Fight Like a Girl This essay will offer a feminist analysis of sexism in superhero comic books, a topic I explore in my recent podcast on female representation in comics. I will “examine how comic books reinforce or undermine the economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women” As part of my research, I conducted a very unscientific survey where I asked the question, “Is there sexism in superhero comic books? ” Not surprisingly most women lasked believed comic books are sexist. Most of the men questioned believed comic books are not sexist.
At best some men think the sexualization of men and women is equal. I also went on the street and asked both men and women to name male and female superheroes for me. As expected everyone had a vast knowledge of male superheroes but struggled with naming female superheroes. Comics have existed for decades. When comic strips were first starting out they were primarily targeted towards kids. However in 1909 a cartoonist named George McManus started a new tradition to comics: the beautiful looking woman and the funny looking man.
This tradition of drawing funny looking men and beautiful women was quickly picked p and man cartoonists primarily males ran with it and adopted this style to their own comics. This was shown again in the comic strip by V. T Hamlin’s comic strip AlleyOop. This comic strip was set in prehistoric times and the men fit in with the time and looked like cavemen but on the other side, the women were beautiful and slender. In the comic strip world of suspended belief, no one wonders what gorgeous cave girl Oola would have seen in her hairy ape boyfriend, Alley Oop.
Even after Twenty years when comic book superheroes were introduced, they still could not escape the same fate as the characters before them. Both children and adults alike enjoyed reading comic books that featured Superman, Batman, Captain America and Captain Marvel. While men had the luxury of being heroes women often were just objects or the doting girlfriend of the hero or needed to be rescued. They were often the cause of problems the superhero had to solve. Even when male writers claim to have the best intention for a female character and say they want them to be strong and independent, their good intentions fall flat.
Ironically Wonder Woman was conceived by Dr. Marston to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; to combat the idea that women are inferior to men . However, author William Moulton Marston’s comic was in no way empowering for women. The main problem we face with having poor representation of women in comic books is the possibility that these comics are re-enforcing the idea of gender roles. Young girls see the female characters needing to be rescued or doing what the comic book writers think is the proper way for women to act and if they go against these norms there will be repercussions.
It is not only in the comic book world that females face consequences if they try to be what society wants them to be. Lana F. Rakow was once told that her feminist ideals are making her angry which in turn is making her less appealing and beautiful. She responded by saying “That admonition to “be nice” is precisely what is used to keep us in our place. We will be called crazy. We might be thought unscholarly and unintellectual. If so, we will be joining a long line of honorable women. Men tell women how to be women and if they don not abide by these rules they are not women and that is shown heavily in male-written comic books. Just because women are lucky enough to be in comics it does not always mean they are given the part they rightly deserve as strong and independent.
Because of this fact, they are given a number of tests to pass in order for the comic to be considered feminist. These tests include the “Bechdel Test”, “The Ellen Williams Test”, and “The Mako Mori Test” and finally “The Sexy Lamp Test” Each test has ertain guidelines and rules. In order to pass the “Bechdel Test,” there needs to be at least two female characters. Theses two female characters need to talk about something that is in no way related to a romantic interest or a man. The “Ellen Williams Test” plays heavily into gender stereotypes this test is about if you switch the genders of the characters will the story be similar. The worst test to fail is the sexy lamp test. This test asks if it were possible to switch out the female characters with a sexy lamp would anything change?
And the Mako Mori test is a new test that was created after Pacific Rim debuted. The test is all about a female character having their own back-story that does not revolve around men. Another large portion of sexism can be found in how female characters a dressed and posed. Males sport enormous muscles, most of which do not exist on real human beings, necks thicker than their heads and chins bigger than the rest of their heads. [… ] The females, on the other hand, posses balloon breasts and waists so small that if they were real humans they would break in half.
Their legs are as twice as long as the rest of their bodies, and they affect an exaggerated pose: breasts and rear both thrust out. The way women are posed and shown with these unrealistic attributes can pose a huge problem with women or young girls self-confidence. This can cause body dissatisfaction. Because one of the most commonly assessed issues is whether the media’s emphasis on the value of physical appearance and unrealistically thin ideal leads females viewers to become dissatisfied with their own bodies.
This ideal and issue sparked The “Hawkeye Initiative. ” The initiative is all about role reversal by switching the male and female poses and costumes. In response to the “Hawkeye Initiative,” another initiative called the “Reverse Hawkeye Initiative” was created. It still deals with role reversals but instead of men being posed as women the women are posed as men. This initiative asks a very simple question and that is whether or not the female characters pose is ridiculous just because they are women. The reason these poses look so ridiculous is plain and simple.
The poses are ridiculous is for the simple fact that they are sexist. The Reverse Hawkeye Initiative is about illustrating the differences in how men and women are drawn and treated. Female heroes are often posed with their backs towards the camera and their chest out to show their female figures while male heroes often have ‘action shots’ showing them to be heroic and strong. The female hero’s costume pales in comparison to that of male heroes. A female hero’s costume has no functionality. The only reason for its design is to be sexy and appealing to the male gaze.
There is no armor or means of protection against attacks. Female heroes are basically left defenseless so that they will not be off-putting to the intended male audience. If this is the way young girls and boys see how females are treated in comic books specifically and the media in general, they are going to think that is an okay way to treat women or be treated. Jean Kilbourne talks just about how powerful this message by saying, “Girls get the message from very early on that what is most important is how they look, that their value and their worth depends on that.
And boys get the message that this is what is important about girls. We get it from advertising. We get it from films. We get it from television shows, video games, everywhere we look. So no matter what else a woman does, No matter what else her achievements. Their value still depends on how they look. ” A large number of young girls read comic books and at such a young age they are exposed to the difference in how men and women are treated in the media. They see that men are always viewed as strong and brave while women are weak and scared.
Young boys dream of being just like Superman, noble, kind and brave. On the other side of the spectrum, girls are not so fortunate. Young girls need to see independent female characters. They need to know that a female does not belong in the shadow of a man but can stand tall on their own. ‘The Accidental Supermom: Superheroines and Maternal Preformativity, 1963-1980 and that is ‘From 1963-1980, issues of social upheaval that sparked significant changes in the nation, such feminism, and black pride, also shaped superhero comic books.
While much of the surface rhetoric of superhero comic books reflected conservative ideas about the role of women and the traditional family unity, the subtext was much more nuanced, and even in some cases subversive. Within that realm of double-meaning, the comic book supermom evoked the symbolism of yesterday’s domesticity—still clinging to the contemporary notions of femininity—as well as the liberal ideals of the feminist movement, such as equality in the workplace and re-drawing the boundaries of gender roles.
In the end, it is not just about how women and young girls need someone they can look up to it is also about how men and young boys see women. The media is a powerful tool and if we do not use it properly there can be many negative outcomes. Women are the foundation of today’s society we need to stop seeing them as and treating them like objects. Stan Lee said, “With great power comes great responsibility. ” We not only have the power but the responsibility to change how we portray women in comic books and the media in general. That is why I created a podcast that focused on female representation in comic books