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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Boys and Girls Together

ADDENDUM: If you're one of the hundreds coming over here from When Fangirls Attack!, welcome to the blog. Understand from the top two things:

(a) Neither Ragnell nor Kalinara like me very much, so you may not get the kind of thing you're used to them recommending here, and

(b) Yeah, my comments are moderated. Go ahead and leave a comment anyway... as long as you're not a troll, I'll let it through, even if you disagree with me. Hopefully, you'll disagree with me in an interesting and/or entertaining way, giving me some food for thought, and I'll try to respond in the same way.

Comment moderation is specifically up to filter out trolls, however -- I'm very opinionated, so I get my share. Bear it in mind.

Oh, and feel free to check out the rest of my stuff, too, if you feel like it. ;)


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Ragnell points me to this. For once, she's not bullshitting -- this post really is required reading.

Under the title "If The Fanboys Think We're Jealous, How Do We Win?", a female blogger who seems to call herself Willow advises --

In my entry "Beyond The Catfight Fantasy" I brought up my concern that fanboys (generic catch all term) may read feminist stances against over-sexualized female characters in comics, as a catfight. They might very well see our objections as us trying to bring down the 'prettier than us' fictional characters. astraldreamgirl of Maid of Might sums it up pretty well in her comment here, quote:

Because that would explain perfectly the average, unthinking fanboy response to complaints, which generally boils down to "But don't you want women to look good? Surely you don't want the women to look ugly?!"

The Pretties vs The Uglies. That primary school scandal raises it's ugly heads. Even if you weren't a part of it, even if weren't paying attention to which side you were on; the boys were paying attention. And they didn't just see it on the playground, it's everywhere. Women tearing down other women who're more successful than they are, or younger, or more beautiful. Sometimes those women don't even realize what they're doing when the claws come out.

But if it's made such a huge impression, if it's become coded behavior, how do we uncode it so that the fanboys running and working in the industry listen to our actual points and not just see the whole thing as noise. I don't agree with James Meeley's points about needing to have patience and not shouting. But I do wonder now if his response was what it was because he was also reading 'catfight' into what we feel is righteous anger at misrepresentation and exploitation.

So now what do we do? How do we win the pre-fight? How do we shift perception, if this is the perception, away from a sterotyped understanding and towards our real points? How do we set up dialogue? What language do we use?

The fanboys point out over and over again that male characters are over muscled, and unrealistic and they don't object. Is it machismo? And if so, do they think we're whining? Are they really saying they aren't inimidated by heroic figures so why are we? If their stance is - we're men, we know we're not heroes, we don't expect to see heroes just like us - is that why they can't understand that we do expect to see heroines who remind us of our mothers, sisters, teachers and other important female figures?

I don't think fanboys are that blind to inspiration. They like Batman's unwavering goals. They like Superman's epic heroism - as in his essential goodness. And those characteristics are displayed within figures who are larger than life, thus muscles and broad shoulders and tiny hips and intensely low body fat. But the men are still men. They're still men fanboys can relate to and understand and feel represented by. If they had superpowers and worked out that hard and had the time, money, energy - they too would do right for the world and try to juggle a private life or social life or any life at all. (Reverse that if they're a villian loving fanboy with private plans for world conquest)

I might not be able to think of a single individual in my life who I see in Mystique. But I do know I admire her survival instinct and her pure mettle. They're attributes I can recognize in myself and women I admire. I admire Helena's pluckiness and grit. She'll go to the dark place, she'll deal with the scum to protect the greater good. That's something I can admire. But Huntress stops being a woman I can recognize when, without super powers, she flaunts her body's weak and vulnerable spots even though she's been previously injured. That's not me if I had the super dedication and worked out hard and had the time, money and energy.

What language do I need to communicate that more clearly than I just did? I know I'm not in competition with a two dimensional representation of a heroic female. I know that it's a fantasy. But it's a fantasy set in a real world analog. Real world dangers apply. People can die or become critically injured. People can be tortured. Science has a level of similarity as well from medical to fissionable. Gravity apparently works the same if they're on planet earth. So what are the right words to use to show the difference in wanting that potential role model and icon to show due concern for her personal safety and self image without it seeming like I'm comparing myself to some norex wearing 'beauty queen' and wanting the bitch to go down?


Sobering stuff. Especially for a nearly lifelong 'fanboy' who is about to turn 45 (in two months, thanks), who is about to marry the finest woman he's ever met (assuming I stay lucky and don't piss her off too much) and become stepfather to the three finest girls in human history... the elder two of whom already read superhero comics (thanks largely to my influence) and the younger of which almost certainly will read superhero comics when she gets a little older. (Hopefully, the good ones from the Silver Age I point out to her in my collection.)

I admit, I hadn't looked at this subject from Willow's viewpoint before, as those few of you who actually read my largely ignored Chick Fight! entry from a few weeks back already know. In fact, I closed that (lengthy) entry with the following paragraph:

As for the rest of it, though, well, superhero comics are inherently unrealistic, and that’s part of their charm. They are also, at least right now, a genre created, consumed, and supported almost entirely by males. Until that changes, I wouldn’t expect to see anything else change… and as a male myself, well, the only change I’m ever in favor of is better writing. But, hey, I like the good girl art as much as anyone else… and I really can’t see anything wrong with that, either.

Well, we live and learn. Some of us have to be hit over the head with a two by four, but, still, when someone does us the office, we can absorb some new information from it.

In the previously mentioned Chick Fight! entry, the main point that I made (if I made any at all) was that yes, women have a right to be upset about how female characters are portrayed in comics -- not at their appearances, because male characters have appearances just as exaggerated, and fangirls certainly don't mind that -- but at the subordinate roles that female characters in comics always find thrust upon them by the male characters all around them (and the male creators behind them). I also waxed rhetorical at some length about the need for more writers in comics who understood that violent confrontation is far less natural or instinctive for women than it is for men, and that therefore, superheroic (and, for that matter, supervillainous) women would attempt to solve problems and resolve conflicts using a different paradigm than most male superhumans. (Which is to say, superwomen, even those with superstrength, would be more inclined to use their wits, and manipulate their environments to advantage with their powers, and defuse confrontation, than they would to put on a violent dominance display with the intention of bludgeoning their opponent/obstacle into whimpering submission.) Here's one of many such passages:

Female comics fans may continue to clamor for female characters in superhero comics with more modest mammary endowments and who do not dress like topless dancers at the beginning of a three song routine, but the commercial reality of comics precludes the modification of such details, and that’s just how that is.

If we men don’t feel our gender is being sexually exploited by its universal representation as ‘beefcake’ in these four color rags, it seems to me that female comics fans (who certainly don’t seem to mind the beefcake, either) could lighten up a little bit about the cheesecake, too. But, women tend to have different perceptions of sexuality than men do, and in this regard, we may simply have to accept that this particular sub-genre of graphic art is now and always has been predominantly created for (and by) and consumed by males… and leave it at that. Or, as I noted before, declare it a wash and put it behind us.


Having now read the article I opened this entry with, though, I realize that I was wrong to so quickly dismiss fangirl concerns about superwoman physicality. Because women simply don't see these things the same way as men do... and that's very valid.

But Huntress stops being a woman I can recognize when, without super powers, she flaunts her body's weak and vulnerable spots even though she's been previously injured. That's not me if I had the super dedication and worked out hard and had the time, money and energy.

Uh... yeah. Okay. I can see that.

Huntress dresses like a ho. I admit it. I admitted it more than once (I think) in my previous entry on the subject. Of course, I then blithely dismissed any concerns about that from female comics readers by noting rather patronizingly that superhero comics are a subgenre designed for and largely supported by adolescent males, and that's just the way that is. Essentially, I said "Well, we like looking at the boobies, don't you know, and you girls like looking at Kyle Rayner's ass, too, so all you fangirls out there, just suck it up and move on."

But I overlooked something, and that is this: the way a woman presents her physicality to the world around her is a very large part of her essential, characteristic behavior... much more so than with men, or boys. We males are much more unconscious of our physical appearances, because culture does not judge us anywhere near as much, or as intensely, on that basis. Men are judged largely on their actions and their behavior, and yes, we have to adhere to the dress code at work and appearances are important in certain situations. But personal appearance is much much more important for a woman than it is for a man. So, again... how a woman presents herself to the people around her, is something that says far, far more about her essential character than the equivalent behavior in a man.

When a guy opens a comic and sees Superman, Batman, Iron Man, or Thor whipping around the panels in absurdly unrealistic, skintight materials that cannot possibly exist in the reality we all share (and that, despite being skintight, generally do not show off sexual anatomical details to any great extent, because most comics artists are male and the idea of drawing Spider-Man's package makes them vaguely queasy), we don't think anything of it. We don't care how they dress, because we don't much care how we dress.

Or that's what we tell ourselves, and it's what we (or, at least, I) write condescendingly to the female fans when they get all huffy over Power Girl's giant melons or Black Canary's fishnets or the Huntress in her skank suit. If it doesn't bother us guys that Superman and Batman dress like Chippendale's dancers wearing a coat of paint and have zero body fat, why can't you girls just roll with it when Sue Storm parades around in a layer of blue saliva with a big 4 stretched between her constantly erect areolas? C'mon! It's the same thing!

However, even as I typed this, I realized it was all bullshit. Why? Well...


In the late 1970s, Legion of Superheroes fanboys rose up as one in disgusted revulsion, shaking our fists at the skies while averting our eyes in appalled nausea from the horror that was Mike Grell's Cosmic Boy costume. That's it, on the right, behind Superboy. It looks like Cosmic Boy broke into Tim Curry's dressing room during the filming of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and ran off with some of Dr. Frank N. Furter's extra wardrobe. It made us all, as one, reach for the closest receptable we could vomit into.


That Grell has an interesting point of view on human sexuality can be seen from these other two covers of his from this time period I found after a brief hunt on the Internet. Did guys, in general, enjoy seeing other men, especially gigantic burly black men with huge... er... afros... depicted in this kind of sissyboy leathergear? Fuck no we did not.




It would seem, then, that this idea I keep setting forth... namely, that getting all pissy about the constant sexualization in comic books of one's own gender is just a crazy chick thing, and they need to get over it... this would seem to require a little more thought. Because, as the above covers and my outraged response to them at the time... a response echoed throughout Legion fandom... show inarguably, guys get just as upset when characters of their gender are depicted as blatant sex objects, as girls do.

So why is it so hard for us -- why has it been so hard for me, anyway -- to understand that women respond to Huntress in her skank outfit, or Power Girl in her absurdly skintight leotard with no support garment underneath it for the biggest goddam rack since Dolly Parton's, in much the same way I used to respond to Mike Grell's Cosmic Boy outfit?

I don't know. I really don't know. I guess I just haven't wanted to face up to it, and I think I probably owe female fandom assembled a thirty year long apology for it.

All this is exacerbated by the fact that the original blog entry by Willow is entirely correct when she points out, as I have reiterated above, that women are far more careful about, and far more conscious of, the appearance they present to the world around them, than men are. Us guys generally really don't care how we dress, unless we have some pragmatic reason to do so -- our boss will send us home to change if we wear our HULK sweatshirt to work, our girlfriend will break up with us if we wear that goddam twenty year old, ripped and frayed and faded RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK t-shirt out to the mall with her one more time, etc. Women, on the other hand, are generally much more aware of how they look at any given time, because they've been judged on it since birth. And they've been taught to judge other women on their own appearances, too, and they do it as unthinkingly as we all breathe.

So, when a female comics fan opens up an issue of BIRDS OF PREY, a comic that is supposed to be about some strong, competent, independent superheroines who take no shit from anybody, and they see athletic martial artist type women whose entire profession is based around physical combat with (generally) bigger, bulkier, nastier men, and these women are dressed like strippers in ridiculously tight non-existent fantasy fabrics, fishnet stockings, and high heeled thigh high boots that an Olympic gold medal gymnast would have trouble tottering across a room in, much less highkicking some thug through a wall while encumbered by... it bothers them. These superheroines are supposed to be intelligent, they're supposed to be competent, they're supposed to be among the finest physical athletes and martial artists in the world. And they're dressed like THAT?

It seems more than a little ridiculous, I have to imagine. In fact, it may well seem so ridiculous as to be offensive. That last bit I really didn't get until just now, as I contemplate how I would feel if I opened an issue of AVENGERS or JLA, and discovered that Mike Grell had redesigned all the male characters' costumes, and they were all now wearing black leather skintight Speedos with black leather high heeled thigh high boots and criss crossing chest chains. Would I scream my head off? Would a hundred thousand fanboys scream right along with me? I believe we would.

And, again, it can't be stressed enough -- what I learned from Willow's post is that to women, this is even more important than it is to men. Women grow up in a world where they are judged on their appearance far more constantly, and far more intensely, than men are. How a woman dresses, how she styles her hair, how much of her body she puts on display, how much and what kind of make up she wears... all of these things are extremely meaningful to herself, and to other women. They say something important, not just about what the woman looks like, but about what kind of person she is.

No woman, not anywhere, not in all of human history, has ever dressed the way every costumed superwoman in superhero comics routinely and unthinking and apparently unconsciously does. No real human woman has ever so routinely displayed her body to such an absurdly unbelievable degree as characters like Catwoman, Power Girl, Huntress, Colleen Wing (in the new HEROES FOR HIRE book) or the Wasp do nearly every minute of every day of their lives, especially while fighting for their lives against lethally superpowerful opponents. Strippers dress like superheroines do, but they do it for about two minutes at a time on stage in a highly artificial setting while in the process of disrobing, and they do it because they get paid (a LOT) for the service. Nobody in comics has ever even jokingly suggested that Tigra, Crystal, or the Valkyrie actually get paid to constantly flaunt their gigantic bosoms, and in many cases, perpetually erect nipples, to everyone around them all the time... and yet, they do. They do it constantly.

Why do they do it? Because fanboys buy comics and, for the past several generations at least, fanboys have also drawn comics, and fanboys like to see that stuff and presumably fanboys enjoy penciling and inking it, too.

But what this means is that when a woman reads a comic, the characterization of all the female characters in that comic -- at least, all the young, pretty, glamorous ones -- is completely wrong, on a subtle but fundamental level they cannot get away from. Women are no more enamored of seeing every representative of their gender depicted in a blatantly sexualized way then we men are when an artist like Mike Grell does it to male characters, and where we guys can and do simply assume this is a case of artistic stupidity and never once feel like it somehow reflects on Cosmic Boy's behavior (we seem to simply preconsciously assume Cosmic Boy would never actually dress like that if the artist didn't make him do it), for women it's different. They do not simply shut off their emotions and move past the appearances of the female characters in the comics, because to them, how a woman dresses is deeply reflective of what that woman is like as a person.

If the Huntress and the Black Canary go out to fight crime dressed like hookers, well, a female reader cannot help but feel that they are probably skanks in real life. And it doesn't matter how nuanced their dialogue may be, or how many kids we see them pull out of how many burning buildings at great risk to their own life and limb, because no matter how courageous or competent or valorous or noble they are, the fact remains, they are dressed in costumes specifically designed to give any man seeing them a gigantic woody, and most women have nothing but (perhaps merited) contempt for any woman who specifically dresses simply to provoke that kind of reaction in men.

The fact that these female characters behave like admirable, wonderful, fabulous people while dressed as porno starlets is, on a fundamental level, confusing and offensive to female comics readers. It causes them, to say the least, some emotional conflict.

And, I regret to say, until I read Willow's blog entry last night, and until I reflected further on it while typing this today, and recalled Mike Grell's horrific Cosmic Boy costume from the 1970s, I really didn't get this at all.

I don't know what can be done about it, though. It seems to me that as long as fanboys are predominantly drawing and buying superhero comics, women in those comics will continue to be portrayed as pretty much visual fodder for adolescent male wet dreams. The only real solution would seem to be involving more women in the creation of superhero comics... and getting more women to buy superhero comics, as well.

Right now, the fangirl segment of superhero comics readership is comparatively tiny, and comics companies, and creators, pretty much disregard its collective voice with impunity. Until more women start buying superhero comics, this isn't going to change. Although I suppose... hmmm. You know, every superhero comics fangirl pretty much has to know at least ten superhero comics fanboys. And superhero comics fanboys tend to be pretty eager to please any female of any sort who pays any attention to them (us) at all. If all the fangirls started to speak as eloquently to all the fanboys they know as Willow did on her blog... hmmmm...

11 Comments:

At 2:00 PM , Anonymous Willow said...

The fact that these female characters behave like admirable, wonderful, fabulous people while dressed as porno starlets is, on a fundamental level, confusing and offensive to female comics readers. It causes them, to say the least, some emotional conflict.

For the record, at least in this part, you got it.

I'm not sure that other women would agree that we look at Black Canary and Huntress etc... and think 'Ho!' and then get confused when the ho does something heroic.

But I know that I look at what they're wearing and go 'Why?' much the same way you must have screamed to see a strong male character looking like someone was about to tell him 'Lick my shoes, bitch and like it!' and it being implied that he would.

It's the unfairness of putting sex appeal ahead of the heroic ideals that make us like the characters and want to emulate them.

Given that you're about to become a father to three teenage girls, I'd like you to try a project. I'd like you to look at the new Supergirl with your new perspective. I'd like you to think about what message it might give your new daughters, especially the youngest. I'd like you to think about what would happen if she dressed like Supergirl and then told you 'But Supergirl does it and she's a hero!'

Even if it doesn't hit you in the gut, and make you think about their safety and that you don't want some grubby fanboy thinking that's all there is to your daughter, you know their mother would have something to say about it.

 
At 3:51 PM , Anonymous Willow said...

PS: I've been thinking really hard about an aspect of your entry, trying to figure out what bothered me about it and if I wanted to respond to it. I've decided it's not a knee jerk reaction.

You:
And it doesn't matter how nuanced their dialogue may be, or how many kids we see them pull out of how many burning buildings at great risk to their own life and limb, because no matter how courageous or competent or valorous or noble they are, the fact remains, they are dressed in costumes specifically designed to give any man seeing them a gigantic woody, and most women have nothing but (perhaps merited) contempt for any woman who specifically dresses simply to provoke that kind of reaction in men.


I can't speak for most women. But I think the 'contempt' you mentioned goes right back to my thoughts on 'the cat fight'. You seem to be speaking of the characters beeing torn down unconsciously because of the way they look. I'm speaking of a history of explotative physical appearance. It's not that she's trying to make men horny so she's a ho and we don't like her. I know many women who're all about sex worker rights and the fact that some women do feel empowered by being strippers or porn stars. Their rights should be respected. It's hypocritical to say a woman's body is her own when it comes to abortion but then say a woman who chooses to be a sex worker is automatically ignorant of the politics or has been culturally brainwashed about her sense of self worth and needs to be regulated into doing something better.

There is a matter of choice here that real women have and I know that I tend to hope they make that choice from an informed station. That they're not going along because this is how they've been told women are sexy. And mostly I hope that they're not making that choice because it's the best way to get money, despite how they feel about themselves, their bodies and the job, because they haven't had opportunities to train for anything else.

I've never seen in character/ in canon references to why the heroines dress the way they do. No, I saw one. In Supergirl where Stargirl commented on the bare midrift they both shared and wondered if Supergirl was going for 'distracting the enemy'. And then they went on to mention that it wasn't dangerous for Kara because as a Girl of Steel it'd take kryptonite to really hurt her.

But Huntress was shot. Baraba did lose use of her legs and Black Canary was once so badly beated she lost her cry. How in the face of those circumstances can Helena and Dinah continue to wear flaunting clothing? What's going on in their heads?

You said that men just go 'The artist was smoking crack' when they see a hero wearing something that doesn't match up to his personality or his job. Fangirls do think the same thing. The problem is that the artists are always smoking crack.

If our (female) heroes drawn like that it's because it's appealing to men, and no thought is given to whether these particular strong women would really expose themselves in that manner. That's doing them grave injustice as characters. Your original post about Catfights mentioned that the female roles seem to be generally subordinate to the male roles.

My complaint is that the female roles seem to be subboridnate to the artists. It doesn't matter if Barbara Gordon who was shot and paralyzed would arguably have something to say about the safety of her agents, especially if they were injured before. So it would be logical for her to insist and / or discuss with them, them wearing clothing that protects them. The artists want to see skin, so they show skin. Dinah and Helena and all the rest never got to make a choice.

And given the history of the world it just makes the analogy of 'Man = puppet master, Woman = puppets' all the more distressing in an industry that's allegedly saying 'But wait, is a bird? A plane? No it's Supergirl! She'll save the day!'

 
At 5:20 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Willow,

Unless the new Supergirl is the one who's been running around for awhile with the halter top on that shows off her belly button, and who is all conflicted and teen-angsty about being Superman's cousin, and who generally seems to have inherited the bratty Superboy personality once Superboy stopped using it, then I don't know who she is.

I'm not wild about strangers proposing projects for me to do with my girls, although as I mentioned them in the blog post, I guess it's fair game. Let me say this -- our middle girl, SuperDependable Teen, is an extraordinarily well endowed teenager -- so much so that she frequently jokes about dressing up as Power Girl. However, she is very insecure about her body, hates the very specific kinds of attention that her most obvious physical attributes seem to compel boys her age to pay to her, and I don't need to do any projects at all to understand how I'd feel, or she would feel, if she were to actually wear a reasonable approximation of a Power Girl costume. I'm right there.

I very much appreciate your lengthy comments. Your post, as I've mentioned a few times, opened my eyes and made me realize that, yes, it really is important that women characters in comics are constantly sexualized, that this really is offensive to women, and it isn't just something that they need to get over, because, you know, superhero comics are for guys and us guys don't mind.

I realized, as I was typing this entry, that given what superheroes wear, we should see just as much detail and definition on the male hero's crotches as we ALWAYS do on the female character's nipples -- and it's absolutely senseless that we can see Power Girl's nipples, I mean, my God, what kind of support garment does she HAVE to be wearing? But for that matter, it's senseless that we can see ANY fighting superheroine's nipples; as if they're going to go braless into combat. Especially when they're all built like an Abrams assault vehicle.

Was it the current Black Canary who got captured, tortured, and probably raped in LONGBOW HUNTERS, or has that been retconned to be her mother/grandmother whoever the Golden Age WWII era BC is nowadays? I admit, I haven't followed the continuity. If the current BC is the one who dated Green Arrow forever, and he's still over 50 years old, well, gee... I guess it's nice she likes older men, but my God, she can't be more than 24, right? How old was she when she joined the JLA? How old was she when she and Ollie went on their first date? Seems like this is Dr. Manhattan/Silk Spectre all over again.

Anyway, thanks for the long comments. I appreciate them.

 
At 7:54 PM , Anonymous Willow said...

Hi again and I've no idea what to say to the whole 'opening your eyes' bit. I'm just glad that you're so enthusiastic about something you couldn't see before.

As for your girls, I'm horribly sorry I phrased it as a project. I could have used another analogy (and excluded them). And I as I read your reponse I realized it is actually creepy to have someone 1) considering your daughter a project and 2) having that project have something to do with her body and body image. My sincerest apologies.

Re: Supergirl - I am thinking of the one who stole/took? Connor's shirt and has been conflicted.

Re: Black Canary - I couldn't begin to tell you where things are placed. The last I looked in BoP, Dinah had been severely beaten and injured and lost her cry before working with Oracle (if I'm remembering correctly) and then something happened to her legs while working for Oracle and she forced herself to adapt. Barbara was very concerned that Dinah might have felt she had something to prove. I believe that's current as far as this second...crisis? [Sigh of Ages]. Trying to follow DC recently has been like trying to follow K-Fed's singing career; painful and confusing.

Re: Support Garments - Is it wrong that I'm hilariously amused at you trying to figure out if they shop at Victoria's Secret, or Edna Mode, or get personalized corsets? In all honesty I've usually been so distracted at the exposed femoral artery on their legs, that the question of bra support never entered my head other than me looking and saying 'ow' a lot during fight scenes.

Re: Length - Look how short this one was :)

 
At 9:11 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Re: Support Garments - I'm not trying to figure out where Kara buys them so much as what they're made out of. Unless she has psychokinetic control of her jugs, she has to be wearing something made out of some kind of Kryptonian fabric, with a serious Kryptonian underwire.

This is the sort of thing that would simply never have occurred to me prior to this latest phase in my life beginning; however, spend a year and a half in close quarters with three women, all of whom are better than average chesty, and one abruptly realizes the utility/necessity of such things.

I'm sure there must be someone out there who knows how old the current Dinah is, and whether she's the daughter, granddaughter, or great granddaughter of the WWII era heroine she takes her name from, and which Black Canary had a long time thing with Ollie, and how old she was when she started dating him (and, for that matter, if Ollie is still in his 50s, as Grell insisted in THE WONDER YEAR, or if he's been youthenized since then). However, I sure as hell don't know.

I gather from semi-recent JLA issues that this BC and Ollie do have romantic history, but I have no idea if there is now a multigenerational, almost Phantomesque line of Black Canaries stretching between WWII and the current 20-something wearing the costume and doing the asskicking.

Although that's an interesting idea.

The female role in comics is, and always has been, subordinate to the fanboys, it's just, since the 70s, fanboys have been drawing the comics. Certainly it's aggravating; I'd just gotten so used to it I really wasn't even noticing how ridiculous the girls' costumes were any more.

Supergirl stole Conner's shirt? I thought that was Wonder Girl. How many damn Modern Age Supergirls have there been? I understand there was some glop of goo Luthor made, and now there's Superman's cousin. Is there another one, or more than that?

As to the Supergirl I'm thinking of, in the very short skirt and the halter top... as you note, there are some women who do dress that way (especially teenage girls) and while I know little about the character, it seems she has been consistently characterized as someone who enjoys the attention of boys. And she, along with Mary Marvel, are among the few female characters who can pretty much wear anything they want in the field and not worry about it, as they're pretty much indestructible. Again, though, what keeps those superboobies up and defying gravity underneath those microskin tops they wear is something that baffles me. Maybe Mary gets the firmness of Minerva along with the other stuff, but I have no idea how Supergirl manages it.

And, if Power Girl is simply the Earth 2 version of Supergirl, why does she have enormously larger hooters? Did they put something in the water in the Earth 2 Argo City that wasn't in Earth 1's? What's up with that?

 
At 9:43 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"spend a year and a half in close quarters with three women, all of whom are better than average chesty..."

'Better than average'? Surely you mean *bigger* than average? If one of your teenage daughters had small breasts, would you call her 'worse than average?' That's sick, man.

 
At 9:46 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Black Canary lost her sonic scream, but got it back when she fell into a Lazarus Pit. Talia set her and Ra's Al Ghul up on a date, you see. Wacky.

 
At 10:13 AM , Blogger Highlander said...

Anonymous,

'Better than average chesty' was me trying to be witty. It scans better than 'bigger than average chesty', because of the two internal short 'e' sounds in 'better' and 'chesty'. Also, 'better than average' simply seemed to me to be superior phrase, in terms of how the passage would 'hear' to a reader, than 'bigger than average'.

I can understand how you can misconstrue the phrase, but if that's the only comment my entry provoked in you, I believe you are giving it a narrow reading. Sorry you were offended. Now I'm moving on.

'Anonymous' --

I think you're pulling my Demon's Hea-- er, leg. Still, that story is so crazy it just might be true. I've long thought that BC 'lost' her canary cry simply to make it easier for Mike Grell to victimize her, thus motivating Green Arrow to start shooting people with real arrows instead of boxing gloves. But I admit, I have very little respect for Grell as either a writer or an artist.

Funny, though, how much Grell's name keeps popping up lately...

 
At 12:08 AM , Anonymous shilohmm said...

If the Huntress and the Black Canary go out to fight crime dressed like hookers, well, a female reader cannot help but feel that they are probably skanks in real life.

No, no, no. Never. Totally off the mark. Matter of fact, I think Tigra and She Hulk should run around in their undies or less, or at least, rightly did so at various points in their careers, because that's just who they are. Not skanks, but powerful women who enjoy their bodies and don't really care whether there's an audience. Well, Tigra probably appreciated an appreciative audience; She Hulk just didn't sweat it.

A woman who reads current comics is probably NOT the sort of woman who labels another woman a "skank" simply for how she dresses, would be my guess.


they are dressed in costumes specifically designed to give any man seeing them a gigantic woody

This may be true when it comes to the real world and the fact that the costumes are designed by male artists, but as a kid or a teen this aspect would never have occurred to me. I look back at some of the stuff I and some of my friends wore, and I am dead sure you would say the same of some of my outfits - but to be honest, what guys would think of the outfit never entered my mind.

While most of my friends did consider the male gaze, they weren't looking to create woodies when they dressed that way, either. They intended to be attractive - even one friend who'd constantly call outfits "sexy" was outraged when some guy hit on her while she was wearing a rather revealing outfit. She used "sexy" to mean "cool," and was annoyed that someone would take that sexy look literally. :p

Unless they're going bar hopping or otherwise man hunting, most women dress for themselves or for other women, in my experience. Personally, I dressed for comfort, and I showed skin because I had a high metabolism and I was hot - not "She's so hot" kinda hot, but suffering from an excess of Farenheit, y'know? In the winter I'd wear jeans and t-shirts with a plaid men's shirts over all, and I wasn't trying to look frumpy, either...

One summer a couple of neighbor guys warned me that I should change because I was "sending the wrong message," and I thought them just goofy. From my perspective, I wasn't sending a message at all, and I thought they were worrying over nothing. Only an idiot would assume I was dressing to turn guys on when the temp was 85, right? :D

So Supergirl's costume I could excuse on the "she thinks it's cute and hasn't a clue what it might imply" grounds, if it weren't for the fact that Ma Kent supposedly made it. Can't buy that, unless I missed a passage where Ma Kent tries to talk her into something more sensible somewhere...

I'm generally more annoyed by the porn-style postures and blank porn expressions than by the costumes, but some costumes are ubelieveably stupid, and too few heroines wear practical ones.


I confess I had a fondness for Grell, once I got used to his stuff. I thought Cosmic Boy's costume was stupid, but I didn't think of it as sexy or in any way aiming in that direction - going on Princess Projectra's costume and the like, I figured that culture just had a very different view on exposing skin. ;) Liked Tyroc's outfit alright back then, although looking at it now I can't help but think of Elvis...

 
At 10:11 AM , Blogger Highlander said...

If the Huntress and the Black Canary go out to fight crime dressed like hookers, well, a female reader cannot help but feel that they are probably skanks in real life.

No, no, no. Never. Totally off the mark.

Don't hold back, Bones. Say what you REALLY think.

I have to tell you, such immediate, completely unqualified disagreement doesn't lend you a great deal of credence in my eyes at this moment. Are you the authority on women? Do you speak for all femininity? May I see your badge, please? No? Then let's please vocalize what I, at least, understand -- YOU don't judge other women by the clothing they wear, and assume that a woman who dresses provocatively at all times must be a slut. Other women may respond differently, and, in fact, as I have observed on many occasions other women responding to scantily dressed females differently, I will state definitively that other women than you DO respond differently.

For the record: I have long believed that the label 'slut', when applied to a woman, generally means a human being of the feminine gender who behaves much the same way any man would like to, were he given the same sexual opportunities she has. It's an old, old observation, but when a guy behaves like a slut, he's a stud, and it's generally not seen as a negative characteristic.

Having said that, by whatever standard you want to apply, Tigra is certainly a woman who enjoys sex, and doesn't care who knows about it. I've heard various people ascribe this to her Cat Person physiology ("she's always in heat"), but, whatever the case may be, Tigra will demonstrably sleep with pretty much anyone who asks her nicely. Thus, yeah, the fact that she constantly dresses to advertise this is right in character.

As to She-Hulk, she's been established as pretty libidinous, too. So, even when she's not wearing the torn remnants of whatever outfit she had on before she hulked up, it is perfectly in character for her to choose to dress in standard superchick gear -- i.e., skintight fantasy fabric that does not exist in nature, which somehow shows her nipples, looks like a coat of paint, clearly has nothing on underneath it but her, but which also somehow offers amazing support for those gigantic emerald melons of hers.

So, She-Hulk and Tigra, sure, they can dress like strippers all they want. Willow's original assertion, though, is that it's kinda foolish for Huntress and Black Canary to dress this way, given the realities of the lives they live and the personas they have, and, well, having read what she said, I see her point. The fact that a coat of paint is pretty much standard wardrobe for ALL super powered women in comics, regardless of their characterizations otherwise, is a problem. Which is what I was pointing out.

Matter of fact, I think Tigra and She Hulk should run around in their undies or less, or at least, rightly did so at various points in their careers, because that's just who they are. Not skanks, but powerful women who enjoy their bodies and don't really care whether there's an audience. Well, Tigra probably appreciated an appreciative audience; She Hulk just didn't sweat it.

No, they're skanks. I have a button on one of my hats that says "Hooray for skanks". And again, as I said above, there's nothing wrong with being a skank, or, rather, there's nothing wrong with being a woman who pursues any sexual opportunities as aggressively and as eagerly as a man would, given the same chance. Or, to go even further, if there's something wrong with that behavior in a woman, then it is equally wrong in a man.

A woman who reads current comics is probably NOT the sort of woman who labels another woman a "skank" simply for how she dresses, would be my guess.

I'm happy to hear you say 'probably', and as you've qualified your otherwise overwhelmingly authoritarian tendencies in this regard, I have no real argument.

I have known very few women in my life who do not tend to bridle and get scratchy when another woman dressed in less than they are wearing enters their presence. And that's a very human response; it is, in fact, the standard 'fight or flight' response to being threatened. It's just that men and women tend to manifest the 'fight' response in different ways. (Those of us who tend to default to flight, on the other hand, behave very similarly regardless of gender -- if we can physically leave, we do. If we can't, we withdraw from the perceived threat as much as possible within the constraints of the situation.)

I tend to doubt that women who read superhero comics are such a special, enlightened class that they do not feel the same 'fight or flight' urge when threatened, and I seriously doubt that the majority of them manifest a 'fight' response in any manner distinct from that which I have observed non-comics reading women do. But again, your use of the word 'probably' allows me to understand that you realize that yours, like mine, is a subjective viewpoint, and our mileage obviously simply varies on this point.

Unless they're going bar hopping or otherwise man hunting, most women dress for themselves or for other women, in my experience. Personally, I dressed for comfort, and I showed skin because I had a high metabolism and I was hot - not "She's so hot" kinda hot, but suffering from an excess of Farenheit, y'know? In the winter I'd wear jeans and t-shirts with a plaid men's shirts over all, and I wasn't trying to look frumpy, either...

Okay. But, getting back to subjects other than you, Black Canary and Huntress, and most other superpowered women in comics, do not dress for either practicality or comfort. They dress, quite specifically, in clothes that their generally male artists have drawn on them, to the specific purpose of provoking a sexual response in said male artist and the predominantly male target market.

It is as if every single woman appearing in a superhero comic other than Aunt May gets up every morning and before she gets dressed, says to herself "Gosh, what does Milton the Geek want to see me in today?" And then she puts that on. And while this would make every woman in superhero comics pretty much a fantasy icon for nearly every guy that reads them, I have to admit, if I were a woman reading superhero comics, it might annoy me. It would CERTAINLY annoy me if suddenly every male character in comics started dressing as if they were trying to please all the female readers (or gay male readers) all the time. So, you know... sudden enlightenment.

So Supergirl's costume I could excuse on the "she thinks it's cute and hasn't a clue what it might imply" grounds, if it weren't for the fact that Ma Kent supposedly made it. Can't buy that, unless I missed a passage where Ma Kent tries to talk her into something more sensible somewhere...

I don't buy that Ma Kent would ever make a costume like that, either. She might have made something a little more classic, though, and Supergirl could well have modified it after she got it. Supergirl, at her stage of development, could very well be one of these teenage women who is trying very hard to look more adult by dressing to accentuate her curves. In which case, it's something she'll grow out of, most likely, and in a few years, she'll have something more reasonable as a costume and look back on her teenage days with some embarrassment.

The Silver Age Supergirl certainly didn't seem to do this, though; her costumes generally got skimpier and more provocative the older she got... although what she was thinking putting on that red and blue tennis outfit she died in, I could not tell you.

I'm generally more annoyed by the porn-style postures and blank porn expressions than by the costumes, but some costumes are ubelieveably stupid, and too few heroines wear practical ones.

See? We're back in agreement again. Mind you, I'm a guy and a horn dog and I like looking at Sue Storm wearing nothing but a thin blue film, but I have to admit, given her persona, it's unlikely she'd actually dress that way. In fact, the first time Reed passed out the unstable molecules uniforms to the team, realistically, she should have said "Okay, I think we need to program something a little bit different for your fiancee', here, Reed." For that matter, I'd think Johnny and Ben would have agreed with that.

I confess I had a fondness for Grell, once I got used to his stuff. I thought Cosmic Boy's costume was stupid, but I didn't think of it as sexy or in any way aiming in that direction - going on Princess Projectra's costume and the like, I figured that culture just had a very different view on exposing skin. ;) Liked Tyroc's outfit alright back then, although looking at it now I can't help but think of Elvis...

If 30th Century culture is more sexual than ours, I say hubba hubba... but not to the point where I want to see Howard Chaykin writing the book. However, in DC's Silver Age, sexuality was never mentioned; that being the case, Grell's costumes were rather jarring.

 
At 7:59 PM , Anonymous shilohmm said...

Don't hold back, Bones. Say what you REALLY think.

I did. Unfortunately, you do not seem to have heard me. I offered the quote, "a female reader cannot help but feel that they are probably skanks in real life." Then, speaking as A female reader, I stated that I CAN "help but feel" such nonsense. I then went on to observe that "probably" the "cannot but feel" observation didn't hold true for most other female fans, either.

Frankly, when someone makes a statement about what I as a female "cannot help but feel", and then blithly accuses me of speaking for all women when the only statement I made about fans in general was softened with "probably" and "is my guess", making clear I considered it observation rather than factual, I lose a bit of respect for them.

You are the first person I've run across who assumes that when I say "I think" that means "All females in this category think."


Although on reflection, my observation on other female comic fans may be truer of my generation than of younger fans. Gerard Jones claims that the women in my generation rejected superhero comics as "boy stuff," and quotes a woman who rejected comics in favor of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, but whose attitude toward other women fits your characterization surprisingly well. It may be women like that are more likely to be into comics than they used to be.


have known very few women in my life who do not tend to bridle and get scratchy when another woman dressed in less than they are wearing enters their presence.

Well, now you've met one more.

Those of us who tend to default to flight, on the other hand, behave very similarly regardless of gender -- if we can physically leave, we do. If we can't, we withdraw from the perceived threat as much as possible within the constraints of the situation.

I think you're talking about the response counselors call "freeze" in the bolded section (animal researchers use "freeze" for the state that preceeds the rest), which is a different chemical event than fight or flight - fight and flight are hyperarousal responses, while freezing is a dissociative response. I give you points for being up on the existence of that, though; the flight or fight responses were labeled decades earlier and so the freeze response isn't nearly as well known. While both men and women experience all three, the freeze response is more common to women while the fight and flight are more common to men.

I've always found the freeze response intriguing because it activates the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems at the same time, which is jut so gloriously weird...

But I find it really goofy that you know so many women who respond to someone else's clothes as in some sense life-threatening, that they see a woman exposing skin as so important they've got a recognizable fight or flight response.

The most I've ever observed in that situation were catty remarks about a friend of mine who went through a period where she was determined to be the sexiest one at any event. I didn't care about that phase, but when she fell for this one guy and abruptly flipped from artsy serious black jeans black shirt black beret to ruffly fluffly giggly pastel dresses, it only took two weeks before I was tempted to strangle her mid-girlish-giggle...

We are living in different worlds. It's a wonder we can communicate at all.

 

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