Archive for the ‘Superheroes’ Category

I get a lot of comments on Reel Girl about how muscly superheroes promote idealized, unattainable body types for males in the same way that skinny, big-breasted Barbies do for females.

I’ve written about how rigid gender boxes are bad for everyone. They are limiting and repressive. That said, the toys and narratives around muscle-bound superheroes aren’t anything close to damaging the way the beauty based toys of girlworld are.

Muscles symbolize strength and power. Superman does not spend his time, in toys or narratives, brushing his hair, putting on make up, or gazing at himself in the mirror. Superman doesn’t come with a plastic comb or even plastic a gym set. Superman has muscles because he, like all supeheroes, is known for what he does, not for how he appears.

As a kid– or as an adult– what would you rather be valued for: your actions or your appearance? Which would make you feel inspired and which would make you feel insecure? Would you prefer that your heroic actions, bravery, courage, and your accomplishments helped to make you attractive to the opposite sex, or your weight and your outfit?

The related topic that comes up on Reel Girl is violence. Games marketed to boys are violent and that’s bad.

I don’t like gore; I don’t like how movies and toys marketed to boys predominantly feature war and battles. Toys should be marketed to all kids and have diverse themes and characters. But violence in imaginary play isn’t bad; it’s natural.

Good art evokes emotions in the reader, the observer, or the listener. All kids– and adults– experience intense emotions. Our internal, emotional world is dramatic. Art depicts that internal world, in part, though narratives and dramatic play. A child is ordered to share a toy and she may collapse in tears on the floor. She feels like her world is caving in. A narrative or a game will actually show the world caving in. You may feel like you had “the wind knocked out of you,” or feel like you are “being attacked.” Art shows that. Not only does art make emotional experience visible, but to be effective, it has to do so in a way that is universal. That is why, in art, you’ve got to raise the stakes. For example, for me, cleaning my closet is a monumental task. I approach it with fear and when I’m done, I feel as if I’ve scaled Mount Everest. But if I were to write a story about cleaning my closet, most of my readers would be bored to tears. Art creates a dramatic metaphor around an emotion that everyone can relate to. Instead of cleaning a closet, there is the Greek myth of Psyche sorting seeds.

People feel like the walls are caving in on them for different reasons, but every human experiences that feeling at one time or another.

As far as “boys make sticks into guns, girls make trucks into beds for their dolls,” I just think that’s bullshit. There are so many ways– books, toys, movies, TV, parents, teachers, doctors, and dentists– kidworld encourages and validates “boy” behavior or “girl” behavior. Wouldn’t it be great if all kids were allowed to be human?

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“Look at the girl, she’s sticking her butt out!” said my daughter. She showed me this photo in a costumes catalog we just received in the mail.

(Sorry about the flash glare.) Technically, its her hip, but the point is the same: emphasis, pelvis.

Imagine the males standing like that. What do these poses communicate?

I’ve blogged quite a bit about sexism in superheroes and ass emphasis. This post on the Avengers has gotten about 700 shares. Check out the great art if you haven’t seen it yet. Why do poses for superheroes matter? Because heroes are heroes!

What are our kids being taught to idolize in females? Weird twitches?

And of course, sexist posing isn’t limited to the fantasy world. Look at this photo in this month’s Vanity Fair, a profile of MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough (via Miss Representation/ Salon.)

Did you read that part about hosts on a news channel? Imagine these poses reversed. She’s up front. He’s in back, showing leg. What would your kids think about men and women if they saw this photo?

Salon writes:

the image tells the familiar story of a man who commands the attention of others and a woman who seeks only the attention of that man.

You’d think Catwoman would want to seek something more.

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The New York Times piece on gender-fluid kids reinforces so many stereotypes, I’ve got to go through them.

Let’s start with sentence #1:

The night before Susan and Rob allowed their son to go to preschool in a dress, they sent an e-mail to parents of his classmates. Alex, they wrote, “has been gender-fluid for as long as we can remember, and at the moment he is equally passionate about and identified with soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas (not to mention lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows).”

Here, the writer, Ruth Padawer, sets up a series of stereotyped binary/ boy-girl opposites: soccer players and princesses, superheroes and ballerinas, lava and unicorns, dinosaurs and glitter rainbows. I waited for her to explore any reasons why our culture promotes this symbology. Unfortunately, I waited for the whole article.

Why are princesses considered to be the epitome of femininity? Could it, perhaps, have little do with with genes and everything to do with the fact that perpetuating the image of a passive, “pretty” female  is popular in a patriarchal culture? Just maybe?

A few more sentences down:

Some days at home he wears dresses, paints his fingernails and plays with dolls; other days, he roughhouses, rams his toys together or pretends to be Spider-Man.

Most kids on Planet Earth would paint their fingernails if they weren’t told and shown by grown-ups that it’s a “girl thing.” Nail polish has nothing to do with penises or vulvas or genes, or even anything as deep and profound as “”gender fluidity.” To kids, nail polish is art play, brushes and paint. That’s it. Oh, right, art is for girls. Unless you’re a famous artist whose paintings sell for the most possible amount of money. Then art is for boys.

On an email that Alex’s parents sent to his school:

Of course, had Alex been a girl who sometimes dressed or played in boyish ways, no e-mail to parents would have been necessary; no one would raise an eyebrow at a girl who likes throwing a football or wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt.

What? Does this writer have young daughters? Has Padawer heard about the boy’s baseball team from Our Lady of Sorrows that recently forfeited rather than play a girl? Or what about Katie, the girl who was bullied just because she brought her Star Wars lunch box, a “boy thing,” to school?  Does Padawer know Katie’s experience isn’t unusual? How rare it is to find a girl today who isn’t concerned that a Spider-Man shirt (or any superhero shirt or outfit) is boyish and that she’ll be teased if she wears it? My whole blog, Reel Girl, is about that “raised eyebrow.” Has Padawer seen summer’s blockbuster movie “The Avengers” with just one female to five male superheroes? The typical female/ male ratio? Or how “The Avengers” movie poster features the female’s ass? Think that might have something to do with why females care more than males about how their asses are going to look?  You can see the poster here along with the pantless Wonder Woman. Does Padawer get or care that our kids are surrounded by these kinds of images in movies and toys and diapers and posters every day? How can Padawer practically leave sexism out of a New York Times piece 8 pages long on gender?

First sentence of paragraph 3: (Yes, we’re only there.)

There have always been people who defy gender norms.

No way! You’re kidding me. Like women who wanted to vote? Women who didn’t faint in the street?

Moving on to page 2:

Gender-nonconforming behavior of girls, however, is rarely studied, in part because departures from traditional femininity are so pervasive and accepted.

Um, wrong again. Been to a clothing store for little kids recently? Ever tried to buy a onesie for a girl with a female pilot on it? Or a female doing anything adventurous? Check out Pigtail Pals, one of the few companies that dares to stray from “pervasive and accepted” femininity. One of the few. And we’re talking toddlers here.

The studies that do exist indicate that tomboys are somewhat more likely than gender-typical girls to become bisexual, lesbian or male-identified, but most become heterosexual women.

Is the writer really writing a piece on gender fluid kids and using the word “tomboy” without irony?

Next page:

Still, it was hard not to wonder what Alex meant when he said he felt like a “boy” or a “girl.” When he acted in stereotypically “girl” ways, was it because he liked “girl” things, so figured he must be a girl? Or did he feel in those moments “like a girl” (whatever that feels like) and then consolidate that identity by choosing toys, clothes and movements culturally ascribed to girls?

Hard not to wonder. Exactly! Finally, the writer wonders. But, not for long. Here’s the next sentence:

Whatever the reasoning, was his obsession with particular clothes really any different than that of legions of young girls who insist on dresses even when they’re impractical?

Once again, I’ve got to ask: Does Padawer have a young daughter? Legions of young girls “insist on dresses” because like all kids, they want attention. Sadly, girls get a tremendous amount of attention from grown-ups for how they look. Today, my three year old daughter wanted to wear a princess dress to preschool, because she knew that if she did, the parents and teachers would say, “Wow, you’re so pretty! I love your dress.” And if it’s not a girl’s dress everyone focuses on, it could be her hair, or perhaps her shoes which are probably glittery or shiny or have giant flowers on them because that’s what they sell at Target and Stride Rite. Unfortunately, focusing on appearance is how most adults today make small talk with three year old girls.

The next two graphs are the best in the article so I will paste them in full, though notice the use of “tomboy” again with no irony.

Whatever biology’s influence, expressions of masculinity and femininity are culturally and historically specific. In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century, writes Jo Paoletti, a professor of American studies at the University of Maryland and author of “Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys From the Girls in America.” By then, some psychologists were arguing that boys who identified too closely with their mothers would become homosexuals. At the same time, suffragists were pushing for women’s advancement. In response to these threatening social shifts, clothes changed to differentiate boys from their mothers and from girls in general. By the 1940s, dainty trimming had been purged from boys’ clothing. So had much of the color spectrum.

Women, meanwhile, took to wearing pants, working outside the home and playing a wider array of sports. Domains once exclusively masculine became more neutral territory, especially for prepubescent girls, and the idea of a girl behaving “like a boy” lost its stigma. A 1998 study in the academic journal Sex Roles suggests just how ordinary it has become for girls to exist in the middle space: it found that 46 percent of senior citizens, 69 percent of baby boomers and 77 percent of Gen-X women reported having been tomboys.

The piece is riddled with more gender assumptions that aren’t questioned.

When Jose was a toddler, his father, Anthony, accepted his son’s gender fluidity, even agreeing to play “beauty shop.”

But why is beauty shop feminine? We all know beauty toys and products are marketed to girls, but why? Here’s that Avengers ass poster again. In a male dominated world, women are valued primarily for their appearance. They are taught to focus on how they look and that if they do so they can get power and prestige. Appearance is the area where girls are trained to channel their ambition and competition. Oh, sorry, girls aren’t competitive or ambitious. That’s a boy thing.

On gender fluid child, P.J., the author writes:

Most of the time, he chooses pants that are pink or purple.

Wait a minute, didn’t she write a few pages back about Jo Poletti’s book Pink and Blue? Remember, pink used to be a “boy” color; it’s only recently that it’s perceived as a “girl” color?

Here might be the most fucked up quote:

When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?

When Miss Representation posted that on its Facebook page  above the link to the the article, angry commenters immediately began to respond:

i am NOT the lesser gender!
why can’t people see how insulting that is? i mean, who would *openly* call a race or ability or sexual orientation “lesser” and not largely be considered a bigot?

It was that comment that inspired me to write this post, because the whole piece is insulting to girls and women. I hope it’s insulting to boys and men as well.

Read my email to the New York Times editor here.

Read my response to comments on this post here.

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I’ve had an amazing three weeks writing my Middle Grade book. The break from blogging has been productive but painful. I love to blog! What did I miss?

Lots! I could blog for hours, but because I’m still in Fairyland mode (and need to stay there) I’m going to cut it down to a low point and a high point:

Have you seen DC Comic’s new Catwoman cover? (Via GeekMom)

How can Catwoman fight anyone with her ass in the air like that?

This Catwoman cover is reminiscent of artist Kevin Bolk’s spoof on “The Avengers” if the males posed like the female. Notice the plural and singular nouns there. I posted Bolk’s art on my blog a few weeks ago. Here’s the picture again:

The good news is my post of Bolk’s art got about 400 shares. Maybe the sexism is becoming more obvious to people? Though how could it not?

What fascinates me about the ass-female-superhero-obsession is that that unlike breasts, every human has an ass. Therefore the argument– ridiculous anyway– that men’s and women’s bodies are different and that’s the only reason why women get so sexualized– doesn’t hold here.

It’s pathetically ironic too that these heroes are supposed to be fighting for justice. I guess, as with so many advocates for freedom– including Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and JFK– gender equality isn’t high on the list.

On a positive note, I LOVE seeing the pictures of Merida all over San Francisco! I have bought several “Brave” books already, and to those of you who think kids aren’t influenced by media imagery, I found my eight year old making a series of drawings. Here’s one of my favorites:

Remember, art creates reality and reality creates art in an endless loop. Phases aren’t outgrown, they mutate. So, please take your kids to this movie starring a powerful female. Take your sons and daughters! See it twice. I hope this film makes money. I’ll be out of the country when it comes out but it’s first on my to do list when I get back.

One more blog coming on Erica Jong’s book Sugar in My Bowl.

Hope you are having a great summer and please keep using my FB page to post and comment.


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Whenever  I blog about the exaggerated breasts or ass of a female cartoon character, commenters respond that I have nothing to complain about: all cartoons are caricatures.

There’s a difference between exaggerating muscles and exaggerating someone’s butt. Here’s artist Kevin Bolk’s take on “The Avengers.”

Of course, “The Avengers” model, with its pathetic 5: 1 male/ female ratio and then sexualizing that lone female, is not unique to that group of superheroes.

Check out the Justice League’s latest cover. Notice any similarity?

Here’s the artist Coelasquid’s “If Superheroes Posed Like Wonder Woman.”

I love Coelasquid’s art because it shows so clearly that it’s not only the clothes put on female characters but the poses they are in.

Though of course, the clothes don’t help much. Here’s Theamat’s “If I Don’t Get Pants, Nobody Gets Pants:”

Wonder Woman with no pants was created by (and for?) grown-ups but it leads to Wonder Woman with no pants showing up as a LEGO minifig.

Or most recently, in the ensemble movie “Pirates!” for kids, in theaters right now, there’s one female and she shows up looking like this:

Females are half of the population, yet because they are presented as a sexualized minority in so many movies for adults, they are also presented as a sexualized minority in movies for kids. Those roles are then replicated in kids’ toys and most tragically, in kids’ imaginary play.

Female characters account for only 16% of all characters in movies for kids.

Here’s an interesting coincidence: across the board in all professions, women at the top don’t make it past 16%.

Do you think limiting females in the imaginary world limits them in real life? Unfortunately, your kids do.

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(Sorry to the subscribers for the repitition, took me 3x to get this post right.)

Hey, kids, meet Wonder Woman, one of the few female superheroes.
Which one of these LEGO minifigs is not like the other? Why do you think the most powerful and famous female superhero is shown in her underwear?
(Read more about about sexism marketed to kids through LEGO sets here.)
The first time I showed Wonder Woman to my daughter (the Lynda Carter TV series) she was five years old. She asked me: “Why is she in her underwear?” This was pre-Reel Girl, and I hadn’t even noticed. Women shown in their underwear in the media was so normal to me. How long before my daughter stops noticing as well? Don’t we owe our kids more than programming yet another generation to accept these ridiculous gender roles as normal?
“If I don’t get pants, nobody gets pants” Wonder Woman by Theamat (Cynthia Sousa)

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Hey, kids, meet Wonder Woman, one of the few female superheroes.
Which one of these LEGO minifigs is not like the other? Why do you think the most powerful and famous female superhero is shown in her underwear?
Read more about about sexism marketed to kids through LEGO sets here.
“If I don’t get pants, nobody gets pants” Wonder Woman by Theamat (Cynthia Sousa)

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A couple years ago, I ordered the DVDs of the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series for my daughter. I remembered loving the show as a kid especially the first episode with all the amazons. So I showed it to my daughter, and she said to me: “Why is she wearing her underwear?” At that time, pre-Reel Girl, I hadn’t noticed. I hadn’t thought about it. I wonder if, in a few years, seeing women in their underwear will be so natural for my daughter, she’ll no longer notice it either.And she’s one of the FEW women superheroes at all. It’s so fucked up. Here’s some great art from http://theamat.deviantart.com/

A while back, I posted another artist’s depiction of sexism in Wonder Woman. As her art shows, it’s not only the clothes, it’s the pose.

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A couple days ago, I posted about the brilliant art if male superheroes posed like Wonder Woman that I saw on Jezebel and Bleeding Cool.

I’ve discovered a little more about the artist. Her name is Kelly Turnbull. The internet knows her as coelasquid. She’s a professional animator. This fascinates me because as far as I know, there are few women in animation.

Her hilarious and brilliant site/ comic is called Manly Guys Doing Manly Things.

On Turnbull’s site she writes:

I like drawing comics about unapologetically macho things because I’m not on board with this modern trend of telling men that they should act less like men. I dream of a world where the beer is cheap and plentiful, violence can still be an acceptable solution to life’s problems, and no one ever has to talk about their feelings.

Sometime this is a comic about macho action heroes. Sometimes this is a slice of life comic about a time traveling Navy SEAL single dad from the nonspecific spacefuture. Really, it just depends on how things were going that day.

Apparently, a frequently asked question is whether or not she’s really female. Her coy reply is: Does it matter?

I suppose her rendition of males posing like Wonder Woman could be interpreted as affirming culturally accepted masculinity rather than making fun of enforced femininity. Can you exaggerate one end of the polarized gender spectrum without revealing the ridiculousness of the other? Whether Turnbull is male or female, for real or tongue in cheek with her words and images, however your choose to interpret her art, its undeniably creative and provocative. She makes you think about gender and culture in a new way, whomever you are and whatever your beliefs may be about men and women. That’s just what great art should do.

Though Turnbull’s subject is men, ReelGirl is curious what her creative mind would come up with as far as alternative images of Wonder Woman. There have got to be more choices than either WW showing her legs or not showing legs. I sent her an email asking her about this. I’ll let you know what she says.
Update! Here is my email back from Kelly Turnbull. She writes she is not picking on ‘sexy’ women; she is saying women (and men) superheroes bodies should reflect much more diversity. I totally agree. I wouldn’t even have a problem the anorexic supermodel image if it was just ONE of many possible representations of women out there in the media. It’s the dominance and limitations of the same old recycled icons that limit creativity (and reality.) Hollywood, are you listening???????
Also, Turnbull makes a great point below: it’s not the clothes, it’s the pose! Even titling this post, I mixed the two up. If you look at how imaginary females are posed from the Smurfette to Ariel to Wonder Woman, they look weak or submissive or sexualized, no matter what they’re wearing.
Here’s Turnbull’s email:


Hey, checked out your site, thanks for the article! It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

If you’vee got any specific questions I’d be glad to answer them, as far as the Wonder Woman thing, though… well, pants or no pants first, I really don’t think pants necessarily matter, I wish she looked more Mediterranean first and foremost (artists who draw every character like they came from a base stock of White Anglo Saxon Protestants are a big pet peeve of mine) I think one of my favourite reimaginings of her is from Jill Thompson (Granted, when people say lady heroes in pants don’t make sense because pants limit movement, all I can think is “Wow, imagine how much better the military and police-force would be able to do their jobs if we just had an all-out pants ban!”)

I think the pose is the big thing that needs to be examined on the DC cover. Diana is royalty and she’s a warrior. She’s a feminist of the “don’t hold the door for me” variety judging by the solo animated movie she got. It seems out of character for someone like Diana to hear “POSE AS A TEAM!” and default to a Victoria Secret kind of stance. Now if we were talking about Poison Ivy, Catwoman, someone like that whose who schtick is being seductive, it would make perfect sense. Hey, they’d probably even take it further! But Diana is not Catwoman and Diana is not Poison Ivy and Diana is not any number of other DC ladies.

Any time any person brings up “hey, maybe every single woman in this piece shouldn’t look and act like an underwear model” so many people listening automatically assume that person wants NO MORE SEXY WOMEN. No, folks, I don’t want to take away your sexy things. Saying it’s out of character for Diana to pose like she’s selling underwear doesn’t mean I want Selina Kyle to show up next time in full military body armour or that I want artists to start drawing Powergirl with a b-cup or Black Canary with stretch marks or anything like that. It just means I don’t want every woman in the comic to be there for the sole purpose of being sexy and I want the artists to draw characters in a way that reflects their personality. If it makes people feel any better, I also wish they would give Flash a sprinter’s build, Aquaman a swimmer’s build, Batman an MMA build, and Superman a weightlifter figure compared to that unilateral “this is that one body every superhero artist knows how to draw” look they all have now.

Another common point of contention that comes with debates like this is people who assume women who speak out against this kind of thing are jealous or shaming other women for showing off their bodies or what have you. Again, I just don’t think “being sexy” is something anyone should feel bad about, I just think it’s kind of a time-and-a-place matter. Imagine a board of military leaders gathered around to discuss a new strategy. One person out of ten wanders into the room in their underwear. Then that person, say, sits on the table and strikes a provocative pose. Now imagine they want you to take this character exactly as seriously as the other nine. That’s how I feel every time they show Emma Frost in her corset and panties trying to be passed off as some sort of authority figure. That is not the sort of outfit a cool-headed serious person wears while they negotiate important business transactions.

I suppose what it comes down to is, I would appreciate if more mainstream comics presented alternative ways of looking at female characters. I’m not saying they need to be unattractive, just that if they aren’t a cheesecake-pinup kinda character don’t present them as one unless it’s in the context of something silly like those old marvel swimsuit pinups.

Think of it like this, Lobo’s the kind of guy who hams it up enough that you could picture him in goofy beefcake pinups. Lobo got a two-page spread in one issue where he’s sprawled out poolside in a spikey chainlink codpiece. Imagine they did the same with Superman or Batman. Like, out of the blue All-Star Batman #3 has a two-page playgirl-esque spread of Bruce in a speedo, grinning at the camera. That would seem weird. I’m sure a number of fans would love it, but others would hate it for being out of character so they probably wouldn’t do it. I’m just saying either give the girls the same kind of consideration or draw more Playgirl Batman.



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“Why is Wonder Woman only wearing her underwear?” asked my five year old daughter when I introduced her to the superhero in the form of the DVD of the 70s series starring Lynda Carter. I was so bummed, yet another foiled attempt to expose my kids to strong females in the media and ending up with only exposed female bodies.

This amazing art from Jezebel and Bleeding Cool:

Here’s the latest Justice League comic cover– Wonder Woman the lone female character surrounded five males. She is the only one “in her underwear” looking not so much like an invulnerable superhero and more like some male comic book artist’s dominatrix sex fantasy– torpedo breasts, long legs tapering into shiny boots, and even a whip– sorry, golden lasso. Makes me think about the time I went to see Lara Croft ten years ago and couldn’t get past the D breasts and short shorts. Clearly, we need more women comic book artists, animators, video game creators, studio heads, and media moguls.

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