Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The hypersexualization of women in comics

I think discussing the issue of the hypersexualization of women in comics in a blog titled "Busty Superhero Chick" is probably a good place for such a discussion. :-)

Let's go ahead and start with an explanation of the name of my blog. First, it's meant to be something easy to remember, and I think it is.  Next, it's also a play on you guys and how you generally like your superhero women - with big boobs.  :-)

As for the issue of hypersexualization of women - in short, comics are largely geared to male readers, and the artists tend to be male - so basically it was an inevitability that women would be drawn in such a way as to have proportions that were impossible for a woman to have in real life.  Having female artists helps somewhat, since they would be familiar with what would be realistic and unrealistic in regards to women's body proportions, but the expectation of skimpy or otherwise degrading costumes is such that it's what they draw as well.

And since this question is likely going to come up - what about my costume?  Isn't it rather skimpy as well?  And the cleavage hole isn't exactly what most women would wear in their everyday clothing.  First, keep in mind that it is a superhero costume, so it's supposed to stand out from your regular everyday attire.  Also, I cover up more than most.  You'll note that most of my legs are covered, and my arms are covered entirely.   Initially, the costume design was going to have me wearing just shorts for bottoms, but we decided that the skirt adds a nice feminine touch.  I still wear the shorts that were intended all along, it's just now worn under the skirt.  As for the cleavage hole, it's meant to be a distraction - and the smiley face an additional distraction as well as being a memory device.  So as far as superhero costumes go, I think it's rather conservative, especially when compared to the sorts of costumes that are out there.

For instance, look at the Phantom Lady.  Her top is basically glorified suspenders!  She's a "wardrobe malfunction" waiting to happen.  Every. Single. Time. she goes out to do her hero thing!

Then there's impossible proportions, such as Rob Liefield women.  Most of his women have such strange, oddly proportioned torsos and limbs, and those impossibly tiny pinched-in waists!

And speaking of impossible proportions, consider the character Red Monika of Battle Chasers and her enormous boobs.  For a real woman to have such proportions, her boobs would literally have to be the size of watermelons!  Try strapping two watermelons to your chest and then see if you can get anything done - much less the expected superhero action stuff!

So yes, the hypersexualization of women gets very bad.  No woman can look like these superhero women - not through exercise and dieting, not through surgery, and certainly not through the combination of both.  I'm not sure how to say this without sounding like some mushy feminist, but these kinds of depictions sets unrealistic expectations of how women should look, both to boys and girls.

And yet, consider the market.  Very few readers, both male and female, want superhero women who are fat and ugly.  In order to attract - and keep - readers (who again, are mostly male), then the writers and artists need to make the female heroes attractive and their costumes flattering ("Flattering" can be done without being skimpy, BTW).  

There's also the question of their personalities.  How tough and badass can a superhero woman be and still be womanly?  When is she a woman, and not just a man with a hot bod and boobs?  You understand what I'm saying with that previous sentence?  What I mean is, if she walks like a man, talks like a man, can kick ass like a man, then what makes her a woman?  And yet, do you guys really want a "real" woman for your female superhero character?

That is, do you want her to be complaining about her "female problems" such as periods, cramps, hormonal imbalances, yeast infections, and the like?  Do you want her to be whining about her relationship problems with her significant others, her parents, her GFs, etc?  How much female "whinyness" are you willing to put up with?  Not much, I would bet.  My guess is that you would say, "I have that in real life with my wife/girlfriend/etc!  Why would I want it in my comics?"

So that presents a challenge to both the writers and the artists.  It's a balance to find the right amounts of what would be considered realistic vs the expected exaggerations of the superhero elements in a typical comic book story.  In other words, the unrealistic is expected in a comic book story.; after all, how many women do you know in real life that can lift fully loaded semis over their heads?  But I would also say that reading comic books isn't so much about seeing Wonder Woman lift boulders over her head and the reader expecting to be able to do the same with the right about of dieting/training/exercise; instead, the story is about the message that comes from the story.

We read comics not to learn how to imitate the super abilities of the heroes, but instead to absorb the lessons that are taught from their experiences.  Perhaps that's what the writers and artists should be concentrating on when it comes to the female characters - that is, what lesson will the reader come away with about humanity in general, and if applicable, women specifically?

I tend to believe that most of you won't be interested in stories in which hypersexualization is the message.  Yes, there's always going to be the weird perverts who get off on these hypersexualizations, but there aren't enough of them for most comic companies to make the kinds of profits that eventually finance blockbuster movies.  Instead, I think that most of you want good human interest stories with clear, understandable messages about the human condition, as well as giving the message that "with great power comes great responsibility" - which applies not just to those with super powers, but all of us. 

There's always going to be the hypersexualizations of women in the comics, but as a free-market advocate, I believe that those comics are always going to inhabit the margins of comic book sales, while the more realistic depictions of women are always going to be the bread-and-butter of comic sales.  So fear not, my friends.  But it also doesn't hurt to have the occasional reminder that these hypersexualizations exist, especially when these reminders come from men.  If it gets to the point that you guys can see it, then it must be pretty bad!  LOL

I was trying to think of some way to end this particular blog entry, but instead, I think I'll leave this open-ended in case I get some responses from you all.

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