Superheroines: Sex, Pies, and Leather Tights.
Have you noticed that within the realm of comics, superheroes have been made out to be stronger, smarter, braver and more heroic than superheroines?
This may beg the question, “Why?”
Its beginnings can be traced back to as early as 1938. As you well know, this is when arguably the world’s first superhero, Superman, made his appearance.
Superman was the epitome of the male hero. He was all of the characteristics I listed off above and more. He was looked to by the citizen’s of Metropolis to protect them all the while saving his damsel in distress, Lois Lane from those who would harm her.
Yes, Lois Lane may very well be the first recognizable female in comics. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that she was the definition of the what the female character of the time was, often appearing as weak, semi-intelligent, and timid.
The world would have to wait a couple of years before it would get a good look at the first superheroine in comics. Of course, this character was Wonder Woman.
In his book, “Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948”, author Noah Berlatsky explores the dynamic between Wonder Woman and her relatively sexual origins.
William Moulton Marston (the creator of Wonder Woman), claims that “she is a warrior of peace and an emblem of dominance through submission.” It is undeniable that if you have read or even looked through an early Wonder Woman comic, you will see that there are obvious references to bondage as well as many other sexual acts.
I know that this may make Marston, who by the way had two wives, sound like a typical man of the era, however, you should know that not only did he believe that women were equal, he thought that they were superior.
Eventually, Marston would get his wish and Wonder Woman would join the ranks of “The Justice League of America”, proving that she was capable of “hanging with the boys.”
1960’s = New Era
While not the first superheroine in comics, Jean Grey/Marvel Girl/Phoenix/Dark Phoenix made her first appearance in 1963 as a part of the X-Men. She was one of the original 5 members of the team (not including Professor Xavier) and the only female on it.
Long considered the weakest link of the team, Jean has, over the last 53 years, transformed herself into one of its strongest members.
Initially, Jean found herself playing the typical female role on the team. She became the voice of reason and a motherly figure to the other members of the X-Men.
In stereotypical fashion, her initial encounter with the other members would echo that of a group of male construction workers whistling at a woman walking by. They would be caught saying things such as:
- She is a “most attractive young lady”
- A “real living doll”
- Or my favorite, “A redhead! Look at that face…and the rest of her.”
Professor Xavier would even go as far as to confess his love for her.
There are even instances of Jean Grey being presented as the team’s homemaker. She can occasionally be caught prepping dinner in the kitchen while the other members of the team await its arrival around the table.
In training sessions, while the men could be found in combat, Jean would be tasked with threading yarn through a needle as a part of her training.
Thankfully, all would not be lost for Jean. In the 1970’s, Jean Grey would manifest into the much more formidable Phoenix and eventually into the Dark Phoenix.
1970’s = Sexy
Pre-1970’s Black Widow (Natasha Romanov) wore a costume that would most likely be found at a Cocktail Party and not on a superheroine. After 1970, this all changed. It was at this time that she would be given her trademark tight, a black leather costume that showed off each of her many curves.
With one foul swoop, she became instant eye candy to a generation of boys. This new look became a fanboy’s delight, keeping many young men up at night, in the washroom, away from the prying ears of their parents.
Was she incapable of fighting evildoers dressed any other way?
No, she could’ve fought crime dressed in her pajamas, but that would not have sold any books.
Comic books in the 1970’s were a male-dominated industry. Men did not tune in each week to see their favorite superheroines dressed in their pajamas, Sunday dresses or hoodies. No, they wanted sex and lots of it.
Sadly, this only encouraged young women to believe that to get ahead in life, women must use sex appeal. Of course, you and I know that this couldn’t be further from the truth, but to the uneducated gaze of children, this became all they would know.
1980’s = New Characters
Suddenly, fans were inundated with female characters, all of course, sexy.
When Chris Claremont started penning comic books, this would start to change.
Claremont, whose name will be forever intertwined with strong female characters, began writing females for what they could be and not what the past dictated them to be. He introduced the notion that superheroines could have identical characteristics to the men. They could be strong, smart, brave and just as heroic.
Women went from stereotypically feminine roles to taking on more fulfilling roles, often even capable of carrying a series.
1990’s = Insanity
Harley Quinn was written to be a very intelligent person (similar to the She-Hulk, who fought battles in the courtroom as well as the streets) who actually made her debut not in a comic book, but on a cartoon television series.
It wouldn’t be until she paired up with The Joker that fans would finally get what they had been clamoring for: a smart, dangerous, female character.
She wound up being the poster child for what a female character could be.
Perhaps, Harley is the screaming voice that lay inside the heads of all the females of years past yearning to get out.
Since then, we have seen Hollywood jump on the bandwagon and create comic based movies. Unfortunately, as of this writing, there have been no movies dedicated solely to superheroines. Hopefully, sooner than it took them to become credible in the comics, they will make their way to the silver screen.