Sunday, June 18, 2006

You don't actually think women are obsessed with clothes, do you?

A few weeks ago, on Feministe, I saw the following comment:
They actually did a run of Wonder Woman in the seventies that involved both changing her powers (they made her more of a karate chick than a superhero… that was lame) and changed her costume to an Emma Peel style jumpsuit. There was OUTRAGE! It was incredibly short lived.

According to wiki, some of the loudest voices calling for WW to be changed back came from feminist groups. Make of that what you will.
The context of the discussion was Wonder Woman's costume, but the truth of the matter is that Gloria Steinem didn't want DC's foremost female superhero to be depowered. (Source: Wizard Magazine #177) The bathing suit wasn't the central issue (Edit: It just got her attention, Thanks Marionette). Now, this irked me, and confused me, but I let it pass as I wasn't entirely certain of the facts until I read an article. It was a silly assumption on the Feministe Poster's part (or else she'd have never brought it up while the conversation was centered on her costume), and I should have seen the difference immediately. The context clues had thrown me and I laughed to myself now that it made sense.

Still, I have to wonder, why is it when there's complaints about the weak portrayal of female characters in superhero comics is it conversation always assumed to be the costumes and not the serious sexism/misogyny in the plot and characterization?


  1. I think because it's a surface issue. Surface issues are easier to focus on, and easier for those who want the issue to go away to focus on. It's easier to see sexism as individual acts rather than a cultural paragdim, I think.

  2. Actually Steinem did want the bathing suit back too. But it was hardly short lived. That period was 5 years long. It's not like all the cosmetic costume changes that have been done so often (Spider-Man's black costume, Superman's blue period, etc.)

    This was one of the first subjects i ever blogged about. :>

  3. What Tekanji said. Visual cues are always the first ones picked up on, both consciously and subconsciously. Not for nothing does the saying exist that a picture is worth a thousand words. It's fairly unusual for online comics fandom to be filled with so many people who concentrate more on the writing aspect of comics (plotting, characterization, etc.) than the art aspect; with comics fandom in general the reverse is the norm.

  4. The non-powered Diana Prince era was among my favorite Wonder Woman stories. I liked that Diana could still kick butt, with her "faithful companions," without her powers than with them. Sure, the DCU needed its share of superpowered women, but having a strong female without powers who was a headliner (as opposed to Batgirl) was a real kick for me to read in my early 20s. There was something very Modesty Blaise about her then, tho I didn't make the connection back then when I was first getting heavily into reading Modesty's strips.

    In some ways, I was disapointed when she got her powers back. The book always seemed a bit directionless to me, with so many versions of Diana, but when she was powerless, there was a clarity to her that I hadn't seen in her stories previously. She had to really explore herself as many of us growing up into independent womanhood had to do at the time. And that's why the homage to that Diana at the end of the recent WW issue really resonated with me.

  5. I'd guess there's something in accessibility too; if you want to discuss the sexism in a storyline, you need an audience that's familiar with it, has read it, and while that might be easy on comics boards (even then, there are so many comics out there it's not 100% certain someone else read it), it's much simpler to show a casual fan a picture of Red Sonja and her 'knife' or Supergirl and ask WTF, mate?

  6. I'll second that last comment. I've had some questions about my post on Inertia because people either thought I was being inappropriately sarcastic about rape or because they just didn't understand that nearly every heroine or villainess has rape in her history, even if it has to be retconned in.

    It would be much easier to say, "Hey, look at how huge this characters boobs are!" and leave it at that.

  7. I keep hoping this run gets collected, because I'd like to try to give it a fair analysis.

    BTW, there were other issues with the revamp, mostly due to the Amazons going away and Diana going under the mentorship of a man (losing the support of women to answer to a man). I remember an article where Samuel Delaney (who, apparently, wrote a few of the last issues) sniped that DC wanted to do a feminist Wonder Woman but never gave any thought to hiring a feminist to write that title.

    Which kinda makes the whole thing sound like a bad idea.

    Still, I'd like to find out my reaction to this run.

  8. Funny I wrote about this very subject for my column this week in discussing where the line lays in exploitation involving costuming and character concept.

    To use one example: Is Red Sonja's chainmail bikini exploitive?

    In general, I say that no it isn't. Sonja herself has explained the logic of it and as a Howardian scholar I can vouch that the land Sonja lives in is not cold enough that such an outfit would cause her to freeze to death. The logic of the world allows such an outfit to work.

    When she is illustrated by the likes of Frank Cho or Al Rio and her chainmail loincloth magically becomes a chainmail thong, THEN it is exploitive. But it has nothing to do with the fact that Sonja is a very indepenently minded woman who takes crap from nobody; man, woman, beast or god. The character itself wouldn't be exploitive unless someone were to do a story where Sonja is incompetent and relies on the likes of Conan to save her on a regular basis.