Comics, Pop Culture

It’s about time we say no to the over sexualization of women in graphic novels

If women from graphic novels could speak for themselves, they'd probably use their powers to protest how they're drawn.

Before all the movies started coming out, female superheroes existed in graphic novels. A lot more of them than they bother to make films about (though that could be a different discussion for a different article). And when these heroines were just drawings, artists seemed to have the license to make them as impractical and unrealistic as possible.

Apparently, the fact that they were out there in usually dangerous scenarios is clearly not a good enough reason for them to dress accordingly.

Image description: Graphic novel covers from left to right, Red Sonja, Purgatori, Vampirella, Lady Death
[Image description: Graphic novel covers from left to right, Red Sonja, Purgatori, Vampirella, Lady Death by artists Babs Tarr, Tim Seeley, Joe Jusko and Mike Krome] via Previewsworld
But who can argue about the merits of self-preservation over appealing to the male gaze?

I love female superheroes. I even like the sex-appeal of their costumes. If they were going to a sexy Halloween party. But honestly speaking, there is absolutely no reason to fight crime or put yourself in dangerous situations and think to yourself “a skin-tight latex costume is my best option here”.

image description: three images of Black Canary in latex costumes
[Image description: three images of Black Canary in latex costumes] via Wikimedia Commons
Now I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t feel safe going to the park with that little on me.

And let’s not forget, that with the exception of ‘mutant’ women like the She Hulk, it looks very much like the only muscle these women have in their body is either in their ass or their breasts. And a whole lot of it.

The reason for this could be that comic books initially considered straight boys and men to be their primary audience. But these women are main characters who save the world, they’re not the Mary Jane and Lois Lane category of women who are there for the main characters to have some kind of damsel in distress or pretty face to care about. And mind you, those love interest women were not over-sexualized.

So why do these women, who are out there kicking ass and fighting crime and being protagonists and antagonists and heroes and villains, need to be sexualized? Is it because they wouldn’t be taken seriously otherwise? Or is it because women can’t keep the attention of a male audience unless they’re sexually appealing?

Maybe that explains why these women never have their hair up and why, even after all the tackling and tumbling, you never see a hair out of place. Because that just wouldn’t be pretty.

I understand why once comic books needed to appeal to a male readership, I also understand that comic books are both about the story and the artwork and need to be visually appealing to be the complete attractive package.

But in this day and age, this industry shouldn’t get away with old excuses and cheap tricks to sell comics. Times have changed and so have readers. It’s the industry’s turn to catch up.

And as a sidebar, it might be time for the male audience to grow up. Instead of making dumb comments about the women from Mortal Kombat losing their sex appeal and the new Tomb Raider being a disappointment because Lara Croft isn’t curvy enough anymore.

This is no longer the time when graphic novels only cater to one type of audience. There are now readers from all over the world, of all genders, sexualities and age groups who this industry attracts. So I want them to try representation and diversity and discover that these characters will still be loved and celebrated.

I want to see women of color, of different sizes, women with flaws, and with varying hair and body types. And clothes. I want to see women in armor. The right kind of protection for the very dangerous situations they find themselves in.

After writing my entire master’s thesis on women in graphic novels and doing some research and writing an entire manuscript of a graphic novel with a female lead who was always fully dressed, I want to see the same change in this industry. Show me their strength of character and less of their skin.

Because I love female superheroes, however underrepresented they may be in our media. Their writers do not shy away from creating strong characters. These women are tough, soft, gentle, strong, mean, kind, lonely, fragile, ruthless and vengeful and just as formidable as allies, opponents, fighters and leaders as their male counterparts.

It’s about time we start seeing them as just as human.

[image description: a group of female superheroes] via planet
[image description: a group of female superheroes] via planet