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Ivan's Quick Rant


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#1 Ivan

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Posted 04 July 2013 - 11:55 PM

This was written a while back as a response to a front-page link about The Hawkeye Initiative.  It amazed me how quickly I was able to fill out my bingo card while reading the Patriarchy Apologist commentary attached to that link.  

I decided at the time, since I wasn't active in the site, that it would seem silly to swoop in just to teach a lesson on the evils of the phallocracy.  However, when I started snooping around the site again yesterday, I noticed this board.  It came as quite a shock, I've been gaming with an international group of college-educated, progressive men and women, and I had forgotten just how much anti-female sentiment exists in other areas of nerd culture.  Hopefully this short piece, coupled with the links above, will start at least a few people on the journey toward understanding.

 

I will attempt to outline why the clichés used in the aforementioned article are, in fact, clichés, and why students of critical theory don’t see them as valid arguments.  Right off the bat the author hits us with the apologist mantra- it’s ok because these artists and editors are not being deliberately sexist.  Replace sexism with another ism, like racism, and see if that sentence would still be passable.  Nobody defends Song of the South for being unintentionally racist, because at the end of the day Uncle Remus is still a horrifying caricature of a Walt Disney’s idealized vision of a poor-but-happy, uneducated Uncle Tom.  Just like with racism, unintentional sexism is actually the worst kind, because it presumes its own innocence.  Yes, I’m sure Joe Quesada doesn’t sit down to an editorial meeting and say “How can we rile up the skirts today, boys?” but that’s not even close to the point, anyway.  That’s a straw-man argument, constructed by defenders of the status quo, which, in superhero comics, is institutionalized sexism.

The other argument made at the beginning of the piece is that men are drawn unrealistically in comics, too.  Again, this is an argument that, on a superficial level, seems to cover the gaps in criticism, until you look at things like The Hawkeye Initiative.  Men in comics are not sexualized, rather they are idealized.  There is a dramatic difference- men are drawn in action poses that highlight energy, motion, and power.  Women, by contrast, are drawn in poses that highlight improbable wardrobe and impossible anatomy.  Even when Psylocke is jumping out of an exploding building, she’s inexplicably doing it ass-first, with her back arched just-so, all while wearing less between her waist and knees than she is between her wrists and elbows.  Oh, and she had the decency to put on lipstick and paint her nails before the battle.  How many women serve in the US Military?  How many of them wear swimwear into combat? 

The author also suggests that the exposed curves of comic book heroines are both “natural” and “idealized” which, having watched both the Miss America pageant and the Olympics, I can confidently refute.  Catwoman’s breasts are easily two cup sizes too large for the American cultural standard of healthy beauty, three for a woman who regularly engages intense physical exercise.  Find me one Olympic gymnast with Catwoman’s acrobatic prowess, whose breasts are even half that size.  Now look at Wonder Woman or She Hulk or Abby Chase or Power Girl or the Scarlet Witch.  Look at Black Canary or Miss Marvel, at Sue Storm or Sarah Pezzini or Supergirl.  These women certainly are not treated like goddesses; they are treated like Bikini Bimbos.  They’re all born from the Bettie Page mold, and the storytelling reflects that.

The piece diverts a little bit, suggesting that there is a difference between sexy and sexist.  This is the kind of distinction a person would only make if he failed to understand that calling something sexy is inherently sexist.  The author is operating on the assumption that because he considers comic book pin-up poses to be “sexy” there are automatically not sexist.  This is a false binary, and only reinforces the double-standard, that sexism is considered culturally acceptable because the dominant group in the patriarchy- men- derive visual pleasure from its existence.  In superhero comics, men are shown working, fighting, drinking, or flying.  Women are shown in various states of undress and/or submission, with vapid or lascivious facial expressions, with the express intention of giving visual pleasure to a male audience.

In visual art, the human form can be depicted in a variety of ways.  As with everything, context is king.  Sure, the Venus De Milo is topless, but that argument fails to hold water if used in support of highly-sexualized comic “cheesecake” because the sculpture is anatomically accurate, standing in a contemplative contrapposto, and appropriately dressed for the culture and situation.  This argument extends to cosplayers, who dress up hoping to emulate the heroic qualities of comic book heroines and end up getting groped and ogled, because mainstream superhero comics AS A MEDIUM has failed to teach young men that a woman’s value is in no way connected to her appearance. 

I never finished this rant, obviously, but hopefully it can spark a conversation!



#2 ThePhenomenalOne

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 12:51 AM

I understand why people are upset about sexism in comics. I like the little speech you just gave along with the whole blog/bingo thing that girl made. However, there is only one response that I would personally give to said reader and the rebuttal is almost as bad as the responses IMO. My response would be, 'If you don't like them, don't read them.' This is the response that the girl gives to that...

"This is one of those arguments that reasonable people often make, unable to see why feminist comics fans spend time and energy discussing and deploring sexism in superhero comics when there’s just so darn much of it. Why not, the argument goes, simply stop reading? Give up comics altogether, or find alternatives to the superhero books that infuriate you so.

But that’s not good enough. Most feminist fans hate sexism, but love superheroes. I know that there’s something about costumed people beating the crap out of bad guys, invading alien armies and each other that makes my heart happy. If there are explosions, so much the better! And the fair number of books that get it right is evidence that it can be done.

But most importantly, your critic has every right to complain about sexism in comics because – crazy thought! – sexism is wrong, whether you think it’s a waste of energy or not."

Now, by going off what she is saying and your rant above, this is an unacceptable rebuttal to me. And this is what I would say.

You obviously feel pretty damn strong against sexism in comics as well as sexism in general, yet the response was that you HATE sexism but LOVE superheroes. Now, to take a piece from what Ivan said above to hopefully let you see my view. Ivan said to take sexism and replace the -ism, with lets say, racism. Ok, then lets say that I'm a white civil rights activist actively doing what I can to fight racism against minorities, African-Americans as my main focus. I'm great at what I do. I've helped many people, and have even started a blog! There is this coffee shop in town that makes the BEST coffee in the world! I mean I LOVE this coffee. The only problem is, they decided to serve whites only. Do I continue going there to buy this coffee that I am in love with even though it goes against something I feel very strongly about? No! If I feel that strongly about it, I find another coffee shop until hopefully the one that I love, changes. 

 

I'm not saying I agree with sexism. I'm saying that if anyone feels this strong about sexism in comics, then they probably shouldn't be reading the ones that are sexist until they've changed. If you feel you want to help eliminate sexism, especially in comics, then I'm sure you can find something else to read while you fight your fight.



#3 Ivan

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 02:09 AM

It seems like a solution, but these feminists (myself included) aren't reading XXX comics and finding the sexism there.  The problem with that is that sexism is endemic in all mainstream superhero comics.  It's not like I'm poring through pages of Vampirella.  The debacle over Starfire's presentation in the Teen Titans reboot during the "New 52"  was well-documented.  Teen Titans is a well-known property with a strong all-ages fanbase.  The Red Hood and Catwoman relaunches were also pegged as problematic, and before the reboot, there was the Wonder Woman situation during Blackest Night.  The problem occurs in Marvel properties too.  Sure, we could go buy issues of Mouse Guard, or geek out about Jeff Lemire, or worship Kate Beaton, and we definitely do all those things, but we also like Superhero Comics, and we know they can be done well.  With the popularity of the Marvel film universe (which all unilaterally fail the Bechdel test,) should 52% of the population really have to actively avoid mainstream comics in order to find a book that adequately represents their interests?



#4 xLEGACYx

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 04:25 AM

Its a fictional story with illustrations.  The idea is to make everything the most appealing they can.  While some small things have changed about characters over the years, they are still about the same as when they started out.  When it comes down to sexism what is wrong with a character looking at there physical best?  Its not like women are being put down as dumb.  Now days there are being portrayed as leaders of groups as oppose to followers or small time helpers.  Who cares if a characters design is revealing.  Just like in the real world, if a man or woman is proud of there body they feel like its ok to show it off.  If artists drew characters like Batman and he did not look his best, it wouldnt be reasonable that he could perform the feats he does.  Who would honestly want to read a book about a realistic looking fat guy/girl with superpowers?  It would become a comedy comic and not taken real seriously.  There is no real problem with it.  There are much more extreme versions of sexism all throughout media.  Comics are relatively tame.  Look at normal tv shows now days.  They have books like 50 shades of gray and shows like mistresses on tv.  Comics are by far less sexist than other entertainment outlets.



#5 M Bison

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 05:15 AM

Legacy, I recommend you read Ivan's rant again. He covers your points. It's not "physical best" when women are drawn anatomically incorrect, and in poses that are designed specifically to turn you on. 

This problem has been well documented for a long time. It's the dark side of nerd culture, and it's pandemic. Nothing more to add really, Ivan's pretty much covered the main points. 

 

EDIT: I can't find the article you are referencing Ivan. Only the Tumblr. 



#6 treacherous

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 09:12 AM

That's a long rant.  I object!  You never quickly rant.



#7 ThePhenomenalOne

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 09:32 AM

It seems like a solution, but these feminists (myself included) aren't reading XXX comics and finding the sexism there.  The problem with that is that sexism is endemic in all mainstream superhero comics.  It's not like I'm poring through pages of Vampirella.  The debacle over Starfire's presentation in the Teen Titans reboot during the "New 52"  was well-documented.  Teen Titans is a well-known property with a strong all-ages fanbase.  The Red Hood and Catwoman relaunches were also pegged as problematic, and before the reboot, there was the Wonder Woman situation during Blackest Night.  The problem occurs in Marvel properties too.  Sure, we could go buy issues of Mouse Guard, or geek out about Jeff Lemire, or worship Kate Beaton, and we definitely do all those things, but we also like Superhero Comics, and we know they can be done well.  With the popularity of the Marvel film universe (which all unilaterally fail the Bechdel test,) should 52% of the population really have to actively avoid mainstream comics in order to find a book that adequately represents their interests?

 

In my post, I didn't say one thing about reading XXX or Vampirella comics. I also understand that we are talking about mainstream comics. Your post above didn't take anything what I previously said into consideration. I thought the coffee shop was a good example, but I will try another.

I am the same civil rights activist as mentioned in my previous post, only this time, my favorite comic is causing me problems. I love reading about my favorite superhero 'The Man'. He is a white male who was an All-American football player before a freak accident made him 'The Man'. I've been reading for a long time, but as of recently I've noticed that African-Americans are being portrayed as ignorant, uneducated fools. They even call them derogatory names. But, this is some good reading and I can't wait for the next issue to see if he stopped 'The Sloth'. Since I really HATE what they're saying in their comics, I've decided to boycott and help spread the word that way instead of continuing to read and complain some, hoping they'll change it. Because, as you said, replace the sexism from your comic to racism in mine and try to justify it, you can't.

 

Look, I honestly get what you're saying. But if you want to change it, put some more time and energy into trying to boycott and get others to join your cause. If said feminists think they can go on reading the comics and going to see them in the theatres without becoming ill because you're going against what you stand for, then don't complain about it. Don't do it half assed. 

 

Now that is just how I feel personally and I am honestly sorry if I upset anyone with my views on this subject.



#8 deojusto

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 10:07 AM

That's a long rant. I object! You never quickly rant.


I too object on semantics. Though since I pretty much agree with the content it isn't that big of an objection.

Its a fictional story with illustrations. The idea is to make everything the most appealing they can. While some small things have changed about characters over the years, they are still about the same as when they started out. When it comes down to sexism what is wrong with a character looking at there physical best? Its not like women are being put down as dumb. Now days there are being portrayed as leaders of groups as oppose to followers or small time helpers. Who cares if a characters design is revealing. Just like in the real world, if a man or woman is proud of there body they feel like its ok to show it off. If artists drew characters like Batman and he did not look his best, it wouldnt be reasonable that he could perform the feats he does. Who would honestly want to read a book about a realistic looking fat guy/girl with superpowers? It would become a comedy comic and not taken real seriously. There is no real problem with it. There are much more extreme versions of sexism all throughout media. Comics are relatively tame. Look at normal tv shows now days. They have books like 50 shades of gray and shows like mistresses on tv. Comics are by far less sexist than other entertainment outlets.


-No one's denying that they're trying to make women, or everything else, as appealing as possible. That's actually why there's a problem. They're making them so appealing to young males, that it denigrates females by turning them into hyper appealing sex objects.

-These women are not in their physical best, they're top-heavy barbies who'd fall over if put under real gravity situations, and with anything drawn by Liefeld they probably have no stomachs. Though his offenses are far too numerous and I wouldn't paint any other artist with that brush before cleaning it first. Still if you saw a woman like that in real life she wouldn't be in physical shape. In some of the more egregious cases she'd actually have a lot of back pain.

-It's not sexism if you tell her she's a smart cookie when you smack her ass either. Saying it isn't sexist unless you're also implying they're dumb still misses the point. Like Ivan did, compare it to racism; I feel Asians are shifty little buggers, but they're not stupid, heck they're super smart! You still probably felt that sentence was racist and for good cause.

-I know plenty of attractive women. Lots even if I were to brag. Every single one of them would blush if even asked to wear the powergirl outfit to work. I also knew a few female soldiers in college who were coming home on the GI Bill. I guarantee you if you asked them to fight the likes of Two-Face, they would pick their fatigues and body armor over a latex catsuit. It's not that some women may like to wear revealing clothes, its that the clothes worn in these situations are completely inappropriate for the situation.

-Batman is probably the least naked character your could have named. He probably feels guilt over letting criminals see his uncovered chin. His physical prowess matches his figure yes, but he actually resembles to some degree what a professional athlete would at his age and size. Catwoman resembles a stripper, not an acrobat, as Ivan already explained. Again, like Ivan already said, men are idealized while women are objectified.

-I would totally read a book about an unnattractive person fighting crime. It would at least be diverse from what we're getting now. Men already have Jonah Hex and Deadpool for ugly, and nite-owl got kind of tubby, but they barely count. Still, I think it would be really cool for an artist to show someone with superpowers who was normal or even out of shape, who did not look the part of a god/goddess, but was trying their best to show what a real person would do in that situation. There's no reason it couldn't be serious.

- "Other media forms are more sexist then comics': this one is just a fallacy. Even if we concede that other media is on average more sexist, which I don't but assume I did, the response is then, so what? Someone else doing something does not justify or criminalize the action. For example I could argue that my "Conference on the shifty eyed, but very smart, Asians" is less racist then the Klan, does not excuse my racism. If there is sexism in movies, tv, video games, literature, then it aught to be dealt with; and it is. Many people spend a LOT of time criticizing films and televisions for sexism. Why shouldn't comics be held to that same standard? Why not hold it to a higher standard to finally show that 'this is a mature medium of art, take us seriously'.

#9 force_echo

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 10:07 AM

DC and Marvel or companies, therefore it goes to say that they sexualize females because it earns more profit than not sexualizing females. That probably means that by their fairly expert estimation the amount the market would expand if they stopped the practice wouldn't be as much as if they continued, so saying they're missing out on 52% of the population can't be right. Maybe girls as a whole don't read comics for some other reason, I don't know, I've never talked about comics with a girl. But in Japan, I think there's more of a female following, and females in manga aren't exactly known for covering up and having realistic proportions. I don't know, maybe the issue just needs more coverage. Like PhenomenalOne said, if you keep buying, they're not going to have an incentive to stop. Also, I don't think the writers/artists are the problem, it's the fanbase, and that's an important distinction to make, lest you end up directing energies to the wrong root of the problem. For example, one time in the Wonder Woman series, they started drawing a jacket on Diana. That's it. A jacket. The fan outcry was so tremendous that the artist was forced by the company to draw the jacket off again. Imagine if the noise and protest went the other way? It depends on how much people care.

#10 Dinsdale Piranha

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 11:25 AM

The hypersexualization of women in comics is one of the reasons I don't read them much any more. The unrealistic proportions and bizarre poses so many artists like to draw irritate me no end.

 

Superhero costumes have always been horribly impractical and more designed to show off the character's bodies than anything else. I'm not sure comics will ever be able to get away from that, but--as has been said here--there's a big difference between idealizing and objectifying. There's a difference between a pose that conveys the power of a super-heroine's punch and one that is designed to show off her ass as she punches a villain. And while there's nothing realistic about a woman fighting crime in a swimsuit, it's much less realistic (and more offensive) to have a woman with absurdly large boobs that are constantly threatening to explode out of a swimsuit that is clearly designed to be inadequate to the task of containing them. 

 

I didn't ever see the Wonder Woman jacket thing, but I suspect it's a case of DC missing the point. If you have a story about a strong, complex, interesting woman, and the art is used for intelligent storytelling, the fact that her shoulders are bare becomes much less important. If the story is an excuse to string together a series of sexually provocative pin-ups, putting a jacket on her isn't going to help one bit.



#11 force_echo

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 01:58 PM

Well the point was nothing is going to change unless the readership becomes more vocal about the issue. I mean, DC didn't put the jacket on initially to try to tone down sexualization of the character, that would be silly. They put the jacket just because it was a new, cool look, the fan outcry was the crazy part. The readership of Wonder Woman literally could not deal with Wonder Woman with covered shoulders, that's freaking insane.



#12 Pseudonym

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 02:11 PM

I don't think the sexualization of women in comics is really the issue, I think it's the chronic disempowerment that comes with. These women are reduced to pieces in the metaphorical chess game of the men around them, kidnapped or killed as part of the game. Their T and A flashes that spread across the page are meant to allude to the value of them as pieces. That's wrong, that's bad, that's not okay.

 

I don't think sexy superheros are the problem though. My friend and I spent half of the Man of Steel drooling over Henry Cavill's magnificent face. I don't think that did anything to make it any worse. Similarly, the over the top sexiness of Bayonetta (which does deviate from comics, I admit, but bear with me) I don't think is necessarily a problem. Bayonetta is still a truck-throwing, angel-slaying bad mother-huffer who just happens to also have an ass that won't quit and an oral fixation.

 

Is it sexist to have attractive women? I don't think so. No more than it is to have attractive men. Then again, I freely admit that I'm an idiot and I'm willing to learn on the subject.



#13 DSkillz

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 02:17 PM

Sorry, Ivan. Surfer's forum is really about posting pics of and discussing beautiful women (or, in the rare case of our female members, beautiful men, heh). Though this topic is plenty insightful, the rants are probably best posted in Off-Topic.



#14 Pseudonym

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Posted 05 July 2013 - 02:48 PM

But I think this post raises a good point about the Beautiful Women Forum in that its existence at all reinforces the idea of comics being a boys' club. A straight boys' club at that.



#15 silversurfer092

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Posted 14 July 2013 - 08:44 PM

True that. Can't argue that point.






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