This week we’ve covered James Bond’s sex appeal (in the form of the “Bond Girls”) and sexy armor in various fantasy settings. I don’t think the problem of women being sexy is…I don’t want to say as bad as certain parties says, although militants will always exaggerate everything, but it isn’t necessarily nonexistent either. The cover above for example was used by two different articles about the “Hawkeye Initiative“, which highlights how silly some men would look in similar poses that are clearly meant to just show off a woman character’s boobs and butt. While I think some of the artwork falls into the “you’re exaggerating” department they’re right on when it comes to others. Then you have artists like Ed Benes, who will take every opportunity to draw a woman in a sexy pose, or Rob Liefeld, whose idea of “sexy” is a woman with large breasts and a pipe cleaner-thin waist, or Greg Land, who outright traces porn. I don’t know if it degenerates women as a whole per say since porn and strip clubs exist but it certainly doesn’t treat the superheroine the same way it does the superhero.
On the other hand……
I have covered a number of instances over the years of complaints by usually militant feminists (I have to stress that because militants ruin everything on all sides of any political or fan-based debate and despite not wanting to write “militant” over and over I’m not talking about the entire group) about sexually attractive women or outfits. For every instance of an overtly endowed Wonder Girl (Cassie Sandsmark version) you have that time Spider-Woman was supposedly in an overly sexual pose…when she was just climbing up the side of a building. The pose was the only thing wrong about that one. Then there was a shot of teenage superhero Miss Martian that gave an upskirt shot, which came off more as an unfortunate angle than the artist intending to show a teenage Martian girl’s bike shorts. Or that time everyone freaked out over a slightly aged Dora The Explorer based solely on her silhouette. Wonder Woman, a character once praised by feminists, was denounced by the militants when she was chosen as a spokescharacter for girls in a UN project because of her outfit, despite her creators being all about girl power before there was a girl power movement. The last one that comes to mind relevant to tonight’s topic is when militants upset with body shaming and promoting only sexual aspect of women did their own body shaming when they demanded Tifa from the Final Fantasy series get breast reduction, which was insulting to real-life women with large chests since Tifa was never about her boobies except to the perverts. It wasn’t necessarily fanservice…I’ve SEEN blatant fanservice and it never fails to be stupid. I’ve also known women who have larger breasts and they’re basically telling my friends they have no place in this world.
That raises the question of how much is too much? Is a woman drawn sexy or wearing a sexy costume necessarily a bad thing? Is it even the case that these women ONLY exist to titillate or are they just women who happen to be sexy? Or possibly both? I’m going with both.
Here’s a tale of two Carols. Carol Ferris, a Star Sapphire, has been drawn in two different outfits. One is similar to a Green Lantern’s outfit (although like the Green Lanterns each member has their own variant designs there is a similar theme) and covers most of her body. The other has this star-shaped design that is basically a hole in the outfit that shows off her midriff and looks like something a stripper would walk out with. It is very stupid and blatantly there to be tantalizing. Carol Danvers has had numerous outfits between Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, and every identity in-between. Her current outfit isn’t necessarily feminine but it is a sort of space military look (and unlike the movies not actually a Kree military uniform), which makes sense given her history as an Air Force pilot. However, under a proper artist there are still hints of a feminine body type which Carol has (I’ve seen women with more “masculine” features) but under a bad artist she can be drawn with such strong manly features that critics took to calling her “Carl Manvers” because it looked like a dude. It wasn’t the outfit. Carol’s previous outfits weren’t necessarily feminine, although you could make the case for her Warbird costume. Her first costume may not necessarily be one that a man would wear but it didn’t show off her body either, besides a midriff that was less sexual than the aforementioned Star Sapphire costume.
So what does go into designing a proper superheroine costume? Pretty much the same thing that goes into a superhero’s costume design.
Function: Probably the most important detail and why high heels are always the dumbest idea for a female superhero outfit. The costume should fit his or her power set, their fighting style, and the region of the world/universe they travel in. If you have a hero who fights in constantly warmer areas (say, somewhere down South) putting them in a parka is a dumb idea. On the other hand, unless the hero or heroine suffers from tremendous heat from their fire powers or has no sense of temperature like a Kryptonian, you aren’t going to wear a bikini or go topless during a fight in the Arctic.
Look at Batman’s outfit. Batman is stealthy like a ninja and uses a fighting style cobbled from various fighting techniques. Putting him in battle armor or something with too much padding just feels wrong. Instead he takes cues from gymnasts and ninjas, while also making an outfit that plays on the criminals’ superstitions. He has some bulletproofing but he stays sleek and muscular. Black Canary has a sonic cry so it makes sense that her outfit puts as little restriction on her throat, lungs, and esophagus as possible, but she’s also a martial artist with a classy sense of style. Her outfit reflects that.
Personality: Catwoman is a good transition because while she’s flirty on occasion she doesn’t use her sexuality (except maybe against Batman) the way Poison Ivy would. However, she’s a cat burglar by “trade” and has an outfit also similar to a gymnast. In fact, gymnasts and circus performers were the inspiration for many superhero outfits in the old days, especially Dick “Robin/Nightwing” Grayson who came from the circus as a trapeze star. Superman’s outfit was based on the circus strongman because his outfit allowed him to get ventilation to his body and cover certain…areas of his body. Superman’s outfit also invokes power in a way that is intended to give comfort to the average person but show his enemies he is not going down easily in a fight. Supergirl’s outfit was originally designed to be a cuter version of Superman’s in hopes of better connecting with him (and possibly the readers) when she first arrived on Earth but highlighting her own personality. The same is true of Miss Martian, a cute outfit…although since she’s a shapeshifter that’s not really clothing, it’s basically part of her body. Make of that what you will, pervs!
Look at women’s clothing versus men’s. They have different tastes and preferences and it shows in how each is designed. A woman’s leotard tends to have the legs exposed but not always, while men have full legs but I would make the case that women don’t have to worry about things dangling between their legs so they can wear something exposed further up the thigh and hips than men can so men have at least tight shorts to hold parts in place while doing their gymnastics or running around. Then again, based on our culture men can go around without shirts in public while women need something to keep their breasts from being exposed even if they have a small chest. I don’t understand when non-nudist parents allow their daughters to run around the beach without tops even at age three. Modest women tend to wear more than exhibitionists and there are also levels in-between that. Some girls like to dress cute while others more business-like. There’s also the question of dressing for certain locations and activities. Dressing in a leotard isn’t good for skiing but if you’re going swimming you want something that isn’t going to be too heavy when wet and allows for freedom of movement.
Of course these are generalities. Specific characters have powers and personas that cause more specific changes. If a woman is more about being strong and powerful, traits often given to male characters, her outfit may be closer to what we see in a male that shows off her muscles and gives her less restriction when suplexing those giant robots. A character with speed-based powers will have something that causes less drag but more protection from friction. Maybe the girl is more of a tomboy and will have an outfit that reflects that. A tomboy isn’t necessarily the same as a “butch” lesbian (despite what even the militant arm of the LGBT movement says although she could be) and that would bring even more masculine traits. So would a male’s outfit if they prefer lighter, more “feminine” designs and yet aren’t necessarily drag queens, which would lead to even more feminine-looking attire.
I think the larger problem is the poses and “camera angles”. Look at Mikaela Banes in the Transformers movies. Her character is not as sexual as the cinematography would have you believe. Look at the comic or novel adaptations and you’ll see what I mean. It’s the way Megan Fox is shot or the poses she’s given that makes her look like a sexpot and the only one that ever “works” is when she first pops Bumblebee’s hood in an outfit that makes Sam want his own hood popped. In the second film she’s straddling a motorcycle while trying to paint it, which makes no sense outside of Bay wanting to show off how hot Fox is. In a movie based on a pre-pubescent kids toy but I digress. This is why the movie was wrong. She’s not the same kind of character as Fox portrays in Jennifer’s Body (based on the trailers and movie description anyway because I don’t watch horror movies) or Sharon Stone in (the usually shown footage from) Basic Instinct is supposed to act like. That’s bad cinematography and terrible fanservice. If you’re going to do fanservice make sure it matches the tone of the story and scene.
Meanwhile I saw a panel once from Benes in which Black Canary is talking to the Justice League about a situation they’re in while she was leading the team. It’s a moment of importance to the story in which she’s addressing mistakes made by the team and if memory serves how the Trinity didn’t seem to trust her. So what does Benes focus the “camera” on? Her butt. There were so many better angles that could have been used to show she was addressing the group and the group reacting. Dinah’s derriere isn’t one of those angles. And I’m still convinced they aged Wilykit up in Thundercats: The Return so he could draw her (probably sixteen at that point in the story when she was barely thirteen in the show) in a sexy outfit as Mumm-Ra’s concubine. And making her Mumm-Ra’s concubine was bad enough but this is about the art and not the story. That’s a whole other rant because I want to ignore what they did to Cheetara.
However, story does technically play a part here. Some poses only appear sexy because the character is sexy. That’s why that scene with Mikaela checking under Bumblebee’s hood when he (pretends to) stall worked. While I’m sure Bay wanted it to be as sexual as possible (like most of Megan Fox’s angles and physical mannerisms whether it made sense to her character or not) it was just her opening the hood of the car. Most women heroes look sexy not because they’re trying to be sexual but because they’re crimefighters. They need to be in good shape like any police officer, rescue worker, or soldier. People who fight or just play sports (or a mix like boxing or MMA) are in good shape so of course based on our current culture (I refer you to yesterday’s videos from Shadiversity) they’re considered attractive. The same goes for dancers. Whether that fits into the hero’s personality, power set, or the way they fight that will reflect their body type whether they’re men or women, and both their body design and manner of dress (as civilians or superheroes) reflect their lifestyle and personalities. If the “hero” allows them to act out a bit more (see Spider-Man or She-Hulk) that will reflect in their design.
This is what artists and critics alike have to think about when it comes to designing and judging a female character, hero or villain. What is her personality? What is her fighting style? What is her personality? Also, what is the tone of the story. Camera angles should match the mood of the scene, not be blatantly titillating unless titillating is the point of the story, and even that should be tempered with “is this how the character has been depicted in the past?”, and yes we’re talking Starfire versus Starfire 52, the sex-crazed goldfish. There is a difference between “unintentionally sexy” versus “blatantly sexual”, just like in life. Dressing cute or with something more exposed doesn’t make a girl a slut or just there for the boys to get their porn fix…especially with actual porn so easily available on the internet even when you try to avoid it. Slut-shaming characters is not as mean as slut-shaming real-life women, but it’s still slut-shaming. Body shaming is bad for every body type, not just the “unpretty” ones. Faith in the new Valiant Universe is an overweight (but not unhealthily obese) woman with the power to fly but that contrast is intentional. Otherwise you want your flying hero, male or female, to be more aerodynamic. Character and outfit design follows form, function, and personality. The angle at which you draw or film a scene is based on the mood of the scene and the character in it. Do it wrong and the critics are right to call you out on it. Do it right and they’re the prudes you think they are.
It’s all a matter of perspective, but in this case it’s about getting the perspective right by creator and critic alike. Take it case by case and don’t judge harshly, but if you did it wrong you deserve the anger you get.