DARK MUSINGS #21 – SEXIST REALLY ABOUT SEXUALIZED FIGURES?
by Andrew Zar 10/25/11
You think the above image is sexist? If you do, I totally disagree with you. But that is part of the interesting and longstanding topic of debate about sexism in the comic medium.
For this blog – and every discussion on this topic I engage in – I only focus on comics intended for adults 18+ and older. The entire field of discussion about “shaping our youth” is for others to work out (I’m not interested and not involved). If your interest about sexism only relates to youth, then this blog is not for you.
1) Is it really about Sexualized Figures?
The largest “slam dunk” argument is that female comic characters are “overly sexualized” – with examples being Power Girl and her ridiculous rack to Wonder Woman in a bondage-inspired getup to a buxom Catwoman in a black catsuit. I wonder, though, if this is really a slam dunk as it seems?
As an exercise, please educate me – give me the Power Girl, Wonder Woman, and Catwoman examples with male characters. The requirement? That they don’t look goofy, stupid, or homosexual – and that they aren’t the “male fantasy” of massive muscles demonstrating power. Challenge yourself – what is an attractive, sexy, and great look for a guy that also qualifies as sexist?
Not so easy, it turns out. Do you consider ballet dancers with “added padding” as sexy? Would showing the outline of a penis down the pant leg really be sexy ? A muscular, lean, man in a tight suit – is that sexist or just cool/hot? So please, if you do think of a real, honest-to-goodness sexist male figure done well, email me! I’m truly VERY interested. (The only one I can even think of is Dr. Manhatten in Watchmen with the blue floppy – but is he depicted in a sexist way? – or is his utter lack of sexual mojo juxtaposed by his over sexuality and thus a writing construct, not a sexist one?)
2) Or… is it really about Crappy Writing?
It believe the discussion gets immediately derailed when started with “this comic is obviously sexist – look at her boobs!” You see, I too shared that opinion – blinding bypassing the topic with a “sure, sounds right” at the same time I grinned at the art. But when I started DarkBrain, I finally took a more serious look at it. I got together several highly accomplished women I knew who didn’t like comics – women I greatly respect and admire.
When I showed them my art and scripts, what I thought was sexist (lots of sex, lots of nudity) – wasn’t sexist at all (one said to me “thinking we don’t want to see sexual activity is sexist!”). What I thought wasn’t sexist (my stories) was very sexist (my female characters lacked depth)! The education moment was to learn that my test case women felt a far deeper connection to the characters and story than the art. Should I have been surprised? Men trend visual and women trend emotional in most studies.
So I promptly hired six female writers and editors and let them work over my stuff. The results are amazing. So, yes, I can say with a straight face that my buxom, nearly naked, dominatrix with pasties is not sexist – she is complex, tortured, emotional, and she drives the Mirror/Mirror storyline. She IS the story – the main character – the reason for the story to exist. And, sure enough, I get plenty of “love mail” from women (not the hate mail I expected).
3) Cartoons and Comics are ABOUT Exaggeration
I close with a discussion on the absolutely amazing and sensual art above. NOTE: No man was used in the making of this picture – not even the concept. Although I did create the characters, this scene is not in any of my comics at all. This was a gift to me by my wonderful writer Jessie Jones and an artist she worked with Amy Matthews.
The piece, if done by a male artist, would scream sexism by most accounts. But, really look at it, this is amazing art – very sensual, very beautiful. Yes exaggerated – but is that really a bad thing for art? In my opinion, comic art (and cartoons or other expressive art) is about exaggeration and that should be embraced, not shunned.
Stop the ‘haitin and focus on making deeper, better characters. The result is eye candy with depth, best of all worlds if you ask me.
Till next time,
Image includes characters Copyright 2011, DarkBrain, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Concept by Jessie Jones (writer on Too Important, Locked Out, The Vat, and others). Art by Amy Matthews (http://cartoonpink.blogspot.com)