The ever-present “they” have often said the clothes make the man, but could it be said that society has made the woman through the clothes?
Take a look at these pictures.
What do you see?
While I am no opponent of the loveliness that is the female form, I have to say that few things induce more of what the kids these days are calling the face palm than some writers’ and artists’ expectations of me to accept what they are passing off as tactical gear. Let me ask you a simple question, guys and gals. If you were going into combat, would you be wearing something that showed off so much of that delicate organ we call our skin?
With all this at the forefront of the arguments concerning sexism in the movie and comic industries (among others), we have Babs Tarr and Cameron Stewart coming in and making perhaps one of the most bold statements in recent memory. (http://io9.com/batgirls-new-
I present to you the new Batgirl.
Amazed? I know I sure as hell was. Comics have always been full of strong, sexy women. Wonder Woman, Black Widow, She Hulk, and others have all graced the covers of their fair share of stories, beckoning to their readers. But let’s be honest, there has always been a clear difference between the way male and female characters have been depicted.
You can make the argument all day long that sex sells and you’re just giving the audience what they want, but quite frankly that’s nothing more than a sad excuse at this point. First of all, it’s insulting to female readers in more ways than one. Beyond the concept of the unrealistic expectations of women (I mean seriously, have any of these artists ever seen what real breasts actually look like?), there is the ever-present issue of the double standard.
No, shut up, boys. We’re talking about this.
Logically speaking, and in the interest of fairness, why are the male characters not depicted in such skimpy, oh-dear-look-at-my-abdominals poses and costumes? Are comic executives convinced female readers would not be interested? I can tell you my wife would be the first to buy the limited edition of Thor featuring his trip to the Bahamas. No, I’m not jealous. Why do you ask?
So, why is this not a regular thing now? Many will say it is because there are not enough female readers (bullshit). Others will say it will turn off male readers (offensive to LGBT readers, and also bullshit). And while these may be true from a marketing standpoint, the real reason is socially deeper and practically shallow. Why the hell would you leave your skin exposed when you’re fighting supervillains?
Batman is the self-sculpted adonis of the male form. So why is he not showing off his rippling abs? Because bullets hurt. Superman is immune to bullets, and pretty much everything else. What need has he for pants? Well, because he doesn’t have the ego of Doctor Manhattan for one, and also it would just be asinine.
The point is, if you’re expecting a fight, wouldn’t you dress for one regardless of gender? Take Starfire as an example. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of the Teen Titans (go Team Raven), but seriously, Star, what the bloody hell are you wearing? Looking beyond the fact that she is dressing that way while being characterized as a teenager (which is a whole different, and much more creepy, topic), her costume protects her from nothing more than a gentle breeze. Hell, even getting so much as knocked to the ground would cause some serious road rash, and that’s not a pain you want in the back of your mind while you’re fighting multiple bad guys.
How about Wonder Woman? She wears armor. Well, kind of. Her torso is semi-protected, but her legs are dangerously exposed. I know she’s essentially a god, and probably immune to mere human weapons as guns and tanks and such, but she spends some of her time fighting other gods. That puts her back on equal playing field, again asking the question of why you wouldn’t wear something designed to protect yourself. And don’t even start on her boob armor. That’s already been debunked. (http://www.tor.com/blogs/
What about Black Widow, you ask? Her costume is more tactical. Leather would protect you from the aforementioned road rash, and while it is more practical than what some of her counterparts are wearing, look at the way she is posed on every poster ever.
Full disclosure, I have worked with many women in combat and peacekeeping roles. And never once have I seen them standing like that.
I am not saying there is never a time and a place for sexy heroines. Hell, I’ve always been a fan of pinup style art, especially those depicting some of my favorite characters. But the artists drawing these recognize [for the most part], that these particular poses and outfits at the depicted place and time are what I would call “after hours” shots. She Hulk just had a long day kicking asses in the court room and out of it, and she needs to unwind. Hey, more power to her. Wonder Woman needs a day at the beach after saving the planet again. You deserve it, girl.
All I am saying is when you try to pass of such overtly sexual clothing and poses as realistic, tactical, and combat-effective, you’re an idiot, you’re insulting your audience, and you’re subconsciously implanting the idea that woman can’t fight just as well, if not better, along the boys.
So, now we have Batgirl’s new costume, and several key features come to mind. First of all, no cleavage, midrift, or leg showing. This has pretty much been consistent with Batgirl, so it gets a pass. What else do we see? Lot’s of pockets and places to hold gear and weapons. Come on, people. Batarangs don’t just magically fly out of her ass. Ever see a soldier’s or police officer’s uniform? Pockets everywhere. Hidden pockets, double pockets, zippered pockets, button pockets. Belts loaded with tools and weapons. Vests strapped with extra ammo, first aid kits, tourniquets, flashlights, and more. Batgirl actually looks equipped to fight crime in Gotham.
Oh, and look! A snap-off cape!
As our eyes glance down, we realize one other key feature. Mother of all things geek, she’s not wearing heels! She appears to be wearing some sort of athletic boots or very hightop, rugged sneakers. Perfect for kicking both doors and asses down, and a hell of a lot better for running, jumping, and climbing. I can’t speak from personal experience, but my friends tell me heels are neither comfortable nor useful beyond contouring the shape of their posterior.
Our eyes follow back up to take another gander at her, admiring her costume for its tactical, realistic simplicity, we make one final observation. To some, this may be the most shocking. To me, and to many others, it’s obvious.
Batgirl is still cute as hell.
You mean to tell me that someone went out of their way to design something that could actually help you survive intense combat with one of the largest galleries of villainous rogues, rather than simply leave behind a beautiful corpse, and yet, it still has sex appeal? Well, yes. And she has already inspired other artists. Check out these pieces of fan art featuring Batgirl’s new costume. (http://io9.com/there-is-
What does this mean for the future? I hope it’s not an exception, but rather the first line in a new rule about comics, film, video games, and media in general. Today, it’s a realistic costume, tomorrow maybe we can actually give more female characters an arc, a third dimension, and a purpose beyond eye candy and hero motivation. Maybe we can get more characters like Alana from SAGA and fewer like Power Girl. But that does not mean we have to sacrifice sex appeal.
Women are human. They have the same strengths, flaws, and spirit as the men. It is alright to find a woman sexually appealing no matter what she is wearing, how she is posed, or how she looks. However, we should not accept those who would insult the real women in our life and their intelligence. We give armor to the real heores. Is it so hard to give it to the ones in our imaginations too? I have said before, and I will say it many more times. The answer will always lie in the middle ground.
We should want SWAT in the streets, and a pinup in the sheets.