You only have to look at Wonder Woman to see she can seriously kick ass. She’s a huge Amazonian who can fly, throw heavy objects and even tie you up in a lasso if she wants to – the epitome of superhero.
Maybe not. Female superheroes became prominent after the Second World War when characters such as Miss America, She-Hulk and Super Girl came out. They were strong, powerful and sold the message that girls could do anything boys could do. This sounds great, except… why did all these women look like they were made purely for sexual fantasy?
Big boobs, high heels, bare legs. It’s impossible to deny the powerful superheroes were being turned into sex objects. Comics even used to be packed full of so much underlying, not-so-subtle sexual images of women that they were nicknamed “headlight comic books”.
Eventually, the sheer amount of sex led to complaints, one in particular by psychologist Fredric Wertham who held a symposium in 1948 on the “Psychopathology of Comic Books.”
Moving along slightly, we’ll look at the 1980’s with one particular example of over-sexualisation. If you look up, or maybe even remember, the image of the White Queen, or Emma Frost (a villain in the X-Men comics),you can obviously see the sexualisation. A push-up bustier, panties and high-heeled boots… all in white.
Crude? Yes. You bet.
I’ll use a fairly recent example. Justice League of America 14 (written by Dwayne McDuffie and drawn by Ed Benes) has a normal storyline – Lex Luthor has captured half of the Justice League so Superman and Black Lightning show up to rescue them. Take a look at this panel.
Wonder Woman’s boobs.
That was your first thought, right? Then it probably went onto either Vixen’s strangely sexual position for someone who’s been captured or Back Canary’s boobs and ass, both of them on display. If you peer into the distance, you can see the rest of the caputed Justice League. *Cough* All male. *Cough*
Okay, so women are over-sexualised. So what? I mean, it’s mostly men who read comics anyway, right? And all the male characters are impossibly buff so it’s hardly sexist.
Admittidly, it is mostly men who read comics. But maybe that’s because of the over-sexualisation. If you only market your comics to men, only men will buy them. If you market them to men and women… well, who knows?
It can be argued that, yes, all the male superheroes are what men idealize and all the women are what they idealize as a partner. But this swings back round to the “only men read comics” argument. The male heroes are almost always fully clothed and even have their faces covered. Jessica H. Zellers even conducted a study involving eighteen comics. Almost one out of every four females was shown nude, compared to 2% of men. And out of the “suggestively clas, partially clad or naked individuals”, three times as many were women than men.
Over-sexualisation gets in the way of the storyline. Women are shown with as much skin on show as possible, even if it makes no sense. I think it’s safe to say that women are over-sexualised in a comic when they are drawn as if they are sex objects first and superheroes, or even people, second. And what’s the point in reading superhero comics if half of the superheroes aren’t superheroes?