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

Posted on September 4, 2014 in Culture-Vulture, Specials

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.