One of the most tiresome ongoing internet debates is the representation of women in various forms of media. While I would certainly argue that this is an issue worth addressing, the tiresomeness stems not from the topic itself, but from the approaches of the people doing the debating. Exhibit A: the recent kerfluffle regarding artist Milo Manara’s variant cover (shown above) featuring Spider-Woman in a classic Spider-Man pose in what I like to call the Spider-Woman Initiative.
The cries of sexism began long before the issue hit the stands, with the entire premise being that NOBODY would EVER draw a MALE superhero in that pose -the obvious response to anyone who has ever read a comic book being “whaaaaaaa?” because anybody who knows who Spider-Man is (a popular comic book character) and what Spider-Man does (whatever a spider can, I hear) has likely seen him in that pose, which is presumably meant to accentuate the spider-ness of the man (or woman in this case), countless times. I own a t-shirt that has Spider-Man in that pose. Well, that was easily settled. Thanks for playing.
But the hate kept coming….and coming…..and coming. It became so intense that Marvel Comics actually fired the artist from the upcoming projects he was slated to work on. And that’s exactly where I’ve personally got to draw the line. Internet shit talk is one thing, but damaging peoples’ careers is just plain wrong unless they are violent offenders like certain professional athletes. But spiteful crushing of another human being’s livelihood aside, the real issue I’m wondering about today is why is it specifically comic books that are singled out for sexualization of the female form when this is clearly an across the board kind of deal? We’ll get to that later. First, some observations.
Any aspiring artist has got to know how hard it is to successfully make a decent living drawing pictures for other people. Getting a job with one of the biggest comic companies on Earth is like winning a Golden Ticket. But for every Charlie there has to be a Veruca Salt, I suppose. In real life, she would use the internet to raise an army to intimidate Willy Wonka into throwing Charlie and everyone else out of the chocolate factory.
Make the basic human anatomy go away, mommy!!!
Just to make sure this was all as silly as it seemed and not just me, I showed the image to my wife (who is significantly less tolerant of sexual imagery than I and gives fewer than two shits about comics) and asked her if it offended her in any way. Her response suggested I may have just asked her the stupidest thing that has ever been asked out loud. And I didn’t even say the “let me ass you something” part out loud. When I explained why I wanted her opinion, she said “God, I hate feminists”. That was both unexpected and interesting to me.
As I’m sure you’re aware, feminists are supposed to represent the interests of women in theory. This is something you’d think women would automatically be down with. But like any organization that sets out to do good, the most prominent members end up being the folks shouting hate speech slogans at funerals and crashing planes into buildings. When the people you’re advocating start expressing outright disgust at your actions, it may be time to reconsider your methods. Nobody likes an extremist.
And from the perspective of creators and artists, the attacks make for a no-win situation. Saying you want more prominent female characters and then tearing down a solo title starring a prominent female character is counterproductive to that end. To further illustrate this dilemma, allow me to show you the other controversial cover by regular artist Greg Land for the same issue. Find the problem.
If you hissed “I can see her dirty pillows”, help yourself to a cookie. Never mind that every inch of her body below her jawline is covered up, breasts included; you can still see that she has them, and there’s no shortage of bloggers pointing out this horror. Now let me spell something out. We want more women in comic books. If they are shown from the back you can see their butt. If you show them from the front, you can see their boobs. And if you show them from the side, both become even more prominent. If you are comic book artist, I’m not sure that’s a solvable problem unless all female characters are either rendered prepubescent or attired in burkas.
And no, ladies, I don’t mean to pick on you and your overzealous self-appointed advocates who often profit handsomely by manufacturing controversy. There are men who are also out of their goddamn minds with a need to destroy that which they don’t personally appreciate, even in their own community. Notable comic illustrator Dave Dorman attacked Image Comics’ Saga, which featured a highly inoffensive cover in which a mother is breastfeeding her child.
She must be some kind of pedophile!
His issue? How dare they show something like that in a comic meant for children; Saga being a comic that has at least one explicit full-page lesbian angel orgy too many to be seen as any sort of children’s story. We all love a good “won’t somebody think of the children?” outcry if for nothing else than some hearty laughs but come the f*** on. I can only assume that Mr. Dorman’s knowledge of the fairer gender comes primarily from Judd Appatow films.
What I would infer from this guy’s statement is that his real problem is discomfort with a woman’s breast being portrayed in a decidedly non-sexual manner. Try to think of an image more patently natural and maternal than a breastfeeding mother. Exactly; there isn’t one. If you see that and all you can think of is sex, then I weep for you.
And while we’re on the topic of society’s devolution in attitudes towards femininity, if you see a woman in a crouched position facing the camera and use the word “presenting” to describe what you see, just….I don’t even know what to say to you except this is not National Geographic and using nature documentary terminology doesn’t make you sound more intelligent in this context. You and me baby are not nothing but mammals and I, for one, do not do it like they do on the Discovery Channel. How is referring to a strong woman as if she were something subhuman even remotely compatible with feminism?
But enough about all that. If this was an across the board assault on all portrayals of women across media, I’d just accept it as decades of modern liberals envying the uptight repressionism that used to define classic conservatism coming to a boil. Live long enough with your head outside of your own posterior and you’ll see supposedly opposing political sides switch dance partners often enough. But with the comic industry in particular, this has been going on since the 1930’s with full-on Fahrenheit 451 burnings in the 40’s, the 50’s onset of aggressive blanket censorship that lasted for decades, right up to current prosecutions of explicit manga featuring high school girls as child pornography.
But putting oppression and censorship issues aside as well, nobody has effectively explained what all this sex-shaming is supposed to accomplish aside from implying that the female form is shameful and so is any sort of attraction to it. Alright, so men like looking at sexually attractive images and companies use that to sell them products, in this case comic books. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea and people are upset by what they don’t understand and can’t be bothered to think seriously about, but let’s look at how things are being marketed by women to women for comparison.
I couldn’t find a decent image search that didn’t include some hilarious satirical title changes, but you get the idea.
So what I’m getting is that drawings of powerful female characters who fight evil in spandex costumes is sexist and disgusting, but explicit descriptions of throbbing members, cupped breasts, and ass-claiming (if I may paraphrase 50 Shades) fronted by images several times over more explicitly sexual in nature are just dandy. So is it the sexualization of women that’s bad or is this a blatant example of hypocrites deciding it’s okay as long as the medium is targeted exclusively to them? You tell me.
And if I may beat that horse a little more I’d like to point out that I’ve never been to a store that didn’t have the checkout aisles lined with airbrushed images (because people like Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence aren’t naturally attractive enough to be worthy) of sexualized women next to large text promising sexual content inside. Controversy or not, I will almost certainly never lay eyes on a physical copy of Milo Manara’s Spider-Woman Initiative cover. To do so one would either have to order that specific variant from the web or enter an actual comic book store and look for it because those are the only places one typically finds such things. Comics are not exactly saturating our daily lives. You have to make it your business to go well out of your way to find this stuff, which is a direct contrast to oh, say this example of a ubiquitous women’s magazine, for example:
No double standard, here. Nosiree. And fyi: if oral sex is dangerous, you’re doing it wrong.
If you can find a mainstream comic cover where the girl is covering her vagina by pulling down her top (exposing her bra in the process, natch) then I might concede that the folks leading this particular anti-sexism crusade might not need to be sterilized for the good of mankind. I’m kidding. This whole thing is proof that we all need to be sterilized. Even me, for taking this much time to refute something so far beneath even the lower tiers of human intellect when I know better.
After all, it takes a lot more energy to prove bullshit wrong than it does to dish it out so I’m destined to lose this test of endurance. Any amount of time, energy, research, and critical analysis can and will be easily ignored and overshadowed by one anonymous troll tweeting “duurrrrrr, Imma RAPE YOU! lol” to a prominent female blogger, thus proving that everything they’ve ever said is irrefutably true forever. It’s logic!
So people will continue to throw a bunch of nonsensical crap at the wall and even if it sticks they’ve still only managed to cover a wall in excrement. I fail to see the appeal, but then again I make my living at a job, not by enticing stupid people to use inflammatory internet articles as a battleground. I’m just a humble nerd who wants to be free to love the things he loves and for artists and writers to be free to create them for anybody who wants them. And I hope that those who don’t love what I love can find something in their life that they can enjoy regardless of anyone else’s opinion on it and put their time and energy into supporting that instead of generating as much negativity as they can.
And lady geeks, if you’ve got an opinion on this, I’d love to hear it in the comments. I hear a lot from the people who clearly aren’t part of our community hogging all the press, but I want to know what YOU think. Geek culture is not only boys’ fun and, occasional condescending prick aside, you should always feel welcome to speak your mind, particularly when so many outsiders are confusing the issues and presuming to speak for you. Is there anything my testosterone-addled brain is missing that I failed to take into consideration here? Let’s hear it.