Women have been reduced to sexual objects, or mere objects, in media narratives in order to stress male characters journeys. Marvel has been trying to smash stereotypes of women in comics during the recents years, that’s why Spider-Woman #1 variant cover might come with a big surprise, specially knowing that female comic book readers are increasing in astonishing numbers.
Re-known Milo Manara, erotic artist, has created a variant cover for Marvel that puts everyone on fire: it stresses the old “cliché” of the woman-object trying to allure men and ignoring the presence of women all altogether. However, Milo’s depiction of Spider-Woman even fails to do so because of being “anatomically inconsistent.” Not only his Spider-Woman is showing up a huge “open-to-the-whole-city” female butt and stressing out that women are mere objects, it also fails to depict women in the correct way altogether.
We need to remember that Milo Manara is famous for his erotic art. Thus, asking Milo to depict a woman on a cover assures to have a certain degree of erotic allure on it. We can see that Spider-Woman is clearly naked: the suit has been painted on her skin. Her butt and pose are less-than decorous, and her anatomy stresses too much the central piece: her butt. However, anatomy inconsistencies make her odd even for erotic standards.
Women have been used in comics as objects in the male-centered narrative. In 1999 comics writer Gail Simone posted a list online called “Women in Refrigerators,” in which she numbered female lead and supporting characters that had doomed fates in mainstream superhero comics. Female were reduced to objects that would explain male figures, or help the narrative for the superhero to follow a heroic male path. However, the formula that worked in the early times of comics is ceasing to create the same effects because audience tastes and pop culture are changing. Despite the change, old stereotypes are hard to kill. We just need to take a look to this variant cover to realize that, even Marvel, the leader advocate for a change in female roles in comics, makes huge mistakes by showing up outdated stereotypes.
Women have been 150,000% more sexualized than men in comic books, according to Comic Book Resources. This extreme sexualization of women has turned out to be the normal rule during years. So much so, that when we reverse role genders, sexualized comic-book covers come almost as a joke. We are simply not used to see these type of covers, thus our brain does not compute the information in the same way. While a sexualized female superhero might seem “normal,” a sexualized male superhero is taken as a “joke,” a “rarity.”
Sexualization per se is not negative nor positive. How we use that sexualization in our culture, and who is the object of that sexualization might have negative cultural results, like creation of stereotypes, disempowerment of a gender, etc. Instead of exploiting the female-object stereotype to unbelievable extremes, what we should do is to normalize how women are presented in media narratives and create new ways for both genders.
The fact that women are “über-sexualized” tells a lot about what type of inequalities still persist in our society. The prevailing female-object stereotype not only affects women, but also men who are mistakenly convinced by media narratives that their identities are achieved only through a type of unrealistic journeys in which possession of female-objects is just a part of that journey. What defines them is the number of strength, females or properties they possess. What happens when they’ve been deprived of all? What media narratives should stress is not differences by which one gender is prevalent on the other, but ways of interacting and participation creating teams, equals and people who base their identities in personal achievement and intelligence instead of possessions.
Sexualization will prevail, but its degree and how it is presented for everyone needs to change. The formula that worked during generations needs to be revised in favor of a new one empowering both genders in an equal way. Transforming Spider-Man in Spider-Woman won’t make it if Spider-Woman is just presented as a sexual object to entertain a few or to contempt some others. How she behaves in the comics, and the message she will send to both genders is key for her to be more than just an unfortunate example of an outdated stereotype in media narratives.
- “Spider-Woman variant butt.” The Mary Sue.
- “Anatomically impossible.” Gizmodo.
- “Milo Manara’s variant cover draws criticism.” Comic book Resources.
- “New Spider-Woman cover condemned for ‘blatlant sexualization’.” The Guardian.
- “Milo Manara risponde alle critiche sulla copertina di Spider-Woman.” Fumetto Logica.
- “Controversial Covers re-drawn.” The mary Sue.
- “What if Male superheroes had they own sexy variant cover?” Comic Book Resources.
- “Women in Refrigerators.” Gail Simone.