March 4, 2010

Comics, Cleavage, and You (or…well, me)

Posted in Art, Body Image, culture, diversions, Patriarchy, sexuality, Society tagged , , , at 2:06 pm by Eostre

I will state right up front that this is a topic that most people who will read this will only care about in the context of Bigger Things, as a small sign of more widespread cultural attitudes and whatnot. This is perhaps as it should be for those of us in school who spend most of out time thinking about Bigger Things.

But for me, this is something that is close to my nerdy little heart. You see, I love comics. I love reading them, I love monthly issues, I love origin stories and dark reinventions. That’s right, I am coming out of the comic-nerd closet. I don’t just love the Intellectual ones, either. Sure, I am completely up for Persepolis, but I have a gooshy, happy place in my heart for Sandman, The Justice League, and all of their sundry friends. I love the feel of the glossy pages and the bold typeface. 

Being a female comics reader can often be problematic, however. For, although things have vastly improved in the last 20 years or so, women in comics are often, frankly, ridiculous. To start, they are usually drawn with absurd measurements, and their body stats tend to be listed as something like ” 5’10” 102 lbs” (they don’t mention the Double-D boobs and lady-wrestler like muscles, all of which would make her something closer to at least 180, and that’s being generous), and then there are the outfits. This is well-known territory, so I will be brief. Spandex on a man, while still clingy, is nothing like spandex on one of these barbie-zons, with every curve lovingly drawn and accentuated. Yes, comics were for a long time drawn mostly by men for men, and many assume that is still the case. And titillation has long been a staple of comics fare, both within the superhero genre and outside of it.

So the graphic genre has well-earned its reputation for what can at best be called objectification, at worst misogyny (for example, one of the best known female superheroes, Wonder Woman, originated as little more than a thinly veiled BDSM fantasy), and it doesn’t help that many (if not most) women in the genre are attached to some other, stronger, male character (i.e. Batgirl, Hawkgirl, Supergirl, She-Hulk, etc), which, frankly, is one of my main complaints. If I have to look at overly voluptuous women in spandex, they could at least be more autonomous.

Of course, there are exceptions, and they normally come as part of a group (X-Men, for example, have a lovely cast of

She Hulk beating Iron Man at arm-wrestling, the cover for one of the upcoming Girl Comics Issues

 strong female and male characters). And even those who have been attached to other, male superheroes as part of an entourage are getting their own stories and features (I am particularly excited about the upcoming Girl Comics from Marvel).

So, after that not-very-brief-even-though-it-was-meant-to-be introduction, my point. I am willing to put up with some cleavage and porn-face in my comics, because if I weren’t my options for reading them would be nearly non-existent. And hey, feminism is all about making space within patriarchal structures for female voices, using and twisting those structures to make small pockets for women, but in a genre that is becoming more diversified as to who is writing/drawing the stories, the progress is far far too slow. Yes, there are better stories being told about female super-heroes than there were 40 years ago (and a few better heroes joining the canon), but the objectification is still so widespread and pervasive as to be the norm, rather than the exception.

I love the genre (and believe me when I say that super-hero comics are a genre, not a medium) I am too much of a feminist to not cringe at least once an issue, and I wish that weren’t so.

Since this is a topic I am super passionate about, there will be one more post next week addressing the good side of women in super-hero comics, including the ways that existing characters and norms have been used to create space for feminist readings, and the genre/medium distinction. So, as always, STAY TUNED…

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