Miriam’s post on Storm dressing hot and acting like a man generated some interesting comments. In particular, Nick said:
“in soap, and in soapy superhero comics – especially the shallowly written and safe ones, which is most of them – I don’t tend to see much real difference in the way one or another character is written, along gender, race or any other lines.
At most, you’ll see a distinction between character archetypes – the idealist, the cynic, the brawler etc – before you’ll see one along a gender line. Certainly, to follow Miriam’s example, there were points where Storm could have been male, or Cyclops female, and you’d never really know it. Solo books would tend toward male protagonists, but that seemed incidental to me – Peter Parker didn’t seem particularly masculine in his behaviour, and the women in his life seemed to pretty much run rings around him.”
It’s an interesting point, but I think it is based on a too rigid sense of how the male/female divide can work. It’s possible to be gendered male and be wimpy like Peter Parker, for example; in fact, Parker’s nerdishness is all about having women mob him despite/because of his nebbishness; it would all look very different if Parker were a woman. Similarly, the whole Jean Gray corruption story is intensely sexualized (through fetish clothing, but also thorugh power dynamics and through the idea that corruption equals sexualiztion) in a way which couldn’t have happened with a male character. Kitty Pryde’s naif pose is also very female; Storm’s particular kind of caring/non-violent persona is also very female. Wolverine would be a lot different if he were a woman (he’d be overtly sexualized, for one thing.) So would Cyclops, whose blankly boring uptightness is only made feasible by his maleness (maleness being the default setting for super-heroes.) To justify being a woman, he’d have to be more interesting.
It’s also worth pointing out that American culture finds women who act like men really appealing. The fact that Storm behaves like a guy in some ways (kicking ass, being one of the boys) while parading around almost in the altogether is part of the appeal. I mean, yes, there’s also a fetish associated with deferential women…but overall, pop culture in the U.S. is a lot more sexually into butch than femme.
The point here I guess is that gender presuppositions and stereotypes are a lot harder to get away from than just saying, “Hey, look, we’re all superheroes here!” Miriam writes that:
“I think the worst lesson I learned from growing up on Marvel comics is not that women are sex objects, but that women can dress in lingerie and not be sexualized by those around them. “
And it’s true to some extent; Storm isn’t a sexual object to the other X-Men, in that she’s not groped or talked down to. But she *is* a sexualized object for the male reader…and, I suspect, at least in some ways for the female reader as well. (There’s a similar dynamic in covers for women’s magazines, I think. Sexualized female bodies are used to attract both men and women.)
I guess the point here is that you don’t get away from gender, or sexism, just by letting women fight the bad-guys and lead the team and kick ass. And, indeed, I don’t know that getting away from sexism is even exactly the point. The problem with super-hero comics and gender isn’t that they’re sexist — I mean, most things are sexist. The problem is that they’re dumb; you get the same gender stereotypes repeated over and over without a whole lot of thought or insight. (Hey! Mary Marvel is corrupt and sexualized now, I hear!) Sexist is one thing; boring is another.