Is the internet outrage over the Spiderwoman cover a case of feminist double standard?
It’s a fairly straightforward and simple question, but I think it deserves a more complex wordy answer. If you don’t have the time to read this wall of text, the short version of my thoughts is simply: “It doesn’t matter if it is or not as the consequences of male-favoring double standard are often real and life-altering, and in most cases, the consequences female/trans-favoring double standard are not.”
So my long answer: I think a convincing argument could be made that yes, all this hoopla against the new comic book cover of Spider-Woman is an example of female-favored double standard. Spiderman for decades has been drawn in these similar poses so why should it be an issue if Spider-woman is drawn in the exact same pose?
This is pretty much the argument made by Maddox. I mean, he’s a bit more spiteful and harsh in his language in the article than that, but that’s the general point he’s making, that feminists are just being bitchy and whiny for no reason in addressing this matter.
What I think is the most convincing point to be made that supports Maddox’s point of view is that many of the outraged feminists probably do not understand the context or the history of Spiderman comics. Were they aware that Spiderman and many other male comic book heroes have been drawn in erotic and sexual poses before, and continues to be still? I think many probably were not aware, and so perhaps some amount of the outrage is sourced in ignorance.
That aside, I’m someone who’s more knowledgeable and aware about it, and I can still understand why those Tumblr posts can resonate so powerfully.
In a society like ours, where much of life-altering power and decisions are in the hands of men, what appears as the “exact same pose” may not actually be the exact same thing in essence. Yeah, I realize that’s a really weird way of putting it. Like I said in the beginning, my answer to this thought of the day question is not so simple and straightforward.
So consider when fictional male characters are sexualized in comic books, drawn with massive muscles, handsome facial features, and hardly wearing any clothing, surrounded by objects that look by penises and balls. Think He-Man, The Hulk, etc. The consequences of such male “objectification” (I’m putting in quotes because I’m skeptical that it actually is) is… what exactly? I don’t think any comic book reader watches those erotic drawings and come to think, “Oh man, I have to work out a lot and eat less so that I can look just as muscular and be just as powerful.” No, the average reaction would probably be something along the lines of, “Man, the guy has ridiculous muscles. That’s pretty amazing.” And that’s it. There’s an understanding within the male community – as well as cultural expectations and social normalizations – that what’s displayed in comic books are just power fantasies. Men in real life are not pressured by society to imitate looking like perfect men. They can obtain jobs, get promoted, have positions of power and authority without really having to conform to the image of the “perfect ideal men.”
For women, that’s not the case. Of the few women CEOs or women political leaders in this country (and there are very, very few), many couldn’t get to their positions without conforming to the image of the ideal woman, or without abandoning many of their feminine qualities and being more like other men, all the while having to constantly face sexual harassment and sexualization from male colleagues and coworkers. This is a reality that man like myself don’t really ever have to think about. That’s why there is significance to feminists that the first time a very famous comic book hero is featured as a woman is when she’s posed like that. The audience doesn’t react the same manner. For straight male readers, it’s eye candy. For straight female readers, it’s kind of another message of women having to sexualize their appearance and behavior to do be successful in life.
Now, I’m not saying this is necessarily the fault of the comic book artist or writer. Maddox does make a great point that authors and artist often create works that reflect the reality of our culture. And in this case, as it is in many cases where feminists have cause for alarm, it is our culture that’s very problematic.
But this is where Maddox and I are on opposite stance. Maddox thinks the people making the outrage is the problem here, that they should just shut up and suck a dick. (His words, not mine; like I said, he’s pretty harsh with his languge.) Whereas, my stance is that this is the sort of outrage we should have against this current status quo culture in which a fictional comic book character can’t be in erotic poses without potentially triggering alarms and intensifying the symptoms of girls with eating disorders and low self-image and low self-esteem.