What’s with all the Nipples? Female Sexualization in Comics

When I was, oh maybe three or four, I was introduced to my first super heroine. (I was still enamored of Super Grover, don’t get me wrong.) She-Ra was a bad ass that matched the things her brother, He-Man could do. She had a sword that transformed her from Adora, to her alter self, She-Ra. She had a witch that worked with her (who, by the way was stereotypically witchy: Long nose, eccentric, the hat- everything) She-Ra’s sword was amazing in that it could transform itself at her will to any item she needed at the time. Sometimes a shield, sometimes grappling hook- whatever she needed. She-Ra was also wicked strong. She moved giant boulders, carried people and so much more. She was a role model in a time when Barbie was considered ideal, with her kitchens and heels and dressed.

Here’s the thing about She-Ra, though. The target audience was young people. Poor She-Ra, badass extraordinaire, had to strut around in a skirt that barely covered her ass, and a halter top, in addition to some boots with giant heels. Granted, she rocked that, but why should she have had to? Also, her costume was mostly white, which I get is a nod to her purity, but she doesn’t stay in She-Ra form all the time and she got into situations that should have left it nasty. And yet, her hair was always immaculate, as was her costume. Most of these questions occurred to me much later in life. And I know, I know, the magic of comics and television.

***

I grew up a bit and was introduced to Archie Comics. To begin with, I have to say that Archie’s two love interests, Betty and Veronica, were curvy and often seen in bikinis and tight tops and jeans, or mini-skirts. They are perpetual teens, that have changed fashions with the passing decades. As a pre-teen and a teenager, they were role models that I read about over and over and I got a new issue every time that they came out. But they were typical High Schoolers and yet so very far from it. I went to public school and a small fraction of the populace looked anywhere close to the girls in the comics. I knew I never would achieve that, but at the same time I really would have liked to. Again, they were the ideal seventeen year olds, but only to someone that never had to actually be around real seventeen year olds. Part of being a teenager is learning that the standards set by the media are in no way realistic, but it is a difficult battle to fight and it is a daily struggle for so many. With the target readers a group that is typically insecure and many of which have issues with their own bodies, even venturing into body dysmorphic disorder, it is an unfair precedent to fight against.

Now, from the same Comic Empire, comes the woman that is infatuated with Jughead. Her name is Big Ethel. She is taller than most of the Riverdale High students, earning her the nickname. She is plain, gangly, and often the object of Jughead’s ridicule and rebuffs. He comments on how annoying she is and though she is constantly trying to win his affection, he is indifferent. To be fair, Jughead is in love with food in all forms, but still. The one not drop dead gorgeous girl fights and fights for the interest of the guy she wants and Archie has the choice between curvaliscious girls that fight over him. Sigh.

***

In order to really dig in and make sure that I was remembering the right things about the right heroines, I did a quick search on female super heroes. I regret it. I saw images of She Hulk (which, let’s be honest is a stupid name for a character who is bad ass in her own right, but the name implies that she is nothing more than a counterpart to the Hulk, and therefore not really even worthy of her own original naming. But I digress) in a freaking leotard that is practically cut to her belly button and is cut way up to her hips. It reminded me of a male wrestler’s costume and they don’t have to worry about their boobs popping out.

Then there was Elektra, who was a fascinating character with real depth. She had OCD, big time, and yet she still wore slinky skintight clothes while she was chasing bad guys. But the thing is that in these comic universes, none of the guys even notice that the costumes show almost all of the women’s bodies. I attribute that to the fact that they are all so used to seeing women bouncing around practically naked. In real life, when women dress like the heroines, they attract gawkers because…well…BA-BAM. Comicon? Girl skin all over.

Super Girl, in the Television show, has a spandex unitard/ footy pajamas reminiscent of her predecessor, Superman, but her boobs are squished in and pumped up so high, the damn things are practically chin rests. Her breasts would be just as effective tucked tight into her suit and out of sight as much as skintight material will allow. They don’t do anything to aid her in her pursuit of evil. It isn’t like she is a Fem-Bot with laser shooting titties. Unless I missed that episode.

Black Widow is another completely competent, ass kicking, no shit taking woman. And the costume she wears in the movies has coverage and purpose. She can do amazing things, but she uses her body to do them, so it makes sense that her clothing fits her so closely. Loose clothing would be a disadvantage. But she has a zipper that goes all the way up in the movies, and yet it is strategically left open just enough to show her cleavage crack. Again, unnecessary.

***

The picture I have included for this piece is a comic heroine from an obscure comic that a friend introduced me to about fifteen years ago or so. I was a bit eager to read them partially because I am pagan (identified at the time as a witch,) And my middle name is Dawn. Also the protagonist is a redhead. I love the storylines about Dawn: Queen of the Witches, but she literally walks around in leotards that crawl up her butt and she has permanently erect nipples, no matter what she wears. She clearly runs free from bras. That last part, though, I totally understand. The perma-nips have no purpose other than ogling. She is such a highly sexualized character and most of the pictures of her, even in the process of developing her as a character, are pinup style and sexual poses. I literally had to, in my head, separate her outfits from the storyline in my head. That being said, I have dressed up as her on Halloween several times. From the neck up. No way would I wear those outfits in public, even if I didn’t live in sometimes-snows-on-Halloween Maine. I like her makeup and her hair, which, though totally superficial, intrigue me because of the weeping left eye.

***

Final Fantasy games are another example. In FFX, Rikku is a race called Al-Bhed. They go diving for wreckage from the world that existed in previous times. Again, she has a full body suit that works for the character, logically. Though it is tight, that is a benefit when one is prowling through water filled metal debris, where other, looser clothing might get caught on something and be a liability. Once again, however, she has a lot of boobage and her zipper is conveniently low enough to show it off.

Final Fantasy X was a great game, despite my small amounts of anger over the depictions of the female characters. I understand that the native society of the game designers differs from ours and that may explain, though not forgive, the issues I had. Final Fantasy X-2, however, made my blood pressure rise. The main characters are female. Super bonus, right? And they are the same characters that I knew from Final Fantasy X. Yay, again! Then I started playing. In order to increase your abilities, you have a dresssphere. Translation: You have to change your clothes to change your powers. Unlike in other final fantasy games, where you level up your own skills by earning the power up and it just happens to the character itself. Other than armor, and weapons which can also level up. No, the increase in FFX-2 of abilities revolves all around the clothes the women wear, not the women themselves. That is the stupidest thing I can think of.

Women in real life deserve more credit than to be evaluated on the clothes they wear. By extension, the heroines that we should be able to relate to for who they are and what they themselves can do. We need heroines that show depth of character rather than depth of cleavage cracks. We need relatable, talented, realistic people that can overcome obstacles and not have their boobs clear those obstacles three whole seconds before she does. And little girls deserve all that too.


April Hawks lives with her husband and three of four sons. She spends far too much time on Pinterest, gets really weird ideas for stories from her crazy dreams, her kids, her husband, and strange synapses firing in her brain. She writes speculative fiction in both novel and short story form. She lives in Maine in a teeny, cozy town.

Amazon page April Hawks
Blog : https://aprilhawks.com/

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They call him DOOM

Here’s the thing: I recently had a discussion with a friend of mine who was commenting on my Doctor Doom T-Shirt (favorably, of course) and we got to talking, as geeks do, about which villain in the comics is the best. He suggested the Joker.

Okay. He MIGHT be right. I mean, come on, the JOKER! He’s amazing! He is the only guy who faces off against the Batman without even blinking. He freaking killed Robin and in one version of DC’s future he even killed Lois Lane just to piss off Superman. We’re talking a guy with testicular fortitude on an epic scale! I’m exceedingly fond of the Joker. I could write articles about the man.

Instead, however, I’m here to talk about Doctor Doom. He may or may not be cooler than the Joker, but for my money he is, hands down, the greatest villain in the Marvel Universe.

Say what you will about Marvel Comics (I’ve been known to have a complaint or two myself, but honestly, I love them) but if there’s one thing they really know how to do, it’s allowing the characters to evolve.

Let’s take Victor von Doom as an example. When he first showed up in the pages of the Fantastic Four, he was just a dude in gray armor who was holding a mysterious grudge against Mr. Fantastic. Boy, howdy, did that ever change.

Let’s take a quick summary. Once upon a time Doom and Reed Richards, also known as Mister Fantastic, went to the same college and were rivals after a fashion. In the standard as told by Richards, they were equals, but Richards found a flaw in the schematics and equations that Doom was working on and tried to warn him. Doom failed to listen and was hideously scarred in the resulting explosion.

Expelled for performing unauthorized experiments, Doom left and sought other sorts of knowledge.

That’s Reed Richard’s version of events. According to Doom, Richards made alterations to his equations in a fit of jealousy at Doom’s sheer genius and those alterations led to the devastating explosion and resulting expulsion from school. I leave it up to you to decide who told the truth.

Doom went on to seek mystical knowledge. He already knew a good deal because, well, his mom was a witch and she had some serious mojo going on.

Okay, from humble beginnings, right? Victor von Doom was born to Cynthia and Werner von Doom, both of whom were gypsies. Cynthia dabbled maybe more than she should have, and wound up possessed by a demon. That demon didn’t really possess her so much as send her on a rampage against the Baron of Latveria, whose soldiers tended to do whatever they wanted to do when it came to the gypsies. That meant stealing from them, beating on them and doing what despots have done to women for far too long.

One of the soldiers got lucky and managed to kill Cynthia.

Not too much later, Werner suffered the consequences of not successfully tending to the baron’s child. That left Doom an orphan who was taken in by his gypsy brethren.

It also left him about as solidly vengeful as Bruce Wayne. Wayne became Batman and declared an unending war on the criminals of Gotham City (Sorry, wrong universe, but you get the idea.)

Doom took a different path.

What was his motivation? First, revenge on the Baron. Eventually he got that and from that vengeance he maneuvered his way into being the king of Latveria. That was just part of his trek, of course. Because there’s lots of revenge to be had out there.

See, the thing is, Doom was a bit of a momma’s boy. He took it personally that his mother’s soul was ragged down to Hell when she died. A gigantic portion of his motivation was to get her back from Hell. Eventually he succeeded, but that’s not the purpose of this particular essay.

What is the point? Evolution of character.

Seriously, few characters have changed as much over the years as Doctor Doom. But as much as he’s changed, he remains mostly the same: a powerful arrogant and impressive force to be reckoned with. Listen, mostly he’s survived stuff that would have killed anyone else and he’s done it by sheer force of will combined with a mastery of technological skills that rivals Reed Richards and Tony Stark alike. That would be Mister Fantastic and Iron Man respectively, folks. He’s gone toe to toe with both of them on numerous occasions, by the way, and currently, he’s outlived both of them, but it’s comic books, so you never really know.

Doom mastered science to the point that little Latveria is one of the wealthiest countries around based solely on his patents. He mastered magic well enough that he’s also been known to go a few rounds with Doctor Stephen Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme. Seriously, the man gets around. He’s basically fought every hero and every villain you can think of in the Marvel Universe and some of them on multiple occasions. In one storyline DOOM 2099, he even traveled to the future and pretty much fixed all the stuff that was going wrong. Maybe not a superhero at that point, but certainly a repairman with an attitude and the power to back it up.

Doom tends to fixate on Reed Richards a lot. Many of his schemes over the years have involved A) Killing Reed Richards (No success) b) Wooing Susan Richards, wife of reed (A surprising amount of success considering the horrible disfigurement) and putting an end to the Fantastic Four. Well now, the comic book has gone the way of the dodo bird, and while a few characters are still around, I’m gonna have to put that in the “win” category for the good Doctor.

In his time Doom has been a villain, a monarch, a dictator, a conqueror, a mad scientist, an evil overlord, a master sorcerer and, oh yeah, a god. That’s right. Once upon a time (actually more than once) Doom actually beat ALL the good guys and a lot of the bad guys, too. He became Emperor Doom and reshaped the universe in his image.

Here’s the thing. Doom is a megalomaniac. He doesn’t think he should be in charge, he KNOWS it. Currently, by the way, he has also added superhero to his resume. In the comic book THE INFAMOUS IRON MAN Victor von Doom is working toward redemption for his many past sins. There are a lot of them. He’s killed a lot of people and he’s tortured, beaten and vivisectionalized whomever he felt it was necessary to take care of. He’s even taken on Loki and a few other gods and that was before he became a god himself. Don’t worry too much. He’s still a megalomaniac and an arrogant bastard. Some things do not change easily.

Now he’s doing redemption. I don’t think it’ll last, but, hey, you never know, Currently his face is unscarred and he got his mom back from Hell. Might be he’s just relaxing for a while. Only two issues in and I’m enjoying the ride.

Want to know what else he did? He got imitated. According to George Lucas, Doctor Doom was a very heavy influence in the creation of a bad guy named Darth Vader. Imitation is the finest form of flattery. Seriously, horribly scarred wears battle armor, controls magic (or the Force, call it what you will) and is feared by all who come across him. Vader has Storm Troopers. Doom has Doom Bots and mechanical imitators who take care of business for him while he’s locked away in his castle and brooding, and experimenting, and considering what else he plans to do with the world that has offended him on so many levels.

And they say megalomaniacs never have any fun.


JAMES A. MOORE is the author of over forty novels, including the critically acclaimed Fireworks, Under The Overtree, Blood Red, Blood Harvest, the Serenity Falls trilogy (featuring his recurring anti-hero, Jonathan Crowley) Cherry Hill, Alien: Sea of Sorrows and the Seven Forges series of novels. He has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and spent three years as an officer in the Horror Writers Association, first as Secretary and later as Vice President.

Never one to stay in one genre for too long, James has recently written epic fantasy novels in the series SEVEN FORGES (Seven Forges, the Blasted Lands, City of Wonders and The Silent Army). He is working on a new series called The Tides Of War. The first book in the series The Last Sacrifice, is due out in January. Pending novels also include A Hell Within (a Griffin & Price Novel) co-written with Charles R. Rutledge and an apocalyptic Sci-Fi novel tentatively called Spores. Why be normal?

Being a confirmed Luddite, he is working up the nerve to plunge completely into the electronic publications age.

https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B008MP0DT8

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Adventures in Babysitting, But More Mutants

A long time ago, in a neighborhood not-to-far away…

I was riding my bike and a new family was moving into the neighborhood. By habit and training from my mom—the top Avon Lady in the Pioneer Valley being one of her many jobs—I welcomed them to the neighborhood and chatted them up to see if anyone would be interested in Avon, Tupperware, getting morning or afternoon paper delivery, had any pets they needed watching, or—with my shiny new certificate back home on my desk—babysitting.

“You babysit?” the gentleman, who I’ll call Mr. D, asked after politely nodding through my list of potential goods and services my family could hook him up with.

“I do,” I said proudly, and then faltered a little when he asked about age and experience. I hadn’t actually babysat before…but I was certified for first aid and CPR for children!

A few months later, I got the call. My first babysitting job!

To this day, I still look back on those kids fondly and with a lot of love. When I started, though, I was in over my head.

Way, way, way over my head.

Anyone who knows kids knows that if you’re supposed to be “in charge,” you really need to earn their respect. And if you’re only a few years older than they are, they really need good reason to listen to you. And if they’re particularly smart and creative, then, well, you better damn well give them good reason to listen to you.

These kids were wicked smart and creative.

I felt like a failure for the next few weeks… Fortunately, no one died (Though there was a sliced open arm from racing through the breezeway and falling through a glass door. Yay first aid?) I don’t know why Mr. D didn’t fire me. I was getting really scared of this job—and kids know when you’re scared.

About this time in the history of childhood and entertainment, the X-Men cartoon was part of Saturday Morning Cartoon rotation—an important part of my life, as well as the lives of my charges.

They were debating about the relationship between Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine.

“Well, in the comics…” I began.

“What comics?” They asked.

“You don’t know the comics?!”

***

We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. To save money, my mom dragged us out, every possible weekend, to go to “Tag Sales.” (Yard sales, for those of you not from Western Mass.) I learned to love tag saling, because there was always at least one good sale with boxes and boxes of books. My mom was thrilled because she could buy me hours of entertainment at such cheap prices.

On one of my tag sale treasures was a giant box of comics. X-Men comics, primarily. I’d found it a couple of years prior to my first babysitting adventure.

I must confess to hypocrisy…

When I saw them, I was like, “There are X-Men comics?!” because all I knew about X-Men was the cartoon, and all I knew about comics were the Sunday paper “funnies.” It was a whole new world of literature for me, and it did change my world.

***

When my school year was over, Mr. D asked me if I’d be interested in working out a summer schedule between the kids’ camp and family visits. The kids cheered when I said “Yes.”

You see, we had become a team saving the world at this point. The world needed our new generation of mutants to fight of other newer, dangerous mutants.

I was the leader and mentor for these adventures; I’d earned that spot.

I was also the lead director when we had to put together and act out scenes we’d written for our feature movie we were totally going to make with our next generation of mutants. (This was waaaaay before superhero movies got popular.) And I was the art and writing director of the new sets of comics we were writing that we were absolutely sure Stan Lee would somehow discover and pay us great money for. (We never actually shared them with anyone but Mr. D., but it totally could have happened!)

We consulted my growing collection of comics to create our own “next generation” of X-Men—a combination of biological and adopted children from of existing characters with our own powers. We didn’t want to mess with the comics as they were; we wanted our own mostly-original mutants with our own adventures.

“Literally” in our storylines (which lasted through another school year and another summer—until they moved away), we were “The Children of the X-Men.” And, in a real life sense, that was true too. We were all gifted students who didn’t quite fit in at our schools with “normal” people; so were these super-awesome heroes! Our gifts came in our ability to tell stories, to draw, to act, to direct, to design costumes (yes, we did, indeed, design costumes for ourselves). If it wasn’t for having the X-Men in our lives, we wouldn’t have developed the relationship we had. We developed confidence, the ability to work as a team, and we all ended up honing our own talents and learning a lot together.

Basically, comic books saved my babysitting job. More than that, they made me a better babysitter—and a better person, because I learned a lot from trying to be the X-Men leader of my two charges.

I still have the comics. Some were too tattered to take out of their boxes bags to photograph, but just looking at them brought me back and reminded me of the lessons they taught. They’re always there to remind me of the importance of creativity, teamwork, good leadership—and how to never give up hope when it comes to saving the world or saving one person in need.

May comics continue to inspire people to do the impossible, to do better. Excelsior!


Trisha J. Wooldridge writes grown-up horror short stories and weird poetry for anthologies and magazines—some even winning awards! Under her business, A Novel Friend (www.anovelfriend.com), she’s edited over fifty novels; written over a hundred articles on food, drink, entertainment, horses, music, and writing for over a dozen different publications; designed and written three online college classes; copyedited the MMORPG Dungeons & Dragons Stormreach; edited two geeky anthologies; and has become the events coordinator for Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester. Because she is masochistic when it comes to time management, she created the child-friendly persona of T.J. Wooldridge and has written three scary children’s novels, too. Most recently, she is proud to be part of the New England Horror Writers’ anthology Wicked Witches and has released the novella “Tea with Mr. Fuzzypants.”

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Zombie Survival Beginner Pack Raffle

My car has a bag in the back filled with items I might need if the apocalypse ever begins. It’s only appropriate that you have some items to get started on yours. Survival cord, first aid kit, and glow sticks will help you survive while you practice sharpshooting on splatter targets and studying up on zombies in Max Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide. The contest is International and runs from January 26th 12:00AM to February 10th at 7:00PM. I’ll announce the winner via the blog and Facebook so keep checking back!

Included in the giveaway:

  • Birchwood Casey Darkotic 12X18 Primal Cut Splatter Target (8 Pack)
  • 6 Inch Cyalume SnapLight Green Glow Sticks
  • Red Cross All Purpose First Aid Kit
  • Emergency Paracord Bracelet (with fire starter & compass)
  • The Zombie Survival Guide

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Marvel’s Jessica Jones – Not a Hero Because of Powers

Marvel’s Jessica Jones dares to tackle hard issues while remaining a thoroughly entertaining and action-packed superhero show.

I’ve often said that fiction gives us a safe place to deal with difficult issues. The fact that the characters are not real, and in this case have special powers, may make the issues raised in Jessica Jones more easy to view and discuss.

1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition (NAMI), 1 in 6 women will experience stalking, and 1 in 5 women will be raped at some point in their lives (National Sexual Violence Resource Center).

Despite these statistics, men and women dealing with rape, stalking, and mental illness remain dismissed, trivialized, stigmatized, and misunderstood. Discussing rape, stalking, and mental illness helps friends and family understand the complexities, challenges, and reality of these issues. This is why it’s important for writers to include these topics in their fiction, opening up discussion that can enable awareness, empathy, and understanding.

Marvel’s Jessica Jones explores:

  • Death, Loss, and Grieving
  • Parental Abuse
  • Partner Abuse
  • Stalking
  • Gaslighting
  • Rape
  • Drug and Alcohol Addiction
  • Torture
  • PTSD

In the past, I was led to believe that a superhero was “super” because of his or her strength (of body and will), moral compass, and physical attractiveness. Aside from superior physical strength, Jessica Jones has none of these traits.

Jessica Jones is a rude, selfish, slovenly, mess of a human being. She drinks, vandalizes, and stoops to the same stalking behavior as her abuser. She makes terrible life choices. She is broken and hurting. She is real. And, in the end, she struggles to do the right thing.

To me, Jessica Jones is hope. Not the fantasy of rainbows and pixie dust, but the embodiment of something good rising from the ashes of abuse, violence, and heartache.

Want more about Jessica Jones? Check out my DragonCon Panel Discussion.


E.J. Stevens is the bestselling, award-winning author of the IVY GRANGER, PSYCHIC DETECTIVE urban fantasy series, the SPIRIT GUIDE young adult series, the HUNTERS’ GUILD urban fantasy series, and the upcoming WHITECHAPEL PARANORMAL SOCIETY Victorian Gothic horror series. She is known for filling pages with quirky characters, bloodsucking vampires, psychotic faeries, and snarky, kick-butt heroines. Her novels are available worldwide in multiple languages.

BTS Red Carpet Award winner for Best Novel, SYAE finalist for Best Paranormal Series, Best Novella, and Best Horror, winner of the PRG Reviewer’s Choice Award for Best Paranormal Fantasy Novel, Best Young Adult Paranormal Series, Best Urban Fantasy Novel, and finalist for Best Young Adult Paranormal Novel and Best Urban Fantasy Series.

In addition to 15 speculative fiction books, E.J. has written two how-to guides on self-publishing and book marketing. She also owns the award-winning blog, From the Shadows.

When E.J. isn’t at her writing desk, she enjoys dancing along seaside cliffs, singing in graveyards, and sleeping in faerie circles. E.J. currently resides in a magical forest on the coast of Maine where she finds daily inspiration for her writing.

Join the E.J. Stevens newsletter and learn about news, events, and ghosts. Monthly news updates, tour photos, and exclusive reader perks (FREE reads & giveaways!). Learn more about E.J. at www.EJStevensAuthor.com.

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