Why female superheroes look like porn stars.

/Why female superheroes look like porn stars.

Tl;dr, because they were visually based off the pinups of artists like George Petty.

You’ve seen these pictures; they’re the quintessential big-boobs-small-waist pre-Playboy style porno girl. As Jill Lepore points out, they also have names and descriptions very much like modern superheroes:

Petty painted a girl in a pink negligée. “Miss Elusive is afraid of love,” Marston wrote. “A secret fear of men and moments amorous was implanted in her submissive subconscious during childhood or early adolescence, perhaps by inhibiting instruction, or maybe by shocking experience.” Miss Heartsnatcher (for a Valentine’s issue) wears nothing but a see-through babydoll, and clutches a box of chocolates to her chest. Marston: “You’re a fascinating, clever, yet frankly ruthless man-huntress, my heart-enslaving young friend.” A Halloween issue featured “Miss Bewitching,” in a black witch’s hat: “You keep a private prison—the more bewitched prisoners, the merrier amusement for their bewitching captoress.” “Miss Career Girl” wears a red bathing suit: “You’ll go on working after you’re married? Then you are a career girl! You’ve got what it takes—energy, initiative, persistence, poise, and most essential of all, self-reliance” Miss Girl of Tomorrow wore nothing but a cellophane raincoat. “If, my fellow trouser-wearers, you should marry Miss Girl of Tomorrow,” Marston told readers of True, “Accept your Girl of Tomorrow’s frivolity, her inconsequence, and her refusal to freeze ebullient femininity into Victorian repression.” There was Miss She-Wolf, Miss Bashful, Miss Clinging Vine, Miss Pixie, Miss Wrong Number, and Miss Paddy-Whack, who liked to be spanked.

The “Marston” referenced in the quote above, incidentally, is William Moulton Marston. Also known as the creator of Wonder Woman.

Lepore’s point is that depictions of female superheroes are so fucked up because their origins are, essentially, in mid-20th century pro-pornography rhetoric. This is the same stuff that’s been deconstructed and reconstructed multiple times by feminist (and other) thinkers over the last half century, and remains controversial to this day.

For fairness, I should point out G. Willow Wilson responded to Lepore’s article. I have to admit I… don’t find Wilson’s response particularly compelling, since it seems to boil down to a combination of, “Urgh, do you even read comics?” and “No, for is you who is the one who is the sexist!!!!”

Wilson also seems to’ve missed (or intentionally chosen to ignore) the entire point of Lepore’s argument, which is that, a) the aesthetics of female superheroes are rooted in 1940s-style porn,1 and b) female superheroes have a problem with forming identities disassociated from the male heroes they’re distaff versions of, and this in turn has a trickle-down effect on the opinions of people, particularly young people, who read comics. Neither of these are new observations; comics industry fans and insiders have been making them for literally decades. I mean, you can disagree with them if you want, but Wilson doesn’t even deign to do that; instead talks about broken spine poses and… wrestling fetishes? Or something. IDEK.

Wilson also seems to think Lepore is obligated to provide some kind of uplifting “call to action” or moral from her article which, uh. Excuse me? I wasn’t aware that was a prerequisite for reviewing pop culture nowadays.

This, kids, is why creators shouldn’t respond to reviews. Seriously.

For what it’s worth, while I appreciate what Wilson and Marvel are trying to do with A Force, that doesn’t make them magically immune to criticism. I think it’s also, uh, unhealthy for industry insiders to dismiss observations about their genre that come from outside their core fanbase. Doing exactly that, for decades, is what got the comics industry into the stagnant, self-referencing mess it was in until only a few years back. It was only by listening to outsider opinions that comics, Marvel superhero comics in particular, managed to claw their way back from that brink, opening themselves to new demographics. And, ironically, it was that opening that allowed people like Wilson to have the jobs they do in the first place.

So. Yeah. Funny how those things go.

  1. FWIW, Wilson does get the “porn” part, but misses the decade. Which is kinda, yanno. Important. ^
2017-09-28T13:45:49+00:0012th July, 2015|Tags: culture, pop culture|Comments Off on Why female superheroes look like porn stars.