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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...

Thursday, May 24, 2012


In FEMALE OF THE SPECIES PART 2 I observed with incredulity the way a certain contingent of comics-fandom gave Kelly Thompson a free pass re: the evidence she presented with regard to the “hyper-sexualization” of female comics-characters. Despite the fact that Thompson constructed her case on the assertion that this or that character was “regularly unzipped” and so on, she gave no indication as to what time-frame these representations regularly took place, be it in the last ten months or the last ten years. It was entirely OK for Thompson to present what one respondent to my essays called “anecdotal evidence.” However, when I presented a point-of-view that mitigated Thompson’s one-sided perspective on gender representation, more than one respondent wanted chapter-and-verse, scientifically redundant, DNA-tested evidence coming out the wazoo. If I didn’t present same, that lack proved me a no-good ultraconservative defender of sexual oppression.

All this supposed demand for rigor, of course, was merely a cover to reject any observation that might mitigate the narrative of female victimization via so-called “objectification.” From a rhetorical standpoint, there’s nothing a preacher loves better than the devil against which he preaches. Without that object of scorn and detestation, the preacher’s got no audience. For most ultraliberals, the objectification of fictional female characters is one of their personal devils, and perdition help the critic who dares suggest that sexual representation, whether in comics or any other medium, might be a two-way street.

One of those respondents challenged me to show evidence of my claim that male characters in comics were also sexually embodied—apparently with the sense that even if I could show such, it would be meaningless unless I could show total parity with female sexual embodiment. I imagine he thought that the only possible rebuttal to Thompson’s imputations of inequality in “No, It’s Not Equal” would be to prove such parity. At no time did I claim that fiction aimed at a male audience would not contain a disproportionate quantity of sexualized depictions of females. What I did claim was that there was an ongoing process of embodiment that applied to both male and female character-construction, and that male characters were constructed to be appealing to female characters within the comic-book diegesis.

I mentioned on that comments-thread that I was meditating on a possible way to take a fair sampling of a batch of contemporary comic books and examine them for both male and female sexual embodiment, in contradistinction to Thompson’s skewed analysis. Given that I had in another essay touted some titles in DC’s “New 52” as representing a new development in the formulation of adult pulp, it occurred to me, “What if I performed such a survey on every New 52 title within a given month?” Limited though such a sampling would be, it would be better than Thompson’s “anecdotal” overview.

But, given the righteous attitudes displayed by most of my respondents, I thought twice. “Why bother with a full month survey, given that most fans are so in love with being blinkered and judgmental that they’ll never alter their opinions no matter what evidence is produced?” So I saved my money and, when a sale came round at a local comics-shop, I simply bought the back issues I wanted anyway and decided to use that as my sampling.

As explained in Part 1, I’m breaking down the sexual representations in each comic surveyed in terms of my deductive categories, GLAMOR, TITILLATION, and PORNIFICATION. I imagine that another easy way to dismiss my formulations would be to simply disagree with these divisions. A thoughtful critique is certainly possible.  However it's more likely most fans would just fall back to the victimization position, implying that a costume showing bare legs (an example of GLAMOR, usually) is exactly as bad as a costume that looks like Victoria’s Secret lingerie (PORNIFICATION, of course). Should anyone make this assertion, assume that I've already deemed it unilaterally stupid and move on.

I’m not counting every sexually embodied image in every one of these titles. Rather, I’m going by page-count. A book with “5 counts of GLAMOR” means five pages on which some GLAMOR-ous image is presented for the reader’s possible delectation. Covers count as only one page, though ads are not counted.
It's impossible to state that a given drawing carries the concept of sexual embodiment for everyone.  However, I focused on those drawings that at least showed enough of at least one face, one figure or the two together to connote sexual attractiveness.

Here goes.

BATGIRL #7— No counts of male sexual embodiment. 8 counts of female sexual embodiment of the GLAMOR type.

BATGIRL #8—No counts of male embodiment. 6 counts of female GLAMOR.

BIRDS OF PREY #1 – 13 counts of female TITILLATION. 7 counts of male GLAMOR.

BIRDS OF PREY #2 – 17 counts of female TITILLATION. 1 count of male GLAMOR.

BIRDS OF PREY #3 – 14 counts of female TITILLATION. No counts of male embodiment.

BLACKHAWK #1 – 6 pages male GLAMOR. 7 pages female GLAMOR.

CATWOMAN #5 – 7 counts of female PORNIFICATION. 2 counts of male GLAMOR.

CATWOMAN #6—11 counts of female PORNIFICATION. 4 counts of male PORNIFICATION. (And yes, they’re all Batman.)

CATWOMAN #7 – 7 counts of female PORNIFICATION. 2 counts of male PORNIFICATION.

RED HOOD AND OUTLAWS #2 – 1 count of male TITILLATION. 2 counts of female TITILLATION. 3 counts of female PORNIFICATION.

SAVAGE HAWKMAN #1—11 counts of male GLAMOR. No counts of female embodiment.

SUPERGIRL #1—11 counts of female GLAMOR. 1 count of male GLAMOR.

SUPERGIRL #2 – 16 counts of female GLAMOR. 16 counts of male GLAMOR.

If I wished to invest in a scanner to reproduce all the relevant pages, I could make arguments for all my categorizations—but again, that would involve spending money to prove my conclusions to an audience in love with defending victims—or what they like to imagine as victims.

Will that be my final word on the mélange known as “No, It’s Not Equal?”

Magic eightball says, “Maybe for now.”

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