“Showing Too Much Skin”: Sexualised Clothing In Comic Books – An Article Review

Okay, little moment of scholar hat on. As some of you may know, I am doing a PhD that deals with representations in comic books – particularly focused on the Vikings, and women. Doing some research, I came across a student written article that made me 1)seriously question the peer-reviewing process of the article, 2)the actual intention and motivations of the author, as well as the 3)incredible bias, and 4)lack of quality analysis. As a student, of any discipline, rule number one is, leave your judgement home, understand, contextualise and THEN criticise where is due. Well…the article is publicly available for those interested by the way:

Gender Differences in Clothing Worn in Current Popular Comic Books

Kyle Landon Jossy https://journals.macewan.ca/index.php/muse/article/view/186

I appreciate it is a student written – undergraduate – text, but it has some severe flaws. The actual initiative of the project is great, as students should be sharing their work and those who do write gems should be praised. Particularly in the arts or in modern media like comic books where the is so much stigma to be removed and so much work to do to create a comprehensive field, I praise them for the effort which is absolutely remarkable. But the actual article itself has some issues that any avid comic reader – Without The Need of Being a Scholar – could flag up. 
The comic book selection is not very representative of the actual state of the comic book industry these days: we are at the peak of the most prolific and diverse publishing environments ever. The Comix authors from the 70s/80 would have considered themselves lucky of having such a scope of possibilities – admittedly not all of them are straight forward, or easy to get in to, but it has improved! These titles selected for the article are in essence mass marketing for a mass audience – they transcend the original medium of the comic book for the comic book collector. Like the article says – yes they are best-selling  comics – which are comparable to the Barbie magazine for kids in the 1990s. That is the degree of marketing we are talking about. The actual content and conventions that are relevant for the sphere of comics have been minimized and milked to an absolute bare minimum. This is a very similar strategy used in video games these days. You all known them: think of all those Facebook games that are identical, same key game dynamics that are not actually designed for the any other purpose in what is known as the “gaming industry” but for marketing, mass appeal – and to a degree, creating addiction. In no way, shape or form, this is a statement against their quality – not what I am getting at – just categorisation and context.
So, an appropriate and thorough audience analysis would have been useful. Sales are all good, But Who Is Actually Buying Those Pieces and Why? Nowhere to be found in this article. In addition, genre identification has a huge impact into what the person was looking into. “Popular Comics” is not really a genre. It is, once again, a sales and marketing division, representative of nothing but money movement and mass consumerism. The only factor that has been used to identify these comics as useful for these piece is the fact that the represent some women and that they sold lots – there is somewhere a statistics student crying because of this degree of reductionism. Those aren’t enough parameters to establish a useful, valuable comparison.
Probably the bit that gets me most is the degree of hypocrisy applied to the concept of revealing skin being sexual…As if you even needed to reveal skin to sexualise an image? I mean, let’s take Black Widow as an example, okay? How much skin does her outfit reveal? Her face, that’s it. Is her image sexualised? Considering that one of the supposed sexiest women in Hollywood impersonates her…No skin showing though! Therefore…we will completely ignore that. As a very popular female comic book character, due to the recent marvel releases, it would have been an easy point of reference, yet neglected. More importantly, this is condemning the image of women in our modern society. I mean what is this? The Victorian period where if you showed your ankles this was some sort of social controversy? Of course clothing can sexualised, but so can anything! If we cannot see the world past that lens…We are doomed. By the way, I have mentioned I am a woman right? It does not insult me that representations like these exist. I do not feel pressurised to look like them. I understand they are for fictional, and relative to conventions of specific narratives. I mean, are we going to start criticising the Greek and Roman sculptures for their portrayal of naked bodies in a praise of the beauty of mankind? No one tells those statues to cover up, and those were publicly visible by the way, you didn’t even need to buy a comic to see them…
It concerns me that this was approved for publication with no further comment or the option to even give feedback on the subject – until now, that is. Unfortunately this is a typology that repeats itself so frequently within popular/geek culture. The sexist criticism: usually coming from women and aggravated by both women and men. This degree of victimisation when convenient needs to stop. Otherwise we will never be able to move past it and remove the stigmas associated with the genre…More importantly, we will never be able to create a safe and welcoming environment for members of all genders, and backgrounds to feel safe as part of a fandom. I have argued for this in one of my recent papers (Spring Symposium, Center for Gender Studies, University of Winchester, 03/03/2016). Starting old fires will not help the situation. We should rather be putting them out and beginning alternative lines of dialogue.
Geeks united will prevail. Female acceptance within geek society would become so much easier if we would stop holding to past preconceptions and removing these stigmas, not perpetuating them.
Peace out – and to the author of the text, although I cannot agree, at least thank you for sharing and voicing your thoughts!

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