The Big Sexy Problem with Superheroines and Their ‘Liberated Sexuality’
By Laura Hudson
Yesterday, two new comic books from the “New 52” relaunch of DC Comics provoked some online controversy: Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws. They were controversial in particular because of the way they depicted women, notably with the aggressively fanfictiony on-panel sex between Batman and Catwoman, and Starfire’s transformation into a promiscuous tabula rasa who can’t even remember the names of the men she sleeps with, and seeks out emotionless sex with both of the two male main characters while they essentially high five about it.
Since pointing out my issues with Starfire yesterday, I have received numerous e-mails — from men — accusing me of slut-shaming. Since there are a lot of people who don’t understand the sexual dynamics that are in play here both creatively and culturally, I’d like to dissect this a little bit and explain why these scenes don’t support sexually liberated women; they undermine them, and why after nearly 20 years of reading superhero books, these may finally have been the comics that broke me.
…the problem isn’t Star Sapphire. Or Catwoman. Or Starfire. Or Dr. Light raping Sue Dibny on the Justice League satellite or that stupid rape backstory Kevin Smith gave Black Cat or the time Green Lantern’s girlfriend got murdered and stuffed in a refrigerator. The problem is all of it together, and how it becomes so pervasive both narratively and visually that each of these things stops existing as an individual instance to be analyzed in a vacuum and becomes a pattern of behavior whose net effect is totally repellent to me. As an anomaly, maybe Starfire could be funny, the way the big-breasted, over-sexed Fritz (who even got her own porno comic, Birdland, which is pretty good if you’re into that) is often funny in Love and Rockets, mostly because the series is already packed full of incredibly diverse, fully-realized female characters. But as the 5,000th example of a superhero comic presenting female sexuality in tone-deaf ways, it’s just depressing.
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