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The Spider-Woman Cover Reflects A Culture Of Misogynistic Depiction Of Women In Comics

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By Pallavi Priyamvada:

Butt raised high, face almost touching the ground, suit impossibly stretched tight and nearly naked body! Dear Mr. Manara, were you asked to draw the spider-woman cover for the Marvel comics or an ugly porn-like pose to trigger sexual fantasies? With heart shaped butt and body painted suit for a spider woman, you have hit the success button in sexualizing ‘Empowerment’. Maybe you, being somebody known for your erotic depictions and me, being just a ‘she reader’, have different visions of what makes a kick-ass female superhero.

Image Credit: Marvel/Comic Book Resources
Image Credit: Marvel/Comic Book Resources

Even though I know it’s far too big an industry for me to attempt to change, I would like you to at-least have the faintest idea of what your ‘women readers’ do/do not think about the cover. Comics have often been notorious for depicting women with almost hilariously disproportionate bodies and yours is equally disappointing. The cover is not powerful but provocative. It does not depict courage, freedom and feminism, but promises male sexual fantasy. It is not ideal, but objectified. Above all, it is seriously disturbing.

This is yet not the first time the comic industry has exposed its ‘objective eye’, rather, the sexualization and objectification of women has run far too rampant that it’s become the accepted norm rather than the exception. Huge breasts popping out, buttocks tightly framed, push-up bustier, panties and high-heel boot, bare legs, body postures depicting wild submission, the comic industry has done it all. Where male superheroes often carry an extra cape to their clothing, why are heroines made to battle only in glossy bras? When the he-hulk is portrayed as a terrible monster, how come the she-hulk becomes all sleek, voluptuous and sexual? Designing overtly sexualized outfits for female characters undermines their character strengths. Why do women, even when portrayed as super heroes, end up being subordinated as sex-objects?

It is a well-established theme that super-hero world deals with exaggerated sexuality. Some argue that men are also beefed up, that they are also objectified. They base their arguments on bulging muscles and the focus on Superman’s chest. That is true, but at the same time, they are idealized too. They are cast as tough, strong and in athletic shape. The readers do not fancy them but want to be like them. This is empowerment, not objectification.

The attitudes towards women in comic books are a replica of common gender role stereotypes where women are considered to be less capable, subservient, and complaint to men. They are often portrayed as the weaker one who need to be rescued by their male counterparts, the ones who are passive and docile, and cannot stand for themselves. If the plot shifts and they are shown as independent, the story would somehow turn them into alluring objects of desire, like it happened with DC’s Wonder Woman or Marvel’s She-Hulk. And if by some wonder swings, the woman is given control and dominance, the male writers can take it away at will. One may debate why Batwoman is killed, Batgirl is paralysed and Mirage is raped. This means that the apparent control given to them is also fake and flexible.

The female characters in comics (or in the entertainment business) are demonstrated through the gaze of the male. What we see, what we read and what we interpret, are all directed by ‘male gaze’. With male gaze in strict domination, the camera automatically lingers on the curves of the female body and negotiates with the feminine strength and character. Even the powerful characters like Wonder Woman , Super Woman and Stormare are revealed in sexually suggestive poses and appear disgusting and repellent ( atleast to me). From their body type to clothing, from beauty to posing, from greater depictions to minute details – all appear misogynistic. Maybe they are confusing the comic industry with the X-rated business. The same notions are absorbed by young impressionable children, and they are instilled with certain ways to think about the sexes very early in their lives. This is not only disgraceful, but threatening too.

The comic industry is functioning far from these realizations. What it still needs to realize and work on is the fact that the industry inhibits female readership also. And if this hyper-sexualization of women continues, the broad decline in the female readership is inevitable. Because no woman would feel comfortable in that section of the bookstore which highlights ‘headlight comics’. Women feel abhorrent and gross when they encounter naked, objectified women on the comic covers. It appears to them as the porn market where their dignity and gallantry are being compromised.

The response of Dennis Hopeless, the writer for the new Spider-Woman series, is definitely countable, but arguable too. She assured her fans on twitter of not sexualizing any of the characters in the story. But the questions is, one would only be able to reach the story if they could surpass the controversial cover and still not feel repulsed.

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  1. Babar

    With women fighting to for their right to dress sexy in public, this article comes as a surprise. Besides, male superheroes are also dressed up in skin tight suits.

    1. D Gill

      Women are not fighting for their right to wear sexy clothes. They are fighting for their right to be free from harassment despite what they are wearing. Get it straight.

    2. Babar

      I am assuming “despite what they are wearing” means miniskirts, tight pants, backless dresses, short shorts, etc. Who is sexualizing themselves, ma’am?

    3. N

      Mr Babar, Just tell me one thing why are you expecting from women to cover themselves. Men and women both are human beings. Both live in same society. A shirtless male, male wearing tight fitting trousers showing their man business are acceptable in our society but with the same point of view women wearing miniskirts, tight pants, backless dresses etc are not acceptable. Why it is so? Women never mind and at-least they don’t react in the way as men do. But men, they not only glare at women instead they try to fiddle with their freedom which sometimes results in teasing, molestation, etc. Neither they themselves nor their family members ask them not to do such things. Instead if in a family if there is a girl and a boy, girl is always instructed to not to wear this and that, don’t do this, do go out side,etc. but for a boy I don’t think it is even asked that where are they going. Along with this I wish if all the family also instructed their boys equally so then we were not discussing it right here.

      It is not about sexualizing, it is about freedom to wear, freedom to work, freedom to live in the society in the same way a male does.

      Niharika, well said.

    4. Babar

      My comment was taking about their hypocrisy in selectively choosing to complain about the sexualization of women while they do the same thing themselves everyday. As your your question, how many men do you see on the street revealing their body as compared to men. Men only have the option of jeans, shirts, and trousers, while women wear miniskirts, skin tight pants, short shorts, sleeve and backless dresses, spandex pants, sarees with tiny blouses, tight leggings, etc, to make a vulgar display of their bodies everyday, and then complain about a comic showing a woman’s butt! And then they go as far as labelling it discrimination (while male hero’s butts are highlighted all the time). Using the same theory, women are discriminating against themselves everyday

    5. Avik

      And yet a female author has a problem with how Sexy a female character is portrayed.. As in women should be given the freedom to choose to wear what they want. Agreed. Yet, a woman complains how “sexy” a female character is depicted. So if I am a woman I can wear whatever I want but if I see another woman in a similar attire (be it a painting, real life or music video) I will feel offended. Please correct me and clear this weird double standard.

    6. TK

      Mr Babar
      Try to understand the difference between “choice” for one’s OWN self and objectification of a woman’s body for another man’s pleasure.
      For an analogy on the difference between choice and coercion, please go through the following link.
      http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2008/03/18/faq-of-women-like-sex-just-as-much-as-men-do-then-why-is-rape-so-bad-its-just-rougher-sex-right/

    7. Avik

      Ok.. Agreed. There is objectification of women. There is no such thing going on for men? I believe in current global condition, both happen at similar levels. A commenter just posted above a video of how Spiderman has been in worse poses in skin tight clothes as much as a singular variant cover of Spiderwoman. But i dont see any woman oppose to objectification of a man then. True feminism is equality. I don’t see the equality there. This is just double standards.

  2. Babar

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us on the difference in the representation of physical strength of the two sexes. While I may or may not agree, here is my opinion with which you don’t have to agree, of course.

    In different sports requiring feats of physical strengths such as taekwondo, karate, judo, weightlifting, or even something as simple as lifting heavy bags from the supermarket, men take the lead. Men and women do not compete against one another in contact sports, for the simple reason, if I may say without offending, that women are not as strong as men physically. Furthermore, a man who offers to take heavy grocery bags from a woman is seen as a gentleman.

    Yes, there are exceptions. There are a lot of women who are physically stronger than men. However, it remains what it is. An exception.

    1. Neharika Mahajan

      I suppose you have entirely missed the difference between “male gaze” and “right over one’s body”. How have you assumed that women who choose to wear mini skirts, shorts or backless dresses wear it for your male eyes or male gaze? How have you assumed that women who choose to own their bodies do it to provoke your male sexuality? And how have you assumed that your own gaze, your own thought process, which criminalizes women who choose to wear short clothes, is nowhere at fault?
      Marvel’s female superheroes or Nicki Minaj’s videos or Katrina’s “Sheila ki Jawaani” are problematic not because it has “scantily” dressed women. They are problematic because they produce these “scantily” dressed women for the consumption of the male gaze (and to create mass self-hatred among female consumers). These mass-media texts/images are a product of highly capitalist and profit-driven market economy, which is also essentially patriarchal. These images are send out to generate mass viewership and mass profits. And it does so by feeding into the patriarchal sexual fantasies and patriarchal insecurities. While men get hard-ons watching/consuming them, women feel insecure about themselves and their bodies because of the “perfect-ness” of the mass-media female bodies (which of course leads to further profits because we have array of capitalist products that claim to rectify our imperfections). And then, we have douche bags like you who shall look and enjoy these images/texts and then complain about their inappropriateness.
      So dear Mr. Babar, instead of indulging in meaningless slut-shaming, you could try some social sciences and some progressive thinking. Women in burkhas, salwar kameez, saris get raped on day to day basis. Children, who have no “provocation” to offer, are very much at the receiving end of sexual offenses. Rural women, who do not have more than two pairs of clothing, are often raped by feduals and the landlords of their respective villages. And I can quote a number of studies over here which shall corroborate that clothing has absolutely nothing to do with violence against women. And I can quote a number of studies which shall also corroborate that it is sick mindsets like yours that lead to and perpetuate violence against women.
      “Sexual” is a slippery terrain and it would do our society much good if you used it more carefully then just throwing it around like Indian litter their own roads. Women have a right over their own bodies and their own sexuality, which is very different from capitalist and patriarchal mass-media appropriating their bodies and sexuality for commercial gains. For your own good, I hope that your have a finer mind that can grasp this subtle difference or else we are left with no other option but to slap you hard across your face cos it was just out there, left uncovered, exposing all the filth within and offending us.

    2. Babar

      I am not willing to have a conversation with an angry feminist who fills her comment with slander and personal attacks.

      I hope you have a good day.

    3. Templetwins

      Marvel’s female superheroes or Nicki Minaj’s videos or Katrina’s “Sheila ki Jawaani” are problematic not because it has “scantily” dressed women. They are problematic because they produce these “scantily” dressed women for the consumption of the male gaze’

      So what you are saying is that the problem here is not the scantily dressed women (who are getting paid for it) but those damn males are enjoying it, damn their sexuality. It means a woman can show as much as she wishes, but those low class men shouldn’t be attracted to it. It’s within men’s nature to be visually attracted to women, but damn your hormones, it would appear women want men(who doesn’t seem worthy of her attention) to deny their nature while women are allowed to embrace their own.

      The term ‘male gaze’ is coined by man-hating feminists who wanted to suppress the male sexuality. That concept is not peer-to-peer evaluated and Is it even scientifically approved? No. I suppose if government puts a ban on ‘objectification of women’ in the magazines and film industries. These hypocritical feminists would be up in arms to say it is their right to dress however they want and earn money by selling their sexuality. So in reality they would cry objectification by pointing out magazines, films etc and also cry if you put a ban on it. So all they need is a soap box, where they can complain and complain and pull sexism out of thin air. They may get a ‘grade A’ for thinking this way in those womens studies courses they take. It is like studying theology you can point out technology and say “Satan” is taking over the world, and you get an A for it too. The only difference is that ‘patriarchy’ is the boogeyman here, instead of ‘Satan’.

      Women are feeling insecure by seeing a fit spider woman, may be if she was obese or with some gut fat it would be appealing for them, I guess. You know what ladies this world doesn’t revolve around you, so please get off your high horses and your narcissistic bubble and stop expecting the world to please you or may be you can make your own comic however you want to and sell it yourselves.

      You seems to claim the right of women to flaunt and dress provocatively while demanding immunity from others’ response to these choices. Women may have the right to dress however they like, but to claim exemption from others’ critiques of their intentional appearance is unwarranted and unrealistic.

  3. Babar

    With women wearing spandex pants and tight jeans, showing their butt and sexualizing themselves, and women producing raunchy videos such as the one below, we should probably have our priorities set straight about what we want to protest against.

    http://youtu.be/LDZX4ooRsWs

    1. D Gill

      You’re missing the point. The video you posted is doing the exact same thing. Sexualizing the female for the male viewer. Do you really think women were the target audience for the Nicki Minaj video? The point is that both the comic & the video are made exclusively for the male gaze in which the woman is hyper sexualized. This is not what women want to see.

    2. Babar

      When women wear revealing attire in public it is their choice, but when a comic shows the same indecency, a fraction of what women show in public, we shift our attention and conversation to the male gaze.

    3. Dibyajyoti Das

      If women choose to make sexualized music videos for ‘the male gaze”, its their call, my friend. Women have agency. They can choose NOT to do that. And yet…..

    4. Babar

      According to your comment, it is acceptable to make sexualized videos for the male gaze if women make it. So what you are really saying is that something becomes immoral only if a man does it.

    5. Babar

      And you are selectively going to create an uproar for something done by a man that is being done by women all the time, everywhere. If you don’t like spider-woman’s butt, I don’t like the butt’s of women in spandex pants and tight jeans on roads, streets, and in the market. And if you are going to tell me not to look, then I tell you not to look at the comic book picture.

    6. Avinesh Saini

      But in case you do not like tight butts on the road, why will you choose to look at them? Quite paradoxical.

  4. vabhdman

    I think your missing a crucial point here. Marvel and DC are corporations whose main motive is to first earn money and not fight for equality on genders.

    There base of readership is primary teen-aged heterosexual boys. And those boys really like scantily clad women. If they had a more female readership they would think more about them when they wrote comic books.

  5. Templetwins

    This guy gives an apt response for this BS. The author reeks on hetero-sexism on males because some of the female readers could be lesbians and bi-sexuals who may appreciate a pose like this. For more explanation check out the youtube link.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CB6TiRJNI-Q

  6. Prashant Kaushik

    If wearing skin tight clothing is acceptable to feminists, why painting a female Superhero in similar attires objectionable ?

    Personally, I would have loved this article and admired it’s every word, but, having read a pile of articles almost every day on YKA, written by feminists, which proclaim that Showing Bra Strips or Cleavages is a normal acceptable act.

    There is strong fatal contradiction here.

    Can someone explain, and create a single yard stick to measure what is objectionable ?

    1. Avik

      I completely agree with you that there is a severe double standards among women. They would choose to feel free to wear Sexy clothes. No problem. Personal choice. Why object if a fictional character is depicted to be Sexy as well? Just because a male artist drew her? I will come back and find value in their points if a female artist drew a male superhero without objectification of the same. So their point will only be valid if they can give evidence of a woman artist drawing a male superhero who is not sexualisation and yet a commercial success considering that 47% of worldwide comic readers are women.

  7. Avih

    ROFLMAO…
    I was under d impression dat Feminazis prefer women being scantily dressed…
    Bet dey would have problem with her in a “Burqha” either…
    PS:
    Half/Naked men- Thor, Hulk !!!
    Most notorious villain ever- <3 CATWOMAN <3 !!!!!!

  8. Avik

    I think there is a fine line between sexualisation and image of god/goddess like sculpted features in peak human conditions. I am sure even woman reader would not like the female heroes as Muscular as the male heroes neither with a lack of tone just as much as male reader would not like a male hero to demonstrate a feminine structure with softer eyes and less defined bone and musculature. Point to be noted is that normal people like us don’t look like superheroes. Neither do women nor the men. To detect a human in their most powerful physical form would be a borderline towards sexualisation. Think about it. Women who are fitter and stronger than we normal people are do not have more musculature but a tighter tone of features. Just as a male at his peak physique would not have feminine features. Yes, comics take physique to an impossible level. It is just that male superhero for women eye candy is never considered in discussions as much as women superhero for men eye candy is discussed. The Author talks about not feeling empowered by this depiction of women. I would really like to sit down, discuss and collect opinions on what would be considered as empowering for women readers. Please note, it should fit all the arguments made by women reader. I would like to hear what a woman reader would expect her ideal female superhero to look like. (I am not talking super powers here.. Just the looks)

  9. Kanika

    I am a woman. I can choose to dress sexy. But i dont think i would want to see a pot bellied super hero. See, we are forgetting that Marvel and DC are ultimately making products for consumption. If i dont like how a male superhero is depicted, i wouldnt buy it. Same goes for female superheroes.

  10. s

    Mr babar
    men also wear different types of “revealing” clothes…..men roam around without any shirt….. Men also wear half pants,shorts,tight skin fitting pants….lungis
    do u stop them or say that they are sexualizing themselves??? No….then its okay …but if a woman wears anything ,u can always find faults!!!!

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