Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Monday Misogyny

I've been arguing all night with this guy, and I've given up trying to get him to see reason. Here's his response to my point on posing.

Just as you'll find many males within comic art(and elsewhere), standing unrealistically straight, with a barrel chest thrust foreward. In both cases its fictional work presenting an almost unrealistic example of super powered beings(both male & female)as the perfect physical specimen.

Why no argument with the fact that most comics dont present heroes as the average man or women, but rather a heavily conditioned version of both sexes? Where are the heroes with love-handles, beer bellies and not so perfect orb like breasts?
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If anyone here feels I'm giving him too hard a time, let them speak now in clear terms with examples, or forever hold their peace.


  1. Oy, another one confusing unrealistic mammalian fat glands with physical perfection? Why is fat "bad" and imperfect everywhere else but boobies?

  2. Arguing on the Internet is like arguing with a retarded chimp via telephone.

    You'll never convince aybody of anything.

  3. Welcome to RPGnet, in any large enough population you're bound to have some complete jerks.

  4. I think you're giving him too hard a time. Men's physiques are exaggerated in comics just as much as the girls are, mostly due to the fact that a bad artist is an equal opportunity offender. If you simply see overblown muscle as good and parodied sex appeal as bad, then fine, that's valid as a preference, but it's a weak criticism because it only deals with one half of the offence.

  5. Ragnell's point is that when men are exagerated they still aren't really objectified.

    Exageration of the male form in superhero books is not (generally) for the ogling benefit of female readers, but for the benefit of the males.

    Basically, the exagerated man is a doer, the protagonist, the person whose actions propel the story. The exagerated musculature is not there to arouse female readers, but to make male readers think, "Wow, think of all the cool stuff I could do if I had that kind of power".

    Meanwhile, women are not just exagerated, but objectified. That is, they are turned into objects for men to ogle. It doesn't make much sense to say, "Wow, think of all the cool stuff I could do if I had bigger tits and a tinier waist". The exagerations of the female form are for the benefit of male readers, not female ones.

    To sum up, both kinds of exagerations are meant to appeal to male audiences. It's not a symetrical situation.

  6. Oh, and The Tick often had superheroes with realistic physiques. Arthur had a big pot-belly, Oedipus didn't have huge breasts, and men in spandex had visible packages.

    Ben Edlund rules.

  7. Actually, objectification would be equal if the guys were drawn with their chest leaning back, not thrust forward, that helps emphasize their sleek, ripped-but-not-vein-popping six-pack.

  8. "...men in spandex had visible packages."

    For God's sake, yes. I mean, somehow womens' nipples tend to virtually pop through superhero costumes, but the guys' anatomy is discreetly smoothed--to the point that if you claim it's some sort of jockstrap, you're arguing that the male hero is as equipped as a Ken doll.

    In short, I think you aren't being too hard on the fellow, Ragnell.

  9. Oh, I really agree with Christopher on this. Exaggerating muscle is entirely different than exaggerating breasts or a tiny waistline.

    As Christopher points out so well, how are larger breasts supposed to help a superpower? Is she supposed to knock men down with her boobs? Or take out his eyes with her nipples? Seriously!!!

    Whereas, exaggerating muscle signifies strength. In fact, I would even venture to say that exaggerating breasts could be exaggerating a potential vulnerability.

    Keep at it - ;)

  10. All things being equal, comic books need more male characters lounging around bedrooms in tank-tops and underwear, arching their backs in a provocative manner as they discuss quantum physics or something.

    What I like about Silver Age comics, especially Gil Kane's Green Lantern, is that everybody has realistic proportions. GL has the build of a normal athlete, rather than a roided-out nightmare.

  11. I disagree with Frankengirl. Exaggerated muscle on male characters is a sexualized vanity. I'm a weightlifter myself and I don't know any guys who are as grotesquely muscled as say, Finch's Moon Knight, with bulging muscles and popping veins. You'll pardon my saying so, but a bulging, rigid muscle tends to describe an erect penis.

  12. Men are not sexualized in superhero comics. The second you find a cover like THIS ONE, but with a guy, that's when I will agree that men are being sexualized too.

    NOTE: Covers from gay porn comics do not count!

  13. I always find it odd that a super-strong male character tends to have a body builder type body, but super-strong females tend to look like fashion models. Where are the body builder women in comics? (Flint from the later Stromwatch comics is a good example, as is Big Barta )

  14. Men are not sexualized in superhero comics. The second you find a cover like THIS ONE, but with a guy, that's when I will agree that men are being sexualized too.

    NOTE: Covers from gay porn comics do not count!

    Wait, aren't all comics gay? I thought comics were a perfectly good way for us straight men to exercise those homo-erotic thoughts in a SAFE way. Like when Reed and Doctor Doom butt heads, its because they really want to fuck each other, right?

  15. Elayne -- I think they've either convinced themselves it's muscle or that it's actually milk. And fat's only good in boobies when it's accompanied by the wasp waist. Many of these guys don't want a big-breasted woman if she comes with the hips and the tummy to match.

    Chance -- And yet I can't stop myself.

    Niles -- Well, the moderator there isn't too happy with me. Wonder what that makes me?

    Christopher -- Nice summary. wish I could have put it so clearly, I've been struggling with the posing problem for a long time.

    (and the Tick is awesome).

    Lyle -- *Stares a moment, then clears her throat* Lyle, could you describe that again?

    Chawunky -- That's good. Sometimes I go overboard.

    Keeper -- Oh, I miss the Silver Age style! It seems like way too many artists lately cut their teeth on early Image and no one sees fit to imitate Kane or Sedowsky!

    Between frankengirl and Anonymous -- I'm with frankengirl.

    Frankengirl -- I'm also thrilled to see you comment here, I love your blog!

    Anonymous -- I'd say She-Hulk or Wonder Woman should look like body builders, but if you notice they are usually drawn without muscles at all.

    Batiduende -- Sadly, I think if we saw males look like that we'd see comics accused of becoming gay porn because heaven forbid straight women would read them and want eye-candy.

    Spencer -- You've been reading Kalinara's blog again, haven't you?

  16. God, I had forgotten that Darkstal--er, Battle Chasers cover. Besides the many problems with her rubbery anatomy, it's just f*ckin' nasty.

    As for breasts, and the question of good fat, even breasts, as drawn in comics, aren't "good fat." They're not fat at all. The model for many superheroines now is the already-lean girl who dieted herself to a hank of rope, and had her boobs enhanced or replaced entirely with surgery.

    I wouldn't say the fat in breasts is useless or even mostly useless. It protects the milk glands--which is what breasts are, first and foremost, not fecking hood ornaments.

  17. I can see both sides here. On the one hand, you're right: usually in comics, when a man's physique is idealized, he's meant to be powerful; but with a woman, she's meant to be sexy. Men are defined in terms of physical strength, women are defined in terms of physical beauty. Even when the female character in question is generally treated with respect, she's usually portrayed as physically weaker than her male counterparts. And in some cases, it's an absurd convention: e.g., Kryptonian strength comes from the sun, not benchpressing Buicks; so why is Superman this overmuscled dude while Supergirl is this skinny lil' thing? It's rare that a woman gets to be big, strong, and sexy in comics (e.g., Wonder Woman, Power Girl).

    But I can also see what that poster and others are getting at: the hyper-muscled male physiques one sees are no less of an unrealistic ideal than the super-buxom female physiques. The fact that the men are meant to be a more powerful, "positive" stereotype than the women isn't an inherently good thing, any more than the "all Asians are kung fu masters!" stereotype is a good thing, even if it's meant as a "positive" trait.

    [In truth, only about 40%, maybe 50% of us are kung fu masters. But we don't like to brag, `cause, y'know, Asian humility `n all.]

    Besides, it isn't just women who have their self-esteem eroded when they're bombarded with images of grossly unrealistic physiques they are told is the ideal they can never hope to attain.

    Myself, I prefer my comic book characters to be realistically attractive. I like men with normal-sized muscles and women with normal-sized torsos. Sure, the people I find attractive are above average; that's what being attractive means. :-) But it doesn't mean they look like they're pill-poppin' steroid abusers or escapees from a silicone implant testing facility. It means they look like the hot chick you spotted at the gym or the cute guy who works down the hall from you: y'know, people you might actually meet in real life.

  18. "Exaggerated muscle on male characters is a sexualized vanity."

    Anon - so? Sexualized and objectified aren't always the same thing.

    Vanity is mainly about how people see themselves. Objectification, on the other hand, not only assumes that someone else is doing the looking but that the desires of the person doing the looking are of primary importance.

    As others have already pointed out - the difference is not that one gender is being shown in a realistic manner and the other not - it's a matter of why they are being shown unrealistically. In both cases, male and female characters are being drawn for the male gaze. If male characters were truely being objectified (rather than depicted according to gender stereotypes and to appease male vanity) there'd be more of this and less of this.

    Matthew Gray Gubler* can joke about being a fad and an androngynous Muppet all he wants, the truth is that most women I know would easily consider him sexier than an over the top superhero. No one's supposed to talk about it though, or give men like him credit for being sexy, or pretend that anyone other than teenage girls find them sexy. 'Cause "real" men aren't supposed to look like that. Men may find teen girls sexy, but "real" women want the Rock - we aren't supposed to find vulnerability and beauty as sexy as confidence and physical strength.

    There are examples of male objectification out there, but for some reason they are rarely cited by defenders of the status quo - instead they often mention stuff that doesn't really have anything to with women objectifiying men. The female gaze is so overlooked in our culture - compared the male gaze - that many people don't even know how to incorporate "what women want" into a discussion on objectification. Well, not intelligently anyway.

    *I can't figure out how to do a direct link - click on "men" and scroll down till you get to his picture.

  19. Mickle - I wasn't talking about the "female gaze." Maybe you overlooked this.

    As far as I can tell this started off as "objectification", not "sexualization." Cultivating an unhealthy body image isn't always sexual. It seems to me that a lot of men and boys are doing things to alter their appearance including taking dangerous supplements to put on mass and weight training before it's safe (you're not supposed to weight train until 16). I would argue that this is equally as dangerous as encouraging promiscuity or negative body image in girls and often overlooked.

  20. Anonymous -- You're missing a basic point. Objectification --> treating a human being like an object --> inherently intertwined with sexualization, because more often than not women are treated as sex objects.

    Cultivating an unhealthy body image has nothing to do with it, while positioning things and people for the male gaze versus the female gaze has everything to do with it.

    I wasn't debating about the idealized body image in the above conversation, wherein the male is muscular and young, and the female slender yet silicone breasted. Images that encourage a negative self-image based purely on body composition (I don't have enough muscles, I'm too fat) are off to the side of the point.

    Promiscuity is so far off-topic that on a conversation map it's in "Here Thar Be Dragons" territory.

    My problem was with the posing and the positioning of the idealized body images. The man is set up specifically to emphasis his power and masculinity. It is very clear that the artist and the reader are to fantasize themselves into this position. The woman is set up specifically to emphasize her vulnerability and receptivity. The reader/artist is clearly to fantasize themselves possessing this person.

    In the featured fantasy, the women is the object, while the man is the fantasizer's place in the fantasy.

    The prevalence of an unrealistic body standard is a valid subject, but I strongly suggest you bring it up elsewhere and don't forget to note the harm of such images as Artemis and David, as they are highly idealized visions of the male and female form, but do not suffer from the ojectification part of the argument. This way, you won't have to worry about confusing anyone.

  21. I have no problem taking it elsewhere, but I don't think I'm confused at all. I'm speaking from real world experience, not looking at drawings alone. The typical exaggerated male figure in comic books has nothing to do with strength. Just watch a world's strongest man competition; the men are not chiselled at all, none of them have a six-pack, they look big, but not defined. Bodybuilding is different, a vanity, and it does turn the body into an object. You build it after all. That's objectification and it certainly does influence how men see themselves and others see them, so I don't see how it's not a valid point. But anyway, these are my final comments. Thanks for starting an interesting topic, I'm sorry we don't agree.

  22. "Bodybuilding is different, a vanity, and it does turn the body into an object. You build it after all. That's objectification and it certainly does influence how men see themselves and others see them, so I don't see how it's not a valid point."

    A body is an object. The issue is whether that is all the person is and to what extent the person being judged has control over the process. While both involve the loss of power, trying to attain ideals set by non-peers is a very different power dynamic than trying to meet peer approval.

    The Thing, after all is most certainly objectified. He is reduced to his physical appearance by outsiders - it goes beyond people reacting to certain physical attributes. Superman and Batman, however, are not. No matter how big their muscles are, they are never reduced to their bodies alone.

    The Thing - and your body-building examples - are also not sexually objectified, and it's a bit of a non-sequitor to jump from talking about sexual objectification in particular to objectification in general as if they were the same. To respond to complaints about how women in general are portayed in comics with "but, but...Superman's chest/the Thing!" is to miss the point. It's one thing to be judged by your peers based on physical attributes, it's another to be considered a seperate class of citizen/superhero from day one because of them. It's not a matter of who gets the biggest violin, it's a matter of how the problem needs to be approached.

    It's not as if the Thing is objectified by the writers. In fact, his character is very much about the evils of objectification. Can anyone think of a single female superhero whose objectification by bystanders is constantly shown for the ignorance it is, rather than a female superhero who is objectified in order to sell more comics to men?

  23. I agree with Mickle...I find men such as Matthew Gray Gubler much more appealing than someone like the Rock.....big, huge, muscle ridden men who've taken so many steroids their manhood must be inverted are NOT in any way sexy.
    Neither are woman who look like anorexics with super-sized balloons shoved under teir shirts. It's just disturbing.