Being an avid comic book reader for a long time, I’ve seen the objectification of women at its worst. Comics are notorious for depicting women with almost hilariously disproportionate bodies. It’s something I’ve begrudgingly accepted because of three reasons: one, it’s far too big an industry for me to attempt to change. Two, it’s sadly become a staple. And three, the target audience is primarily either young males or males of my age (30s) or older who find these depictions thing appealing.
Equally sad is that the same objectification and lack of equality for women in comics is evident in a similar form of entertainment: video games. That’s what I’d like to talk about today.
In the last few years, there’s been a push for gender equality in video games. Long has there been a frat-boy sentiment towards females (don’t even get me started on homosexuality and transexuality). Women are not equals in the game industry, as it’s greatly considered a “guy’s domain.” In fact, many comments you’ll see regarding women in comics mirrors that of video games.
Recently, the big stirrup has been about an upcoming game called Dragon’s Crown. Specifically, regarding this:
I mean, dear God, did the artist not even see what a woman looks like? Gameplay footage depicts said giant mammories flopping around the place like a fish out of water having a seizure. And yet the male characters in the game have huge frames and giant, bulging muscles. Now admittedly, the game also features another female, and Amazon:
But most of her paintings are also overly sexual, to say nothing of the amount of clothing she’s wearing.
The problem, however, isn’t the lack of clothing or just their depictions. No, the problem is the audience that these images pander to: young boys. The argument against the objectification of women, however, have stated that men are just as objectified. Except, they’re not. Have a look at this video from Jim Sterling of The Escapist’s Jimquisition:
Sterling brings up the point of objectification of men and argues that it’s not objectification. Those muscular men aren’t an “object, a goal, a thing for the main character to go after.” They’re not “things we want to own.” They’re IDEALS. They’re idealized. It’s the same thing with muscular, powerful men in superhero comics. The men aren’t there to be fantasized about, but to be fantasized AS. The players or readers want to BE those men. By making that hero the main character, it allows the player or the reader to put themselves in the story as if they were that muscular, powerful character themselves. It’s an empowerment rather than an objectification.
There’s little empowering about the way that most women are depicted in video games. Are there exceptions to the rule? Absolutely. But they’re far and few between. Even in comics, the vast majority of starring roles go to white males (yeah, race is another problem). Even when a character is given a less sexualized makeover, it’s undone shortly thereafter. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Catwoman, in the same outfit, as depicted by Darwyn Cooke (who designed her current costume) and a depiction of her from Batman; Arkham City:
Personally, I love the outfit that Darwyn Cooke designed. It’s sleek, but practical, especially for a acrobatic character. It could be said that it’s another skin-tight outfit, but in this case, it works. It works within the context of the character, who is a known acrobatic tumbler. Loose-fitting clothing would not work in this example. Also, the character has never been better written than in Ed Brubaker’s run on the title. If you’d like to read the best of it, there are two volumes found here and here. It’s one of the best noir-style superhero comics I’ve ever read. Catwoman/Selina Kyle is a strong, but caring woman who looks out for her friends while living in the worst side of Gotham and having to deal with all sorts of the worst kinds of people Gotham has to offer.
And yet, ever since her debut in that outfit, most artists draw her with the zipper pulled down. Why? Is she relaxing at home after a long day of crime-fighting or cat burglary? No. There is absolutely no practical reason aside from getting off someone’s jollies to show her with the zipper yanked down, sometimes all the way to her naval, depending on the artist. I’ve even seen both Cooke and the original series writer, Ed Brubaker, comment on it, constantly remarking that the zipper should be up.
Sure, men can be sexualized, but the sexualization and objectification of women has run far too rampant that it’s become the accepted norm rather than the exception. Even something nonsensical like a zipper pulled down doesn’t bat an eyelash from the average person. It’s easy to say that men are just as sexualized, but it’s not even remotely in the same manner. They’re the idealized gods that men want to be while the women are objects that men want.