Afternoon Inquisition

Sunday AI: Kicking ass in high heels

I have always found the way in which women are portrayed in superhero comics frustrating.  As someone who has trained in martial arts, I can tell you this is NOT a practical outfit for serious ass-kicking.

You can’t run in high heels.  That long flying hair is a convenient handle to be grabbed by–bad idea in a fight. You don’t wear a thong or hot pants that are going to let your labia pop out the second you make a kick.  (Honestly, the first thing I think when I look at this costume is that she must have a really uncomfortable wedgie.)

And dear god, the boobs.  If you have massive boobage, you need an equally massive support system to deal with said mammaries if you hope to run without injuring yourself.  The second this chick punched someone, there would be boobs everywhere, not to mention how those very sensitive areas have no protection.

I suppose if you had (as a hypothetical example) millions of insect minions who could subdue the villain for you,  then you could teeter up on your high heels and pose on him like this.  But…does’t that kind of negate the whole point of a superpower?

Now, our green dude is also in a tight fitting outfit…but he’s not posed to be a sexual object. His bulge is not the focus of his whole costume.  His green lantern isn’t on his crotch.

Given my irritation with comics’ portrayal of women, I was very excited to discover a project called “Dressed to Kill.” The artist is re-drawing men in the same costumes and poses as superhero women are found in.  Her version of the photo above is hilarious.

I especially liked this statement:

“This is sexist, and I’ll tell you why. It’s not because it’s slutty, because there’s nothing wrong with being slutty.

This isn’t a woman expressing her own sexuality. This is a male-created image expressing female sexuality without female input. And that’s what most women object to in the portrayal of women in comics. There’s a difference between being sexy and being a sex object, the difference being sexy comes from within, and being sexualized comes from outside you.”

Yes. Exactly.
When the only reason you are dressed this way is to be titillating, and it’s completely divorced from the story line, that’s a pain.

Here is the Dressed to Kill version of Mr. America.  Accompanying comments from the artist:

“It’s not just the costumes, it’s not just the poses, it’s not just that only women are dressing this way, it’s also how often the women dress this way, and how little it makes sense for them to do so.

This costume looks ridiculous on Mister America, not because he’s a man in women’s clothes, but because these clothes are ridiculous for a superhero to wear.”

Not that long ago, the Head of DC comics said that he was “not sure that young women are as interested in reading about superheroes [as boys].”  I think that’s bullshit.

Just look at how well paranormal and fantasy young adult novels sell. I think young women just get tired of having their gender represented in a silly and hightly sexualized way.  And that’s why they buy fewer comic books.

What do you think? Has this artwork made you think about women in comics in a different way?



Bug_girl has a PhD in Entomology, and is a pointy-headed former academic living in Ohio. She is obsessed with insects, but otherwise perfectly normal. Really!
If you want a daily stream of cool info about bugs, follow her Facebook page or find her on Twitter.

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  1. June 12, 2011 at 4:48 pm —

    I want to shake some sense into Levitz. Back in the 90s I started reading comics – Batman, X-Men, and a few other titles. The thing that attracted me was the amazing stories and themes – especially in X-Men. The ideas of being held apart from society because of something you can’t change about yourself parallels racism, anti-gay groups, and other terrible issues in the world.

    I rolled my eyes at the costumes on the women, and wished there could be a female superhero as awesome as Batman.

    I don’t read comics as often anymore – I have a mortage now, as opposed to my teenaged self’s more ready cash-flow, and comics just don’t offer the best value in entertainment dollar for me – I read too fast. But I still pick up bound collections here and there of my favorite titles.

    My ideal superhero title would be an adult woman who kicks ass, rather than an over-sexualized teen or early adult woman. I just went and looked up Oracle one of my old favorites, and it looks like DC is rebooting their entire lineup, so Oracle is going back to being Batgirl, and they are taking some years off all their characters. Hrmph.

  2. June 12, 2011 at 5:05 pm —

    It really did, but I hadn’t really been reading comics in a long time.

    As a teenager, I had wondered about the practicality of heroines’ costumes, but, as an adolescent male, I also understood why it was done (for the money.)

    X-Men was one of my most favorite comics precisely because of the subtle (and not so subtle) themes about racism, apartheid, and homophobia. In fact, I remember being moved by a letter to the editor in one of the X-Men comics about a gay kid that found comfort in the themes and stories from X-Men. I wish I could remember which comic issue that was from.

    For all the progressive themes that X-Men espouses, it’s too bad that it’s not more progressive in this area.

  3. June 12, 2011 at 5:42 pm —

    You don’t need to be practical if you are super enough!

    > “You can’t run in high heels.”
    A superwoman can! Maybe those are not shoes, but how her superfeet are formed.

    > “You don’t wear a thong or hot pants that are going to let your labia pop”
    She has superlabia that she can control with great accuracy. Each superlabium is actually holding the clothing to stay in that configuration. They are that powerful!

    > “And dear god, the boobs.”
    Yes, they are superboobs. They don’t wobble or jiggle or sway around because she can make them rock hard with her superboobmuscles. And her supernipples are, again, keeping the whatever-that-is in place. She is wearing it because of the budgets cuts. From the ripped off parts they were able to create another sufficient-enough clothing for her friend. The Green Lantern doesn’t have this problem because he is rich.

    > “His bulge is not the focus of his whole costume.”
    Yet that is where I found my eyes more frequently than in any other part of him. I swear it’s the golden ratio or something!

    Yeah the hair is just stupid. Who thought that up?

    I’m childish.

  4. June 12, 2011 at 6:06 pm —

    This is the realm of fantasy. Superhero costumes can be as super as the hero. In some cases, they are what is super (Ironman for example). These costumes resist fire, cold, heat, radiation, lasers, bullets, bombs and other explosions. They rarely get ripped or torn. It isn’t a far stretch to imagine they don’t cause wedgies and hold magnum GGG’s fully supported in a full sprint.

    Women are sexually objectified much more than men in nearly every entertainment media on the planet. That is wrong. It is a shame our boys are taught at such a young age to view women not at people, but sexual objects.

    I had to do a lot of growing up when I was younger before I finally understood that women are people and want to be treated as such instead of just a target for my penis. I finally figured it out regardless of the media stereotypes.

    Sex sells though, so I don’t see it changing any time soon.

  5. June 12, 2011 at 7:02 pm —

    Reminds me very much of two somethings I’ve complained about from the RPG/Fantasy setting.

    1) Plunging-neckline plate-mail.
    2) Stiletto-heeled palate-mail.

    It’s just – in a word – absurd.

    I don’t neccesarily know a lot about fighting or what it’s like wearing a heavy suit of armor.

    But I have a niggling suspicion that most of the point behind wearing those thick pieces of metal over your body is to, well, stop people from being able to stick pointy things into your soft bits, such as, for example, your sternum.

    So stuff like this has always pissed me off: (Aribeth)

    And similarly, I don’t know very much about walking in heels. But from what I understand, it takes a certain amount of care and careful skill – and even then, sprained ankles are pretty much just a matter of time. It makes walking while wearing nothing heavier than a set of standard clothes into an arduous and grueling exercise in endurance.

    So why would you want to have stiletto heels on a suit of heavy armor? How could you even move like that?

    Yeah yeah, it’s a ‘fantasy’ genre. I get it. When you’ve got elves running around slinging fireballs at one another, perhaps this seems like a silly thing to lose suspension of disbelief over.

    But I do. Every time I see it, it takes me right out of the immersive experience of the movie/cartoon/game to the point that I realize I’m just some berk being temporarily entertained by a cloud of ones and zeros.


  6. June 12, 2011 at 8:57 pm —

    I’m torn… The 42 year old me is in complete agreement with the sentiments expressed by Megan in “Dressed to Kill”. I understand how privilege works and I get how sexism is transmitted from generation to generation because no one has the balls (figuratively) to put things the way she does. So definitely, you go girl, I hope she changes some minds and makes a difference. 42 year old me is completely on her side.

    The lonely 14 year old boy in me wants the 42 year old me to shut his trap!
    “Screw you old man! You’re happily married… whereas I’m going to be a virgin until I’m 25! I hate MTV, I got no access to porn… goddam hot comic book characters are all I’ve got! And while I’m here, that’s classic GL villainess Star Sapphire in that illustration, she fights the forces of goodness and niceness with the power of her Mind! Which is also how she keeps those boobs up.”

    I really apologize for that… 14 year old me was a bit, shall we say… shy? But he whilst he doesn’t have a great point, I think there is a seed in his ramblings to consider. Geeky 14 year old boys have it pretty fricking rough, OK? We got hormones fucking with us, nobody else is anywhere near to fucking us, and a lot of us have absolutely no outlet for that energy.
    Not making excuses… just trying to explain. ;)

  7. June 12, 2011 at 9:13 pm —

    I agree bug_girl, but not for the reason of sexual positioning.
    *takes deep breath* Back when I was a lad we had real super heroes. Like Politeness Man : ” Thanks for reading this T-shirt ” and Responsibility Man : ” Yes, it was me. “. They didn’t need to fight with fists, or kick and gouge. They won over their foes with kindness and logic.
    The one woman I remember as a real force to be reckoned with was, Queen of Denial : ” It starts when you sink into his arms, and ends with your arms in his sink. ”
    As you can tell, these are all 80’s t-shirts. The whole Super Hero Saves The World crap never got to me. Male of female. I did like the Star Trek series and admit to a fatal attraction to Uhura and later on B’Elanna, and who could forget 7 of 9. Now there was a high heeled kick ass fantasy Queen.
    A quick stroll down Gay Magazine Alley in Yourtown will provide you with enough male Superguys dressd in pink tight fit and high heels to fill your red wagon.
    Does anybody actually remember the artist or first character who was drawn all pumped up to bursting and naked, then covered in Lycra?
    That’s when it all went crazy sexual, and lost me forever. Superman wore a wool blend.

  8. June 12, 2011 at 9:31 pm —

    This sort of thing has always bugged me. I’ve never been that big in to comics… the closest I’ve come in MMOs. I tend to go 50/50 when it comes to character genders (keeps things interesting!) but when it comes to suiting up, I’ve never really been one for the… impractical.

    Take these two characters from Guild Wars:

    Am I really expected to believe that nobody would buy superhero comics if everyone followed that kind of dress code?

    To answer the main question… no, it hasn’t made me think about women in comics differently, so much as it has made me think about the people who draw women in comics differently. And not in a good way.

  9. June 12, 2011 at 10:49 pm —

    Isn’t her costume powered by her ring? I don’t read enough comics to be able to verify this. I always thought the lantern costumes were sort of “painted on” in a way in light/”whatever the substance is that comes out of the ring”. I always kind of wished I could just think up some clothes that were adaptable and fit nicely. So maybe it is a comfortable costume for ass-kicking…

    There, negated your whole argument.

    • June 13, 2011 at 6:49 am —

      Sure Bruce. Why don’t you come to CONvergence for Skepchickcon, put on a thong and heels, and you and I will go a few rounds in the sparring ring?

  10. June 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm —

    I came of age reading comics back when the artistic style was to not have bulging muscles or large breasts and skimpy costumes. For me, it was more the idea of having a mythic hero to emulate because that is what mythic heroes did, not because they got the sex object in the end (because they didn’t in any of the comics that I saw). I don’t look at comics that much any more. That women dress the way they do now in them is just another thing to suspend disbelief about.

    For me, it really was the meme articulated by Peter Parker’s uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility”. It was about doing the right thing, not taking advantage of someone weaker than you. I think that is one of the reasons why I didn’t emulate my older siblings that abused me and turn around and abuse my younger siblings. I didn’t like the way it made me feel.

    I have Asperger’s, and with the PTSD, it was often easier to figure out what I should do, rather than what I wanted to do (it still is). Being able to dissociate what is right from what I wanted to be right makes it much easier to be a skeptic.

    I was very shy and anxious, and especially with women growing up. I never got caught up in what societies considered “traditional” ideas of feminine beauty. My mother essentially never used makeup. I got focused on authenticity pretty early, so all the fake crap that is the latest beauty fad doesn’t do a thing for me.

  11. June 12, 2011 at 11:23 pm —

    Back in the mid to late 80’s I was big into D&D, and used to get Dragon Magazine. At the time their illustraions frequently had women in chainmail bikinis, but by the ninties they were putting the women in more appropriate garments. The chainmail bikinis were strictly for satire. It’s sad that we seem to have backslid.

    The comic I always remember was a group in a tavern, and the warrior has six arrows stuck in her bikini top. “It’s a good thing I was wearing my armor.”

  12. June 13, 2011 at 12:54 am —

    Trashy romance novels do pretty much the same thing by objectifying men into some kind of Fabio fantasy. What does a guy need a ripped-open shirt for other than to be titillating?

    Comics are like trashy romance novels for 12 year old boys. If you think that’s is offensive or sexist, it pales in comparison with what is going on inside the mind of a hormone-crazed adolescent male. Best just to leave it be.

  13. June 13, 2011 at 2:16 am —

    For me, the distinction between sexy and sexuality lies to a large extent in the practicality of the outfit. I mean, the two female characters pictured above don’t look like superheroes / villains, they look like strippers dressed as superheroes / villains.

    Clothing can be sexy and still practical, it’s the sense that the artists aren’t trying that makes it seem so exploitative (to me anyway).

  14. June 13, 2011 at 2:49 am —

    Do you really think the hoplites at Thermopylae really wore leather speedos? Do you really think men are Manhattan gaziolionaires in $2000 suits like those in Sex and the City?

    It’s fantasy.

  15. June 13, 2011 at 3:01 am —

    It’s all true.

    It is not a practical outfit for serious ass-kicking. You can’t run in high heels. Long hair is a convenient handle to be grabbed by in a fight. Thongs or hot pants will let your labia pop out. Massive boobage require support systems, to prevent them from spilling everywhere, and from being injured.

    It’s all true – were the person real, and living in a real world.

    But the person is not *real*. The person is not living in a *real world*. The person is a *superhero*, living in *fantasyland*. The comic doesn’t come with a sticker saying “The people and events described here are fictional. Superheroes are not real, and their feats of superheroism should not be attempted at home, in the playground, in school, or anywhere else.” It doesn’t come with such a sticker, because most people recognize it for what it is.

    And don’t think male superheroes aren’t supposed to be sex objects. Spiderman and Superman are only sexy when they are superheroes – Peter Parker and Clark Kent couldn’t pick up girls if the girls stumbled right in front of them. Batman scores like crazy, but especially when he is wearing his torso-enhancing outfit. And what about those oversized jock straps – what are those hiding?

    It’s a *comic*, people. It’s *fiction*. It’s *escapism*.

    Not to be taken *seriously*.

    • June 13, 2011 at 6:13 am —

      Way to COMPLETELY miss the point Claus. (and ferulebezel)


      I encourage everyone to ignore Claus because he is a troll.

      • June 13, 2011 at 8:12 am —


        I was commenting on your opinion on the impracticality of superhero clothing combined with superhero behavior, as well as on your opinion on sexist (female) superhero clothing. If you didn’t want readers to comment on the article in its entirety, you should have made that clear from the beginning.

        How do you know that young women getting tired of having their gender represented in a silly and highly sexualized way is the reason why they buy fewer comic books?

        • June 14, 2011 at 4:02 pm —

          Wait, surely you’re aware that though the world that the superheroes inhabit is not, as you point out, the real world, the world in which they’re created, published and read IS the real world?
          And, if as you say, they look sexualized on purpose in order to appeal to adolescent males, that is not an argument against Bug Girl’s point. Indeed, that’s almost exactly what she has an issue with. That they’re selling women short in order to appeal to only half the population.

          • June 15, 2011 at 12:17 am

            @Rei Malebario,

            “That they’re selling women short in order to appeal to only half the population.”

            Adolescent males do not make up half the population. In this case, it’s the part of the population that probably finds this particular stereotype appealing. That’s what advertising is: Finding the best way to sell the product to the target demographics.

            And it goes both ways. Do you really think that David Beckham selling Armani underwear is aimed at *men*?


            I don’t see an outrage there. Cheesecake is bad, but beefcake is good?

          • June 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm

            Are you going to be a dickheaded pedant or are you actually going to engage with the core of the argument?

            Everybody understands that’s how advertising works. Nobody’s been arguing against it. What the argument is, is that
            a: Trying to appeal to boys by being demeaning to women is demeaning to women.
            b: Yes, we understand that they’re selling the books mainly to adolescent boys, but there’s some speculation as to whether they might perhaps be able to increase their audience by nearly 100% if they appealed to girls more – possibly by, say, portraying women not nearly as much as sex objects.

            I don’t think I’ve ever seen any superhero comic books (which is what the context of this discussion is) about David Beckham modeling underwear. This is not a discussion about underwear.

          • June 16, 2011 at 4:10 pm

            @Rei Malebario,

            “Are you going to be a dickheaded pedant or are you actually going to engage with the core of the argument?”

            Your (rather rude) dichotomy aside, you equated adolescent males with half the population. If you did not mean that, you should take more care with your use of words. What you think does not necessarily come through in your writing.

            “Everybody understands that’s how advertising works. Nobody’s been arguing against it.”

            The argument has been if such advertising should be employed, as a way to sell more products. Inherently, it is a *moral* question.

            “What the argument is, is that
            a: Trying to appeal to boys by being demeaning to women is demeaning to women.
            b: Yes, we understand that they’re selling the books mainly to adolescent boys, but there’s some speculation as to whether they might perhaps be able to increase their audience by nearly 100% if they appealed to girls more – possibly by, say, portraying women not nearly as much as sex objects.”

            First, you assume that these comics only appeal to a certain demographic segment. That may be the case, but not the segment you think:


            Second, we can all *speculate* from here to eternity, but it will not provide us with any real *answers*. Speculations is anathema to skepticism and critical thinking.

            Third, why should they increase their audience to nearly 100%? That is pursuing the impossible: If you aim to please everybody, you only end up disappointing everybody. There is nothing wrong with focusing on a less-than-100% of the population. This blog is a brilliant example: It has a very clear goal of focusing on a very small population segment: Female, young, educated, outspoken, predominantly white, atheist, sexually liberated, skeptical, feminist, activist, partying – in no particular order, of course.

            Fourth, how do you determine when women being portrayed as sex objects has reached its limit? That is very much a question of *personal* morals. Why should your personal morals be the yard stick by which the industry should be measured against?

            “I don’t think I’ve ever seen any superhero comic books (which is what the context of this discussion is) about David Beckham modeling underwear. This is not a discussion about underwear.”

            It is *very* much a discussion about underwear, and in what context it is used as a way to sell a product. And the medium is hardly the issue here: If it were, it would be the height of hypocrisy.

            Females portrayed in their underwear, for the sake of showing off skin, to sell a product? Bad.

            Males portrayed in their underwear, for the sake of showing off skin, to sell a product? …Good?

            That is the question.

          • June 16, 2011 at 6:08 pm

            “Are you going to be a dickheaded pedant or are you actually going to engage with the core of the argument?”

            In case Claus’s most recent response didn’t answer your question fully, I can assure you that your first guess is, in all likelihood, closer to the truth.

            Based on prior experiences, he will raise vague concerns about some straw men, then, when that stops working, he will start impulsively disagreeing with random minor side comments (I think we might be up to that phase already). Then he starts to imply that who’s REALLY getting the shaft here are the poor forgotten men, and usually uses that to transition into some vaguely condescending comments about how irrational the skepchicks are about all of that clearly unnecessary feminism.

            Oh, and you if you try to confront him on anything he says, he’ll deny having said anything of the sort, with no further clarification or explanation.

            Just ignore him is my advice. Watch, I won’t even acknowledge whatever asinine comment he makes in response to this, and that will annoy him more than anything I could say.

          • June 16, 2011 at 8:39 pm

            To paraphrase George Bernard Shaw; “I learned long ago, never to argue with a concern troll. You feel dirty, and besides, the troll likes it.

      • June 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm —

        His comment certainly doesn’t seem very troll-like. In fact, a pretty good counterpoint, imo.

        • June 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm —

          A good troll doesn’t reveal that he’s trolling right away.

          But having seen and spoken to Claus in other threads here, I can assure you that his M.O. is pretty damn trollish. Anyone engaging with him will probably be hit with denials, dodges, and a flurry of straw men.

          And before you waste your breath (so to speak) responding, Claus, know that I have no intention of acknowledging you further.

        • June 13, 2011 at 3:24 pm —

          @tako: His second comment end very trollish, claiming that maybe young women LIKE being objectified. A ridiculous claim itself.

          in terms of the first comment, its not necessarily the same, claus. I just recently had a discussion with my friends about this. You see major science fanboys saying stuff like “Omg thats so unrealistic – when superman catches the woman falling and she stops cold in midair in his arms she should die from inertia”. You turn to them and say, “Come on. Superman is FLYING. he is INVINCIBLE. he has XRAY VISION. Something tells me this isn’t our universe. It’s not real.

          This is an easy thought to apply to the outfits as well. While I’m sure spandex is NEVER comfortable, perhaps thats just one of the rules of the universe. However, in this case, she is more commenting on the fact that its not actually serving a purpose. The female superhero outfit never actually assists her based on its skimpiness, it’s just what she wears. The reason is obvious: the vast majority of comic book readers are adolescent males, and sex sells, ESPECIALLY to that generation. The outfit is there for no other purpose than to sell the comic, and as it is, its serving a secondary purpose: It gives females superheroes/supervillains no credibility, as nobody can really take them seriously in that outfit as a main character, solely as supporting roles. If these outfits are to be the standard for female superheros, it will be impossible to create a truly great female superhero, a female Batman if you will.

          Now back! to whence ye came from under that bridge. Feed upon the masses at a different blog.

          • June 13, 2011 at 4:10 pm


            “His second comment end very trollish, claiming that maybe young women LIKE being objectified. A ridiculous claim itself.”

            Which I didn’t make.

            “in terms of the first comment, its not necessarily the same, claus. I just recently had a discussion with my friends about this. You see major science fanboys saying stuff like “Omg thats so unrealistic – when superman catches the woman falling and she stops cold in midair in his arms she should die from inertia”. You turn to them and say, “Come on. Superman is FLYING. he is INVINCIBLE. he has XRAY VISION. Something tells me this isn’t our universe. It’s not real.”

            The whole point – which I seriously doubt is wasted on many readers of superhero comics – is that it is *supposed* to be unrealistic. It is so far removed from reality that very few could possibly take it seriously.

            “However, in this case, she is more commenting on the fact that its not actually serving a purpose. The female superhero outfit never actually assists her based on its skimpiness, it’s just what she wears. The reason is obvious: the vast majority of comic book readers are adolescent males, and sex sells, ESPECIALLY to that generation. The outfit is there for no other purpose than to sell the comic, and as it is, its serving a secondary purpose: It gives females superheroes/supervillains no credibility, as nobody can really take them seriously in that outfit as a main character, solely as supporting roles.”

            Superheroes/supervillains have no credibility by default, regardless of their outfits. They have no credibility due to the fantasy land they inhabit. They wouldn’t get more credibility if they dressed like Mr. Magoo.

            “If these outfits are to be the standard for female superheros, it will be impossible to create a truly great female superhero, a female Batman if you will.”

            Batwoman and Batgirl: Extreme leather fetishists, where the only skin showing is nethermost part of face. And, Batwoman turned out to be *lesbian*!

            Wonder Woman: Created as a “distinctly feminist role model whose mission was to bring the Amazon ideals of love, peace, and sexual equality to a world torn by the hatred of men.” Well received by the feminist movement, too.

            What was that again, about superheroines not expressing their own sexuality?

  16. June 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm —

    I’ve never been much of a comic book consumer but I figured the target audience was pretty much 12 to 16 year old boys for the majority of comic books and style was adapted accordingly. I’m not sure more girls would read comics if costumes were rendered in a more practical fashion but perhaps. My daughter was always more interested in books than comics and I don’t recall that I ever gave my kids comics except for Tintin and Asterix when they were much smaller; and boobs were never an issue that I recall in those comics.

  17. June 13, 2011 at 12:57 pm —

    While I totally admit that the female costumes are sexist and impractical, I also understand that each costume is designed to highlight the physical characteristics of the character. Men wear tights or go bare-chested and women wear heels and clothing that would fall off if the universe was paying attention.

    I also don’t think that girls would read boys’ comics if the outfits for the women were adjusted. The entire package is aimed at boys and not girls. I do, however, think that successful girls’ comics could be made in America, just like they manage to in Japan, and just like novels for girls in America. And I think it’s possible, but harder, to make comics that appeal to both.

  18. June 13, 2011 at 2:45 pm —

    I think you might be making too much out of this. If you play Warcraft you’ll find a lot of female players who play female characters dressed like that, or even male characters dressed in equivalent garb. Or, check out Codex, Clara and Tinkerballa from the Guide. First two have the in-your-face breast look and the last the midriff-miniskirt thing going on and it’s written/designed by a strong female person. Men may gravitate to that kind of stuff more, but there’s certainly women who like it too. Sexist? I think you’re stretching.

    • June 13, 2011 at 3:20 pm —

      1) I think you mean The Guild, not The Guide.
      2) I invite you to consider that the in-game female costumes of The Guild (which, BTW, rarely appear onscreen) are designed as satires of the trend in gmaes/comics, rather than unironic acceptance of it.
      3) By citing an example of these costume designs in a female-created work (a female creator who appears onscreen in the work, no less), you are essentially ignoring the point, quoted in the post, that “sexy comes from within, and being sexualized comes from outside you”.
      4) The participation/endorsement of a woman does not preclude the possibility of sexism, as you seem to imply.

  19. June 13, 2011 at 3:03 pm —

    “It’s fantasy.” I hear this argument all the time, not just here. The problem is that it’s YOUR fantasy, not mine. And my fantasy doesn’t get represented at all. (Bodice rippers are NOT my fantasy.) So basically, my problem isn’t that sexualized superheroines exist, but that that’s all that exists. Whatever my fantasy is, it doesn’t get represented in comics, or movies, or books, or anything. It’s all directed at men, or the male gaze.
    @wccrawford: I agree with the sentiment about Japanese comics. I love comics, and I read a lot of manga, simply because it gives me what I want. American comics do not at all. I think content has a lot to do with that.

  20. June 13, 2011 at 3:29 pm —

    I like how the response to this is so consistently, “But it’s FANTASY!”

    In addition to being obnoxiously condescending (“Wait, this isn’t a documentary comic book?!”), it rather seems like a red herring: I don’t recall anyone saying that the portrayal of woman superheroes as sex objects was objectionable because it was something happening in real life.

    Also, while I’m not sure this is, by itself, really a big influence on how many girls read comic books, but I think it should be noted that these representations can effect boys, too. How much of the misogyny buried in the “geek” community owes itself to being raised on these sorts of representations of women?

  21. June 13, 2011 at 4:21 pm —

    Thank you, bug girl. It’s good to see this stuff posted outside of comic book blogs and sites. As a comic fan, a skeptic, and a feminist, I have seen this issue grow more and more in the comics blogosphere and news-o-sphere(is that a word? It is now!) over the past few years. This is an issue I have been railing against as a commenter on comic book related sites for a number of years, and the response from fans is often withering, and incredibly misogynistic and ignorant.

    Speaking purely from a personal experience basepoint, I have found that most male comic fans are simply decent guys who are uneducated in any real facts about feminism, objectification, and gender politics. Their response to this stuff is a resounding “eh” becasue it doesn’t bother them. There is certainly a minority (and they are not a SMALL or QUIET minority) who are vocal and unashamed of their misogyny. Unfortunately, the latter are tolerated by the former group for the same reason that their ilk is tolerated in any other hobby or geek interest – because they are generally the bullies.

    Unfortunately, the decision across the board largely seems to be “Stick my fingers in my ears and go la-la-la” or come up with the usual bullshit excuses – see “It’s fantasy” and “You need to stop taking comic books so seriously” above, which are doubly ironic because the same fans often turn around and cry heresy whenever their personal canon isn’t maintained.

    Then they turn around and go “OMG whai arnt thur more guurrrrrlz into mai comicz?” (Which I think, translated, is actually “Why can’t more girls just be ok with me fapping to Power Girl’s boob window?”. No proof, though. Just my personal hypothesis.)

    That’s why I love point 2 of Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegner’s “Some Simple Rules” (Link Below)

    “- No “cheesecake”: This is nothing more than Scott and I having the audacity to treat women like human beings. I mean, come on, 99 times out of a 100, there is no reason at all to frame a panel from the perspective of a girl’s ass. Grow up already.”


    I could go on for hours… luckily I think the questioning of this practice is becoming bigger and more vocal as we go.. and I think we need to keep it up. Besides Megan Rosalarian Gedris, some other great people have been vocal about this issue, like Laura Hudson who runs, and the staff at The Mary Sue. I think the more people join them, the better it goes…

    So I’m off to don an internet identity and question this crap wherever I see it!

  22. June 13, 2011 at 4:24 pm —

    as an N=1 annecdote for the “more realisticly rendered women = more women readers” theory: the only comic my wife had gotten into before meeting me was Transmetropolitan. One reason was that the hero was a writer, but I think it doesn’t hurt that the two female characters are always dressed realistically and presented as people not wank fodder (one of them dresses like a stripper, but only in the part where she’s working as a stripper).

    As usual, our pro-sexism trolls have shown up. It’s pretty fantastic that there argument is basically “there’s no telling whether portraying women better will draw more women readers so LETS KEEP IT EXACTLY THE SAME” like it’s not even worth trying. Fuckers.

    • June 14, 2011 at 7:24 am —

      Long time reader, first time commenter because I love comics.

      I used to read a lot of comics and occasionally I still do. Transmetropolitan is a bad example. The DC Vertigo imprint tended to have more mature stories which were more likely to have crossed gender boundaries. This may just be a relative measure too and the vast majority of readers are still male… who has stats?

      This skimpy outfit thing is a phenomenon that in all my years of reading comics seems to be restricted to mainstream titles and really peaked in the 90s with the whole “Bad Girl” thing. Women seem to be more covered up these days but still retain the silly anatomy.

      I don’t buy the idea that more realistically portrayed women will lead to increased female readerships either. Women seem to just get the short end of the stick and tend to be secondary characters. Case in point: So even when we do a good job with the female attire and anatomy, they may just be treated badly. Even in the less mainstream titles, I cannot think of many lead women.

      If better female characters does lead to increased female readership, then I suppose I’d expect Buffy Season Eight to have quite a lot of female readers. Is this true?

      • June 14, 2011 at 7:36 am —

        Good question, so I Googled it and found that an editor at Dark Horse answered it in an interview:
        12. Emmie: I’ve been wondering if Dark Horse follows the demographics of the Season 8 readership. It’s been accepted for a long time that most comic readers are male, but BUFFY seems like the title to bump that trend and turn it on its ear. Do you have any idea what the gender demographic breakdown is for Buffy Season 8 readership?
        Scott Allie: I don’t know details, I only know anecdotally, but yes, Buffy brings in more women, and more younger readers than mainstream superhero comics. But Dark Horse gets more female readers than DC and Marvel in general, too.

        • June 14, 2011 at 11:52 am —

          A couple of points:

          1) No mention of the reason *why* Buffy would bring in more women, and more younger readers. It could be the story, it could be the universe, it could be anything. Highly doubtful that the character’s popularity is revolving around clothing issues. It hasn’t been so far.

          2) One likely explanation would be the switching of formats, from TV to comic books. If you’re a follower, you follow.

          3) Buffy as a role model for young women? Not only does she have supernatural powers, she is a bank robber.

          4) Anecdotal evidence.

          However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Apparently, there is an editorial edict on its way from DC Comics: Their female superheroes are to wear trousers.

  23. June 13, 2011 at 4:26 pm —

    Wait, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE EDIT FUNCTION? Ignore my there/their confusion please.

  24. June 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm —

    I have to say I hate comic books and have shown little to no interest in them. A major factor in this is the way they depict women. It made the whole media feel pathetic and immature. If you wanted a cartoon porno mag I’m sure there are websites that cater to you. But an adult story shouldn’t just be code for nudity/women with little to no clothes.

    To top this off I’m a guy so I don’t only think this puts women off but I also think it probably put men off to.

  25. June 13, 2011 at 8:49 pm —

    I love comics, though I’m behind in the titles I follow. My favorite is one that’s no longer running: Strangers In Paradise, by Terry Moore, who writes and draws fantastic women. I also like his latest title, Echo, though I’m way, way behind in that one.

    And I like superhero comics, too. Check out this website: (Because capes aren’t just for boys) It’s been a long time since I’ve kept up with Girl Wonder, but it’s got some great insights. I found that via a blog called Girls Read Comics (And They’re Pissed).

    Thanks for the info on the Dressed to Kill project.

  26. June 13, 2011 at 9:16 pm —

    I had to come back and add something about the sexist trolls we have here. This is exactly what we mean when we say “privilege.” You are so privileged that you get everything you want: fap material, and society’s blessing for consuming it. It’s all cool for you, so what the hell are we all complaining about, right? Right. That’s privilege.

  27. June 13, 2011 at 9:45 pm —

    Several mainstream comics have prominent but not overt pornographic elements. These elements are not overt because the books are aimed at male teenagers, a demographic society does not consider ‘adult’ enough to view porn or have sex.

    What’s the problem here?

  28. June 14, 2011 at 8:12 am —

    Are you aware of Go Make Me A Sandwich?

    The same phenomenon, but in gaming rather than in comics. She does the female-to-male switches too, real eye-openers.

  29. June 14, 2011 at 9:31 am —

    The superhero men don’t generally wear superheroing outfits that are really very practical. If I were to go out superheroing, thin skintight spandex is not what I would choose to wear (unless my superpowers included immunity to cold and invulnerability in which case I just might).
    However, superhero ladies fashion is generally downright impractical and generally useful only for posing for the covers of Gentleman’s Special Interest Magazines.
    There’s obviously exceptions. A few of the superladies have outfits that are reasonably sane. I think She-Hulk usually wears practical shoes and long, skintight trousers much like the guy heroes. Of course, a lot depends on the individual artist. And Spider-Woman (Jessica Drew) has an outfit that’s about on the same level as most of the supergentlemen (although, again, some artists may occasionally add heels). She and She-Hulk both admittedly have long, luxurious hair but that helps them look dramatic and isn’t really any worse, I think, than the capes that appear to be slightly more popular than among the male heroes.
    No male heroes, though, dress even remotely as ridiculously as what’s fairly typical of female heroes. None.
    I think it’s a fair issue to have.
    As a guy, a guy who loves superhero comics, I occasionally find it embarrassing to walk up to the counter to buy one, because some of the covers make me feel like what I appear to be buying is a surrogate for a porn rag that, perhaps, I really want but am too chickenshit to actually buy.
    Fortunately, I can now buy comics on my iPad so I won’t need to face the damning looks of the comic shop proprietor.

  30. June 16, 2011 at 9:52 am —

    I really don’t know where I come down on this one – mainly because I think that men are being sexualized in these comics too. The problem is, different things are sexy on different genders, and so they’re sexualized in different ways. It’s sexist, but our sex drives are sexist. People who are attracted to men vs. women are attracted by different sex markers and attitudes – generally looking for men who act proud and aloof (SGU a few weeks back). I mean, if you’re not looking for a “receptive” partner, why would you appreciate a shot of someone’s ass with him bending over? Would that make you feel like he might protect you/dominate you? Sex drives are weird things, and what we end up desiring isn’t always what we would like to see with respect to our social conscience.

    I mean really, the guys are just as naked as the girls but just colored. That way people that like guys can see all they’re muscles but not feel like they’re flaunting it (since flaunting would be more of a thing for “receptive” partners).

  31. June 16, 2011 at 10:14 am —

    “they’re.” I’m so ashamed.

  32. June 17, 2011 at 6:56 am —

    I have to say, Male superheros wear stupid costumes, are sexualised and over exaggerated too.
    Male superhero character costumes are usually little more than body-paint that reveals impossible muscle tone, unrealistic proportions, exaggerating abs, pecks, thighs to medically unsafe sizes and shapes.
    The physics-defying attributes of females characters and costumes are on par with their male counterparts.

    Having the characters look and dress the same would be worse, and promote the message that women have to look, dress and act like men in order to succeed.
    Likewise, cross-dressing a man in a female costume just looks like a drag act not a superhero because the costume doesn’t emphasise and accentuate his features so its not reasonable to expect him to be taken as seriously (in mainstream media)

    I’m willing to be proved wrong on those two points, and its possible that a conservatively dressed female comic book protagonist and sidekick-in-drag combo might be a commercial success with sufficient writing, art-style and financial backing.

    A woman is not a slut because she exposes some flesh any more than a man is, and female superhero costumes are arguably as “practical” as male one. The practical utility of a costume – even dating back to crude warpaint – is to inspire fear, to differentiate yourself from ‘mere mortals’ and to look awesome, not whether or not you could ride a bike or hang out with your mates. In a commercial visual arts medium, a costumes practical value is aesthetic not physical and measuring it with the wrong yardstick isn’t going to get results that make any sense.

    I’m willing to accept that a non-super wearing a hero costume – cape and heels included – would have a difficult time of it. But they also wouldn’t have super strength, laser eyes or the ability to fly so its a bit of a moot point. Since I’m already suspending my disbelief enough for my protagonist to fly and/or have radioactive powers I’m willing to go one step further and accept she’s also capable of running in heels.


  33. June 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm —

    that discussion just reminded me of one of the “Meanwhiles” from Johnny the Homicidal Maniac in which a couple of superheros (one being a woman with extremely unrealistic proportions) take on a couple of criminals (male and female, both in gear similar to what you might see in Splinter Cell)and getting beaten soundly by the criminals just by the fact that their proportions and costumes are completely impractical (the woman superhero had all on one tiny little metal square on her forehead as armor, and wore highheels and a bikini). I really don’t spend a lot of time with superhero comics, largely because I haven’t found them all that interesting, and most non-superhero comics have much better female characters (and portrayals of) than most superhero comics.

  34. June 19, 2011 at 9:42 pm —

    … It’s a bit tempting to point out that (as I’ve been told, anyway) the character you’re using as an example works for a physical manifestation of lust and might actually have one of the few good in-universe reasons for being sexualized.

    Aside from that, yes. There is absolutely no way that these portrayals are realistic, or even healthy. Not to sound prudish, but one can’t help but wonder at the effects that the portrayal of people as sex objects has on society (a point that I’m sure has been made here thousands of times already, by people better able to express it than I am).

  35. June 26, 2011 at 5:37 pm —

    The problem is the depiction is cliche and predictable. I just imagine the guy drawing them. Boring. Women are sexy in so many ways it is depressing to see these off-the-shelf images.

    However, if high heels seem impractical for ass-kicking, when exactly are they practical? Some heels are so extreme they seem designed only for pointing at the ceiling.

  36. July 18, 2011 at 2:15 pm —

    Some points regarding this article:

    1. Just because the outfits are titillating to men doesn’t make them “wrong,” and just because a woman might draw them differently doesn’t mean that’s the way comics have to be drawn. There is nothing inherently wrong with men/boys reading comic books which have women dressed in impractical but titillating outfits. Maybe the point of the comic is not to present what you think is an accurate and practical portrayal? Maybe the idea is to portray a fantasy.

    2. There seems to be an implicit assumption that male superheros are dressed in practical and appropriate costumage. Really? Superman has a cape, which like the woman in the picture above’s hair is impractical because it can be grabbed onto. Many superheros wear these capes, even though they are not necessary for any of their super powers. Further, they are all wearing skin tight leotards and undewear on the outside of their clothes – does that look reasonable to anyone? Practical? Of course not. The whole genre is designed not to present a practical or reasonable portrayal of humans – it’s to create a fantastical portrayal of superheros that don’t really exist.

    3. Regarding sexy female superheros, please look to their male counterparts. Are the male superheros shaped like regular men? Do they not have bulging muscles displayed in a homoerotic manner? Their bodies are there for titillation too.

    4. As for “remember guys if we can’t be taken seriously in this costume, neither can they” – that’s a red herring because captain America and every other male superhero can’t be taken seriously in their costumes, which are ridiculous. Putting a male character in the female outfit makes them look additionally ridiculous because they don’t have the tits and curves to look good in them. Males look titillating in one kind of outfit that accentuates male sexuality, and women look titillating in other kinds of outfits.

    5. And high heels being practical? Ladies, when are high heels “practical?” They’re not. They’re things women wear to look sexy. Men enjoy them because they are sexy, and make the woman’s leg look longer – men like lipstick on women because it makes the lips look bigger and more flushed, etc. These are sexual queues accentuated. If you want to stop these things from being drawn as much in comic books, then you’ll have to stop wearing ridiculous and impractical outfits bars and otherwise out in public. Women often wear the most impractical things, approximating that superhero woman’s outfit – tight clothing – exposing as much flesh as possible – boosting the boobs – high heels – short skirts – etc. That stuff titillates men.

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