Yeah, that’s not true at all, actually, but it neatly sums up the type of attitude I regularly hear and see in the comics world and the literature about comics–if by literature you mean articles and blog posts written 9 to 1 by men.
Anyway, Jennifer de Guzman wrote a post several months back that I just stumbled upon via this post on Amazon Princess (which I found via When Fangirls Attack), and it articulates something that I’ve never really thought about before, but makes perfect sense.
As I wrote in my reply, I am kind of astounded that some men don’t see why physical empowerment would clearly be attractive for women. I think it’s intriguing to note that women often like the hot women who kick ass as much, if not more, than men do. Here’s what I think is behind that: As women, we are nearly constantly aware of physical threats. And those threats often are of being violated sexually. When I used to go to campus for night classes and people warned me to “be careful,” what they are saying was, essentially, “avoid getting raped.”
Now, what if, what if, as a woman, you could walk around, be sexually attractive and not have to feel threatened? What if all the rage you feel about women being victimized and brutalized could be channeled into pure, righteous ass-kicking? And, because you’re a woman, you could possibly do that ass-kicking without being seen as a testosterone Steven-Seagal-esque meathead. Ass-kicking fantasies for men are more about proving and retaining power, I think. For women, they’re about finding and asserting power when they’re not expected to have any.
This resonated with me on so many levels. I’ve taken kickboxing, krav maga and muay thai at different times in my life, and they always did make me feel more confident and yes, sexier, but I’ve always attributed that to feeling healthier and stronger. Maybe I thought a bit about the idea that I might be able to kick someone’s ass if they harassed me as a component, but only in a very general sense.
Yet Guzman’s point is that a superheroine can be sexy and because she can kick someone’s ass, she doesn’t have to apologize or fear for herself. There’s no need for the tradeoff–sexy woman needs powerful man–because she is both. Her sexuality is no longer something to be feared, but something she is free to display if she wants to without worry of repercussions.
In media for so many years, female characters were simple projections of what men wanted to see. Still, women gravitated toward certain characters, and as more women create comics (and movies and TV series and and and) we argued that yes, we do want superheroines. And maybe we do want them to be pretty.
Also, perhaps this explains why I was never one of those who was really bothered by superheroine costumes. Sure they’re unrealistic. But could they also be a gleeful middle finger to everyone who wants to tell a little girl that what she’s wearing is “inappropriate” or that bad things will happen to her if she dresses in a way that attracts male attention?
(Of course, we could debate about the rather narrow view of what is “sexy” that is still put forth by superheroines, but that’s another post.)