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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012



As discussed in EMBODIMENT, it's stunningly inaccurate to assume that male characters are less sexualized simply because they are dominantly "covered from head to toe."  What I believe Thompson truly objects to is the *feeling* of greater exposure for the heroines; the sense that they are always being subjected to the "male gaze" as promulgated by Laura Mulvey.
And in QUICK SEX-COVER-UP REMARK I noted this offhand comment by one Charles Reece:

"I don’t have any stats on any of this, but just based on the gals and guys I know and see, for the most part, the former prefer wearing more revealing clothing than the latter. Superheroes just kind of replicate that tendency in a more exaggerated manner. The men who walk around in cutoffs or with their shirt open to the navel or in half shirts tend to be gay or aging rockers."

While Reece and I are miles apart in most if not all ideological stances, I would agree, purely on an observational basis, that men tend to cover up and women tend to reveal, however strategically, as per the example I mentioned before:

If Kelly Thompson surveyed Hollywood musicals the same way she surveyed superhero comic books, would she come to the conclusion that they too are guilty of objectification and hyper-sexualization purely in terms of that one element:  how covered men are and how uncovered women are? 

That would be an unfair question were I asking it in more than a broadly comparative sense.  Clearly Thompson's essay indicts current American superhero comics for more than just the covered/uncovered dichotomy.  Nevertheless, because Thompson is busy assailing the forces of objectification in the superhero comic, I find it a fault that she does not consider that there might be other factors at work in the way comic book professionals portray male and female characters.  I suggest that in American culture it's typical to identify "maleness" with a process of concealment, in which one dons a Brooks Brothers suit as a knight dons his suit of armor, and "femaleness" with a process of partial revealment, wherein the female, when making a display of herself not only for men but also for other women in her immediate society, must strike a balance between showing her appearance off to best effect without showing off too much and thus being "slutty."

Sometimes comic books actually get the balance of sexual representation correct, as per this fan-favorite scene from BIRDS OF PREY #104:


The above scene, in my opinion, would not be an unfair depiction of male and female tendencies of dress, as it's based on current cultural imperatives as to how males and females dress at social affairs.  By extension, I don't necessarily regard it as a vile male conspiracy simply because none of the male members of the X-Men dress as revealingly as Storm, much less the White Queen. I make no bones about the fact that most superhero comics are written to a male audience, which means that they are likely to remain more heavily invested in cheesecake than in beefcake.  That said, some of the disparity may not be attributable PURELY to the likelihood that heterosexual male readers don't want to look at beefcake.  It may also be attributable to the cultural fact that men think that other men in revealing duds look unmanly, if not outright gay.  I mentioned in FEMALE OF THE SPECIES PART 1 that there had been male heroes that showed a lot of skin without seeming unmanned, as with Hawkman and Sub-Mariner.

But should a counterexample be needed, here's Cosmic Boy from some 1970s LEGION tale:

More to come in Part 2.

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