Women Representation in Comic Books
The world of comics has become synonymous with sexism and misogynism. Sexism refers to the representation of prejudice, discrimination or stereotyping against women in the society while misogynism refers to a dislike for women in the society. Although, a general feeling of sexism and misogynism is a social problem in society being solved at all levels, depiction of women in comic books has always been left behind. Mot female superheroes in comic books always have a touch of sexism. The society views men as the stronger sex and therefore their illustration in most comic books would be related with their strength. Moreover, most comic books will have men because superheroism was generally founded on strength. Women have always been associated with beauty. However, production companies opt to exploit sexist characters in women to gain more viewers in the society. In addition, the chauvinist society does not consider women to be strong. Production companies perpetuate sexual stereotypes by representing women superheroes in comic books with high levels of sexism and misogynism.
The number of superhero comics has been on steady increase over the years whether in comics, films and television. In early 2000, Marvel Studios, the leading producer in super hero entertainment started the release of its comic books of its major superheroes. Some prominent examples of their comics include Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, and X-Men. All of the above comic books have male characters playing the leading role. The company has not released any comic book with a leading female character though the number of women super heroes such as Wonder Woman and Cat Woman has been in existence after World War II (Brinkman and Jedinak 234). Women characters have always been included in the comic books but at a supporting role. A good example is the Black Widow in Avengers where Natasha Romanoff, the only female character plays supporting roles (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”). Recently, DC entertainment another powerhouse in comic entertainment launched two new series programs Arrow and The Flash where female characters take a back foot and play the preserved supporting role. When most comic books are written they are based on a two dimensional structure where the super hero has to rescue an individual or save an individual at the end of the day. Most comic books seem have a perception that the female characters are not suited for such roles in the society. The fact that either male or female characters are superheroes should put them in a position to save the world or rescue individuals irrespective of their gender. However, it seems impossible for comic books to show that women characters can indeed save the world exclusively leaving the roles to male superheroes. Less attention is provided to female characters even if they have the required skills. Instead women characters are objectified to issues relating to their sex. Superheroine characters are considered as tropes and in the process their roles are objectified and oversexualized. The above picture shows how women are perceived in society. Instead of their superhuman faction being accepted, sexuality issues take the limelight deviating from the real issue at hand.
The underlying issues in the super hero genre stems from the flawed opinion concerning the capabilities of women in the society. According to Stabile there is a general perception among people in the society that there is a tendency to believe that male superheroes can fly but a woman should not be able to protect themselves (90). This kind of culture is deeply grounded in objectification and eroticism. Most comic books, films and television series depict or highlight the physical appearance of superheroine’s leaving other aspects such as brain and brawn to the lead hero who in most cases are male characters. Most films and comic books create the perception that men are saviors while female characters are victims irrespective of the superheroine’s ability, intelligence or skills. It seems like in the super world women are damsels or prices that need to be won or protected even when they have proven to be strong than some of the lead characters. A good example is in the case of Guardians of the Galaxy where Gamora, one of the strongest female characters has to be rescued by the main hero despite being fiercely independent and extremely skilled. It is rare for comic to show superheroine’s rescuing superheros. Elizabeth Behm Morawitz and Hillary Pennell carried out a study on the effects of oversexualized heroines and victimized superheroines in female audiences. The use of female characters in such light elicited negative response with the female audience stating being discouraged if they were supposed to play the same roles as the female super heroines. When heroines are depicted in the wrong light women are the first to be affected (Morawitz and Pennel 215). The only problem is that the comic books could not be written without incorporating women characters since they make a huge part of the plot of the film or comic book.
In case women superheroines are present in certain movies their character is greatly weakened to ensure that their role remains faint as possible. Once their characters become weakened they can be quickly play the back role and even disappear without many questions being asked. A good example is how the role of the Black Woman is slowly transformed from Iron Man 2 and Avengers: Age of Ulton (“Avengers: Age of Ultron”). In the first incidence, a relationship is created with the “Red Room” where experiments were being conducted on human beings. Black Woman’s past is used to weaken the role of women in the play. At the same time male characters are readily accepted whether they change their roles or not. Additionally, the Black woman Widow is portrayed as barren. This is another way the role of women in films is limited. When women characters are limited as shown above, their roles and representation slowly diminishes. In other cases, the heroine nature of women is questioned even by the other characters. In most cases they are said to be weaker compared to their male counterparts. A good example is the distinction between the Cat Woman and Batman and Superman and Superwoman. In these two cases, villains question whether the female characters have the same might as compared to the male characters. In fact in most incidences they are first thrashed by villains something that rarely occurs in male superhero comics and films.
The appearance of women super heroes has been another grave issue showing high levels of sexism. Women characters are always illustrated in skimpy outfits to being out their sexual attributes. This draws away the super hero nature present in women. A good example is the Black Widow’s appearance. The official costume of the Black Widow is made up of skin tight body suits with a revealing V- neck zipper. While most superheros are normally fully dressed in costumes that enhance their mobility and stability Black Widow is resigned to fighting on with heels and leather. The makeup of Black Widows hair does not seem to align to the fact that comic books and films involve fighting. While the male characters are sweaty, bloodied, beaten and soiled, the costume of the Black Widow remains the same in the process (Davis 28). In other words, female superheroines are never dressed for any form of war or physical engagement. More emphasis is towards showing off their issues relating to sexuality. The same can be said about Wonder Woman and Cat Woman. In case female superheroines are trapped or caught by villains during any physical engagement, their form of punishment always seem to be different compared to that of other villains. Male superheros receive the worst forms of punishments when they are under villain’s hand. On the other hand less can be said about the female superheroines though they have the same abilities as their male counterparts. A good example is when Black Woman is captured and tied to a chair. Such illustrations are aimed in bringing forth most of the stereotype tendencies in that seek to protect the weak female physique in the process disqualifying women from having the super status that comes with being a superhero in any movie.
Most companies in the entertainment industry especially those involved in comics have less representation of heroine characters which directly translates to less representation of heroin merchandise in the market. Comic books and films not only attract the old population but also the young generation and more specifically children. In their formative years, children would want to identify with a super hero who they have enough information about. Male children will want to identify with male superheroes while female children would want to identify with female characters (Stewart). However, the genera; trend in the society has seen an increase in the number of male superheroes and less superheroines meaning that female children have been forced to align their interests with male superheros. This has even translated to the production of different children merchandise where in most cases, it is only the male super hero merchandise that is made available from production companies. Mark Ruffalo who plays Hulk in the Avengers has come out to ask companies to produce more female related merchandise especially for young children. This is after Black Widow exclusively misses from production of most toys rolled out showing the illustration of the avengers. When asked why they do not produce female heroine merchandise, Marvels and DC entertainment stated that most young girls do not purchase merchandise that relates to super heroine activities. They instead claim that young girls purchase princesses. This is the general behavior and nature of companies present in the traditional entertainment industries (Stewart). They prefer making more money out of sales by exclusively targeting one audience. This suggests that heroines are not very important compared to the heroes that constantly feature in most of their films. This idea generally discourages women participation in this genre. It continuously allows superheroism activities to be exclusively related to one gender in the society.
Most company authors in super hero and comic books have a tendency of sexualizing female characters, over exaggerating the female body, and setting themes backed by certain forms of audiences. The portrayal of women in comic books continuously perpetuates women as basically submissive objects of desire who are ineffectual creatures. Their virtues are only linked to their bodies. Although comic books are always intended for satirical and entertainment purposes they retain a high place in the society and are sometimes the important talking points in issues affecting the society. The only problem currently faced by the society is their tendency towards sexual stereotypes. Most comic books attempt to correct social injustices. However, it does this by marginalization and exclusion of women in society in most instances women are unable to stand as separate entities (Davis 28). Even the most powerful female super heroines of today have to be defined by their relationship with certain male characters. Without them they completely become useless. For example, in Golden Age, Mary Marvel has to be introduced as the sister to Captain Marvel while Namora has to be introduced as the cousin to Sub Mariner (Stewart). The latest television series Super girl begins by showing the relationship between superman and super girl. In fact in the first appearance Superman was tasked to care for super girl though the two had the same capabilities and powers. The link between strength and dependence of the female characters to the male characters has to be established before any comic book or film is produced. In essence this shows that the society is dependent on the male characters or highly associates male superheros with being super heroes. It also shows that the only way a female super heroine will be accepted is when they have been directly associated with any of the male superheroes around. Otherwise their roles and recognition among different audiences may remain elusive as possible. The saddening fact is that all scripts are being produced in the same manner. A relationship has to be established between male and female characters before the female role in comic books is shown.
Marvel and DC comics continue to have under representation of female characters in most of their displays. Although women characters tend to be less in number, there characters are over sexualized to attract away attention from their super hero nature. Instead their roles are sometimes adjusted to suit sexual roles. In some cases their costumes are changed to be fit within this form of roles. A good example is when changes were made to the Harley Quinn’s costume by DC, reducing the role Harley played to that of sexual fantasy. Initially, Quinn was dressed in a head to toe costume that perfectly fitted the gymnastics background before being relegated to the role of a naughty nurse where Quinn was required to wear hot pants. All this was done knowing quite well that Quinn was the only female member of the Suicide Squad. The same case applied to Wonder Woman where an attempt was made to adjust the apparel made. However, it was cancelled due to lack of favor from the supposed fan base. These are examples of cases where women characters are underrepresented and at the same time issues relating to their sexuality are exploited for them to be part and parcel of most productions. In some cases, their roles become over sexualized with examples being the characters of Emma Frost, Electra and the She-Hulk. Emma Frost appears as a character that is lecherous as evidenced in the dressing code or attire. Emma’s sexual appeal is considered one of the greatest strength. The scintillating appearance distracts most audience from the true role that Emma is supposed to play. Likewise, Electra follows the same route. Electra’s appearance is signified with flowing hair, magnified chest and an impossibly curved body. The She- Hulk has not been left behind. She- Hulk chest, leg and derriere have been amplified to bring out the most prominent seducing features though her skin is of a different color (Stewart). Thus, women have again been illustrated as being objects of eroticism due to their irresistible and reducing nature. Their strength or power has been given a back foot and other factors have taken the fore front. Some of these women are supposed to act as role models in the society the same way that young boy’s belief in the powers of male super heroes. However, they have been forced to play the sexism role once again. It is hard to imagine powerful super heroines such as She- Hulk and Wonder Woman being depicted as objects of desire though they have time and again showed their prowess in fighting for oppressed women in society. Dependence and sexual desirability are twin themes that show the stereotypic nature of the society and more specifically of people involved in the production process of most comic books and films.
Production companies involved in the producing comic books and films has for the large part dent the image of most female super heroine. Despite the industry being in existent for close for several decades, women characters have been greatly discriminated through the use of sexism and misogynism. Their roles in most of the comic books have been retained in the supporting casts even in incidences where they have time and again proven their prowess in certain matters. In most cases, their representation as the main casts has been quite low and in most cases, their roles have been greatly altered by bringing out more issues that deal with their femininity rather than their skills and capabilities. Additionally, before any women characters plays he most important role they have to be linked to another male super hero. Otherwise their roles may remain irrelevant. The two main underlying issues relating to the strength of women as well as their prowess has generally been linked to the dependence of male characters. In the process women characters roles in most comics and films has become irrelevant since their prowess is greatly limited. Misogynism and sexism has advanced to a point where female characters merchandise are not produced. All of this has happened due to the stereotypic nature of the society and the dominance of the male characters in the entertainment industry as well as in societies.
Avengers: Age of Ultron. Dir. Joss Whedon. Marvel Studios, 2015. Film. Behm
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Stabile, Carol A. ““Sweetheart, This Ain’t Gender Studies”: Sexism and Superheroes.”Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies 6.1 (2009): 86-92. MCSearch. Web. 24 Sept. 2015.
Stewart, Sara. “Marvel and Its Sexist Superhero Movies Hit a New Low.” . New York Post . N.p., 7 May 2016. Web.
Davis, Rebecca. “Fighting like a girl: Gendered language in superhero comics.” Griffith Working Papers in Pragmatics and Intercultural Communication 6 (2013): 28.
Brinkman, Britney G., and Allison Jedinak. “Exploration of a Feminist Icon: Wonder Woman’s Influence on US Media.” Sex Roles 70.9-10 (2014): 434.