“When a beautiful actress is cast in a movie, executives rack their brains to find some kind of flaw in the character she plays that will still allow her to be palatable. She can’t be overweight or not perfect-looking, because who would pay to see that? A female who is not one hundred per cent perfect-looking in every way? You might as well film a dead squid decaying on a beach somewhere for two hours. So they make her a Klutz. The hundred-per-cent-perfect-looking female is perfect in every way except that she constantly bonks her head on things. She trips and falls and spills soup on her affable date (Josh Lucas. Is that his name? I know it’s two first names. Josh George? Brad Mike? Fred Tom? Yes, it’s Fred Tom). The Klutz clangs into stop signs while riding her bike and knocks over giant displays of fine china in department stores. Despite being five feet nine and weighing a hundred and ten pounds, she is basically like a drunk buffalo who has never been a part of human society. But Fred Tom loves her anyway.”—
Mindy Kaling is my hero. It’s like…she says everything I think about stuff. While being female. And Westernised-desi. And I can indulge in that ‘what actor would play me in a movie’ meme that used to float around Livejournal.
Yesterday, two new comic books from the “New 52” relaunch of DC Comics provoked some online controversy: Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws. They were controversial in particular because of the way they depicted women, notably with the aggressively fanfictiony on-panel sex between Batman and Catwoman, and Starfire’s transformation into a promiscuous tabula rasa who can’t even remember the names of the men she sleeps with, and seeks out emotionless sex with both of the two male main characters while they essentially high five about it.
Since pointing out my issues with Starfire yesterday, I have received numerous e-mails — from men — accusing me of slut-shaming. Since there are a lot of people who don’t understand the sexual dynamics that are in play here both creatively and culturally, I’d like to dissect this a little bit and explain why these scenes don’t support sexually liberated women; they undermine them, and why after nearly 20 years of reading superhero books, these may finally have been the comics that broke me.
I would like to say first and in the strongest possible terms that I absolutely support the right of women to embrace and act upon their sexual desires in whatever way seems right to them, within consensual boundaries. My sense of justice is inflamed by the double standard that tells us that every person a man sleeps with makes them more of a stud, and every person a woman sleeps with makes them a little less valuable and less respectable. I know this in particular because unlike all the guys who sent me angry messages last night defending the sexual honor of an imaginary character, that double standard is something l have had to live with and be judged by for my entire adult life.
And that is why books like Catwoman and Red Hood make me so goddamn angry.
Let’s start with Catwoman. The writer and artist have decided that out of all possible introductions to the character of Selina Kyle, the moment we’re going to meet her is going to be the one where she happens to be half-dressed and sporting bright red lingerie. That is in fact all we see of her for two pages: shots of her breasts. Most problematically, we are shown her breasts and her body over and over for two pages, but NOT her face. No joke, we get a very clear and detailed shot of her butt in black latex before we ever see her face looks like. Can’t you show us the playful or confident look in her eye as she puts on her sexy costume? Because without that it’s impossible to connect with the character on any other level than a boner, and I’m afraid I don’t have one of those.
Like I said, I’m on board with the hot ladies; part of what got me into comics back in the day was being a 12-year-old girl who looked at strong, beautiful characters like Rogue and Jean Grey and Storm and wanted to be like them in large part because they were so sexy and confident and had exciting romances. Those books managed to offer characters that I’m certain appealed to men as well, but always felt like people instead of window dressing. I have long maintained that to bring in more female readers, superhero comics don’t even need to specifically target women as much as they need to not actively offend them. This is not an insanely hard to thing to do, and yet here we are.
The money shot that most people have latched onto in Catwoman, however, is the one where Batman and Catwoman have sex on a rooftop. “What’s wrong with Batman having sex?” You might ask. There’s nothing wrong with Batman having sex. Or Catwoman, or Starfire, or any other hero. The problem isn’t the plot point. If you’re an adult, you’ve probably seen dozens if not hundreds of movies that included sex scenes. The mere fact that a piece of media depicts a sexual act doesn’t tell you very much about how that scene is going to make you feel. You might be titillated, or bored, or grossed out, or any number of things. Your reaction depends not on the facts of what happens, but on the way it’s presented. And while as with all aesthetic opinions your mileage may vary, this does not look sexy to me; it looks like a creepy fanfiction drawing.
Here’s the question, though: Why? I know why Catwoman and Batman would have sex; there’s nothing wrong with the idea. We saw him hook up with Talia in Son of the Demon and that was pretty cool. I mean literally, why is that last page a full-page splash of Batman actually penetrating Catwoman? Why do we need to see that? What does it accomplish or tell us about the characters that would have been lost if that page had been omitted?
The answer is nothing. They just wanted to see Catwoman and Batman bang on a roof. And that is the whole problem with this false notion of “sexually liberated” female characters: These aren’t those women. They’re how dudes want to imagine those women would be — what Wire creator David Simon called writing “chicks with d*cks”. They read like men’s voices coming out of women’s faces. Or worse, they read like the straight girls who make out with each other clubs, not because they enjoy making out with women but because they desperately want guys to pay attention to them.
This is not about these women wanting things; it’s about men wanting to see them do things, and that takes something that really should be empowering — the idea that women can own their sexuality — and transforms it into yet another male fantasy. It takes away the actual power of the women and turns their “sexual liberation” into just another way for dudes to get off. And that is at least ten times as gross as regular cheesecake, minimum.
Here is what it looks like just before Starfire tries to initiate sex.
Why is she contorting her body in that weird way? Who is she posing for, because it doesn’t even seem to be Roy Harper? The answer, dear reader, is that she is posing for you. News flash: Starfire isn’t being promiscuous because this comic wants to support progressive notions of gender roles. Starfire is being promiscuous so that you can look at pictures like this:
If you really want to support Starfire’s “liberated sexuality” like she’s somehow a person with real agency, what people should really be campaigning for is more half-clothed dudes in suggestive poses to get drawn around her, since I’m sure that’s what she’d like to see. But people don’t really want that, do they? Because it’s not about what Starfire wants. It’s about what straight male readers want. And they want to see Starfire with her clothes falling off. And hey, hey — there’s nothing wrong with that specifically, but let’s be honest about what’s happening and who we’re serving (or not serving) and at whose expense. And let’s be honest about the fact that this treatment happens almost exclusively to women, which is a huge part of what makes it so problematic.
Incidentally, while Starfire here seems to want dead-eyed sex with people whose names she can’t remember that she specifically says should be divorced from emotion, that’s very much a departure from her previous incarnation, were she came from a culture that was primarily about love, not being available for joyless hookups with random dudes:
Conversely, if you would like to see an example of an extremely well-done superhero sex scene, check out the Spider-Man/Black Cat hookup from Amazing Spider-Man Present Black Cat #1 by Jen Van Meter and Javier Pulido, where Felicia is presented as a tough, sexy lady who knows what she wants sexually and unapologetically goes out to get it. Visually, the morning after is presented on a level playing field with Spider-Man hilariously hanging out in his boxers. Note: This is also a scene where the two superheroes have sex without knowing each other identities, and yet it couldn’t feel more different from Catwoman.
There’s lots of room for these books and I welcome them, the same way I welcome Empowered, which I think is particularly successful at having fun with cheesecake in a very self-aware way. It’s good for comics to have well-executed sexy books just like it’s good to have well-executed sci-fi comics and well-executed horror comics and good comics in any genre. The only reason there might be a problem with a sexed up superhero titles like Empowered was if that was the way women were depicted all the time. And the problem is that in a lot superhero comics, it kind of is.
Below on the left, I submit to you one of the starkest visual differences between men and women in superhero comics. On the ground, we see how the editors and writers and artists have chosen to dress a male Lantern, and standing above him we see how they have chosen to dress a female Lantern. These characters didn’t appear out of thin air one day; someone designed them to look the way they look, and designed it for a very specific reason. And those design choices shape the way that the universe treats women generally. And on a more personal level, it also plays a big role in how DC Comics tells me they see people like me. Because I know that institutionally, they don’t treat men like that; we’re never going to see a major hero like Hal Jordan in a costume like one on the right as imagined by Deviant Artist Bionarri.
And the problem isn’t Star Sapphire. Or Catwoman. Or Starfire. Or Dr. Light raping Sue Dibny on the Justice League satellite or that stupid rape backstory Kevin Smith gave Black Cat or the time Green Lantern’s girlfriend got murdered and stuffed in a refrigerator. The problem is all of it together, and how it becomes so pervasive both narratively and visually that each of these things stops existing as an individual instance to be analyzed in a vacuum and becomes a pattern of behavior whose net effect is totally repellent to me. As an anomaly, maybe Starfire could be funny, the way the big-breasted, over-sexed Fritz (who even got her own porno comic, Birdland, which is pretty good if you’re into that) is often funny in Love and Rockets, mostly because the series is already packed full of incredibly diverse, fully-realized female characters. But as the 5,000th example of a superhero comic presenting female sexuality in tone-deaf ways, it’s just depressing.
In Red Hood and the Outlaws, this is DC Comics tells me a male hero looks like, and what a female hero looks like:
In Catwoman, this is what DC Comics tells me a male hero looks like, and what a female hero looks like:
This is not an anomaly. This is the primary message that I hear. And it one that I only hear about the people who are like me — the women — and not the men.
And the problem is that when I look at these women, I would very much like to see confident ladies who enjoy sex and are having a fun sexy time. But what I see instead are women who give me the same impression as creepy dead-eyed porn stars mechanically mouthing “oh yeah, I want it.” And that feeling of coerced sexual enthusiasm is the creepiest, saddest, most unerotic thing I can imagine. And if I were able to have a boner, seeing something like that would make me lose it every time.
When I read these comics and I see the way the female characters are presented, I don’t see heroes I would want to be. I don’t see people I would want to hang out with or look up to. I don’t feel like the comics are talking to me; I feel like they’re talking about me, the way both Jason Todd and Roy Harper talk about Starfire like two dudes high fiving over a mutual conquest (left).
I’ve heard people citing everything from Starfire’s cultural background to her recently experiences with slavery(?!) as reasons for her promiscuity, the same way I’ve heard that it is totes cool for the debut issue of Voodoo, the first black female character to get her own DC ongoing series, to open with her stripping on her knees while men throw money at her, because she has a previously established history of being a stripper. But let’s be honest — they didn’t make her a stripper because they really wanted to create a positive and well-rounded portrait of sex workers and how they exist in our culture. And you want to know how I know that? Because this is not what that looks like:
This is not the picture of that. And honestly I don’t care if the final art next week reveals that she’s reciting the Vagina Monologues or long excerpts from books by Gloria Steinem; it is not going to change the way looking at the image makes me — or a lot of women — feel, or the message it sends about how that comic regards ladies.
Female characters are only insatisable, barely-dressed aliens and strippers because someone decided to make them that way. It isn’t a fact. It isn’t an inviolable reality, especially in a comic book universe that has just been rebooted. In the end, what matters is what you choose to show people and how you show them, not the reasons you make up to justify it. Because this is comics, everybody. You can make up anything.
Most of all, what I keep coming back to is that above all, superhero comics are nothing if not aspirational. They are full of heroes that inspire us to be better, to think more things are possible, to imagine a world where we can become something amazing. But this is what comics like this tell me about myself, as a lady: They tell me that I can be beautiful and powerful, but only if I wear as few clothes as possible. They tell me that I can have exciting adventures, as long as I have enormous breasts that I constantly contort to display to the people around me. They tell me I can be sexually adventurous and pursue my physical desires, as long as I do it in ways that feel inauthentic and contrived to appeal to men and kind of creep me out. When I look at these images, that is what I hear, and I don’t think I even realized how much until this week.
In many ways, the constant barrage of this type of imagery (and characterization) is not unlike the sh*tty neighborhood I used to live in where every time I walked down the street, random people I didn’t know shouted obscene comments about my body and told me they wanted to have sex with me. And you know, maybe a lot of those guys thought they were complimenting me. Maybe they thought I had tried to look pretty that day and they were telling me I had succeeded in that goal. Maybe they thought we were having a frank and sexually liberated exchange of ideas. I’m willing to be really, really generous and believe that’s where they were coming from. But in the end, it doesn’t matter that they didn’t know it was creepy; it doesn’t matter that they “didn’t get it,” because every single day I lived there they made me feel like less of a person.
That is how I feel when I read these comics.
And I’m tired. I’m so, so tired of hearing those messages from comics because they aren’t the dreams or the escapist fantasies or the aspirations that I want to have. They don’t make me feel joyful or powerful or excited. They make me feel so goddamn sad that I want to cry, because I have devoted my entire life to comics, and when I read superhero books like these I realize that most of the time, they don’t give a sh*t about me.
I have been doing this for a long time, now. I have lived in the neighborhood of superhero comics for a long time. And frankly, if this is how they think it’s ok to treat me when I walk down the street in a place that I thought belonged to me just as much as anyone else who lives here, then I’m not sure I want to live here anymore.
Hey glockgal! I've been following your art for years now and I lost track of you after I fell out of the Harry Potter fandom. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across this tumblr and discovered you were drawing for another of my favorite fandoms--DC. And Arrow fanart at that! S'wonderful. You can really see how much you've grown as an artist, though your talent has been obvious always. Thanks for doing what you do. :)
MY FIRST ANON ASK and it is so sweet homg. GYARRR, I am still still floored that people think I have a pleasing artistic talent; I know this feeling is by now overly self-deprecating and possibly irritating to others, but. it makes me feel humble in a really really good way. <3 Thanks, anon.
I should have sent this message forever ago. Just wanted to say you have been one of the fanartists that I really adored since my first baby-steps into fandom lurking and that I was absolutely shocked (in a good way) when you followed me back. The posts you make are either gorgeous, or really thought provoking. So yes. That is really it. Awkward belated Thank you for following me is awkward!
lkgzkjfdlskfj NEVER AWKWARD, ALWAYS WONDERFUL. I love how all us fandomers remember the baby-steps years of getting into fandom. Meeemories. <3
If you don’t know, Taraji is THE LEAD character on this new show Person of Interest where the pilot episode had the highest test ratings of any drama pilot in 15 years.
Does matter to TV GUIDE though.
On the cover of their latest issue…..all three of her castmates…..WHO PLAY SUPPORTING ROLES were featured on the cover but Henson was no where to be found. Yes…..they are all white males too.
I’m REALLY not trying to make this a race issue but the proof is in the puddin’.
Here’s her response:
“WOW!!!! TV Guide is NOT including me on the cover with my cast members……. I am the female lead of a 3 member cast and I’m not included on the cover!!!!! Do you see the shit I have to deal with in this business….. I cram to understand!!!!”
Even Hollywood has tactful ways of calling you a N*gger to your face……….
Y’know, I saw a poster for this show on a bus-stop and it had, in equal parts, Michael Emerson (from LOST), that other white dude and Taraji P Henson on it. I was all EXCITED!!! because Ben Linus and a woman of colour starring in a show - yes please!
So I look it up and watch a trailer…and the trailer is just white guy after white guy, all of them doing!important!things!~ with maybe one 1-second shot of Henson…where she says nothing or does nothing, she’s just, like. Staring at white dude. If it wasn’t for the promo poster I had seen, based on this trailer I would have thought she was some extra they tossed in there as eye-candy. Since that’s all women are in shows, right? Because you know only the opinions of straight dudes aged 18-34 matter when it comes to promoting a show, right?
“Centuries later, what can Thanksgiving Day mean to Native peoples? Thank you for stealing our land? Thank you for wiping out our people? Thank you for placing a remnant of our once great numbers on rural ghettoes called ‘reservations?’ Thank you for abolishing most of the ancient traditions? Thank you for poisoning what little Indian lands remain with uranium? Thank you for poisoning the lands now inhabited by the whites? Thank you for letting Indians fight in American wars against other people? Thanks. The real tragedy is that millions of Americans don’t know, and don’t want to know about Indian history and traditions. Today, the names of rivers, lakes, and landmarks bear indigenous markers of another age. The people, except for an occasional movie, are mostly forgotten; out of mind. The easier to replace with false images of happy meals, and turkey dinners. Happy Thanksgiving.”
Mumia Abu Jamal, “Some Who Feel No Reason for Thanksgiving” (via callhergreen)
To anyone feeling whiny/bitter/’get over it’ from the inconvenience of guilt:
My fam does the whole get-together thing for (Canadian) Thanksgiving - which, btw, is no less of a false image than the American version. It’s not so much the gathering that is wrong; I mean, people need reasons to gather and eat during winter months in the US and Canada. I think what’s awful is to pretend that it’s all about a wonderful and idealistic history, instead of being aware of the actual, historical whats and hows, respecting our real past and all the people who were displaced and marginalized in order for us to have this luxury of Thanksgiving.
Trust me - awareness and respect for other humans does not ’spoil’ the fun of Thanksgiving. The holiday has been whitewashed and it is fake. It needs to be redefined.
“What we did is, we made up 5000 resumes: on half of them we put an African American name, on half of them we put a white name. Otherwise, the resumes were exactly the same. Then we sent them out. Which got called back more? What we found was that the same resume, when it had an African American name, was 33% less likely to get an interview than when it had a white name. So if a white person is searching for a job for ten weeks, an equivalently skilled African American person will be searching for fifteen weeks. Those are five long weeks if you’re unemployed.”—
Dr. Sendhil Mullainathan, Harvard University Professor of Economics, Freakonomics (via cocknbull)
When I was trying to get a job in Harrow London, I knew the irony of applying for a job with my ‘white-sounding’ name on my faxed resume and my ‘white-sounding’ voice on the phone, and then showing up brown-and-proud for the interview. I could see the surprise on the interviewer’s face.
Think I was overreacting? Months later when we needed to hire someone else, he specifically told me and my (Brit-born Sri Lankan) supervisor ‘try not to hire more Asians’.
On a more complex level, this is why being a model minority is such a big deal for the West Indians.
"Back in my day"... seems to be making a return cuz "my day" seemed to involve looking at a lot of glockart :) So glad to see you over here, the comic fandom community seems really nice but not quite right without you posting!
yayyyy! *smoochie smoochie* It’s kinda nice to return to comics fandom because now I don’t give a damn about canon and I can draw whatever the hell I want. Which seems to be the common theme in Tumblr fandoms, lol.
US actor Danny Glover, who plans an epic next year on Haitian independence hero Toussaint-Louverture, said he slaved to raise funds for the movie because financiers complained there were no white heroes.
“Producers said ‘It’s a nice project, a great project… where are the white heroes?’” he told the press during a stay in Paris this month for a seminar on film.
“I couldn’t get the money here, I couldn’t get the money in Britain. I went to everybody. You wouldn’t believe the number of producers based in Europe, and in the States, that I went to,” he said.
”The first question you get, is ‘Is it a black film?’ All of them agree, it’s not going to do good in Europe, it’s not going to do good in Japan.
“Somebody has to prove that to be a lie!”, he said. “Maybe I’ll have the chance to prove it.”
“Toussaint,” Glover’s first project as film director, is about Francois Dominique Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803), a former slave and one of the fathers of Haiti’s independence from France in 1804, making it the first black nation to throw off imperial rule and become a republic.
The uprising he led was bloodily put down in 1802 by 20,000 soldiers dispatched to the Caribbean by Napoleon Bonaparte, who then re-established slavery after its ban by the leaders of the French Revolution.
Due to be shot in Venezuela early next year, the film will star Don Cheadle, Mos Def, Wesley Snipes and Angela Bassett.
When even an exceptional actor line-up like that still makes producers demand white heroes? Y’think maybe discrimination in Hollywood actually exists? Y’think?
Honestly, I’d love to hear the ‘reasons’ and ‘arguments’ to defend this. I’ve removed myself from the general internet jackassery of ignorant white supremacists, so I’m kinda rusty on what derailing tactic they’ll use to justify this type of financial and corporate racism as a) reasonable; b) me overreacting; c) not racism somehow in some special way.
What, you mean you didn’t enjoy the way Kurt gave her that condescending little speech about her channelling her FOREVER ALONE-ness into eating? You know, because she’s a fatty boombalatty? One who doesn’t have a man? And who won’t ever get one ie. have a life worth living?
That whole stupid tots storyline makes me feel two things: A) FUCK OFF WRITERS OF GLEE and B) I WISH I HAD SOME TATER TOTS RIGHT NOW
Glee: best cast, WORST PLOTS. Also Will should leave forever.
although, not that anyone cares, i’m not bothered by stereotypes of canadians the same way i am bothered by, say, stereotypes of asians. the former is amusing — and occasionally annoying — to me, while the latter is anywhere from aggravating to painful (or both!). plus, there’s something about being stereotyped as canadian that pleases my assimilated self. :/
otoh, having googled booster gold and confirmed that he is a white dude (what a surprise), something that does bother me is the notion & representation of canadians as a country of white people. like anytime there’s a guest character on a USian tv show who happens to be canadian, they’re nearly always white (well, to my recollection there’s no ‘nearly’ about it, but someone can probably think of a few examples who weren’t). not to mention canadian shows that tend in that direction as well.
Also I read somewhere someplace that Booster Gold was all about football? So like what…the CFL? LOL no offense, Vancouver Lions. And the meaning of ‘booster’ in relation to sports is completely alien to most Canadians, I think? Unless you’re from the T-Dot, perhaps maybe.
But yeah, agree to everything crossedwires says. Canadians ain’t all white (and/or ~~*mystical*~~First Nations), bub.
“Rowling wrote Hermione to eschew stereotypes. She doesn’t end up with the hero, she is never there to function as Harry’s love interest. She prefers Arithmancy to Divination in school. So often, female characters are allowed to be aggressive or rebellious, but in exchange are stripped of any traditionally feminine qualities and instead are forced to pick up traditionally masculine traits. However, Hermione is never made to do that. Most notably, she is written to be highly logical AND emotionally expressive, a combination not commonly afforded to most of today’s leading ladies.”—
This is what I took from Hermione, when I was reading HP. I loved that she was outspoken and decisive and had a temper. But she was also very emotional and gentle and un-sporty; and these supposedly more ‘feminine’ traits were never written as her failings, but also as her successes.