Secret Project Revealed!
Good morning, gentle viewers!
Oh, I’m so excited.
If you’ve been around these parts for a while, you’ll remember a series of posts about SuperWomen. Ever since I was a kid, I longed to see female superheroes, but as we all know, they’re rather thin on the ground. After my recent post about superhero clothing and the sexist attitudes toward women displayed by the creators, I got to thinking.
There’s been a lot of stuff in the media lately about women in geek culture, from Jim C. Hines posing like the women on fantasy covers (with John Scalzi, and for charity to boot!) to showcase how ridiculous the poses are to Tor.com posting about one particular pose. Then there’s the amazing Hawkeye Initiative and my new favorite Tumblr in which artist Alex Law uses the superhero costumes of little girls to show that their gender expectations haven’t been set in stone yet, and they are better at creating badass superhero costumes than the people who do it for a living.
And I thought, “This is all great stuff.”
But I wanted something more. So I’m making it, along with three other women.
We’re creating the Searching for SuperWomen blog. It’ll be a place for geek women (and the men who love us!) to come and love the things we love, from sci-fi to superheroes. It’ll be a place to celebrate the role of women in geekdom and show Hollywood that we ARE the audience they want us to be. A place where we make it clear that after eight Superman reboots and two Spiderman trilogies and eight Batman movies, it’s about goddamn time that they make Wonder Woman and make it well, without giving it the Elektra-deluxe treatment of shame.
Pretty soon, we’ll be looking for YOU. People who love geek culture and have something to offer. Art. Music. Cosplay. An essay on Xena. Whatever you love in geekdom. So come by, get to know us, and get ready to go on an expedition.
We’re Searching for SuperWomen. Follow the link and come see us!
The Searching for SuperWomen editors are:
Our first post will go up on Wednesday. For May and June, updates will be Wednesdays, but look out for more, because we’re on the prowl.
We can’t wait to see you there!
Tonight at 7 EDT we are having the third #SuperWomen chat! Join us on Twitter for an hour (or so) of discussion. Tonight’s topic will be SuperWomen and Sexuality. Discuss superhero costumes, armour (or lack thereof), and how this plays a role in the portrayal of SuperWomen and how they are perceived in culture.
One of the big topics surrounding women in fantasy and the comic book world is their costumes and clothes. I mean, it’s not good enough to fight the powers of darkness for the safety of unicorns and puppies if you can’t do it baring 87% of your skin, right?
Never mind that from a combat perspective, traipsing about in a bikini leaves most of your internal organs vulnerable. Either the creators of these costumes imagine that all organs from heart to spleen reside in women’s boobs or there’s something else at work here.
It’s not just the comic books — it’s films, cartoons, video games, and everything in between. If women have powers, they’re going to be mostly naked.
The Myth of the Male Demographic
One of the biggest reasons I hear for this is that they’re just playing to the male-dominated demographic that consumes these types of media. If you look at that statement a little more closely, this is what you’ll see:
Men are only interested in powerful women if they are naked (vulnerable) and sexualised.
Not only is that horribly disturbing, but it’s insulting to the intelligence of men as well. I believe in gender equality, and to say that men only want to see strong women if they’re getting sexually stimulated by it is degrading to intelligent men AND degrading to women.
Both men and women are sexual beings. But culture would have us believe that old double standard where men fixating on visual stimulation (women in skimpy costumes) is an inextricable and inevitable hangup. It’s the same mentality that puts the blame on women for “tempting” men by looking sexy, and by saying that men have as much ability to control their urges as a toddler left alone in a candy shop.
I believe this is a self-perpetuating myth. Both consumers and media creators got it into their heads that men wouldn’t be interested in seeing female superheroes in full armour, so they rarely try to depict it otherwise. And in doing so, how can they know?
Last week, someone sent me a rather troll-like reply on Twitter after I commented that Anita Blake is a powerful SuperWoman. The guy said something like, “Oh, because she’s surrounded by men to bang who are all at her beck and call?”
I didn’t respond out of disgust.
That response is a perfect example of the sexual double standard applied to male and female sexuality. Men with multiple partners have almost always been lauded, where women are whores. And notice that this Twit (not a Tweep) immediately sexualised Anita’s power in general in response to a comment I made saying that Anita shows that women can be sexual without being a victim or a “whore.” Anita’s power does not stem only from her sexuality — the ardeur is not the root of her power. She is a strong, fully realised character regardless of how many lovers she has.
Female superheroes are sexualised for the “male audience,” but if they stray from what is expected, they’re demonised, merely for exhibiting the same behaviours seen of their male counterparts.
Sex as a Punisher
Earlier this week, I discussed sexual violence in horror movies, but it’s not limited to that genre. Too often, rape and sexual assault are used as punishment tropes in media, to take female protagonists down a peg or two in retaliation for them romping around having the gall to be strong.
Seanan McGuire said something very similar in her post last week — why should SuperWomen have to be violated and humiliated? Why does retaliation against them have to be sexual in nature?
From costumes to sex to rape — the sexuality of SuperWomen has a lot of issues to work through. Join us on Twitter this evening to discuss these facets of their portrayal and how we can combat them. Same bat time, same bat channel. 7:00 EDT until we’re done.
What counterexamples can you find for these tropes? Many? Any? How can we shift the balance from the sexualising of SuperWomen to the empowering of SuperWomen in all aspects of their characterisation?
That’s right, gentle viewers, I’m at it again.
A couple weeks ago, we had a fabulous hour and a half live chat on the topic of SuperWomen in media. How there is a proportional vacuum of SuperWomen in Hollywood, and what needs to be done to show the media-makers that there is a vibrant audience for female characters who don’t just have superpowers, but who have fully-realised development, flaws, and personal strengths.
So today I want to ask the question: What makes a SuperWoman?
I’m asking in context of fantasy/comic book worlds, and for these purposes some sort of superpower is a pre-requisite. (Later, however, we will definitely be discussing real life SuperWomen whose superpowers stem more from inner strength than the ability to smash like Hulk.)
In the vein of the SuperMEN out there, what is it that makes a SuperWoman a SuperWoman and not a trope?
Here are my thoughts. Feel free to give yours in the comments.
This is a word that all writers have a love-hate relationship with, and most readers are familiar enough with to understand. It’s one of those things that has to be done effectively, without sounding like an info-dump. Backstory is, for those who don’t know, what happened to a character before the premise of the active story begins.
For secondary characters, it could be as simple as “she used to be a mechanic,” but for SuperWomen, there needs to be more of a story there. And it should be sprinkled (not dumped) through the main story enough to give viewers and readers a sense of who this person was and how that changed or equipped her to be who she is.
Buffy Summers was a vapid high school cheerleader before she got called to slaying vampires. You see her wistfulness for that innocence, and sometimes her outright anger. You also see her insistence that, in spite of her extraordinary circumstances, that girl is still in there. It gives her character depth and emotion.
2. Strength Beyond the Physical
SuperWomen don’t need to be paragons of virtue, but they do need to have strengths beyond their superpowers. Wisdom, character, determination, mettle.
What I believe Hollywood has done on many counts is to mistake physical strengths or abilities a substitute for these real life strengths. What decisions is this character going to make when things get rough, and why? Fully realised characters have these strengths — it’s what makes them choose to save a city instead of let it burn for personal gain. And the better the writing, the more nuanced and grey these areas get.
3. Weaknesses and Flaws
Good characters have faults.
They’re not perfect, they don’t make the right decisions all the time, and they’re not always shiny and happy. The best characters can make crappy decisions and you’ll still sympathise with them because they feel like a real person to you.
These faults can be arrogance, blind spots, anger, vengeance, a soft spot for kittens, or a propensity for Twinkies. They’re anything that can potentially complicate a story. Complications are what make stories interesting and engaging.
These are just three things that make SuperWomen. Three simple things that are seen one or two at a time in Hollywood characterisations of female superheroes, but seldom all at once. This list is not finite, so I turn to you to extend it.
Sound off in the comments — but tomorrow #SuperWomen chat is back!
Same bat time, same bat channel:
When: Thursday, 4 October from 7:00-8:30 EDT (yes, I extended it a half hour this time!)
Where: #SuperWomen hashtag on Twitter
Topics for Discussion: What makes them SuperWomen? What are the characteristics of the paragons of SuperWomen? How can media better espouse these things instead of creating tropes?
Join us tomorrow for the second #SuperWomen chat, and let your thoughts be known to the Twitterverse. Sam Scott and Rebekah Martin will be joining me again as mods! Last time we got #SuperWomen trending — let’s do it again!
- Where Are The SuperWomen? (emmiemears.com)
- Why Do You Write These Strong Female Characters? (emmiemears.com)
- Female Superhero Films, or Where’s My Ms. Marvel Movie? (mitchallan.wordpress.com)