Those of you that know me are probably not surprised to know that I have always been drawn to the sexy women of comics. But this admiration does not come easily at times, especially as it is clear from the way many of these women are drawn and are written that they are there to be escapist fantasy almost exclusively for men. On Episode 14 of The Charlie Tonic Hour we sat down with Kristen Coppess to talk about women in comic books. One of the questions I asked her was how she felt about the gravity-defying boobs and revealing costumes that seem to come standard issue for every female superhero. The discussion was great and I encourage you all to download the episode for a more in depth discussion but I wanted to briefly focus here on the pros and cons of the hyper-sexed comic woman to give you an idea of why I am still conflicted on the subject.
I will say right off the bat, and have frequently gone on record as saying, that I enjoy feeling sexy. In our talk Kristen pointed out that in comics the power of a female is sometimes directly proportional to how sexually she is portrayed. But the fact is that a woman’s sexuality does carry a lot of power with it, which is why it is so problematic for a lot men. I think the reason that so many of the men who create these characters make the powerful women so sexy is not just because they like looking at them but also because it’s how they subconsciously view attractive women in general. As walking superheros who can use their mysterious power for good or evil. For real life women this power can be problematic because as much as we may enjoy being able to attract, we are still put in danger by it. We want to enjoy going out for the night knowing that we may get some admiring glances but at the same time if we get raped we are accused of asking for it. Since the golden age of comics the costumes have not gotten any less revealing, and frequently have gone as close to being nude as possible. But it’s important to point out, as Kristen did, that the women have gotten much stronger over this period of time, with defined muscles that actually correspond to their physical strength and talents. For women who enjoy comics the hyper-sexiness of the female characters can be an enjoyable aspect of the fantasy. Who wouldn’t love to have a rock hard body that makes men drool while at the same time having the strength and power to be able snap any of those men in half if they decided to get a little too touchy-feely?
But hold on a minute. What if you are a woman and you DON’T want to be looked at? Well that’s just too bad sweetie because if you were born a woman being looked at seems to be part of your job. And it doesn’t matter how accomplished you are in every other area of your life, if a man doesn’t find you attractive then you don’t count. This is perhaps a slight exaggeration but it’s more true than those of you with a penis might believe. (For a wonderfully insightful and rather hilarious take on this please read Cracked’s article 5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women.) What women really want in our female characters is to see our best selves reflected in the characters we read, not to read fantasies of how men wish we were. Most of us want female characters who are sexy and who have sex, because most of us want to be sexy and to have sex, but we don’t want them to be defined by their sexiness. And the fact is that when you look at many female characters in comics it is absolutely impossible to not think of sex. A lot of women I know who read and love comics are put off by how they are treated by male comic readers. If they object to how women are constantly and universally portrayed in comics then they are told that they are being over sensitive or to just not to buy it if it offends. The message is that this art is for us so just leave if you don’t like it.
Fortunately with the fate of the comic industry hanging by a thread these days, alienating half of your potential readership is not an option. Luckily there are already a lot of women out there who love and buy and read comics and those numbers continue to grow. Even with the troubling issues I raised, even with the mega-boobs and dicy story lines, women have fallen in love with comics. If the industry can learn to embrace women artists and writers on a larger scale and widen it’s appeal to women I think that the potential for growth in women readership will be even greater than the potential for growth in the character’s cup sizes.