Apr 24, 2014

Admiration vs Objectification

Warning for profanity...

Recently, the first issue of the new Teen Titans comic came under scrutiny for, among other crimes against art such as teeny school buses and weird perspectives, portraying a 17 year-old girl as though she had a hefty set of breast implants.

Here's how Wonder Girl is usually portrayed:


Not bad. Feminine, but tough, and fairly age-appropriate for a teenager.

And here's how she appears in the new Teen Titans series:


You can't tell me there's any reason to depict a character with breasts like that other than to appeal, sexually, to guys between the ages of 14 and 40.

And she's 17.

Guys, we're being urged to want to have sex with a 17 year-old. And that's a problem.

A common argument given in defence of the way comics depict women is that men are also depicted with big muscles, in right, revealing costumes. So that makes it okay, right? They're the same? Wrong. And here's why:

There's a difference between "I want to be that" and "I want to fuck that."

Take a look at this:


Batman is one of the most awesome, and masculine, characters in comics. He's every inch the alpha male dream. Rich, handsome, incredibly intelligent, tough as nails, and he gets all the girls and has all the best toys. Here, he's drawn with a determined expression, head and chest thrust out as he makes gravity his plaything, swinging through the night.

This is a powerful, forceful image, intended to make guys want to be Batman.

Now look at this:


And this:


Let's be brutally honest for a moment. Catwoman and Starfire were drawn this way for one reason, and only one reason: to make boners. Because showing women that men want to fuck is a great way to get men to buy comics. The thing is, that we don't need any help getting men to buy comics. They've been aimed at men and boys since their inception.

Even if we did need to play on the "I want to fuck that" response, it's a fallacy at best, and an outright lie at worst, to say that the men in comics are depicted in as sexually objectified a manner as the women.

Let's look at Batman again:


Yeah, he looks pretty badass. But I'd put money that not one woman (or man, to be fair) wants to fuck him based on this.

Here is a picture of someone I am assured by several women is "edible":


No skin-tight costumes. No unrealistic posing or exaggerated proportions. What is it that makes him attractive? His smile. His walk. His attitude. And yes, his shoulders, ass and abs help. But the key thing is that major factors in what women find attractive are to do with his personality. What he's like to talk to and hang out with. How he makes a woman feel about herself. How he makes her forget her inhibitions. Make her laugh without feeling self-conscious. Have a conversation about everything and nothing at the same time. And how they can share a deeper intimacy as a result.

The character isn't attractive because of gratuitous displays of his body. He's attractive because of who he is. And, more importantly, he's still a character who men will look at and think "I want to be that." Why? Because he has personality, flaws, vices, doubts, and still stands next to his brother and stares down the gates of hell because that's what heroes do.

My god, wouldn't it be great if the sex symbols men were being pitched could boast that, instead of rotating spines and floating breasts?

This is why it isn't fair to claim that male characters are sexually objectified the same way as women. It's not remotely the same.

To take it further, how many female characters can you think of that you can say are portrayed as character first, sex second? I bet it's less than the male characters you can do the same for. And in comics? Forget about it. Comics are still a boys' club, which is why, despite repeated calls for it, the first time Wonder Woman got to be in a major movie was the Lego Movie, and her first appearance in a live action cinematic release will be as a side character while Superman and Batman throw down and see whose manliness is superior.

Where are today's Ellen Ripleys? Where's the Zoe Washburn of superhero comics? Why does a children's cartoon have over 500,000 fans, more than half of whom are women, and no-one thinks that maybe if they made the comic version appealing to women, it might sell more than 26,000 in a month?

Ask a woman to tell you what characters she finds attractive, and what characters she looks up to as role models, the ones she might fantasize about being some day. The answer might surprise you.

Because women should get to be the hero, too.

20 comments:

  1. Jeezus. Those portrays of female heroines are sickening. The objectification of the female body seems to be a never-ending problem, and one that's becoming worse instead of better. I hope in ten or twenty years we'll see some improvement, if we work really hard. If not, I fear for civilization.

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    1. I hope so, too. I'm tired of seeing half the population of the world reduced to cheap titillation.

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  2. Nice dissection of the issue. They're all someone's fantasy, but they're not mine. And I like pretty ladies. :P

    I find some of the large boob action shots hard to look at. I have big boobs, I know what running with the level of support some of them seem to have would feel like. It's kinda like looking at pictures of someone getting cockpunched

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    1. That's a fantastic analogy, and it makes so much sense.

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  3. They are drawn that way to appeal to the majority readers (males) and to sell issues.

    Which is rather insulting assuming that all men just want boobs.

    Give me a well written character, depicted in something sensible, like as Wonder Girl was (sure she looks attractive, but it's not overly sexualized).

    We don't need sexy poses from all our characters DC and Marvel. So please, stop it. Just for a month, give it a go. See what happens.

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    1. Exactly. Comics don't need gratuitous sex to sell.

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  4. You know, I agree. There's something off about the way they're drawing female characters. And it is insulting to both genders. :-/

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  5. What time does your rocket re-enter the atmosphere?

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    1. Looking at your recent comments on Google+, I take it you disagree with my views. That's fine, you're entitled to do so. I'm not exactly sure what your comment is meant to add to the debate, however.

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    2. I am against any views that act to add or take away the morality of tens of millions of human beings at a single swipe based on what they were the day they were born.

      In this instance, it's just another case of the implicit immorality, awareness and lack of spirituality of men vs. the implicit morality of women. It is a tiresome trend which somehow thinks of itself as "anti-sexist."

      I have heard of courts that allow character witnesses based on their individual life experiences. I have never heard of a court that simply puts a woman on the stand as a character witness because she is a woman.

      I am more than tired of these false binaries of morality distributed according to West/non-West, female/male, black/white, gay/straight. Are you so unaware you are part of a culture that uses identity in place of a moral ethos while claiming the exact opposite?

      I understand you are making a case for a trend, but at the end of the day, these trends mysteriously always have the same failings of the same group - white, straight, men. When is obvious, obvious? This is a culture that dotes on the failings of men as conspicuously as it NEVER dotes on the failings of women. I would prefer neither, but I certainly won't tolerate one.

      As a comic fan, I don't really care for these bizarre hyper-sexualized depictions either. However I recognize individual expressions of this are as old as sex itself, and I encourage tolerance. I am tired of every critique of this entire set of genres being expressed within the confines of anti-oppression movements. They are comics for crying out loud, not a patriarchal, capitalist, racist, supremacist, Islamophobic, homophobic cabal dead set to discomfit, non-whites, gays, and women. If you believe otherwise - fine. When that is institutionalized and an alternate opinion written off as ignorant bigotry as default - not so fine. I walk away.

      If women should get to be the hero too, then let them organize a rescue of the girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, or march en masse to the draft board with diversity pie-charts of Vet's Hospitals that show a startlingly high male presence of 97.7% and demand to be put in frontline combat units. Until that day, you can pretend that reality is "misogyny." I will not. I'll call balls and strikes. You want a free pass to first base - as a group? Earn it. I had to sign up for the draft at 18 - by law - and then spend 10 years wondering if I'd get sent to a jungle and a bayonet in the guts. And I should listen cuz of "privilege?" On the day I hear women start to want comics that show that, they - and you - will have credibility. Does that add to the discussion? Because the reality of almost 60 thousand dead men in Vietnam, many of them drafted, against - what - 8 women, is just that - reality. Deal with it, and maybe I'll start "listening" about all my failings.

      When Marjorie Liu writes "White male privilege cares ONLY about white male privilege, and there is no goal except maintaining that position of power" I am laughing, shaking my head, disengaging, and walking away.

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    3. This is clearly something you care passionately about. But this isn't about deifying women at the expense of men. That's not what this article is about. It's about asking men, like me, to see things from another perspective, and understanding that, regardless of gender, we all deserve to see ourselves represented as the hero.

      As for your comments about women in the military, are you unaware of how hard many servicewomen have fought, specifically for the right to serve alongside men on the front line?

      I don't see anyone here asking for a free pass, just an equal chance.

      It's a common misconception to see feminist arguments as decrying misogynist conspiracy, but the reality is that most men are decent people, and there is no conspiracy. Just assumptions, and a lack of understanding.

      Here's an article, I don't know if you'll be interested in reading it, but while it's specifically about diversity in fiction, its points can be applied to this discussion:

      http://www.sharctank.com/5-worst-arguments/

      The purpose of my article here is to help people understand why women don't want to see themselves depicted as they currently are in comics, and why everyone, men and women alike, can benefit from women getting their power fantasies the same way men do. Is that so bad?

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  6. Let me ask you a straight up question: do you believe science fiction literature, comic books, Indian Bollywood films, Indonesian Legong and Brazilian samba music, the women's/men's pro basketball associations, the National Hockey League, middle-weight boxing, Arab literature, Egyptian TV, Taiwanese soap operas and romance novels are in need of gender or racial diversity?

    Because if the argument is indeed about some neutral commitment to diversity, and not about getting a pass, and not specifically targeting "the character 'default'... a straight, cis white dude" as is mentioned in that link, then lets invite everyone to the party. It seems to me there are these rather pointed attacks in specific places while other places get crickets. Why Star Wars? Why not some Brazilian film? Maybe I wanna see myself as a samba star. If I move to Brazil, do I automatically get a right to start complaining about that? Mebbe I wanna be a Bollywood star. I would've been great in "Pyar Impossible." Guess what? No Norwegians. Why not? There's a world of Norwegians out there. They're everywhere. But not in Asian, African and South and Central American films. Why do they get a pass?

    Because it's not a question of whether we all deserve to see ourselves as a hero, it's the way that question is put out there. Apparently future black scientists need to see themselves in SF in a way future white NBA stars don't need to see themselves scoring the winning dunk. It's a double standard, and one repeatedly separated by race and gender. My own feeling is that if a human is succeeding, that's plenty of inspiration, but I understand all people don't feel that way. Too bad, I get tingles every time I watch the end of "Orfeu Negro," and those kids dancing.

    And think about what you wrote about "women getting their power fantasies the same way men do." No, that's not so bad, not so bad at all. That's my point. Do it. Get 'em. THAT way.

    And let me make a final point. Any time you have N.K. Jemisin linking to you, that's something to think about.

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    1. Sci-fi literature and comic books? Absolutely. As for the others you've listed, I'm afraid I honestly don't have enough experience with them to say.

      The thing is, this *is* about challenging the assumption that the default hero is a white male. The article states that, along with pointing out that it's not just about Star Wars, but about all western media.

      Success is inspirational, and while it would be wonderful if we lived in a world where someone could work hard and receive the recognition they deserve, regardless of gender, skin colour, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs, it's simply not the case.

      A black NBA player most likely has an advantage over a white player, but how much harder will a black person have to work to succeed in politics? How many more obstacles does a woman face to break into comics or film-making? Why can't a woman express her opinion on a comic book cover without receiving rape threats?

      The other thing to keep in mind is that if someone addresses issues one at a time, as I do, that doesn't mean they don't care about other matters. I find that when you present people with a blanket challenge, like "make everything equal", they become lost in indecision and daunted by the enormity of the task. By breaking things down into manageable chunks, like "have better female representation in comics", you can address specific problems and deal with achievable goals. Don't you agree?

      As for your comment here:

      "And think about what you wrote about "women getting their power fantasies the same way men do." No, that's not so bad, not so bad at all. That's my point. Do it. Get 'em. THAT way."

      Well, for my part, I do feature a range of developed, competent female characters with agency in my books. But I still feel that I can help more by speaking up in favour of others who do the same, and encouraging people to challenge their assumptions about what should and should not appear in fiction.

      But this also harkens back to my earlier point, and your apparent assumption that the main reason we don't see more women in hero roles is that women aren't writing them. To that I say, why shouldn't men write women heroes? The comics, film, and publishing industries are dominated by men, and women have a much harder time being successful in these industries than men. So rather than call out women for not writing more, why not insist that men in decision-making decisions do more to encourage women, as well as men, in their industries?

      As to NK Jemisin re-tweeting me, I typically don't care who talks about me, if it helps me reach more people. But as it happens I admire NK Jemisin, and so I'm honoured that she thinks highly enough of what I've said to share it.

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  7. I don't agree. Ignoring other problems for logistical reasons is one thing, but not having a binding principle that joins them all together at once leaves a perception, as you do here, that one side of this issue gets to skate, enjoy immunity and double standards. The easy answer was a "yes" or "no." My own answer is "no." Batik-making in Indonesia doesn't suddenly need to cater to racial diversity cuz a bunch of Norwegians suddenly took it up, nor does Delta Blues need to include Japanese just because they've decided they love it. Diversity is a thing that takes care of itself via the market. There's more women in comics there's more women in comics - it's simple. But then there's women and there's radical feminists and they aren't taking any prisoners. Go onto Shanley Kane or Lauren Chief Elks' Twitter feeds and get ready to be hated right into the ground. You think "white privilege" came from dispassionate scientists?

    Fine, you want to concentrate on the West. But giving the answer you "don't have enough experience" is troubling. I'm not asking that; I asking why the same principles aren't being invoked globally and fairly. The world may look like a Western behemoth from the West but it certainly doesn't from Egypt, Brazil, Guatemala and Indonesia.

    I used to bemoan the fact I couldn't learn anything about the baseball standings in Peru or NHL in Guatemala. Watching the Superbowl in a public bar in Rio de Janeiro is a day-dream you can forget about. If you're not in an expensive hotel with an international cable package or your own apt., forget watching it. Same in Cairo. Sure, you can watch Seinfeld and Letterman on cable packages there, but in America I can also watch Fox Sports Latino to see Copa de Libertadores matches or Palmeiras vs. Corinthians. But you might see that Palmeiras vs. Corinthians match in New Delhi. And I've seen "Orfeu Negro" 15 times, all of it on TV in America starting in the '70s. It has no white people in it - who cares? I can't imagine having the nerve to tell them they should, but I can imagine the racial arrogance it would take to ask them.

    Culture doesn't work the way I'm seeing this. Global culture is far more complex and different than this provincial and frankly inadvisable view of diversity, and it works the same way around the world: it is a demographic based on accidental, natural, and unpredictable interests. It is not a racial supremacy or gender-exclusion zone and it sure as hell isn't a pie-chart. The idea of somehow artificially socially engineering all that is wacky. And it's one-sided focus on the West smacks of resentments and racial bigotry, not fair play. I think people have some goofy idea that if you travel around Indonesia, Singapore or Nepal their theaters have a bunch of American films that are socking local films out. That's not true - that's not true at all. There are so many Egyptian and Indonesian films alone they must run into the many thousands, and they are on TV every - single - night. And they crowd out Western films many times over.

    Golden Rule, buddy.

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    1. And I don't agree that a lack of white characters in African or Asian shows is an issue. The majority of the world is designed to accommodate straight white men. Yes, there are areas where this isn't the case. Areas where straight white men have different levels of advantage and different levels of disadvantage. But by and large, being a straight white man is playing life on easy mode:

      http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/

      Your argument seems to boil down to:

      (A) I can only argue in favour of gender diversity in comics if I argue for total equality in all forms of entertain, among all possible groups of society, every time I make a statement.

      (B) If women want to see more female characters, they need to be making more stories themselves.

      (C) There's already plenty of places for non-white characters to be seen, just not in the US or Western Europe.

      If you want to see how great women have it, just Google "women receive rape threats" and see what you find. If you can honestly read about the things women have to go through, just to express the most simple of opinions, to exercise their basic human rights, and tell me male privilege doesn't exist, then I'm afraid I have nothing more to say to you.

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  8. I am wary of clever theories which put permanent scarlet letters onto groups based on their sex, gender-expression or ethnicity, gathering morality unto themselves at the expense of others. Those theories are too cute, too convenient, and defy odds.

    I reject the rhetoric of Nazis, Sayd Qutb, Edward Said, and QUILTBAG feminists. I reject any theories that create institutions that don't exist and fail to judge people by their individual souls. I reject any theory that says race or sex themselves act as institutions or ideologies of supremacy, advocacy, or exclusion.

    I am suspicious of any theories that conveniently and purposefully act to take the actions of a few and smear it onto all in an odds-defying manner where all members of a group as they were at birth benefit or suffer. I reject privilege for the concocted smear that it is, since it is a black hole of logic from which no man can escape. The KKK and Nazis have concocted similar clever smears about blacks and Jews and similarly tried to pass them off neutral social science rather than the group defamation they are.

    One need only look at the origins of this intersectional theory of "privilege," who promotes it, and who benefits from that promotion to see it for what it is. "Privilege" measures moral IQ the same way the Bell Curve measures racial IQ, and is promoted towards the same purpose. "Privilege" is supremacist theory that operates the same way white supremacy does.

    You don't have to argue "total equality," but total equality of applying principle, the better to contrast and compare and see these things in a larger light. Because if one is acting on a principle, why is it only affecting certain identities and not others? Law doesn't aspire to that - why do you? "Privilege" may sound great and reasonable in isolation, but compare it to similar things done under different names, and suddenly it doesn't sound so great, because one identity suffers and others skate. "Privilege" is snake-oil sold as social justice. "Privilege" is smeared around for the same reasons the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is smeared around. The fact some people are naive enough to chain-letter it affects me not at all, because I know a con-game when I see one.

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    1. I think we're going around in circles and if you're going to compare me to the Nazis and the KKK, you may as well get off my blog, because I won't be insulted like that, by anyone.

      I think you don't understand what privilege is, and don't want to learn, because that would mean facing the uncomfortable truth that living as a man is easier than living as a woman, and admitting it's within your power to change for the better.

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  9. Um...the phrase "I want to be that could apply to the sexualised women in comics also... Which is pretty much the reason implants and liuposuction are more popular than ever... I realised you conveniently left that point since it contradicts you

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    1. Do some women want to look that way? Certainly. However the desire for super skinny waists and large breasts is driven primarily by the fashion, glamour, and entertainment industries forcing very specific, unrealistic views of beauty on people. Those industries have been historically, and still are, dominated and controlled by men. It's all about reducing women to their worth in a sexual capacity.

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