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Powerful, sexy superheroes are not sexist and here's why


Photographer Jarloslav Wieczorkiewicz has put together the most amazing calender photo shoot of female models, recreated as famous comic superheroes... using nothing but clever photography and paint.

I argued with myself as to whether or not to publish this article and after much internal debate, decided I would.  Here's why I paused and also why I put it up...

The comics / graphic novel industry is under constant heavy fire for the way it portrays women. Conservative feminists spend a lot of time being pretty pissed at the way they feel women are portrayed as sex objects. If you don't spend much time in this kind of debate, understand that feminism is very big and there are opposing views within the broader umbrella of feminism. A lipstick or stiletto feminist and a conservative feminist would be on opposite sides of what actually constitutes a sex object and what constitutes the negative portrayal of women through sexuality. That being said, conservatives are arguably the loudest voice for feminism in the western world.

I personally identify as Equality Agnostic which means I support the goals and objectives of Feminism and the Men's Rights Movement, without agreeing with all of the underpinning ideology of either (if that's a new concept to you check out my other blog  In short, I think gender equality outcomes are more important than warring as to which gender has it worse, or who is to blame for that - but let's get back to the topic at hand.

I blink rapidly in wonder when conservatives argue that the portrayal of female superheroes as sexual is inappropriate and sexist and here's why:

  • Men experience gender advantage when it comes to physicality
  • Women experience gender advantage when it comes to sexuality

It doesn't mean either is better than the other, or that they are not equal - they each just have a gender advantage in one specific area, thanks to biology and evolution.

It is wrong to reduce anyone, regardless of gender, to one aspect of their being.  However, it is not odd to promote female superheroes as sexy, if it's not odd to promote male superheroes as walking blocks of muscle - each is just a caricature or their own gender advantage.

If you understand that, you'll be of the belief that either both genders are portrayed badly, or neither are, and I personally am of the latter opinion.  Sexuality is influence, influence is power, and both genders are portrayed as using their powerbase to be powerful in their own ways.

If you're a serious feminist you'll likely be familiar with the argument that the greatest challenge for feminism is that it has long fought for gender equality from within a patriarchal construct. Why is that an issue?

Because it leads to the logical fallacy that for women to be equal, or to be treated as equals, women need to be like men.

The argument that the only way for women to be equal in superhero literature is for them to not be sexual, is just an extension of that logical fallacy.  Sexuality is our society's most powerful form of influence, there's a reason that sex is used to sell almost everything.

Comics promote female sexuality, as positive and powerful. If you think it as wrong to promote sexuality as positive, your issue isn't with gender equality, it's with promotion of sexuality as power... aaaand that's a whole other debate.

Why am I having this conversation? I have attached a gallery below of some of the aforementioned photographer's work.

The women in this are being promoted as both beautiful and powerful... but the fact that they are wearing just paint, naturally leads some people to have a discussion about body image issues and unrealistic beauty expectations, so here's my two bob.

There is a frequent argument that comics (and images like the ones below) create unrealistic body image expectations for women.

I've included an image of Superman here as an example of how males tend to be drawn in comics. If you think this is a realistic male body image, please infuse me with some of their DNA.  I wish I looked like him, but I'm also intelligent enough to know that even with an amazing amount of diet and exercise, I almost certainly never could.

In almost all comics, men are presented as a rippling Adonis clad in skin tight clothing.  Does that promote a realistic body image for men?  No.

In brief I'm saying comics promote an unrealistic body image for everyone, regardless of gender and that's okay, because I, a human being with a brain in my head understand that comics aren't about realism.

I can't leap tall buildings in a single bound, but Superwoman/man can, regardless of how they are drawn.

There is an argument that comic imagery leads to unhealthy body image issues. Check out the gallery below, none of these women are unhealthy.  They are strong, healthy and fit - that is not a negative body image to promote. You can't starve yourself to look like this, you need to work the hell out and have a healthy diet.

Are any of these women being demeaned or disempowered in any way?  No.  They are promoted as strong, physical and beautiful.

Consent?  All of these women have chosen to create these images - the image is an object - the person in them is not.

Does creating the object reduce the woman who participates in its creation in any way?  Well let me ask you a different question.  Do you think anyone who met these women would treat them as less after seeing these pictures? Personally I can say that all of these women have gained influence with me.  If I met any of these women, I would not treat them as less, I would be inclined to treat them deferentially and tell them how amazing they look in these pictures.

But that's my position.  Do you think less of these women for participating in this shoot and in general do you think there is a problem with how women are portrayed in superhero fiction?

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