Tonight at 7 EDT we are having the third #SuperWomen chat! Join us on Twitter for an hour (or so) of discussion. Tonight’s topic will be SuperWomen and Sexuality. Discuss superhero costumes, armour (or lack thereof), and how this plays a role in the portrayal of SuperWomen and how they are perceived in culture.
One of the big topics surrounding women in fantasy and the comic book world is their costumes and clothes. I mean, it’s not good enough to fight the powers of darkness for the safety of unicorns and puppies if you can’t do it baring 87% of your skin, right?
Never mind that from a combat perspective, traipsing about in a bikini leaves most of your internal organs vulnerable. Either the creators of these costumes imagine that all organs from heart to spleen reside in women’s boobs or there’s something else at work here.
It’s not just the comic books — it’s films, cartoons, video games, and everything in between. If women have powers, they’re going to be mostly naked.
The Myth of the Male Demographic
One of the biggest reasons I hear for this is that they’re just playing to the male-dominated demographic that consumes these types of media. If you look at that statement a little more closely, this is what you’ll see:
Men are only interested in powerful women if they are naked (vulnerable) and sexualised.
Not only is that horribly disturbing, but it’s insulting to the intelligence of men as well. I believe in gender equality, and to say that men only want to see strong women if they’re getting sexually stimulated by it is degrading to intelligent men AND degrading to women.
Both men and women are sexual beings. But culture would have us believe that old double standard where men fixating on visual stimulation (women in skimpy costumes) is an inextricable and inevitable hangup. It’s the same mentality that puts the blame on women for “tempting” men by looking sexy, and by saying that men have as much ability to control their urges as a toddler left alone in a candy shop.
I believe this is a self-perpetuating myth. Both consumers and media creators got it into their heads that men wouldn’t be interested in seeing female superheroes in full armour, so they rarely try to depict it otherwise. And in doing so, how can they know?
Last week, someone sent me a rather troll-like reply on Twitter after I commented that Anita Blake is a powerful SuperWoman. The guy said something like, “Oh, because she’s surrounded by men to bang who are all at her beck and call?”
I didn’t respond out of disgust.
That response is a perfect example of the sexual double standard applied to male and female sexuality. Men with multiple partners have almost always been lauded, where women are whores. And notice that this Twit (not a Tweep) immediately sexualised Anita’s power in general in response to a comment I made saying that Anita shows that women can be sexual without being a victim or a “whore.” Anita’s power does not stem only from her sexuality — the ardeur is not the root of her power. She is a strong, fully realised character regardless of how many lovers she has.
Female superheroes are sexualised for the “male audience,” but if they stray from what is expected, they’re demonised, merely for exhibiting the same behaviours seen of their male counterparts.
Sex as a Punisher
Earlier this week, I discussed sexual violence in horror movies, but it’s not limited to that genre. Too often, rape and sexual assault are used as punishment tropes in media, to take female protagonists down a peg or two in retaliation for them romping around having the gall to be strong.
Seanan McGuire said something very similar in her post last week — why should SuperWomen have to be violated and humiliated? Why does retaliation against them have to be sexual in nature?
From costumes to sex to rape — the sexuality of SuperWomen has a lot of issues to work through. Join us on Twitter this evening to discuss these facets of their portrayal and how we can combat them. Same bat time, same bat channel. 7:00 EDT until we’re done.
What counterexamples can you find for these tropes? Many? Any? How can we shift the balance from the sexualising of SuperWomen to the empowering of SuperWomen in all aspects of their characterisation?
- Give Us The SuperWomen! (emmiemears.com)
- What Makes Them SuperWomen? (emmiemears.com)
- Fight Back: The Hills Have Eyes (emmiemears.com)
- When Men are Raped (drvitelli.typepad.com)