Superheroines and Sex Objects
This is not the article I sat down to write.
Laura Hudson of Comics Alliance wrote an article in 2011 called “The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their ‘Liberated Sexuality'” http://www.comicsalliance.com/2011/09/22/starfire-catwoman-sex-superheroine/#ixzz21lIdypBQ denouncing the tasteless, fetishistic, and loveless way superheroines are portrayed in comics these days.
At first I thought the irony of an avowed feminist objecting to the objectification of women was ironic, if not funny in a pathetic way, and I felt that emotion so horrible that only the Germans have a word for it: Schadenfreude —pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.
In this case, since I am not as horrible as a German, the pleasure was in seeing the justice of it; in seeing the feminist chickens coming home to roost.
My first reaction was, simply, that a woman whose philosophy is to celebrate vice in women as strength, and to celebrate the degradation of women as equality, deserves to see what a horrid thing she wishes for, once her wish comes true. My reaction, on behalf of all conservatives everywhere, was to say I told you so.
I thought: you cannot say you did not see this coming. We warned you and you ignored us and laughed at us. Who is laughing now?
But upon reflection my Germanic laughter choked and my heart melted, for I pondered the magnitude of what she was talking about, the grievous insult done her, and I join her in her righteous anger.
These comic writers repaid her lifelong loyalty with the back of their collective hand. They betrayed her. If this is cosmic justice, it is too Draconian for me.
So I am writing not to argue with her position (well, not just to argue) but also to salute her and tell you, my dear readers, to go read her article from last year. Because she is right.
I thought about reposting the pictures she uses as examples here so that you would see that she is not exaggerating in her claim, but even I, who delights in cheesecake images of toon women, particularly of the Catwoman, even I who am famed for my philistine tastes, even I am repelled by them.
Let us establish a basic point first. Miss Hudson and I are archenemies in the Culture Wars. I represent the side of law and order, decency and decorum, life, truth, justice and the American Way, and, in short, Christendom and Civilization. She represents Boskone, which is the mirror reflection and exact opposite of Civilization.
So an accolade coming from me is what we call a “statement against interest.” If your foe praises you, it is not out of party loyalty or fellowship. In this case Miss Hudson has earned my respect. (It is out of respect that I call her Miss Hudson and not Ms Hudson. I will not demean any lady, no matter how sharp my distaste for her, with that sexless and unfeminine honorific.)
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Boskone, either you have good taste, or shame on you for this hole in your pulp sciffy lit reading. Go out and read GALACTIC PATROL by E.E. “Doc” Smith today, and luxuriate in the purple prose and cardboard characters of true SF. The Boskinians are the intergalactic civilization of pirates based on slavery and tyranny, the ultimate totalitarianism diametrically opposed to ideals of cooperation, liberty, democracy.
In this case, our Boskonian, Miss Hudson, establishes unambiguously that she is utterly loyal to the indecency and filth of the modern world. Miss Hudson opens her article with this:
I’d like to dissect this a little bit and explain why these scenes don’t support sexually liberated women; they undermine them …[emphasis in the original]
I would like to say first and in the strongest possible terms that I absolutely support the right of women to embrace and act upon their sexual desires in whatever way seems right to them, within consensual boundaries. My sense of justice is inflamed by the double standard that tells us that every person a man sleeps with makes them more of a stud, and every person a woman sleeps with makes them a little less valuable and less respectable. I know this in particular because unlike all the guys who sent me angry messages last night defending the sexual honor of an imaginary character, that double standard is something l have had to live with and be judged by for my entire adult life.
Before my accolade, my argument. As the voice of Civilization, I am required to point out the illogic of this stance. The two paragraphs contradict each other.
The first paragraph is an affirmation of a standard of decency, namely, that certain sexually alluring depictions of woman are unacceptable. In this case, such depictions are unacceptable for an allegedly partisan reason that they undermine the cause of women’s liberation. But, whether that is true in this case or no, and whatever standard of acceptability is being used, the inescapable logic of the statement is that there are certain standards governing the depiction of women, and those standards define acceptable depictions of sexual or romantic allure.
No matter how you slice it, by definition the first paragraph assumes a standard of decency.
It tries to disguise itself as a political or partisan standard, namely, by saying the indecent depiction is not bad because it is indecent but only because it undermines sexual liberation for women.
But then we find out what the article calls “that which undermines sexual liberation for women” to be one and the same as “indecency.”
The article is not complaining about portraying women as unable to compete with men. There is no mention of any “Lucille Ball” who is a scatterbrained and scheming housewife; there is no “Lois Lane” trying to trap Superman into marriage. There is not even a platinum blond gold-digger a la “Lorelei Lee” using her sex appeal to winkle diamonds, a girl’s best friend, out of a wealthy sugar daddy. Instead, the article is only complaining about the trashy and tasteless way the women are portrayed. It complains about immodesty. Immodesty is the violation of standards of decency.
The second paragraph is an absolute and utter denouncement of any standards of decency.
The only standard announced is the standard of consent. Rape, bestiality, and pederasty are illicit by this standard, since they are acts without consent, but (presumably) necrophilia, sadomasochism, homosexuality, massive multiplayer orgies, masturbation, adultery, pornography, child pornography, and fornication are all licit. The acts and attitudes depicted within these comics clearly and unambiguously fall within what the boilerplate standard of sexual liberation allows.
So by the simplistic logic of Boskone, game over. The comics cannot be called indecent because any standard of indecency is and must be denounced.
But Miss Hudson’s eyeballs tell her another story. She sees that the women in these works are being depicted as strippers and sluts because they are, and she sees that the depiction is degrading because it is.
And therefore Miss Hudson must denounce the indecency while also denouncing the standards of decency without which the indecency cannot be denounced.
Let me introduce a definition or two:
Doublethink is defined as the ability of the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. I will not dwell on the application of this definition, since it should be obvious by context to what I refer.
A slut is defined as a woman who embraces and acts upon her sexual desires in whatever way seems right to her within consensual boundaries.
A chaste woman is one who does not act upon her sexual desires except within the bounds of reason and logic and reality, those boundaries being, namely, within lifelong monogamous marriage and for the unitive and reproductive purposes natural to the sex act.
Now, technically, by this definition any woman who, without the prompting of reason and logic, and without a respect for the bounds of reality, embraced and acted upon her sexuality only with her husband and only for the unitive and reproductive purposes natural to the sex act would be both a slut and a chaste woman.
This paradox exists in words only, not in reality. It is because the wording of the definition is deliberately vague: it speaks in the language of choice, as if either choice were licit, but in reality one choice is licit (namely, chastity) and the other is not.
The PC language means and only means to justify the illicit choice by using terms which cloak its unchaste and imprudent nature. To be chaste is called by Newspeak word-fetish “the fear of embracing your sexuality.” Word-fetishes merely use a set of words with a false-to-facts emotional connotation (calling evil good, and calling good evil) in hopes of deceiving the unwary into accepting the connotation without noticing the denotation.
So let us propose less ambiguous definitions.
Chastity means sexual self control. Sluttishness means no sexual self control.
Since self control is difficult, and is an admirable accomplishment when accomplished, lo and behold, gentlemen praise and admire it. Since self indulgence is both imprudent on a practical level and disgusting on a moral level, gentlemen of Civilization react with dispraise and disgust to a lack of sexual self control.
The Boskonians are required by the logic of their world view to dispraise self control in the sexual area, and to celebrate self-indulgence. They do this by substituting some noble sounding word for the weakness and vice of whatever perverted act they are protecting, excusing, promoting. Boskone must dispraise what Civilization praises, and praise what Civilization dispraises.
But there is a cost to pay for serving Boskone, even when the Eddoreans who rule Boskone promise to liberate you and grant you new rights never before seen. The price is that you must eschew reason and truth and beauty but most of all reason. Reason, the intellectual integrity of your mind, is the small price you have to pay to be a Boskonian.
You cannot say that a woman has a “right” to demean herself and then has a right to object when she is demeaned. You cannot say a woman has the right to slut around and then object when decent men flee in disgust and the kind of kinky boys who are attracted to sluts collect like sharks scenting blood in the water, or like flies and maggots on filth.
And by demeaned, I mean to fall from the high estate of being treated like a human being and the image of God, a daughter of Eve and the final and fairest of God’s divine creations, to the lower plane of being merely an animal with raw animal needs, and then to the lowest plane of being no more than an object.
Once a woman exercises this alleged right to abdicate her maternity and femininity and fertility in order to be no longer a lady, no longer indeed a human being, but merely a meat sack and a sex toy, at that point she has no right to expect the respect and admiration gentlemen reserve for ladies.
Gentlemen do not withhold this respect and admiration out of penury or unkindliness. It is not because we are cruel or judgmental that gentlemen cannot treat strippers and boob-waggers and streetwalkers with dignity due to ladies.
It is because we cannot. Logically it is impossible, no matter what we might wish to do.
Should we attempt it, all that would happen is what did happen, and what did happen is what Miss Hudson finds offensive.
What did happen is that if you offer someone admiration for something that is not admirable, that is, offer her admiration she has not earned for something she has not done, then, like a currency inflated beyond use, the admiration means nothing. If you flatter a worthless behavior, your flattery becomes worthless. Like the notorious Continental dollar, flattery buys nothing because it means nothing.
You cannot admire a slut for her chastity. You can only admire her for her sex appeal.
If you admire a woman for her sex appeal, then the cartoonist (whose job it is to draw what draws your admiration) is going to draw the heroine in her lacy red bra with a close up of her cleavage and a tight close up of her bump-and-grinding buttocks, with her spine bent and her breasts thrust out, because that emphasizes the sex appeal which is the admired characteristic.
If you admire a woman for her pluck and courage and virtue, the cartoonist will draw her looking plucky and courageous, and perhaps even doing those acts of derring-do for which superheroines were admired when they are allowed to be superheroines and not softporn stars.
But let us put all that to one side. Is Miss Hudson right that such images hinder the cause of the sexual liberation of women?
Well, Newspeak is contructed deliberately so that words have no meaning, only emotional impact. The word “liberation” has a powerful emotional force to it, and so it is connected, entirely without regard for truth or logic, to the word “sexual” to produce a two-word phrase that means exactly nothing whatsoever. (Newspeak abounds in such phrases; it is their stock-in-trade. cf “social justice” and “sexual McCarthyism”.)
A whore in Vegas, where whoring is legal, is “sexually liberated” in the technical sense that no formal law forbids the grotesque act of self-degradation to which she lowers herself.
The various menfolk who exploit rather than employ her, who use her, abuse her, and treat her the same way you would not treat your worst enemy (would you force your worst enemy to serve in a brothel? Really?) would not call her situation a situation of liberty. In truth, those men, her johns and pimps, her enemies, they are the ones who are sexually liberated. Only they. No law hinders their dark and selfish or sadistic desires. She is the one who is constrained, bound, and limited.
So the question is meaningless. Let us ignore the Newspeak and ask what is it, in her article, Miss Hudson requests?
She wants respect for the fair sex. That is only reasonable.
Miss Hudson would like a portrayal of women who are filled with lust and the joy of life and have many short and meaningful partnerships for fornication within the bounds of consent, or so I assume. She wants to see happy hookers.
The twist in Boskonian logic is that “respect” is here defined as the admiration paid by shallow boys to the imaginary James Bond, a sex fantasy figure who never has venereal disease nor an emotional attachment. With the single exception of Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo, there are no marital bonds for Bond. Bond never has babies, but always has babes. To be a female Lothario is the goal. Respectable behavior (by Boskonian standards) is to embrace your sexuality by sleeping around. To gain respect meant to be brave enough to commit acts of vice which neither you nor anyone can respect.
As it happens, Miss Hudson cannot square that particular circle. Erotic love is an exclusive emotion, because it can be given in truth to one true love only. You cannot demand that erotic love be shared among many. An “inclusive exclusivity” is a contradiction in terms.
Perhaps you will object that, for example, Starfire can be an advocate of free love, without the writers eventually portraying her as an unsmiling dull-eyed harlot. Perhaps you object when smiling and glancing-eyed Venus turns blank faced.
Here is the old Starfire. Miss Hudson uses it in her article as an example of which she approves.
The new version is as creepy as hell. And I use that last expletive not as an expletive but as a comparative.
The first version is a smiling balloon-bosomed playboy bunny in a man’s shirt with her cleavage showing down her belly button. She is explicitly advocating what might be delicately called free love, that is, on her planet they love many people emotionally and (woo hoo!) physically. This is not a description of monogamy, and she is not discussing brotherly love or Platonic love.
To me, the second version is the logical outcome of the first version. A balloon-bosomed playboy bunny who has sex with anything warm and remembers nothing after. The only thing missing is the smile. They love people physically and not emotionally. The whole scene is as romantic as asking a mechanic for an oil change.
To Miss Hudson, the missing element is paramount. There is no love, and indeed, there seems to be a considerable degree of contempt, in the request (or demand) of the second version of Starfire for the warm commerce.
The argument could be made that an emotionally healthy sex bunny can be portrayed in comics since the first version is not only possible, it is the canonical version.
Maybe. I would not dismiss that argument out of hand. But I wish to propose the idea that the first version leads to the second version.
Even if one or several writers hold out for a time, the innate logic of the situation will eventually force their hand. By this I mean that if you encourage your audience to be cads, more cads will be attracted to your audience and gentlemen will depart, your talent pool will have more cads, your writers will more often be cads, and the audience will applaud and reward them.
For a time you can hold the paradox of innocent unchastity. But only for a time, a season, an hour. Eventually the consequences catch up.
The free love of a smiling and innocent girl with many lovers is an innately unstable, unrealistic, and unsatisfying image. It is like a gateway drug. Like all false pleasures, it needs a stronger and ever stronger dose to satisfy.
Does the first image above seem tame to you? It does to me. But it is not. You and I have merely been desensitized. Once you have been desensitized, then the first image, and the first version of Starfire, can no longer serve the purpose of eliciting a mild erotic thrill. The writers can elicit that same thrill if and only if the image is changed to the second image, whereupon the cheesecake degrades into softcore.
There is, of course, a second choice. Cheesecake can be replaced with pure sweetness.
Let us call this the Bruce Timm choice. Here she is, younger and much less zoftig. Is there anything to which a Boskonian has a legitimate objection to in this version, artistic or otherwise? Is she not portrayed as attractive and brave and heroic, and all that feminists say they desire in the portrayal of women? Is she not the equal in power and dignity to the male Teen Titans on the team?
Is not this Starfire a perfectly good role model for young women seeking a career as a crimfighting Space Princess, or any other career that requires a modicum of decency and self-respect?
Is Miss Hudson right that the images are indecent? She is indeed. Her objections are all valid, and I have no argument with her on that point.
The cartoon women have since the earliest days been the objects of cheesecake-style lust on the part of fanboys, but a line has been crossed when you move from innocent cheesecake to dead-eyed softcore porn.
Miss Hudson is correct in her assessment of how deeply the comic writers have insulted her, and insulted her whole sex, and I suggest that her reaction is much too forgiving and understated.
Is this how they repay her years of loyal patronage? If I were on the jury when she is put on trial for ax-murdering the freakish slugs who wrote, drew, inked, and edited this abomination of a comic, I would tell my fellow jurors about the doctrine of jury nullification.
Her anger is just and if anything too mild, considering when she is seeing.
The examples in her article are taken from RED HOOD and CATWOMAN: both indulge in the total degradation of superheroines to objects of fetishy lust, the first with a disgusting degradation of Starfire to an empty-headed nymphomaniac, two men (heroes? Please tell me not) high-fiving over their sexual conquests of her; the second with panel after panel of the breasts and buttocks of Catwoman never showing her face, and then an on-panel image of Batman penetrating Catwoman while they copulate on a dark and dirty rooftop; and on and on.
The rebooted version of Starfire is portrayed as a member of a race which has sex without emotion, neither for reproduction nor for recreation, and the male members of the team (pun intended) all take advantage of her, and then boast to each other afterward of the ease of their sexual conquest, mocking her.
It is nauseating even to contemplate.
It is the second most disgusting and degrading thing I can bring to mind, considering particularly the sweetness and charm of the non-balloon-boobed version of Starfire which graced the television version of TEEN TITANS.
(The first most degrading was the retooling of an obscure character called Kid Eternity. In the original continuity written by Otto Binder, he and his grandfather were out canoeing when they were killed by a German U-Boat. In the style of HERE COMES MR JORDON/HEAVEN CAN WAIT the kid is granted more life by heaven because it was not yet his time to die, and returns to life with the power to call up the ghosts of heroes to his aid. In the DC reboot, written by Grant Morrison, the grandfather is a sexual predator who had picked up the young orphan boy for his own purposes, and it devils who return him to life. The one element which both reboots have in common is sexual degradation. )
I have one final question. Let me quote from Miss Hudson once more.
Most of all, what I keep coming back to is that superhero comics are nothing if not aspirational. They are full of heroes that inspire us to be better, to think more things are possible, to imagine a world where we can become something amazing. But this is what comics like this tell me about myself, as a lady: They tell me that I can be beautiful and powerful, but only if I wear as few clothes as possible. They tell me that I can have exciting adventures, as long as I have enormous breasts that I constantly contort to display to the people around me. They tell me I can be sexually adventurous and pursue my physical desires, as long as I do it in ways that feel inauthentic and contrived to appeal to men and kind of creep me out. When I look at these images, that is what I hear, and I don’t think I even realized how much until this week.
In many ways, the constant barrage of this type of imagery (and characterization) is not unlike the sh*tty neighborhood I used to live in where every time I walked down the street, random people I didn’t know shouted obscene comments about my body and told me they wanted to have sex with me. And you know, maybe a lot of those guys thought they were complimenting me. Maybe they thought I had tried to look pretty that day and they were telling me I had succeeded in that goal. Maybe they thought we were having a frank and sexually liberated exchange of ideas. I’m willing to be really, really generous and believe that’s where they were coming from. But in the end, it doesn’t matter that they didn’t know it was creepy; it doesn’t matter that they “didn’t get it,” because every single day I lived there they made me feel like less of a person.
That is how I feel when I read these comics.
Bravo and well said.
My question is this. Is it possible to portray a superheroine who is in keeping with the standards of Civilization?
Even Batgirl, who started out as innocent and sweet, was selected for how well she filled out the batsuit, like Emma Peal, selected for the most part for her masculine appeal (hence the name: Emma Peal is “M” appeal). Will fanboys like me, tasteless philistine that I am, admire and appreciate any superheroines who are not softporn stars?
It is a conflict of visions. Here is the vision of what Boskone thinks a superheroine looks like.
This is Voodoo, a DC heroine, an exotic dancer here posing as a stripper to catch a bad cop. Or something.
Here is what Civilization thinks a superheroine looks like.
This is Helen Parr AKA Elastigirl. She is tough, confident, funny, hardworking, morally straight, mentally awake, knows how to fly a jet, and knows how to keep cool during emergencies. She is a housewife with three children of whom she is very proud, and a husband, who, like most husbands, is a work in progress.
I assume she on at least three occasions was willing to embrace not only her sexual desires but also her lawfully wedded mate, within consensual boundaries (he did say “I do”!) because she has the abovementioned children.
(Note to the morally retarded: that is what sex is for, you morons, and that is when sex is fun and joyful rather than intoxicating and selfish and ultimately dreary. If you were not afraid of sex, you would realize this.)
Here is my question. Which woman is more inspiring? Miss Hudson says it is for this cause she (and I, and everyone I know who reads comics) read comics. To be inspired.
If you don’t know what “inspiring” means because your brain has been rotted with PC Newspeak, then let me ask which image of womanhood is more “empowering”?
Look at your daughter, if you have one. Which one would you rather she grew up to be and be like?