Friday, September 23, 2011

Sex, Superheroines, and the New DC Universe...

So, another writer linked this on facebook the other day.

Empowerments. Yes.
That's what we'll call them.
The article kind of goes on a while with the author airing a laundry list of complaints (some valid, a couple irrelevant) about the portrayal of sexy women in comics. I find myself in agreement about the poor artwork in the Batman/Catwoman coupling, but, the line I found most interesting had far more to do with Starfire:

"This is not about these women wanting things; it's about men wanting to see them do things, and that takes something that really should be empowering -- the idea that women can own their sexuality -- and transforms it into yet another male fantasy."

I think she's got a pretty valid point (leaving aside that hunting for sexually empowered female characters in the forest of male-dominated comics might not be the best idea). What she doesn't do is give us an idea of what kind of writing would portray these characters as the empowered paragons she'd like them to be. 

Food For Thought

Be honest.
Did you first notice the sword?
Or the cleavage?
It got me to wondering if I was doing my female characters justice, especially the sexually aggressive ones. I've got a couple in my DEMON books, after all. Heck, there's one on the cover. I had female test readers, after all, but I still wonder if I did it correctly.

With the new Starfire, I think there's a significant difference between sexual aggressiveness and sexual empowerment that the comic writers aren't really conveying. The blogger may be reading more into the aggressiveness than is really there. After all, the new RED HOOD is still on Issue 1. We really don't know much about the new Starfire. We only know what the old Starfire thought of love and sex (that love should be free and sex sometimes free). The new Starfire gets asked " there anything I need to know about making love to a Tamarranean?" Her response: "Just that love has nothing to do with it." 

There are a LOT of ways the writers could take that, because there are a LOT of women who might say exactly the same thing. Maybe she's into conquests. Or maybe she gets her self-esteem from physical relationships. Or maybe her alien culture really is that different. (To truly contrast that last one, they could even use a male of her species on Earth trying the same direct approach. Could even be some entertaining dialog between them about how she finds Earth a very loving place, and the male Does Not.) Will the writers show that much skill? ... Yeah, I doubt it, too.

Still, it really got me to thinking. How should I write my empowered women? What gives them a spark of realism?

"Love is a four letter word."
Truly superior rolemodels.
I know that writing all my female characters as admirable paragons of womanhood isn't always desirable. That seems to be what the blogger is wanting from her superheroines. She mentions that "...part of what got me into comics back in the day was being a 12-year-old girl who looked at strong, beautiful characters like Rogue and Jean Grey and Storm and wanted to be like them in large part because they were so sexy and confident and had exciting romances..."

My criticism here is that she might be getting a bit of rose-tint in her vision from viewing these characters from memories of age 12. Not all characters are strong. Good characters shouldn't always be a positive role model. People can be weak, dumb, and foolish. Proper characterization should reflect that. A 12 year old may not have the emotional maturity to comprehend how some of those 'exciting romances' weren't really all that empowering for the females involved.

Mind Over Emotion?

All this said, my quest here is to keep my primarily male desires out of my ladies' minds. What's the key? It's true that 'Ya wanna?' is a predominately male attitude towards sex. That's part of why a woman asking this of a man so directly is quite the turn on for us. It follows that a male-targeted story would feature that kind of woman. To truly do the character justice, do we need to know WHY she's this way? Does the existence of motivation alone differentiate between sexually empowered women and the voluptuous male parodies of womanhood in my mind?

At what point does the sexually aggressive superheroine become a valid character?

THAT, dear friends, is the puzzler, because I love this kind of cake. I want to have it and... well, you know the rest.