October 11, 2013
Over the last year or so, folks all over the internet have produced a lot of commentary about women heroes, costumes, depictions of women heroes, the unrealistic contorted poses we see women strike on various urban fantasy novel covers, and so on. Author Jim C. Hines famously demonstrated how ridiculous those poses are, when it isn’t sexy women making them. Kevin Bolk made this wonderful picture of what it would look like if all the male Avengers held that ass-out pose that is de rigueur for women supers. This week, folks have been pointing me to this set of artwork redesigning various women heroes in more sane outfits and body types. Here’s another set of redesigns, in a slideshow. Let’s just go ahead and look at Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor while we’re at it.
I’d like to try to sum up in a nutshell why all these discussions, while visually instructive and astonishing, miss the underlying issue.
Mass media — comics, movies, etc. — don’t design women heroes to look like heroes. They design them to look like pinups. These creators/artists/designers aren’t looking at real-world kick-women like Mia Hamm or the Williams sisters or Cecily Fay (link goes to YouTube clip). They’re looking at Bettie Page. They’re looking at issues of Playboy and a whole catalog of pinup art for some kind of model on how to depict women. It’s not that these designers think these unrealistic depictions and costumes are somehow realistic and reasonable. It’s that they don’t care. Reasonable heroism is not in their specs.
The whole issue came to a head for me a couple of years ago when that awful, awful new Wonder Woman TV costume design went public. I talked about it. This is why we can’t have nice things, ya’ll.
Until that changes, until designers take women heroes, women on book covers, and women in heroic art in general, and design them to look strong and capable and heroic rather than making them look strictly sexy, in the narrowest possible definition of sexy, we’re going to keep having this problem, and we’re going to have to keep talking about it. Until we convince both the creator and consumer sides to reject the aesthetic we’ve all been trained to think of as normal for the last generation or so, we’re going to have to keep talking about this.