The Amazing Spider-Man. The Mighty Thor. The Invincible Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Gambit, Wolverine, Nova, Venom...Hawkeye. That’s a sampling of the Marvel Comics characters that are currently starring in their own series. And for some of them, you can make that multiples series. Then add one-shots, frequent crossovers...you get the idea.
The one thing they all have in common? They’re men. Men with varying fighting styles, skillsets, and even- though most enjoy sporting a few too many muscles- varied body types. We’ve seen relatively scrawny teen Peter Parker face off against the ripped and rampaging alter ego of Bruce Banner (whose bulging green biceps are quite a contrast, I may add, from his healthily average-weight human form.)
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for many of the company’s female characters. Rarely do these superheroines, no matter how mind-blowing their powers may be, are able to sustain a solo series. And when they do, they can be hideously objectified, transforming each issue into a sexual fantasy rather than a compelling crime-fighting adventure story that comic book readers should expect. But famous superpowered gals like the Invisible Woman, Storm, and Scarlet Witch are part of teams, some may argue; at least they’re there. Well, Captain America is famously the leader of The Avengers. Hulk was a founding member. And yet every month they get their own comic; what’s to stop Marvel’s strong female characters from temporarily detaching themselves from the company of predominantly male squads as well?
I’m an avid comic book enthusiast, especially when it comes to Marvel. So it troubles me to see the misrepresentation of women in comics. Filling pages with meaningless eye candy for primarily boy comic book readers should not be a priority for any publisher, as it creates unrelatable and unrealistic role models for female readers. Why can Tony Stark strap on a full suit of armor to battle bad guys, but Emma Frost has to waltz around in a skimpy outfit revealing her improbable body shape, even when she’s fighting off superhuman foes? Miraculously, this wildly impractical excuse for armor still protects her because, of course, it doesn’t matter as long as there’s something for readers to drool over. Note: this goes for female villains, too. Just because the evildoers aren’t moral role models doesn’t mean their portrayal isn’t essential as well. List off the first ten comic book villains that come to mind, and I’ll bet you none of them will be women. It’s simply a fact.
Marvel isn’t the only perpetrator in this anti-feminism crime, and they arguably aren’t even the worst offenders. But seeing as how they’re currently dominating the box office (with the only notably female fighter being the relatively cliché “tough girl/femme fatale” Black Widow) and mapping out dozens more feature films in the future as well as a string of exciting events within the comics themselves, it seems reasonable to address them first. No more using the excuse that “superheroines don’t sell well” to push aside strong and purposeful female characters; in a society inexplicably still struggling with women’s rights issues, some actions just need to be taken, regardless of any small chunks it might take out of a company’s billion-dollar profit. Not to mention that respectful depictions of women in comics would inevitably attract more female readers, boosting audience size anyway.
The objectification of comic book women has to stop, and I’m suggesting that Marvel give solo series to more of their female characters without overtly sexualizing them by hiring more women writers and artists to create stories as complex and intriguing as those featured in the adventures of superheroic men. Every step toward equality is important, and a medium as culturally significant as comics is a good place to start the next campaign for social justice.