By Mehernaz Patel:
Recently, DC comics released redesigns for their main trinity. This comes as no surprise since re-designs are fairly popular in the visual medium of comics. Yet, as fans, all of us naturally have our personal favourites as well. This one will probably turn out to be mine:
The reasons for this at first glance were fairly obvious to me – the woman is wearing pants again. Unlike a majority of her previous iterations, the Amazonian warrior actually looks dressed enough to engage in some serious action, which is rare for a female character in comic books or even in video games, not plot or good character development…just some clothing.
It does happen every so often that women in these mediums just don’t look dressed enough for whatever they’re up to, like engaging in a brutal one-on-one fight. For instance, these clothes don’t really look like they’d hold up in battle… or hold up anything really:
This is the blatant objectification that these women have been undergoing for generations, year after year; these are just more editions to the existing versions of the characters, which highlight exactly what would sell more copies. No wonder that the new batch of comic book and videogame heroines, like the mysterious new female Thor, or Kamala Khan, the current Ms. Marvel from Jersey have finally been given the credit they deserve. They have been shown in the manner that women should always have been represented as, good for them.
Yet, isn’t this a little overly simplified? In saying that they’ve “evolved” isn’t there a grave injustice being done to their poor, pant-less avatars?
Let’s take Carol Ferris for instance, crowned as queen by the wielders or the purple light of love, the Star Sapphire, who also runs her father’s aerospace empire. She is generally seen in these:
My initial reaction to that image is honestly to tape a cover on my screen, but I’m wrong. This may be considered a cold manufactured image of the female form, impossible to maintain, let alone fight in and yet, by maintaining this position, we’re constantly falling into the same trap in the fight to regain equality for all genders. If we, as a fan base, or as any critical audience keep observing that this was the old face of comics, they’re turning on a new leaf, a leaf with some more modesty, then we are re-iterating the age old “wisdom” that a serious woman doesn’t wear skimpy outfits.
Why, how charitable of us, by once again dictating what a woman’s clothes say about her, we are not moving forward, but rather taking a leap backwards.
There is no harm in a new, more modern look for female, male, or the severely lacking third gendered characters in comic books. But, by writing off their past looks as some kind of sexual bait and by judging the validity of an art form simply because it chooses to dress its characters unconventionally isn’t fair. Perhaps, she just doesn’t like pants? Perhaps, a little air during a heated battle was just what she needed. Perhaps, she just felt empowered by something somebody else wasn’t comfortable with.
You know what else was fairly empowering, yet at some point cringe-worthy? It was women having jobs.
In a recent wave of gender consciousness that has rightfully arisen around the world, there has been a bit of an unfortunate tendency to confuse an individual expressing their sexuality, with an individual being objectified. Let us take a look at Aphrodite – but wait – perhaps, her embodiment might offend some gentile soul. Well she’s mostly naked, if you’re curious about how she carries herself, and that is perfectly okay. Being the goddess of love and beauty does make her want to proudly display her body, a symbol of her own agency and it is definitely not just some way for to get more attention. If that is too far from home, we could even consider Kali, in one of her more famous renderings:
There is no way one would call her disenfranchised or objectified, she looks as she is warranted to look – powerful. Superheroes constitute the modern myths that inspire and entertain millions around the world. As the goddesses of today, they are no different from any religious figure that decided to wear a skirt made of arms.
I’m not upset at the increasing number of new launches for a more diverse group of super heroines or video-game characters, who are more present and active in their roles than ever before. But, the joy should not arise out of the fact that they have more clothes covering their skin, it should be for because more women of substance are making their debut. Their outfits should be interpreted as what they choose to wear and nothing else. And, not a single heroine from the past should be hidden away in shame.
Plus, to anyone who’d say that they’re “skimpily dressed” because it sells more comics, your cynicism would be rewarded by the fact that even the new “better dressed” ones have also been designed specifically for that purpose. And in my opinion it’s working.
So, instead of repeating the same old binary where we see the female body as being sold to a male audience, let’s just celebrate the bodies of these heroines as something that they as individuals choose to display as they see fit. No “objectification” should be attached to this unless it is truly warranted. This is not to ignore the multitudes of people fighting for gender equality across the world, but to make sure that we honour their efforts by changing our own lingual cues, before expecting anyone else to do so.