Superheroes and “The Gaze”
Before posting my Aquaman blog entry, I talked the contents through with my friend, and personal feminism guru, Beth over at The Cult of Perfect Motherhood. After reading, she raised the issue of “the gaze,” something I deliberately glossed over so as to stay on rantack (rant track) with my King of the Sea arguments and because I thought it deserved its own entry rather than appearing as a side note to Momoa-mania.
I promised her, however, myself, and you guys, I’d come back to it. I am doing so now.
Standard disclaimer (that I would someday like to not feel the need to make): Herein lay generalizations. I am doing this thing for the purpose of making a point. I’m probably not talking about you specifically though if you’re that worried about it, perhaps I am.
First: What do I mean by “gaze?” In this case, I define the word as the intention with which on looks upon superheroes of the gender(s) one finds physically, and sexually, attractive. The more common parlance would be “ogling” and the act is often accompanied by a sound I can only transcribe as “ah-ooh-gah.”
Several people have asked me if I gazed upon upon the new Aquaman.
Damn right I did. I gazed upon it hard. Just as, each week, I gaze upon Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), and John Diggle (David Ramsey) and I do so without shame.
I ogle in front of my husband (don’t worry, turn about is fair and he ogles in front of me). I ogled all on my own when I went solo to Guardians of the Galaxy and Chris Pratt first appeared on screen life-sized and shirtless. My jaw dropped. No joke.
What did I do when those of the more female inclined persuasion did the same upon revelation of Gal Godot in the Wonder Woman costume? I got pissed. I blogged about how pissed I was. I had heated chats and IRL conversations about it. I caps locked and raised my voice.
I have protested the typical female armor comic stylings by posting the Female Armor Bingo card because: truth.
I’ve even played.
I post Stejepan Sejic’s (who also happens to write and art one of my current favorite comics, Death Vigil) tongue in cheek explanation of female armor design periodically in the hopes that some of my more recalcitrant pals may start to grasp the level of dumb this shit achieves.
Double standard much?
Yes and no.
Am I rationalizing? Justifying?
Hear me out.
We’re skipping exposition on the costume thing by the way. It’s been done to death.
The comic medium from which all superhero media are spawned was an industry dominated, until very recently, by men. It is still male-heavy though the ladies are making good headway (thank you Gail Simone, G. Willow Wilson, and countless others). One magazine even went so far as to refer to Kelly Sue DeConnick, author of Pretty Deadly, as “Mrs. Matt Fraction.” While they are married, um… what the fuck? I doubt he’s ever been called, “Mr. Deconnick.” Though you will be happy to know he Twitter-slapped the mag right along with Kelly Sue.
The majority of the most widely known characters, at least those created by the big two, are men conceived of by men for an assumed male audience. And yes, I acknowledge the word was a different place in the 1940s than it is now. Let me finish.
Wonder Woman is only a few years younger than Bats and Supes. She was born, however, in very different circumstances. Not to save the world and not as the world’s greatest detective. Yes, she fought Nazis. I know this, you know this. But her primary original function was as a bondage fantasy toy for the Masters of Sex guy.
Yes. I am serious.
And thus we’ve covered issue #1. Truth, justice, and the American way vs. tie me up, tie me down.
Issue #2: the naming schemes. We have Superman. Batman. Aquaman. Ironman. Okay, fine, there’s a Boy Wonder but he is, in fact, a boy and, when he grows up, is permitted to become Nightwing (not Nightboy or Boywing or Wingboy).
The ladies? There is a Wonder Woman. Ok. There’s also a Supergirl. A Batgirl (who does not become Batwoman. Batwoman is someone else entirely). Powergirl. Hawkgirl. Stargirl. When they grow up they stay girls. Very few of them were born before their male counterpart and they are described by their relationship to said mens. Cousins, kid sisters, daughters, daughter stand-ins, clones, etc. And if they dare to be fleshed out, make a play for freedom, one of the POWERS THAT BE get jumpy and bring the axe down.
How does this related to the “gaze?”
Issue #3: Male heroes were created by men for men as aspirational totems. They are subjects. They are the point of their own stories, no matter the actual plot line. They have fully developed personalities, are complete people. They are revered, examples of the sort of person the reader/viewer can and should want to be (which is why no one would ever call John Constantine a hero).
Female heroes, the children of Wonder Woman, bondage queen, however, were and to a great extent still are, objects. They were created to be looked at and played with. They are short on personality and high on other… attributes. They lived out lives chosen for them in relationship to men. They are taught, coddled, bailed out, and protected. Anything that makes one of these women special is eaten and shit out within a couple of issues. Take, for example, DC’s “no marriage” policy, announced immediately after the Batwoman writers had her propose to her girlfriend; I am 99% sure this has absolutely nothing to do with the necessity for heroes to have miserable lives and everything to do with Kate Kane giving men the finger and quashing any last opportunity they might have to fantasize about her.
Male heroes are heroes who happen to be attractive. They are heroes first and handsome second. Their bodies are a factor but they’re not the only factor.
Female heroes are hotties who happen to be heroes. Sure, they can kick ass but as I’ve covered many, many times, they aren’t, for the most part, strong, compete characters. They are, at least in the mainstream comics world, T and A who might have a backstory and an occasional desire provided it’s of interest to the writers and publishers. If they dare stray, they get sent back to the school, the 40s, have their deity rank stripped, or end up being stalked by creepy vampires.
So. Double standard?
A double double standard.
Each powerful enough to cancel one another out?
All heroes, and all people, should receive mutual respect, air time, and development. All heroes should have their own story rather than being the subject of someone else’s, regardless of gender or race or any other descriptive feature.
Heroes are there for us to look up to, no?
Then let’s make them all subjects. Let’s set an example for ourselves worth living up to.
The faster ya’ll get it done, the sooner I’ll stop ranting.
I’m doing my part. Are you?