Thursday, May 15, 2014

Regarding Sex Appeal and the Depictions of Men and Women

I'll admit up front that I might very well not know what I'm talking about here. If that's the case, I encourage any reasons with opinions on the matter to enlighten me, or at least to state an opinion.

I want to talk about the overly sexualized depiction of women and men in popular culture.

First, check out this picture I saw circulating about the Internet:

This is an image from Kevin Bolk, of whom I'm a fan. The image has been passed around the Internet lately with the tagline "What if all of the Avengers had to pose like Black Widow for the ads?" or something to that effect. The result is pretty hilarious--that T&A pose that they make women do is ridiculous.

However, I think people have been using the picture as a sort of rallying call for a social justice cause that I'm not sure I agree with. The idea behind it is: "look! See how the woman gets overly sexualized while the men just get to look heroic?"

The original picture, for reference:

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think I know what sexy is, whether we're talking about men or women. Of course it's all subjective yadda yadda, but I think all people, if they're honest with themselves have an opinion about what they find sexy about both genders, even if they don't identify as someone sexually attracted to that gender.

And you know what? Those dudes up there in the official art are sexy. Like, mega sexy. As in, I don't think people in the real world can achieve this level of sexiness. Each one represents a sexually attractive trait in men to a cartoonish degree: Thor's strength and muscly body, Hawkeye's skill and muscly body, Captain America's determination and muscly body, and Iron Man's technological genius which probably encases his muscly body.

I guess, really, Black Widow's sin is that she's just showing off her curvy body, which certainly makes her feel comparatively one-dimensional in this picture.

That's a problem I agree with. For sexualized depictions of women, all you need is their bodies. Men are allowed to insert their personality into their sexiness, but women are just generally stripped of their personality and put into a compromising pose. It's awful and unfair, and it should change.

However, I don't think that showing images of scantily clad versions of heroes with the caption "if men were given the same treatment as women" quite hits the mark. It's funny, but it ignores the fact that the physical qualities of men that are sexually attractive are different from the physical qualities of women.

I'd say that comic books, movies, and other media already emphasize those qualities: a muscly physique, piercing eyes, perfect hair, all encased in a skin-tight suit that accents all the right parts.

In the game of overly sexualized depictions, the physical qualities are already equally represented between genders. The problem goes beyond the physical traits and into something deeper: personality, writing, and the subtle way these things can be represented through imagery. In this arena, women often get the short end of the stick.

I guess what I'm really saying is, let's stop focusing on the surface of the problem and start working on the core of it. I think that as we push for having female characters become as well-rounded and developed as male characters this problem will begin to subside.


Oh, and to The Avengers' credit, this artwork (the one they actually use for box art) is a lot better, if only because everyone on it looks equally bewildered:


  1. Ah, good point about all the dudes' personalities also being displayed in that poster. I'm not a huge comic book fan, so I have no idea what Black Widow's powers are, and that poster certainly doesn't tell me.

    On the topic of well-rounded female characters - The Silence of the Lambs nails it perfectly with Clarice Starling. It's one of the reasons it's my favorite movie of all time.

  2. Huh, it looks like Anthony Carboni had this subject on his mind, too. He posted this yesterday that you might find interesting: