As Kelly has said I think you’ve had a bad sampling which is unfortunate. Though perhaps instead of dwelling on that you could instead find other ways to promote human rights and equality or find something more alined to what ‘you’ believe in?
I personally have never even thought of myself as a feminist or becoming one, or anything in relation to that at all until coming across this article! However I have always known that I feel strongly that women should be entitled to equal rights. Though certainly not at the expense of anyone-else. I don’t support the kind of “you’ve oppressed us we’ll do it back to you” mentality, it’s hypocritical and I despise hypocrisy and those vengeance-agendas achieve nothing but more hate and more violence.

Well, i can’t educate someone who “isn’t willing to be educated, tell me if Feminists are so great and fight for mens rights so much, why is it that 60% of all Anti-Feminists are former Feminists?

@Equalizer:

You wanna link that stat? I’d LOVE to see it.

Buzzabout Thompson the 3rd

June 15, 2012 at 11:16 pm

By the arguments stated in the blog, forum, or whatever this is..does this mean we can start poking at romantic novels, the entire twilight crap, and all that saying its sexist against men? Those books all have covers of buff guys showing their chests looking all manly with chiseled jaws and yet you don’t see men complaining because we realize that this is just a fantasy that women may want whether young or old. In twilight the male thats attractive is a sparkling gay vampire…does that mean that all women want is a sparkling gay man? No Edward Cullen was made to be a sexy, young attractive man that all tween girls could fall in love with…but how many of us men in real life are, well..sparkly gay vampires? No.. The fact is that these comics are fantasy. Hell there’s a space man on a surf board so by the logic used that means that u have to start saying all things alien too are being sexist against women really..Lemme see, theres also the skrull who are drawn as buff green guys with not one, But two chiseled jaws.

If you want to get down to other mediums..I think you should all start arguing over picaso…His women have sideways noses and 1 eyeball bigger than the other half the time, as well as they tend to not really have breasts..So why don’t people complain about that? Its because its art and comic books are an art medium so why not just leave it that maybe people that read comics like that. If i started seeing Bigger, Bulkier, Bulgier women and even men I’d start complaining. My favourtite comic is Deadpool which barely has any women at all and I don’t go complaining that hes super muscly, scarred to the craphouse on his body and face with a mind twisted up. Its what I like, and I keep in mind that thats just not physically possible. especially since he gets shot up, arms ripped off, and yet still alive.. Theres another false things not in reality for you to complain about. Deadpool is still alive by some miraculous comic stuff thats not in real life..Oh my god thats so against reality

Female humiliation is kind of traditional for comics. Like the Scarlet Witch sacrificed spread-eagle before Kulan Gath, or Swift (from the Authority) and Jessica Jones turned into sex slaves. It’s all in good fun, and though it’s not for everybody, it’s important not to demonize male chauvinists for their sexism.

There Is a good in-story reason for Storm to run around naked. She’s from some primitive tribe in Africa, where the weather is hot and the cultural standards of modesty are more permissive. Her tiara is shaped like some sort of heathen idol.

Wonder Woman was almost given pants, but fan protest made DC back down. It’s a bit like the issue of Superman’s little red panties (which are gone now, but may well come back). That’s part of how the character is identified. Superman also has the cape and S, but Wonder Woman in pants is much less recognizable. Anyway, a big part of her appeal is the desire to see her stripped and humiliated, like Princess Leia. Her swimsuit is a symbol of her sexual availability, just as her lasso stands for her desire to submit.

Anybody remember the “Rape of Wonder Woman” proposal, from around the time of the Death of Superman? Disapprove as you will, but that would have been epic. And sold comics.

Wah wah cry me a river. They’re superhero comics written for – yes, I’ll say it – males. If you don’t want to be objectified go read Strangers in Paradise.

(I will not feed the trolls, I will not feed the trolls…)

Dr. Psycho: so you think a storyline about Wonder Woman getting raped would be “epic”? You might want to read this:

http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/helen-lewis/2012/06/what-rape-victim-feels-when-you-use-rape-smack-talk-video-games

And for those who don’t want to bother reading the entire article, here’s the core quote, from a MAN who was RAPED:

“Over at The Escapist, an anonymous male gamer and rape survivor has posted a heartfelt blog on why he finds rape as a “character building” trope problematic:

‘The experience of being raped has touched every aspect of my life. People like Ron Rosenberg, the PR head for Tomb Raider, tend to talk about rape like it’s some character-building challenge to overcome, a wound that heals into scar tissue, making you tougher.

That’s a fundamental misunderstanding. Rape isn’t a scar, it’s a limp — you carry it with you as long as you’re alive, and it makes life harder, not easier. Being raped does change you: it’s more than non-consensual sex, it’s psychic murder. The person you were beforehand ceases to exist and you can never, ever be them again.’”

He’s described it exactly; likewise, he’s described why the “character building challenge to overcome” trope is pure B.S., and very cruel to rape survivors. Rape really *does* make you a “limping person for life.” It’s not that “Oh, I got a leg wound, and I hobbled for a while, but it’s all healed now—see my scar?” It’s definitely “I will never, NEVER be able to walk in the way that I used to walk, ever again.” It changes you, *permanently*… and when people treat it like a joke, or a “character-building plot element,” it’s like someone sticking a hot forge sword directly into the stump of the leg you have left—it’s not just that it hurts like hell, it can actively cause you to lose some of the mobility you have left… sometimes permanently. It can evoke flashbacks. It can evoke anxiety attacks. It can increase phobias created by the initial rape. It can rip the shaky bandage off your wound, leaving you raw and bleeding again. It can destabilize relationships, marriages, families.

Let’s put it this way: rape victims struggle to stay sane and to achieve something approaching a normal life, FOR THE ENTIRE REST OF THEIR LIVES. It DOESN’T “go away.” It DOESN’T “get better over time.” It DOESN’T “end.” Victims (most of them, some don’t) learn coping mechanisms that let them function… but just because they *seem* to be living a normal life, and you don’t *see* the pain, the night-horrors, the flash-backs, the changes in behavior… doesn’t mean they aren’t there, or that at some point they’re “cured”.

Yes, they can still learn to love, to make love, to have happy times… but they will NEVER be the person they were before the rape, never, never again… and it never leaves you, what you’ve suffered, and what you’ve lost. It changes how you see the world, it changes YOU—and you can never go back.

For those lovely people saying that the male superhero body shapes are the same as porn stars … while that can be true, the male superheroes can be separated from their sexuality. If you saw Superman or Collosius’s basic outline from the pictures above, you wouldn’t automatically think “That’s a porn star.” You’d probably think bodybuilder first but the first thing that comes to mind isn’t sex object. But with the representation of female superheroes shown above, it’s blatant sexiness. The first thing that comes to mind when you just see the body proportions PLUS the costume choices PLUS the body positioning is porn star. But it goes back to traditional western gender roles – men are allowed to be people first and sexual beings second.

As you can’t really argue against this; Its almost laughable sometimes.

I very much disagree with the people who comment about how the men are drawn. They say the men are also drawn to be sexually attractive to women. Except that most women do not find that body type to be attractive. It is what men THINK women find attractive. While most women like a man who is fit, we do not like the bodybuilder type.

Also, the men keep complaining that we are only talking about how the women are portrayed, and that is true. But the men that talk about how men are also drawn ridiculously, if you have a problem with, do something about it. All the guys keep complaining on these articles about how the men are drawn, but I never see them writing or actually complaining about it, until they troll on the comments of someone else’s article.

Men, if you have a problem about how the men are drawn, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Do not troll on other people who are doing something.

[...] fat, and that no one wants to look at fat superheroes. In other words: the comic book industry has screwed up views of women’s bodies and sexualities, new at eleven.On the other hand, Rush Limbaugh seems to think that the Bane character in the new Batman movie, [...]

Actually, I know people want to see fair representations of bodies across the entire spectrum, and one of the simplest ways to get past the “Why doesn’t anyone recognize “Superman/Robin” is to allow the character to shift some of what they look like as part of their powers? Also use a mask, allow that “skin tight” suit to act as a girdle and throw in some armour.

I want powerful depictions; not simplistic stereotypes.

If Wonder Woman can block every shot, if Capt. America’s shield always returns just in time, than these other options are just as “realistic” and can add a lot to the story line. What if, someone else comes from the Amazon island and she’s not just heavily overweight, she’s also a whole lot stronger?

What if someone could shift their face to look like a plain Jane? Peter Parker’s original character was built around his being a plain looking guy. How about if the character can shift colors as well as weight, and a little height? Just enough so when you think you’ve caught them; you’ve caught what looks to be someone else, and they can move on, through many kinds of lives, not just one job. Dr. Banner, always looking exactly the same? Thor? Why not change this, and start with female characters.

[...] pose” (pose que que visa mostrar peito e bunda das personagens ao mesmo tempo)  e “a cabeça dela é menor que os peitos” são a antitese aos parâmetro da industria [...]

Two things:

First, the comic industry at not changed at all. It simply takes more today to be considered outrageously sexy than it used to… but if you look at the 70′s, it was the same thing, relative to how things were back then.

Second, men in tight costumes. Look at those CROTCHES. Remember David bowie in Labyrinth? He’s got nothing in male superheroes in skin-tight suits. Nothing.
I see nothing unfair here.

[...] fat, and that no one wants to look at fat superheroes. In other words: the comic book industry has screwed up views of women’s bodies and sexualities, new at eleven.+ On the other hand, Rush Limbaugh seems to think that the Bane character in the new Batman movie, [...]

First, my opinons:

I should probably mention I am a bisexual woman in my twenties….

I think this is a well written article outlining many opinions that I share. Though it is not necessarily the COSTUMES that I hate so much as the content of the female characters personalities. I loathe how many women in American comics have passive powers and are damsels, bitches, whiners, or former sluts (FRANK MILLER!!!) I want to see different ethnicities and body types because superheroes ARE a fantasy and believe it or not, some fat girls want to believe they can save the world and look hot doing it. I would like to see a better portrayal of lesbian relationships in comics as well. I hate how… shallow these relationships look.

I also hate the “body builder” physique that most male superheroes sport. Unlike what most men reading this article seem to think, there are some women who dislike hulking men as well as “Fabio” types who own farms and have massive bank accounts. Men should always save kittens though, don’t be a dick. Personally, I think a variety of male figures would be awesome too! I wish Peter Parker had an actual geek body, a thin little scrawny one with just a trace of muscle.

I would also love to see more submissive male superheroes. This sounds contradictory to the “idea” of the superhero, but I would be happy with the male love interest of a superheroine actually being submissive to her for once and not being her “superior” just by the honor of having a dick. Fuck, if she can snap him in half I think she deserves to be the one wearing the pants. Or spandex. Whatever.

Responses:

@Equalizer : Your comments do not say equal, they say “masculinist”. I would change your username if I were you. You’re spewing “male rights” propaganda under the guise of being an equalist? Please. If you have met hostile feminists, they are probably disgusted by PEOPLE like you, regardless of what is between your legs. I doubt they’re man-hating, they just hate you.

@MikeS : Many male comic books fans do not share your sentiments, and I applaud them for it. I know plenty of female comic book (and manga) fans who do not mind sexy women. The issue is the fact that men are not given the same treatment. We tire of seeing heroines with submissive powers who always need a man to step in at the last second. There is a difference between looking sexy and functionality. As a bisexual woman, I found Asami Sato from the recent cartoon Avatar Legend of Korra (yes, a non-comic example) to be incredibly attractive. She was good looking AND ass kicking, yet managed to remain fully clothed. A great looking woman with makeup, nice hair, and REAL fighting skills? Yes please! Avatar is a good example of what a well-written female cast can be. I wish more American comics took their cue from this show. Despite what “Equalizer” says, Stephanie is right about your girlfriend. The media tells us [women] that we are unacceptable with our own faces. Makeup should be a joy, not an obligation and sadly it is a necessary chore for most women. It isn’t about “looking good” for themselves, it is about “looking good” because that is what the outside world expects and this is incredibly wrong. Personally, I have a compulsion to put makeup on because I have an overwhelming fear of looking “sick” (ie. pale, sallow) after years of battling chronic illness I hate to leave the house without it. Does this mean I am hideous without makeup? Of course not. I still can’t fight that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach though, that people can “tell” and are judging me for it. Your girlfriend may have similar insecurities about how she looks makeup free, though not health related.

@T : Women are not visual? Are you out of your mind? As Emma stated, it is demonized for women to admit the fact that they enjoy pornography, but just because women do not look at what you would consider “typical” porn does not mean they are not visual. Have you ever met a slash fan? Cruise y!gallery for a little bit. It has hundreds of users and thousands of pictures, primarily by women. They just happen to be of male/male interactions. It is still porn. I log onto tumblr everyday to find hentai on my dash, by my female friends at that! Hentai, though animated, is as much porn as live action. I own TEN TIMES more porn than my boyfriend because I am visual. A recent study showed that when shown pictures of the opposite sex, women look at the crotch first. Men look at the face. Why yes, we are visual. Yes, women also read smut but men do as well. In fact, much of the adult literature I own is male written. Titian Beresford is an amazing other. Harlequin and 50 Shades of Grey are trash that are not worthy of being called erotica. Please give women some credit. We can find better smut than that. Especially geek girls.

Well, excelent post, just great!

i’m reading in the comments a lot about the Men Porn Star Body Type X Men Athlete Body type like they are the same. Well, not really. Rafael Nadal, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ulsain Bolt or Michael Phelps doesn’t look at all like a porn star. They’re all have strong types of body, but none of them are a mountain of muscles. In comics its the same. With some exceptions like The Hulk and similars, men look more like athletes than porn stars. The Flash does look like a racer like Ulsain Bolt and Spider-Man does look like a fighter like Anderson Silva. Or Batman, he looks like a martial arts fighter, just taller.

I’m glad Carol Danvers got a new costume. It looks much more like a military uniform and less like a bathing suit with thigh high boots.

[...] In fact, Kelly Thompson, a comic book fan and journalist, wrote a great article titled, “She Has No Heat! – No, It’s Not Equal.” The article demonstrated how women were put in untenable poses and clothes. The article certainly [...]

[...] No, it’s not equal is an article about sexism in comics and describes problems that PS:T happens to share with them. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in qubodup and tagged business, design doc, identity, sexism. Bookmark the permalink. ← Constant fsck on every boot in Arch Linux with a Seagate 1TB HDD [...]

All these people saying that they don’t want to see a frumpy, middle-aged housewife starring as the lead in a comic, that is not what women, like myself, are asking for. What I would personally like to see is a bit of variation in the body types of women in comics (like not every heroine having massive boobs) and having the body type match the job they do for both male and female characters e.g. speedsters having leaner bodies with larger leg muscles and gymnasts having smaller, leaner figures

At a recent comic-based event. local artist Alan Davis mentioned that when he started drawing Batman and the Outsiders (in 1985) he redesigned her to give her a less “offensive” hairstyle and the figure of a female martial artist. DC’s editors were not happy and asked him to redraw her with a standardised female figure (less muscle and bigger breasts), Alan stood by his work and with some support (Trina Robbins) his version was allowed to remain (and any redrawing left to Jim Aparo).

Standing up to editors and winning is not easy, I do remember one manga series (with a realistic art style) that featured a character meant to be a female tennis champion and looked like she could be one (tall and muscular)- the following chapter she was changed to look prettier and sexier …and the series degenerated into (probably) the most misogynistic manga series printed in America.

And on the subject of Tennis, I understand that real world female Tennis champions have been complaining because their prettier rivals are more popular than them (unlike in male tennis where the best players are the most popular). This isn’t just an issue with comics but real-world women are affected by the same shallow sex-obsessed attitudes of society.

Yes, romance novels are pretty huge. But you know who mainly reads them? BABY BOOMERS, who are now pushing sixty and aren’t really the target female demographic the comics companies are after. They are mainly targeted at, and read by, women who grew up with the 50s housewife ideal. Sadly, a lot of comics combine that same ideal with later themes of free love and stripperific costumes… and the boomer women aren’t going to read those, and to younger women who on the whole grew up with more consciousness of equality, social justice etc, the throwback in female representation they see in comics is really weird and often kinda offensive.

Also yeah, maybe male comics execs are bulking up the men because they want to attract more women and they think that’s what women like, but they’re doing it wrong. They should take a look at the “sexy men ideal” portrayed in magazines aimed at women (who’s on the Sexiest Man list this year? Pattinson? Depp? Pitt?), in movies women are flocking to (I hate Twilight, but lots of women love it – maybe execs should look at that and develop a hero whose main motivation is devotion to an average everywoman? Keeping *her* safe and persuading her to love him, the rest of the city can burn? Maybe that’s not explicitly heroic, but not all extant heroes are either – look at Punisher!) and, for teens, girls’ manga. Go for the body types women are saying they want, rather than what men think they want – tone over bulk, a variety of shapes, more sensitive faces than the hard, expressionless macho ones we’re used to – and the personality traits women find attractive beyond strength and duty/vengeance, which are nice but not everything (workaholism is way too close to frustrating home for a lot of women, so sticking “heroing before everything else” on every hero is not going to make them appealing. It works nicely for Superman and Spiderman, but not for everyone).

Seriously – if male sexual fantasy in comics is mainly “hot woman who wants me” then I don’t think the female version is too different. We’re not different species. But comics are failing women who like men in that their version of “hot man” isn’t striking home, and the “wants me” is way off, as the heroes are off doing their own thing and having adventures at the expense of their relationships. I think a hero who wasn’t afraid to admit his relationship was important to him and who demonstrated that by taking time out for love rather than cramming in sex around heroing would be a big step in the right direction. Follow that up by giving the heroines as much to do as the men get, a little less cheesecake (making it special and cool when it shows, rather than “oh, cheesecake, must be a page with an even number again”), a few less fridgings and something more sensible to wear (skintight fine if most of the males’ costumes are skintight, impossible strappy cut-out-filled battle thongs and stilettos no, and please drop the boobsock phenomenon unless you’re willing to give the men detailed ballsocks!) and I think superheroines would not only stop actively offending potential female readership, they’d attract more at a rate of knots.

[...] Here’s a great article on sexism in comics from February. [...]

[...] complete and utter disregard for anatomical proportions in pursuit of aforementioned objectifying. (This article here sums up the arguement against this sort of thing in the best way I’ve seen so [...]

I am just clapping. I agree with this 100%.

Okay for some that are disagreeing. It is more so of the disrespect of the character (mostly women) if artiest and editors keep portraying their superwomen/men as sex objects or just for show, forgetting what they are capable of. With sexy poses and g string clothing, it takes the seriousness from the character. Like at first, I keep doubting Namor or Emma Frost(but i love her so much) because of their appearance.

You see. We judge on appearances than personality while we study a character. Taking Rouge, the Xmen who is unable to touch a human without absorbing their memories and powers and then throw boobies to show, it makes you forget she has that ability. (and endangers herself and the x men more)

As for men. Men do suffer the sexy glam. But it’s for the men’s fantasy not women’s. Even if Hulk is OVER THE TOP muscles and Namor’s speedo, they are connected to the men’s fantasy. Of power and strength. So even if the muscles are about 10x the size of their heads, it is still portray as a hero/villain. Which means, taken seriously.

The women, you think they were negative terms and only there for sex appeal. Ms. Marvel in her big tits, you won’t ever know that she was a government agent. She-Hulk! A smart lawyer who is just as strong as her cousin. Jean Grey, one of the most powerful mutant in the world. , Poison Ivy freakin mother of nature, etc. The list of good characters goes on…to not be taken seriously by their sexual appeal to the comics.

If you can see what I am getting here, it is just respect of the character of anyone, all shoved for what comics companies thinks sex sells.

Yep. I can’t explain well. But if anyone wants to comment on this, go right ahead. XD

Cartoon books are quite controversial and when it comes to presenting a superhero and a superwoman, the differences are quite evident. I particularly loathe the way they dress their female characters as it is quite revealing and there is nothing comic about it too.

just going to add that super-muscly men aren’t a sexual fantasy thing for women in a lot of cases. i’m just going by what i see most, but the men that women tend to go for tend to be lean-looking and toned rather than extremely muscly. you guys are honest to god just mistaking the male power fantasy for a female sexual fantasy (just believe us on this one)

i mean look at the attention boybands like One Direction get. look at David Tennant. i have yet to meet a straight female who ISN’T attracted to David Tennant (though i’m sure they exist). i’ve met lesbians and straight men who think he’s stupidly attractive.

just look at who we vote for as a gender when it comes to ‘top sexiest men’ rankings. there are guys with some pretty impressive muscles there, granted, but the majority of them are fairly lean-looking and not built like a brick shithouse.

not saying there are NO girls who like muscles, but based on what seems to be popular..

[...] advertising has featured Black Widow in the standard “look at my ass!” poses we’ve sadly come to expect for our female [...]

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This was a good read. As one who used to read and collect comics on a regular basis and still occasionally peeks in on the works, it is definitely something to be honest about. Rogue revealing any skin is just plain insane, it doesn’t fit the character, ever.
The idea that none of the women look athletic and basically all have the same measurements is also something I’ve always found a bit off (there’s just no reason for Storm and Jean Grey to have the exact same dimensions and facial features.
You know who did briefly buck the trend? Valiant Comics and Milestone Comics, good writing and art should have something for everyone.

I read an article once that suggested that dimorphism in comics increases during times of social gender tension. Is there perhaps some homophobia at play here normatizing extreme sexual difference in a time that gay marriage has been a topic for years? Because I can’t think of anything else that has changed in the last two decades, except that

I remember the John Byrne X-men and the occasional side view where Claremont inked side views of Storm and Phoenix’s breasts to hint at nipples. But Byrne is the first artist in America (manga artists regularly draw all characters with different figures) that I noticed drawing women as individual characters.

I stopped reading the X-men when Jim Lee was drawing it. I bought my first Gray’s anatomy in junior high with my own money, and have no patience for a lack of understanding of basic anatomy. I’m not a great artist, but I care.

The porn actors bit is the worst part of it. The men may be taken from weight lifting mags; their muscles are always bulging in full flex.On the other hand, the last few times I’ve seen porn the men were essentially ciphers with unattractive weight room muscles. The women, however *always* look like they were taken from Playboys.

Steve Leialoha told me at a signing once to buy *dance* magazines for athletic bodies that were not pneumatic or hypertrophic. Miller based Elektra on Mapplethorpe’s book “Lady” featuring Miss Universe Lisa Lyon. She had both muscles and curves and so was a perfect model for a female superhero as, unlike a lot of other female bodybuilders, she didn’t overdo it with steroids.

So I don’t buy comics anymore (over 3 bucks for 17 pages is a bit much) but there great female characters in anime and K-drama. Ha Ji Won, the “Korean Angelina” is a favorite, and she’s always fully dressed while kicking ass.

Linden, I agree with you, but what are your opinions about the way women are drawn and portrayed in Fairy Tail, and Negima, Magical Negi Magi. there is a lot of “fan service” but the girls are all portrayed as strong, powerful and unique non the less.

Personally, I don’t read comics that much any more but that’s more because I’m sick of no-one ever staying dead, and, particularly in DC, nobody ever setting proper parameters on people’s powers and just sliding them up and down the scale to fir the story; but that’s another issue. With regard to this blog and its point, I have to agree the stripperific poses are often ridiculous; no real problem with the costumes, though, it’s fantasy, and people want fantasy to be fetishistic it should be. Where the writer really hits the nail on the head, though, is body type. That’s what’s just really, really lazy, and another thing that actually put me off monthly issues: one woman with different hair seems to be about it. If you wanna provide fanservice, fair enough; but one the reasons people like, for example, Jessica Alba, Scarlett Johansson, Olivia Wilde, Megan Fox etc etc is that they actually look different to each other and have differing physical attributes, not because they’re all from the same cookie-cutter mould. The only people in the real world who desire one particular idential aesthetic work in high fashion.

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@ Hotstreak:
I haven’t seen Fairy Tail, but I love Mahou Sensei Negima. I started with Negima! the amime but but I like the second version much better. The animation may be more limited, but has cooler gothy design, but more importantly for this convo, far less fan service. Not only that, but the girls not only are written as very different characters, bu also drawn very different in appearance, varying in body type, size, and skin tone. This is an amazing achievement given that there are 31 of them. I was surprised that the manga *did* have more service than I was expecting but not particularly offended by it. Seinen, ya know. Also some of the pics of all 31 at once running through the train station are amazing. I also confess to enjoying Rosario to Vampire.

@MCJ39 I know what you mean about inconsistent power levels. Superman pulling five planets *chained* together being a favorite bit of excess.
As you can see from my statements above, I totally agree about lazy female character design. Brokeback poses aside, the inability of so many comic artists to create a variety of women has annoyed me for decades. What gets me is that Gene Roddenberry got it; about the third time I saw ST:NG I realized that not only were all the women beautiful, but were quite varied in appearance and presentation. Loved it.

@All the haters… get a clue. I’ve been reading Ms. since I was ten (38 years) and feminism has gone through several changes since the early seventies. Back then the most outrageous rhetoric was deliberately excessive, as is that of most early movements. However, even then, as Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out, Asa Baber and the rest of Playboy’s editorial staff actively supported feminism. Ehrenreich also wrote a book called Stiffed” pointing out that the Reagan economy had screwed the American working class male. She ain’t a man hater, nor are any of my straight woman and lesbian friends, who like my male self are all feminists.

Sorry I forgot to add that I still have a gold hardbound copy of Wonder Woman from the seventies containing her early exploits. Written by a male feminist.
In the fourties.

She wore culottes.
You know, like pants.

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I don’t feel that men and women are sexualized the same way in comics. Of course they aren’t. Men and women are different and have different perceptions. My take on these author’s points.

1. Body type- Both unattainable and each are athletic. Look at pictures of She-Hulk, Wonder Woman, or Black Canary. They have ripped arms, abdominal muscles, and lean, tight bodies in general.

2. Clothing- I don’t see how covering a woman’s skin with skin-tight clothing makes a difference. If someone were to walk into school, for example, with a skin-tight body suit that matches their skin color, there would be no difference. Giving people skin-tight costumes is basically the same as changing their skin color. To say that a woman goes from being provocative to decent with the addition of what is essentially a spray-painted garment is ludicrous. Thus, men having their skin covered is irrelevant since just about everything else is revealed.

By the way, Wonder Woman is an ancient Greek. The ancient Greeks (as is obvious by their sculptures of naked people) cherished the human body. Thus, it’s not inaccurate to give Wonder Woman a revealing costume.

3. Beauty- I actually agree on this point. After all, what’s with She-Hulk not looking like… well… a Hulk?

4. Posing- Both men and women are posed sexually. I will concede that it’s more obvious in women. However, you seem to mistake a women bending as being sexual. Last I checked, if a woman bends at the waist while deflecting bullets with one hand and lassoing a tank with the other, it’s not an overtly sexualized image, but a badass one. Also, in the memes you mentioned, none of the female characters are ever putting on a sexy face, but the male parodies are always pouting, winking, and more exaggerated than the original females. Thus, they’re inaccurate portrayals. There are times when the male characters have their clothing torn, are sweaty, and have their muscles rippling. If that’s not sexual, I don’t know what is.

Everything becomes clearer in film. Watch Justice League Unlimited or the Wonder Woman animated movie. Sure, the costumes are sexy, but characters like Vixen, Wonder Woman, Black Canary, and Huntress fight just as well as anyone else, and in a similar fashion, no less.

Finally, most comic book readers are heterosexual men. All media caters to their audience. If you don’t believe me, watch Twilight. A movie for teenage girls and… Taylor Lautner. Case in point.

Thus, both men and women are sexualized in media.

Hi there! This article could not be written much better!
Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate!
He continually kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him.
Fairly certain he’ll have a very good read. I appreciate you for sharing!

Reading the comments makes me remember why I generally hate dating comic book nerds. Some of them are wonderful, but the vast majority are… well, read for yourself. Someone has the audacity to suggest that women are portrayed in a far more sexual manner than men within the realm of comic books, and the indignation is so thick you could slather it on toast. Men in these comics are just as sexualized as women? Because they’re buff? Fuck you very much. When I can look through a mainstream comic book and not see ASSSS and TITTIESSSSS every second panel that a female character shows up in, OR I can also see men with cartoonishly oversized genitals and almost no clothing in grotesque contortions so you might best see his assets at all times – THEN the two will be sexualized ‘equally’. And before you say women don’t like looking at men like that, you have obviously never looked at porn/webcomics that have been drawn for women. Men who walk around in next to nothing, crotches bulging, suggestive poses… are not things I see in DC/Marvel comics.

And then these braying jackasses have the nerve to say women choose to date assholes over them. Don’t make me laugh.

Zeniscope’s Grimms’ Fairy Tales are the epitome of what you are talking about in this article. Honestly, after reading Fables, I thought that this series would be a great alternative, but after reading one incomprehensible story where it seemed to be all about trying to force rape into the plot, followed by flicking through a few others where there was absolutely no reason whatsoever for the women to be posed or dressed (or to behave) in the manner presented, I gave up. They are horrific!
Here’s a google search of the images
https://www.google.co.nz/search?q=zenescope+grimm&client=firefox-a&hs=8cR&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=1y3ZUezBMcKyiAf1xoHIDQ&ved=0CEsQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=869

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Are the characters equal no, thats a fact but why should they be Comics are primarily directed towards blokes. There are truths to your points and the points you make are valid but allow me a rebuttal from a comic artists perspective.

1. Body type: O.K male super heroes don’t have athletic builds they have body-builder builds, unrealistic, unattainable physics, ALWAYS ripped even the background characters that have nothing to do with the story. As far as the women go there’s some deviations from the ‘pornstar’ form as you put it like she hulk, she has a body builders’ body, jubilee doesn’t have a porn star body e.t.c but try and find a guy without a six pack

2.Clothing: this is a no brainer, I mean really why the hell is this even an issue, what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander, women’s costumes follow the contours of the body and use it’s shapes to flatter the subject mens costumes predominantly use ridged lines to emulate muscle structure. it’s the way were made women’s bodies are a thrill to look at and all the subtle curves can be accentuated by having these bikini style costumes mens bodies are meant to look powerful because they don’t have the allure of a woman’s physic. The clothes fit the body type.

3.Beauty: Again this is a difference in gender, men=hard ridged lines, women=softer curvey lines. the result is the same as in real life men look tougher than women. Ok though there are a lot less physically monstrous women in comics like Granny or Banshee but ugliness is not what men are threatened by in women, ya dig?

Posing: First thing to point out any pose a woman is drawn on is going to look more sexualised than a man because of A. asses B. boobs and C. a more aesthetically pleasing anatomy so believe me when I say that looking over the shoulder is NOT constrained to women, Second thing the poses are dynamic, thats what they’re called dynamic poses you wanna see a guy in a dynamic (brokeback) pose? pick up any Spiderman issue, find a picture of Nightcrawler or daredevil or anyone who leaps through the air, does that narrow it down? no? point proven.

OK rant over, I liked your article though it was really well presented with plenty of example to bolster your arguments but it’s all totally moot, as I said at the start Comics are primarily directed towards males and while there is an ever increasing female reader base the main problems you have with women in comics are so much more prevalent in women’s magazines like OK! Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Glamour, Hello!, Chat! Allure, Women’s’ Weekly, Seventeen as wells as all the same types of oversexualised Disney garbage magazines that are being targeted at 9-12 year old girls. That is where you need to look to put a halt on misrepresentations of women in the media but it’s funny I never hear any women ranting about how they are portrayed in those magazines that cause REAL harm. Give comics and indeed us guys a break, it’s not like you don’t have your comics, that (most) blokes stay well clear of by the way, and stop ragging on our beloved super heroins, poor Wonerwoman, who is awesome by the way and Rogue who is awesome by the way and Catwoman who is awesome by the way and Psyloch who. is. awesome!!!

[...] a very good article here by Kelly Thompson which details a lot of the debate, including examples of the infamous brokeback [...]

[...] McDonald’s argument here and Kelly Thompson’s great column for Comic Book Resources here. Women should be empowered and should be shown as strong characters. However, if you’re still [...]

[...] superhéroes no son reales, por lo que no hay razón para que no sean mujeres) y los otros han sido desechados previamente (los cuerpos estereotipados de héroes de acción masculinos no son los mismos que los cuerpos [...]

I feel like there are valid points to this post but sexualized pics of heroes are not rare. Men are constantly shown with skin tight clothes, shirtless and with crotch and ass shots in comics.Even in the Xmen photo you posted cyclops penis is CLEARLY visible under his tights. I must say in real life I like to see fit women in shorts, leggings, skirts and tight jeans. I have a young daughter and she will probably grow one day to crave the sexual attention of men. She also will have to accept the fact that some women in fiction and real life will be more attractive than her and not go crazy or develop an eating disorder .

[...] no son reales, por lo que no hay razón para que no sean mujeres) y los otros han sido desechados previamente (los cuerpos estereotipados de héroes de acción masculinos no son los mismos que los cuerpos [...]

I would not try to argue that women are not more sexualized than men in comics. I suspect that a lot of that has to do not just with the target audience being primarily heterosexual males, but also with many of the artists being heterosexual males.

BUT…

That said, as a gay male comic fan, your argument that men depicted as “strong” and “athletic” and “powerful” are not sexualized baffles me. Excuse me. I get why straight men wouldn’t see it. But “strong” and “athletic” and “powerful” are extraordinarily attractive masculine traits. You think seeing all those ripped guys in skin-tight spandex that leaves nothing to the imagination isn’t ridiculously sexy for a gay man? Of course straight men don’t see it, they think (as I read in a few of the other replies I skimmed) that only the female body is aesthetically appealing, etc. HOGWASH. As someone who is 100% uninterested in female anatomy, while I get that there is appeal for straight men, for me the male body is FAR more aesthetically pleasing.

I think it’s possible that straight men (and apparently even some straight women) simply overlook the sexualization of men in comics, or anywhere else.

First, there are many, many MANY instances where male characters appear shirtless (there are whole blogs devoted to shirtless pics of male superheroes)–the recent run of Gambit has the Cajun shirtless in just about every issue, and he’s drawn in VERY sexualized ways, if one has an eye that will notice it, as I do. Sometimes it makes sense in the plot; sometimes it’s essentially just a gratuitous “Remy getting out of the shower” scene, which, in terms of the plot, could just as easily have been written as a “Remy sitting on the couch in a frumpy bathrobe” scene.

But even setting aside those instances…

1. Body Type

Muscles are sexy. Really damn sexy. I’m almost exclusively a Marvel fan, but here’s a short list male characters I’ve ever seen and said, “Dayummmm.” Sometimes while they were fully clothed from head to toe, mind you.

Cyclops (of course). Gambit (so, so much). Angel (so pretty, even when he had blue skin). Wolverine (so raw and manly). Iceman (not in ice form, and on occasion). Colossus (bet I know why he’s called Colossus). Bishop (once you go black…). Havok (and whenever he and Cyclops are both present…damn, those Summers boys are so hot). Beast (not kidding…when I’m in a certain mood, the big hairy powerful body coupled with that genius mind and the soul of a poet…so sexy). Captain America (so gorgeous). Thor (he’s a freakin’ GOD). Hawkeye (love it when he shoots). Hulk (come on…you really have never wanted him just to rip out of those purple pants to see what he’s got?).

I could go on…I could add to this list even characters that you might think completely unsexy. Sabretooth. Hey Daddy! But I trust my point is made.

The powerful, muscular, fit, strong, ripped bodies of male superheroes, be they smooth or hairy or furry or white or blue or green, are incredibly attractive to me.

2. Clothing.

Again, setting aside the NUMEROUS instances in which male superheroes are depicted shirtless when out of costume, or when their costumes get torn off during battle, and focusing just on their ordinary everyday costumes. Spandex that reveals not just their muscles, but their muscles’ muscles? Better damn well believe that’s sexy. Package-emphasizing underwear over that spandex? Or in some cases, just the undies…not just Namor, but Beast (whom I included in my above list because I DO sometimes find him sexy, so him being “a monster in underwear” doesn’t make him not sexy), Hulk (again, included in my list because I do sometimes find him sexy). And shall we mention that whole period of time when the X-Men (both male and female) wore black leather, when Cyclops and Wolverine, when arguing over something, could easily have been mistaken for quarreling gay leathermen lovers if you changed their dialog? How about boots? You know how many gay men have boot fetishes? (I don’t, particularly, but LOTS of gay men do).

And not really clothing, but…THOR’S HAMMER. Would I ever like to get my hands on that!

3. Beauty

You say that idealization is not the same thing as sexualization, and I agree…to a point. BUT…for me, the idealized male body IS sexualized. Maybe to a straight man a muscular man just says “powerful.” But to me…DAMN THAT’S SEXY. And then, come on…Scott Summers. Alex Summers. Remy LeBeau. Bobby Drake. Warren Worthington. James Howlett. Steve Rogers. Thor. Tony Stark. Clint Barton. Johnny Storm. I could go on. Some are pretty boys. Some are ruggedly handsome. Some are just manly without being handsome. But all of them are dead sexy.

4. Poses

This is your best argument, and I won’t try to argue that men are put into a brokeback pose. BUT…poses of power and strength are poses have idealized masculinity, which is, to me, really, really sexy. Men don’t need to be put in a brokeback pose to be sexy. They are sexy when they’re standing there looking powerful. They are sexy when they are displaying their power. They are sexy when they’re beating each other up.

And again…THOR’S HAMMER.

I’m not saying women aren’t hypersexualized; and I’m not even saying that men are sexualized equally. What I AM saying is that men are sexualized much more than most people think, but that straight people, and in particularly straight men, are not inclined to see it. I’m also not saying that it’s the same thing because societally, historically, men have been in the position to objectify women and not the other way around.

But one more thing…I do think it’s (very slightly) disingenuous to complain that comics depict men always covered head to toe versus women being exposed.

This is not just comics. This is real life. Two words: formal attire.

For men: layer upon layer of clothing from head to toe.

For women: a dress that probably leaves her shoulders and legs exposed.

I’m not defending it. I’m not condemning it either. I’m just saying that in the modern Western world, women’s clothing is, in general, more revealing than men’s, across the board.

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