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?
- Give Us The SuperWomen! (emmiemears.com)
- What Makes Them SuperWomen? (emmiemears.com)
- Fight Back: The Hills Have Eyes (emmiemears.com)
- When Men are Raped (drvitelli.typepad.com)
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)
I’ve got a special treat for all of you today!
After my recent blog post, Where Are The SuperWomen? I approached a couple of my tweeps about hosting a live Twitter chat about female superheroes. To my delight, they were both immediately on board — and the #SuperWomen hashtag was born.
Okay, it already existed as a place where people extolled the virtues of their mums, who I think we all know ARE SuperWomen.
But today it’s going to be the place where we get together to discuss:
- The proportional lack of SuperWomen in culture
- The portrayal of SuperWomen where they do exist, especially compared with the portrayal of SuperMen
- How Buffy meant to give us SuperWomen — but in many ways only bolstered the vampire-y subgenre of urban fantasy
- WHY Hollywood can’t seem to give us fully realised SuperWomen
- What we want to see from media in terms of women who are heroes — superheroes
- Why Catwoman and Electra failed
- The effects of having SuperWomen in the entertainment industry
- What makes a real SuperWoman
Here’s the breakdown of the live Twitter chat:
Where: the #SuperWomen hashtag
When: 7-8 PM EDT (that’s BST -5, for those of you who know Greenwich time better)
How: Hop on Twitter, click the “Discover” tab on the upper edge of your browser, then type #SuperWomen in the search bar. That’ll take you to where we’re chatting. It’ll show you the tweets with the options to see Top/All/From People You Know. Click “All” to see what everyone’s saying, and make sure you use the #SuperWomen hashtag in all your discussion tweets so people see them! If not, they’ll just show up on your homepage. Same thing with @replies — include the hashtag when you’re replying to someone.
Got more than 140 characters to say? No biggie. Just finish your hashtagged tweet with this: 1/2 or 2/2 so people know you’re continuing or wrapping up a thought.
The mods (Rebekah, Sam, and I) will be around from a little before to a bit after the timeslot. We’ll be there to stimulate discussion, chime in with our own thoughts, and erm…enforce the very simple Ground Rule.
Very Simple Ground Rule: Be thoughtful, be civil, and have fun.
That’s it. If someone’s trolling (purposely being incendiary, for instance: “WOMEN R DUM AND BELONG IN TEH KICHEN!”), block them. They won’t show up in your feed anymore.
Meet The Mods:
Samuel Scott (@btvsonline)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Online is a top fan website created by Samuel Scott that is a complete resource for all aspects of the show along with a high-level, academic blog with funny graphics and essays on philosophy, theology, and more. Scott is a former Boston newspaper editor who now lives in Tel Aviv, Israel, and works in Internet marketing and public relations in his day job. The first episode he ever saw during Buffy’s original run was Season 3′s “Gingerbread” while in college, and he has been a fan ever since. BTVS Online’s website, blog, Facebook page, Pinterest, and Twitter. Scott’s personal website and online-marketing site.
Rebekah loves Buffy and anything Whedon-related, and she has always appreciated Joss bringing female superheroes to culture in fresh, witty ways. As a young woman, she sees the need for strong female rolemodels when she observes her peers. Rebekah believes that the world needs SuperWomen to show girls her age and younger (and older!) that women can be strong and independent — and she asserts that the key will be elevating women without seeking to put men down. And SuperWomen are a perfect way to teach that!
And of course, erm…moi! (Emmie Mears, yo. @emmiemears)
Emmie Mears spends at least an hour a day preparing for or thinking about the zombie apocalypse (hollaback, ZAP Warriors!). Future calamity notwithstanding, Emmie hunts stories in dark alleys and in stone circles and spends most nights listening for something that goes bump. She writes urban fantasy novels, but her blog covers many facets of fantasy, from superheroes to vampires to sorcerers. Emmie lives outside Washington, D.C. with her husband, a husky puppy who talks too much, and a tabby who thinks she’s a tiger. Mears’ website, Twitter, and Facebook. Emmie’s also on Pinterest.
Come join us on Twitter from 7-8 PM EDT tonight, and let’s start telling the world how we want our #SuperWomen!
- The Buffy Effect (feministphilosophers.wordpress.com)
- An Open Letter to Joss Whedon: Give Us Our Heroines! (wired.com)
- Female Superhero Films, or Where’s My Ms. Marvel Movie? (mitchallan.wordpress.com)