The Weekly Geek: The women in DC’s “New 52” comics

Sometimes, it’s hard to be a girl in the nerdy world. That goes doubly so for queer women, of course, and that’s something that ties directly into a truly wonderful post from Comics Alliance this week.

Writer Laura Hudson penned one of the best, most comprehensive take downs of the “sexy girls in comics are totally feminist and ‘OK’ because they are liberated” arguments of all time. In her post, she claims first that she has no problem with scantily clad females in principle, but what distresses her is just how pervasive and toxic certain attitudes towards female characters is in the genre, especially in two of DC’s latest “New 52” series reboots.

From the post:

Since there are a lot of people who don’t understand the sexual dynamics that are in play here both creatively and culturally, I’d like to dissect this a little bit and explain why these scenes don’t support sexually liberated women; they undermine them, and why after nearly 20 years of reading superhero books, these may finally have been the comics that broke me.

I would like to say first and in the strongest possible terms that I absolutely support the right of women to embrace and act upon their sexual desires in whatever way seems right to them, within consensual boundaries. My sense of justice is inflamed by the double standard that tells us that every person a man sleeps with makes them more of a stud, and every person a woman sleeps with makes them a little less valuable and less respectable. I know this in particular because unlike all the guys who sent me angry messages last night defending the sexual honor of an imaginary character, that double standard is something l have had to live with and be judged by for my entire adult life.

And that is why books like Catwoman and Red Hood make me so goddamn angry.

In her analysis, she makes copious use of screens showing our leading ladies basically posing like particularly well-endowed Barbie dolls, even when no one else is physically around them. This isn’t liberation, this is pandering to the comic equivalent of the male gaze, and Hudson is most definitely not happy about it.

Of course, being a queer female reader complicates the issue even further. There’s always been an uncomfortable line between enjoying depictions of strong, sexy women that were probably “meant” for men to enjoy, and feeling angry/sad/any complicated mix of emotions about the treatment of male vs. female characters in these terms. It spans all entertainment, of course, but it’s particularly relevant in nerd culture, which still caters very heavily towards a (presumably heterosexual) male audience.

Sci-fi, fantasy and superhero fiction has always been rife with scantily clad women, some of whom are genuinely empowered (Xena, anyone? Or any of the military women from last week’s column), and some of whom are pretty – and powerless – characters with no real autonomy. Even Catwoman, who is a true, died-in-the-wool badass, comes across as unrealistically “wet-dream” like, as MTV’s Geek News review of the new book states. If only Catwoman had hooked up with Batwoman instead of Batman.

Back to Hudson:

When I read these comics and I see the way the female characters are presented, I don’t see heroes I would want to be. I don’t see people I would want to hang out with or look up to. I don’t feel like the comics are talking to me; I feel like they’re talking about me, the way both Jason Todd and Roy Harper talk about Starfire like two dudes high fiving over a mutual conquests.

So what is the answer, geeks? Is it more women writing and drawing comics? Perhaps more vocal female fans would do the trick? Whatever the answer, kudos to Hudson for a phenomenal post.

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