Four-color boy’s club…

Male superheroes in revealing costumes.
If only…
I love superheroes. I read superhero comic books sporadically as a young kid, but didn’t get into seriously following them until I was a teen-ager. Even then, I thought the costume choices artists made were a little weird. I understood why Batman’s costume was mostly black and grey and covered most of his pale skin, because his crimefighting style included lurking in shadows a lot, but if Wonder Woman could fight crime in what was basically a one-piece bathing suit, why did Superman (who had similar super powers and fighting style) need to cover everything up?

On the other hand, since Captain America’s costume included armor (in the the silver age comics the costume included chain mail on his torso!) why didn’t Batgirl take advantage of similar protection?

The classic costume for Marvel's Valkryie.
Marvel’s Valkyrie. Seriously?
And then, when the Valkyrie was introduced in the pages of the Defenders, she had armor… Except originally it was only her breasts that were armored, everything else was either covered with spandex or it was bare. And that made absolutely no sense at all! Yeah, she has those shiny metallic wristbands and the upper arm bands, but those look more like jewelry than body armor, right? (Saddest of all, within the story, Valkyrie was created by an evil Asgardian goddess for the express purpose of proving that women were the equal of men! Her superstrength originally only worked when fighting males. Take a guess as to how long after the character joined the superhero group before a story line saw her falsely accused of a crime and sent to a women’s prison, where the artist got to draw a lot of ridiculous women’s prison scenes…)

Noticing this weird phenomenon was probably not because I was especially enlightened. Even though I was deep in denial about my sexuality, at least part of the reason I noticed this is because I wouldn’t have minded if some of the male superhero’s costumes had been thinly disguised sex fantasies, just like pretty much every female hero’s costume was.
Sample image from The Hawkeye Initiative.
I’m hardly the only person to have noticed this. The Hawkeye Initiative is a hilarious Tumblr that explores this issue: “How to fix every Strong Female Character pose in superhero comics: replace the character with Hawkeye doing the same thing.” Artists take actual ridiculous comic book images of female characters, and redraw them with a recognizable male superhero in the exact same pose. Sometimes they leave the male character’s costume more or less as originally drawn, more often they modify it to be a parody of the female’s costume from the original image.

Sort of similar is the Fake Geek Guys! Tumblr, which is a parody of several Reddit forums where certain types of jerks guys post pictures of women attending comic and sci fi conventions in costume and make various misogynist and other kinds of disparaging remarks. It’s fun to scroll through from time to time.

From the Big Bang Theory
One literally cannot talk to girls, the other cannot talk to a girl without hitting on her in the sleaziest way possible.
It’s easy to focus on the ridiculous costumes and impossible poses used for female characters. And certainly all of us have met comic/sci fi fans and artists whose only responses to meeting real women is to either drool or make disparaging comments about how un-hot she is. Trust me, you only have to spend an hour or so staffing a table at a convention next to certain pros from the field to realize just how juvenile and misogynist some of them are—virtually indistinguishable from Raj and Wolowitz as portrayed in the first season of Big Bang Theory.

Nothing epitomizes this problem better than the Valkyrie character in the old Defenders comic. She is created by an evil goddess for the purpose of beating up men (her super strength, invulnerability, et al, cease to exist if she fights a woman). That was some 70s professional comic creators’ idea of a feminist hero: someone who beats the snot out of men. They wrote her that way for several years before anyone in the industry even questioned it.

Not everyone in the comics industry is that bad, but the problem goes a lot deeper than the bad poses and ridiculous costumes. Just as most movies fail the Bechdel Test, most comics, science fiction novels, and so on don’t do any better. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve had the embarrassing experience of applying the Bechdel Test to some of my own writing and been surprised at how un-diverse my cast of protagonists have been over the years.

It’s a self-perpetuating problem. Comic stories relegate women to only limited roles, making them unappealing to many female readers, and encouraging the most misogynist tendencies of some male fans. This allows editors, publishers, TV & movie producers, and various corporate executives to claim that girls, young women, and women aren’t interested in these kinds of stories, which justifies the continued resistance to creating inclusive comics, shows, and movies.

Intentionally rejecting half the human race is a bad business decision. It ought to be obvious, but the four-color boys’ club lives on.

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