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“If she's an airhead, has to be said,
“It was men made her that way.
“It was men made her that way.
“It was us made her that way.”

     --Thomas Dolby
“Airhead”

Let's talk about sex.

Let's talk about women.

Let's talk about how men view women and feel there is nothing wrong with their perception.

Let's talk about the DC new Universe, and specifically, the characters of Catwoman and Starfire.

I often find myself at a philosophical crossroad. I genuinely do not feel that there is all that much difference between the genders. Sure, there are some differences, but for the most part, we're a lot more alike than we think. Men can be just as emotional as women. Women can be just as calculating as men. For example, anyone who says only women overreact has never had a close male friend whose girlfriend dumped him for no real reason and spent weeks moping, raging, or sometimes dissolving into random tears due to some seemingly trivial stimulus that reminded him of something deep. Likewise, anyone who says men are total slobs that take no pride in their surroundings or anything that doesn't belong to them has never seen what a women's public restroom can look like on a Saturday night.

(For those wondering, yes, I have seen it, and it was an accident. The doors at the club were not clearly marked, and I was desperate. I went into a bathroom, hoping it was the men's. No one else was in there, but there was mud on the floor from dirt on shoes and lots of water that didn't make it into the sink, the garbage can was overflowing, and some of the toilets were unflushed. I thought, Men's room. I found a stall, sat down, and got my first hint that I was wrong when I looked to my left and saw that little metal box with the flip top lid. Suddenly, it was like the Amityville Horror – all I heard was a voice screaming, “GET OUT!!! GEEEEEET OUUUUUUT!!!!!”)

Contrasting with this philosophy is a very basic fact – women do not live in the same world that men do. Permit me to illustrate this by using family. After all, a family is just a microsociety. My younger sister and I were physically born into the same household, but in actuality, we weren't. I was the responsible one. I was the one mom and dad turned to to take care of my sister when babysitters became expensive or unreliable. I was the one expected to get good grades in school. I was the one to fix things that broke around the house when dad was working overtime. My sister? She was taken care of, not the caretaker. When something went wrong, it was never, “Sis, why did you do that?” It was, “Peter, why did you let her do that?” The division continues to this day, with mom and dad standing up for my sister's failed quickie marriage and offering to pay for her to go back to college to do whatever, including being a pet groomer, and her and her husband getting money constantly to take care of bills or buy shit like a boat. Me? I am worthless, not doing anything with my life, and annoying because I'm not searching desperately to get married and give them grandchildren. My sister and her husband got $1,700 for a boat just by asking, and one Christmas, I had to beg mom and dad to get me a GP2X for $120 plus shipping, which I ultimately didn't get because they felt I had too many game systems as it is. And don't forget they spent over a decade trying to get me to give up being a writer. I honestly wonder where I would be in life right now if I had the same “rah rah” pep rallies my sister gets almost every other day.

And so it is with women. Men have no boundaries in the world, women have plenty. There are no lines for men to cross, only for women to cross. Guys do not know a world where they have to watch what they say and do lest it be misinterpreted as permission to hit on them. Guys do not know a world where the most innocent situation can turn dangerous. Guys do not live in a world that tells them they are not pretty enough, not smart enough, not good enough. Guys do not live in a world where they are defined by who they are with instead of what they are and do. Even sex is different for women – a lot of men don't get that, for women, sex is letting someone actually inside your body, and that can be frightening. People complain about feminists exhibiting a siege mentality. There's a reason for that – they ARE under siege. And by an enemy that cannot be clearly defined, that can pop up from anywhere, even with people you've known for years. If this truly is a man's world, then it is our fault women don't trust us. Full stop. We made this situation and continue to reinforce it.

I've been among the people complaining for years about comic books and how there is basically a giant “No Girls Allowed” sign on the door. Male heroes inspire, female heroes seduce. Men are shown as mighty, women are shown as sexy. (The image on the left here is two images that appeared in Red Hood And The Outlaws  #1.)  Part of this how powerful women are depicted. When you want to show men as larger than life, you exaggerate the muscles. Women, you exaggerate the sexual parts – bust, hips, etc. Lisner's Dawn. Rogue with her new jumpsuit that somehow keeps her tits from spilling out when unzipped. Aspen from Fathom. Pretty much anyone in the Zenescope line-up. That alternate cover for Thunderbolts that showed Black Widow's camel toe. It is so common, that for the final issue of Justice League, it showed Supergirl from below, and under her skirt, you saw she was wearing bike shorts. It was so different from what I normally see, I actually had to stare at the cover to make sure I was seeing right. That's sad.

DC Comics has been bragging about the DCnU. It is shattering sales records and bringing in people who don't usually read comics. However, I'm betting that's mostly males. Outside of the Vertigo line-up, DC has been unable to really bring in female readers. And part of the reason why turned up this week in Catwoman #1 and Red Hood And The Outlaws #1.

Let's start with RH&TO, since that will take the least amount of time. On one page, Starfire blatantly propositions a guy. I suppose this is supposed to be sexy, but it sure doesn't come across that way. It comes across as cold and insensitive, it's just something she does. Of course, the guys hi-five each other over this. Now, Starfire did state earlier in TT to Dick Grayson that sex is not as exclusive among her race as it is among humans. Does this count? Well, yeah – the Bat titles and the Green Lantern titles are not rebooted, their previous continuities remain. In a big picture kind of way, Starfire is behaving out of character since she never acted like that before in the series. But that complaint just misses the point.

Okay, that's done. Let's now turn our attention to Catwoman #1, written by a guy I usually like, Judd Winick. Winick wrote up until almost the end of the Power Girl comic, and he did a damn sight better than Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner. Winick's Power Girl was actually doing superhero things, circling the globe to crack the mystery unfolding in Justice League – Generation Lost. Don your goggles.

Cover – Catwoman lying on her back. Barefoot legs in air. Sprinkling white droplets diamonds on her cleavage. Not exactly a “pearl necklace”, but she's a high class thief, you see. Page 1, panel 1 shows Catwoman's chest clad only in a bra. End of page 2 gives us a good look at her ass. Page 3, one breast is hanging out of the costume. Page 4 has her bursting through a window and gives us our first look at her face. Page 11 gives us another look at Catwoman's bra and throws in a look at her panties for good measure. And then, the * ahem * money shot of her and Batman.

Now, comic book message boards have people defending this, saying that these scenes are “feminist.” After all, both Starfire and Catwoman not only control their sexualities, but Catwoman is taking Batman for her own comfort. Yeah, selfishness is such a positive feminine quality.

However, this overlooks that there is nothing feminist about this. Remember me complaining above about Power Girl under Palmiotti/Conner. The panels constantly showed Power Girl's (admittedly great looking) body, from her tits thanks to the costume to her tight little ass (once again, Power Girl had a very sexy physique when she first appeared, but it was not the pneumatic wonder you see now). The first story arc was a villain trying to swap his mind into her body. Batman doesn't get stories like that. Another was when an alien from another galaxy decided Power Girl should be his queen and took her on a “romantic” dinner date. As hilarious as the issue was (and it was extremely funny), once again, Batman doesn't get stories like that. In fact, I can't recall any stories where the man is chosen by the woman as a potential mate against his will. Closest thing I can think of is an episode of Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends where Iceman was picked up by a giantess, but that doesn't count.

And so we have all this female sexuality permeating the new DC Universe, such as Voodoo #1, where over half the book takes place inside a strip club with women dancing and grinding. Hey, women can enjoy sex, too! It's feminism! It's empowering! It's modern! It's honest!

It's bullshit.

The fact is, these women are not behaving this way because it is how they would behave. They are behaving that way for the entertainment of male readers. It is only within the confines of the story that they are empowered. In actuality, it is still a submissive role to turn on a master, in this case, the guy reading the comic book. And there is nothing feminist about that.

What we are seeing with the DCnU is basically a return to the days of exploitation film. Exploitation films other than those made by Roger Corman treated women as purely there for the amusement of men, both in the film and watching it. There was a movie called Deathsport starring David Carradine. It was a rip-off of the Star Wars mythos grafted onto a motorcycle death sport movie. The female lead had two nude scenes, one where she is making love to Carradine, and another later on where she is being tortured. According to my stopwatch, the torture scene lasted a full minute longer than the love scene where she is feeling pleasure. Filmmakers and fans of the film got some issues.

And so it is here. You have strange events that go for relevance without reason on a visceral level instead of a deeper level. And women are props to that end. Power Girl supposedly still exists in the DCnU, but as someone's girlfriend. What a demotion. I shudder to think what will happen to the Birds Of Prey.

The only one who seems to come out of this with her ass-kicker pedigree in tact is Wonder Woman, kind of shocking considering she was a product of Chester Gould's bondage fetishes. (Haven't read Supergirl yet, don't know how she's going to come out of this, but since her costume redesign is to suggest red panties, I don't have my hopes very high.)

Women can be strong. They have been depicted as strong, in fact. There was a Sheena TV series a long time ago. No, not the Gena Lee Nolan one, this was in black and white. This Sheena was a warrior who would spend episodes fighting animals and fighting male hunters with her bare hands AND WINNING. The Sheenas from the Tanya Roberts movie or the Gena Lee Nolan show? She'd skin them alive. Frank Cho is an expert at showing sexy women who are still their own people. As sexy as Brandy is in Liberty Meadows, you can see the respect he has for her. Shanna The She Devil was also sexy without it being the only thing that defined her.

But that's the minority. Women's sexuality is very tightly pigeonholed. People have trouble with women that do not behave within narrowly defined boundaries. Consider all the talk in fan circles about whether or not Rainbow Dash on My Little Pony—Friendship Is Magic is actually a lesbian. They can't just accept the character is a sporty tomboy, there HAS to be more to it. Female characters are not allowed to be themselves to the degree that male characters are.

What's sad is the golden opportunity DC is blowing. There are new readers coming into comic shops. Readers that are needed. With the hype, they could easily expand the female readership. And yet, they are coming up with things that chase women away. Laura Hudson at Comics Alliance is so incised by all this, she's apparently thinking of quitting superhero comics all together.

And if you listen close, you can hear women singing....

     Do you hear me?
Do you care?

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
hellaine
Oct. 6th, 2011 05:07 pm (UTC)
EPIC HUGE LONG WORD VOMIT REPLY
I'm writing this as I read your text, so if this is all over the map that's why. I'm a little schizophrenic when reading and replying!

Yeah you're pretty close to hitting the nail on the head in regards to how women and men are treated differently in the world. I always have this knee-jerk reaction, when men try to describe the plight of women, of wanting to say' arglebargle, how could you possibly know!', but I'm more appreciative of allies than I am unjustifiably outraged, so.

It's my understanding and experience that the comic book world is generally/mostly dominated by men--and you're writing seems to suggest the same and, since my knowledge of comic book fandom is minimal at best, I'm gonna trust you more than my experiences--and with the caps you've posted, it ain't hard to see why.

"Now, comic book message boards have people defending this, saying that these scenes are “feminist.” After all, both Starfire and Catwoman not only control their sexualities, but Catwoman is taking Batman for her own comfort. Yeah, selfishness is such a positive feminine quality."

Which is a load of bullocks and sounds like a bunch of 'mansplaining' justification for why it should be okay to draw and doll out these kinds of images of women as sex objects, I suppose. Images are not feminist and any woman who would say so may be operating under some internalized social/media misogyny. Feminism is much more than taking control of one's own sexuality and really, I wouldn't say that's what these characters are even doing. Having not ready the story and so only guessing from the descriptors, it looks like it's more a case of 'Male superhero is so irresistable and awesome, even this ~epic alpha-female~ can't resist him and wants to have him' and maybe a little bit of 'this is what a man, who most likely drew this image, fantasizes would happen' you know, that a strong, controlling female would come into his life and basically demand sex from him. I mean, these aren't women comic book character, they are fantasies created for, if I may be a little sassy, men who have issues talking to women, at least that's what I would assume they are marketing it towards with images like that. I think a male with a healthy outlook on women and sexuality would look at these images and be either bored and/or perplexed.

All this aside, it's not a women taking control of her sexuality. It's a character who has been drawn and scripted and made to act in such a way. If this were some real life anecdote of a real woman, I guess you could make the argument of what her intentions are and what they mean but come on.

(cont.)
hellaine
Oct. 6th, 2011 05:10 pm (UTC)
Re: EPIC HUGE LONG WORD VOMIT REPLY

"...inside a strip club with women dancing and grinding. Hey, women can enjoy sex, too! It's feminism! It's empowering! It's modern! It's honest!"

Yeah, strip clubs are neither as a whole empowering or feminist, but I guess this a debate that's been raging in the feminist community for awhile and also a whole 'nother argument I've already written about before haha.

Outside of internalized machoism, these images of women in the comics don't appeal to other women. They make us feel like crap because we'll never look like that or they make us feel disconnected because the images are nowhere near what a real woman looks like--They are women who are drawn with exaggerated sexual features, balloon tits, heart shaped asses, and you can try and write as much alpha female into that as you want but we women see this shit all day long in the media, we know what's going on and I assume most of the people who are attracted to these comics for this reason really know that it's just pandering to their dicks for their money.

Anyway. I'm basically reiterating what you end the article with but, like I said, I'm just throwing my thoughts down as I go. I'm sure DC thinks they are going to get more sales this way, shit, maybe they are, I don't know. The cartoony sexualization of women is so common place that I sadly doubt too many people quation this stuff enough to ruffle DCs feathers at all but it's the kind of thing I'd see in a store and roll my eyes at but... I don't know. Women do this thing with Victoria's Secret catalogues, where when we're together we laugh at the models for being so skinny and point out every inch of photoshopping and airbrushing we find, yet we're still buying the products (well, not me anyway) and trying/wishing our damndest to look like what's basically a drawn image of what men would ideally want us to look like.

Hope you enjoy word vomit, gonna go read the rest of these now.
sinetimore
Oct. 6th, 2011 10:06 pm (UTC)
Re: EPIC HUGE LONG WORD VOMIT REPLY
I do enjoy word vomit as long as it is interesting and informative, and you've got that covered. (P.S. It's also why I pointed out what I wrote to you, I wanted to hear your thoughts.)
sinetimore
Oct. 6th, 2011 09:58 pm (UTC)
Re: EPIC HUGE LONG WORD VOMIT REPLY
Dave Sim is one of the biggest misogynists in comics, but he did make a quote I am particularly fond of. He described something as being written by "someone who hasn't had sex yet, but has heard really good things about it."

That's the only thing that goes through my mind when I look at Catwoman #1 and the others. Not only do these guys have trouble talking to women, I seriously question how many they talked with.

Unless, of course, they simply don't care. After all, they clearly aren't the target audience.
hellaine
Oct. 6th, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
Hopefully my comments posted, livejournal is being a horror right now. Interested to read the other two articles related to this when I can actually load pages--Might make a discussion article about this on my women's community here, I will of course link your articles up if it's alright.
sinetimore
Oct. 6th, 2011 10:07 pm (UTC)
LJ seems to have stabilized, so you should be able to read them now.

Please, feel free. After all, it is a public post, and it is something that needs to get out there.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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