‘Fan’ Misogyny

One of the beautiful things about the Internet is that it gives comics artists, writers, and readers a way to share their work and ideas with the world instantly. Pardon me while I hoist my cane, but I remember when you had to put a little effort into discovering the good stuff. Now it’s all right there at our fingertips, and I am grateful.

The flip side is that if you Google “Jubilee illustration,” even with some filters on, you’re gonna turn up some gnarly fan art. These are the kinds of things that were once confined to diaries and sketchbooks buried under mattresses (or perhaps passed around in locker rooms). It’s a free country, so if you want to draw Starfire in a compromising position with The Spectre, well, that’s your business. But I often search the Net for good art to share with our readers, and it’s beyond depressing to see so many female characters — and they are almost always female — depicted in degrading, even hostile ways. They’re bound and gagged, possessed of porn boobs, or portrayed in the most clinically sexual fashion imaginable — usually while servicing a guy. I’m not talking about illustrations that are merely erotic, because the good fan artists seem to have some affection and respect for the characters they’re drawing. I get it; Emma Frost is sexy. Zatanna is sexy. Still, there is a world of difference between drawing a saucy pinup and/or a moment of adult intimacy and creating/posting something that says, “See? She’s nothing but a scantily clad blow-up doll. Not so high and mighty on her knees, huh?” It shows such a fundamental lack of understanding of a heroic character, but I guess that’s not the point when you’re drawing Sue Storm on the pole.

Masturbatory art (and fanfic for that matter) has always existed, so perhaps I am reading too much into these images. However, I don’t think it is coincidental that some of the most powerful women in comics are often the objects of such degradation. It’s one thing to cheekily comment on a character’s attractiveness, which we do all the time. But when strong heroines like Supergirl or Storm are stripped of all dignity and presented so crudely, it speaks volumes about how the “artist” perceives women in real life. I say “women,” because I have yet to come across a picture of Green Arrow in chains or kneeling at someone’s crotch. And while I think it’s a parent’s responsibility to keep tabs on what their children are doing online, a kid ought to be able to Google a drawing of Wonder Girl without turning up some foolishness that’s going to send them to therapy.

As great as it is to find truly delightful art — and there’s plenty of it out there — taking the occasional detour through the misogynist gutter is a crummy experience. If this lament makes me a prude or a repressed fangirl, I’ll wear the title proudly.

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45 thoughts on “‘Fan’ Misogyny

  1. Get ’em E. Peterman. Standing up for the image of powerful women is important in every genre! We applaud you.

    We are a little new to comic artist space. We wouldn’t call ourselves fans yet, but have serious respect!!! Being new to the genre has made us especially sensitive to your point. We have found images that are disturbing to say the least. In our adventure to discover new forms of art and expression, it has been disappointing to also find such rampant disrespect.

    Glad you said it!

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    • Thank you so much for the kind words and support! We like to celebrate all that is good in comics, but sometimes a little ranting is called for. Welcome, and please come by any time.

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  2. Being old sucks because as I was reading your post, the first thing that popped into my head when I read “even with some filters on” was when my 10 year old daughter Googled “poop” at the urging of one of her friends. Twasn’t pretty, especially the Youtube crap :O that popped up.

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  3. It is true, the Boolean search amongst the sea of human imagination can lead to anything. The tragedy is the prevalence of powerful females intentionally degraded. It speaks to the underlying misogyny that permeates the human consciousness, and is subsequently sublimated thru the art.

    What’s even more sad … folks are kind of used to it.

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  4. I would hardly call Zatanna’s costume dignified, nor Super Girl’s, nor Starfire’s. To be honest, there’s a whole lot of superhero’s costumes – of both genders – that I would hesitate to call dignified.

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    • I agree. It’s just that the male characters are more exaggerated in regards to muscle structure, where the concentration with the female characters is almost solely of their sexual attributes. Sex sells and the comic industry has always tried to target what they consider to be their largest demographic: teenage boys and single adult men.

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  5. A similar thread has occurred over at Facebook. To quote one of our FB “fans” (who happens to be male) …

    That’s it, vast difference is spot on. Adam Hughes draws women in an over the top manner that’s still appealing because there’s a playfulness and more importantly, a reverence and respect for his subjects. Females in comics will always be hyper-sexualized, that will probably never change. Having said that, that doesn’t mean that we should, as responsible comic fans, especially those of us that are lucky enough to be parents should stand idly by and just accept this as just another subgenre. I don’t want my girls or my boys, for that matter seeing these strong female characters that they’ve become fans of reduced to role players in some guy’s submissive fantasy.

    Huzzah.

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  6. I chalk this up to not being able to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Not only is comic book porn too easily stumbled upon (I cannot search for “Miss Martian” images in a moderate Google search without the expectation that she’ll sprout a penis,) and not only does it skew too young (woe unto Geoff Johns for basing SSK on his departed adolescent sibling, and who finds that sexy?) but the worst crime of all is how lousy that porn happens to be. Rubber heroines with over-sized orbs on their chests laid down with a compass in anatomically troubling positions. Can’t anyone take any pride in their theft of copyright to engage in emotionally/sexually retarded shenanigans? I can’t get off to this off-model travesty! What we need here is a Jose Luis Garcia Lopez of super-smut, or my balls will remain bluer than Blue Devil’s!

    I solemnly swear that when I get to write comic books, I will sexually degrade and otherwise humiliate as many male super-heroes as my twisted imagination will allow. Fair’s fair, and Nightwing better stay the hell out of Japan, is all I’ve got to say about that.

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  7. Thank-you for saying this and for saying it so eloquently E!
    Saying that something is degrading to women is not being a prude or politically correct, it is the right thing to do and it has to be said and more often.
    The fact that these “artist” take a powerful character like Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Catwoman or Powergirl to name but a few and depicts them as degraded sex things.
    It sadly does speak on how these “men” few women deep down and that is the sad thing.
    Too often is this just brushed over as just a bit of fun or nothing serious, but I have yet to see images like that of male supers and to be honest I really do not want to. That in its self is not equality, or enlightened. Misogynistic behaviour and thoughts sadly are occurring and being fostered in females too and this has got to stop.

    Thanks ever so much for discussing this topic E and V!
    This is why I love coming here and I feel so happy and comfortable. You both like to have fun and enlighten but you also do not put up with jank and when you see it you call it out! BRAVA!!! :)

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  8. E. Peterman, while I can’t admire someone for being proud of prudishness or repression under any circumstances, I do admire that you own responsibility for your own reaction.

    Sexualized fan fiction is older than the superhero genre. Tijuana Bibles featured hyper-sexualized characters from comic strips before the first collected-strip comic books appeared. In fact, they were the first strips to appear independent of a newspaper in book form. I’m not saying that’s good, it’s just true.

    Panic over sexualized characters goes back to “Seduction of the Innocent,” and I’m sure before. That fiasco of frothing foolishness led to the neutering of storytelling in comic form for decades, and I am glad that those days are forever behind us in the information age.

    The wonderful thing about living in a free country, and surfing on a free, content-neutral Internet, is that we can choose to look at and read things we like, and choose not to look and read things we don’t like.

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    • Heck, I am sure you could find over sexualized cave drawings.

      Frankly, I am less concerned about sexploitation from the common folk than I am from the industry itself. Probably some of the best counter arguments were made by the artists that did FemForce by noting how and why female characters were always so exaggerated, as well as publishing books that proved you didn’t need these things to make a good story of to have compelling characters. And part of their point is the fact that the industry is still largely dominated by men.

      In my own writings, I have mused about the nature of sexuality for super heroines in general. Female beat cops and soldiers wear exactly the same thing as the men. And once you put on the body armor, helmet, and other gear, not to mention short hair which is required by necessity, women start to look a lot like the guys. And yet, they don’t seem to have a problem with it.

      Don’t get me wrong. I am a guy here, and I would truly shed many tears if Wonder Woman was to ever burn her bustier. One the other hand, why doesn’t she if only for practicality? Is looking attractive truly that important to women? Or is this a lingering male conception?

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      • Wonder Woman’s bustier isn’t the problem so much as it’s the lack of pants if we’re talking practicality.

        The salaciousness of Diana’s hero duds have really only become a problem in the last 20yrs and primarily in the 90s. The “COMICS EXTREME!!!!” fad resulted in a lot of questionable depictions of her with floss up her butt, disproportionate body parts, and that horrible motorcycle costume. That all came from a very male place and some questionable editorial decisions.

        Personally, I enjoy the star-spangled costume – it’s iconic and fun and she’s nigh-invulnerable so it’s not like she really NEEDS armor. Also, I’m sure as an Amazon she’s trained to fight and persevere no matter the situation or disadvantage plus they don’t have the body hang-ups Americans have. I’m sure the lack of pants doesn’t bother her in the least. But I think she hates that jacket…

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  9. I think there’s a correlation between the most powerful women in comics being the most depicted in these illustrations, just not what you’re implying. The women you all named also happen to be the most popular women characters in comics. Thus it stands to reason they are more likely than say, Vixen or Phantom Lady, to get depicted in this or any fashion.

    Otherwise, I don’t think you’re being too prude, even if it is something that’s existed well before comics. There is a lot of misogyny in the superhero fan community.

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  10. I don’t usually bother with ‘fan’ art (if ‘fan’ is the right word when you’re basically degrading the character). To me, that stuff is completely misplaced and inappropriate… I can find porn pics whenever I like, that’s NOT why I read comics! As for the misogynistic elements, there may be a few things going on… the shallowness of youth, low self esteem or insecurities around women… art can give you the upper hand over the most powerful characters (which are safer fantasies than actual women). And, of course, there’s plain ol’ unvarnished misogyny – ugly and repellent, where some other examples are just sad.

    Published mainstream comics do, sometimes, encourage inappropriate depictions. I have long-standing issues with provocative/soft-porn images in comics. Greg Horn’s ‘Elektra’ covers, while nicely done, were completely unsuitable… I’d actually feel embarassed presenting them at the sales desk, it seemed aimed at adolescent boys. Elektra’s a hard-as-nails, messed-up, utterly lethal mass-murderer, yet Horn would portray her as a sex-kitten in alluring poses – it was just wrong, on many levels. And Power Girl’s peek-a-boo boob window… what’s that about?? I remember when it was introduced, it struck me as a real step backwards. There have been characters I’d have liked to check out – Glory, for instance – but a massive bosom was so much a part of the look that I’d have felt like a pervert buying it. Perhaps I’m a little over-sensitive, my father was bad to women, and I’ve always tried to NOT be like him. Still, I do worry about programming younger generations with overly sexualised images.

    The only erotic ‘fan’ pics I recall liking were by a professional artist, the great Wally Wood (RIP). If nothing else, they looked great, and there was usually a sense of humour… this one always made me smile, although it’s not the best – it is, however, relatively inoffensive. Hope it makes you smile, too.

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  11. I start by saying I agree there is a huge amount of misogyny in fan groups, and a lot of it very non-casual – but from there on it gets quite complicated.

    “But when strong heroines like Supergirl or Storm are stripped of all dignity and presented so crudely, it speaks volumes about how the “artist” perceives women in real life.”

    Perceiving anything about any type of “artist” based of a small sample of their work often winds up being more a reflection of the concerns and interests of the viewer than the artist. I’ve been interested in and watching a lot of “erotic” (in quotes because so little of it actually is) fan art for years now and what I’ve noticed is some people’s art is the opportunity to share anything from your imagination for entertainment… and some people’s is a projection of how they think things “should” be (this extends to all fan productions such as drawings, fic writing, etc).

    Some of these artists due a huge variety of themes and think their bondage/degradation themed should be considered canon. What really makes the degradation art popular though is usually not the artists, but the audience chooses to link to, rehost, etc that sets what you’re most likely to come across and what commentary and other artwork you might find around it.

    “However, I don’t think it is coincidental that some of the most powerful women in comics are often the objects of such degradation.”

    This is sort of both indicative and not indicative. For the misogynists it’s certainly an appealing idea that the most powerful women are easily defeated, for the people who have a dominant kink but still respect women it’s more flatter to think of having dominated the most powerful than the most timid. As someone else covered, the most powerful superheroines are almost invariably the most popular.

    A bigger indication towards whether it’s playful or misogynistic I’ve found is usually the “story” of any given image rather than the star. Artworks that don’t take themselves too seriously or depict the heroine as a mighty force even when chained rather than those that expect the reader to take it for granted the character is weak/easily trapped/gullible/etc.

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    • To sort of clarify what I meant by the audience decides the popularity, a lot of it has to do with the size of the audience and the challenge involved. A lot of these artworks aren’t created by “fans” so much as by people who are aware of the character through other means.

      It’s a lot easier to do a pic of Power Girl that will appeal to people who don’t necessarily read her comics but are reasonably aware of the character and enjoy seeing a sexy pic of her in a non-threatening/degrading position than it is to make a very, very sexy picture of Power Girl that will appeal to her loyal fanbase (who will have individual ideas about what aspects they like best, be more likely to nitpick over any detail and a large portion of them are not interested in her sexually to being with).

      This is also a huge reason why super heroines so often appear in such impractical and scanty outfits to begin with, comic publishers know it’s market to sell a sex symbol than a complicated character that appeals to specific interests.

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  12. The same exact thing happens to many male characters as well, female characters do not have a monopoly. Also, who is to say that the characters may not canonically enjoy being degraded during sex? Many people IRL do so why ought fictional characters be any different?

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    • If people want to speculate on comic character fetishes, that’s fine but if that were the case it would reflect even more poorly on some of the “artists.” For example, Starfire was forced into slavery essentially by her sister who tortured her and allowed her to be raped on many occasions. Her response was to kill one of the perpetrators. Hell, her powers are the result of experimentation by another set of captors. She would kill anyone who would even think about degrading her in any way again. And I say this with the knowledge of someone who’s read basically every comic she’s been in from her first appearance in The New Teen Titans #1 to now.

      Now, if these people really do know a lot about the characters and are interested in exploring potentially canonical boudoir habits, what does it say about someone who would go ahead and draw them being demeaned even though it’s antithetical who that character is?

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  13. And before anyone jumps on it, I would like to clarify that, yes you will find a lot less art of this kind depicting male characters than you will female. But if you want examples of both then go here. rule34.paheal.net NSFW. Remember to use underscores where you would have spaces when you search your characters of choice.

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  14. Regarding the most powerful women argument, I think that has a lot more to do with perception and to an extent reach. Before the Internet, (yeah I am an old fart) I remember going to a conventions and being surprised by how many poeple had booths or tables where some artist whom I never heard of was draing nude pinups of super heroines. But the most suprising thing about that is one of the most popular characters was Kitty Pryde. I always thought it was wrong because

    1) Uhm…underaged?
    2) By no artists definition has Kitty ever been a DD

    Anyway, Kitty is far from the most powerful woman in comics (specially back then when her powers were used less imaginatively) but she has always been one of the most popular.

    Which brings us back to the argument that these fanboys are degrading the most powerful characters. Really, they are degarding the most popular characters. And the thing about that is infantile sexual fantasies are about the act and not the subject of that act. They would be aroused with the same picture of Kitty Pryde, or if it was changed to Emma Frost, or if it was changed over to be Dust (that girl from the Xmen always depicted in a full burqua.) Or even an anonymouse robot woman from some stock 70s sci-fi magazine. The choice of the subject though, is completely dependant on the preferences of the artist/actor/aggressor, and is not tied to any general impulse.

    So in summation, Sexual Id Man has fantasies about bondage and forced threesomes. Sexual Id Man chooses to express those fanatasies through his art. Meanwhile, Sexual Id Man’s alter ego, Ego, has a crush on a particular character, and would really like to hold hands, cuddle, and everything up the ladder from there. Becuase Sexual Id Man’s desires require a focus but are generalized about the target, Ego provides the target that is always present at the forefront of the mind, but not necessaily always sexualized by Ego.

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  15. Actually, the guys end up in the same undignified positions. If you really want an education, check out sites like Yaoi Gallery; the boys from Young Justice are really doing some fun things…

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  16. As mentioned before you can find all manor of humiliation of both sexes on the web, comics or otherwise. Add the tag “femdom” attached to any male hero and you can find pictures. You will find a just as high female population as male. Yaoi has a high female readership. Many times you don’t see typical male interactions or images in these types of porn. You see what could classically be called a feminized male or a hyper-emotionlized male. What do we say to that response from female readers who emotionally use and impose an ideal on the male form? It seems the pitchforks are not lifted.

    I’m a conservative, hetero, african-american male. Thing is I’ve had to tolerate a lot of crap I don’t like and been told to swallow and to be more “liberal”. The writership here is talented but it seems not to noticed the hypocrisy of their position. Do you say that sexual liberation is great until something offends you? Do you say that genders roles are null and void but if someone is in submission you (looking like they enjoy it or not) do you get up in arms? The answer seems to be yes. This means that for the liberality, progressiveness, and whatever else you want to hash tag on is being proclaimed in the end that right is only extended to personal preference and no other.

    Funny thing is that you assume all these fan pictures are done by men for men. When there are a lot female business women and artist who know how to use common male sexual categories to their advantages. Porn is a business and it sells. Men are 60 percent of the porn consumers and the number of women consuming porn is on the rise. If this format generates significant income it will continue. You are also talking about a “fetish” within a “fetish”. The images you describe maledom with a comic sub-theme. To the writer is the just a hatred of maledom or is the issue is that person behind the ball gag, chains, and straps is someone you respect in turn you can’t respect them after a certain type of sexual act? In turn would you protest femdom if Wolverine was chained up and forced to give oral sex Mystique or Superman was in kyrptonite bonds taking a dildo to the butt from Louis Lane? Trust me somewhere out there is both a male and female with those pictures.

    In the end I respect the authorship in the end this is mainly an editorial format site with witty punditry. I will say this it would be interesting if you could see misandry as easy as you see misogyny. We look at things that effect us more so then others. Heck the title of the website lets you know that the female perspective will rule here. That is fine. Everyone needs an outlet and a since of belonging. When it comes to sexuality the brave new world has made the topic a quagmire mudpit in which you either avoid it or sink to the bottom of a pit of hedonism.

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    • Hate to leave one of the “Amen/Props” replies but this guy has already articulated what I was going to write. I don’t really think that what you saw has anything to do with Misogyny, aka the dislike or hatred of women. In most cases it stems from a place of desire and lust.

      I know that when I see characters that I have built a conceptual foundation around in positions that clearly are contrary to that foundation, I am taken aback. It is contradictory and without explanation, that is never an easy pill to swallow.

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  17. Pingback: big boys share their toys « geekomatopoeia

  18. “…I have yet to come across a picture of Green Arrow in chains or kneeling at someone’s crotch…”
    I would love to see that too!.. hehe!…

    first time in this blog, loved the article!… U girls rock!..
    (and your pics in the “Author” box, are GREAT!) I´m definitely keep comig back to read a lot from U!!..

    -Hugs from GDL,MX.

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  19. Great discussion here and very civil on a potentially divisive topic. People who can keep cool heads like this need to start taking over.

    Part of why it’s divisive is that we all have a different idea of what is degrading and what isn’t. We all know people who consensually partake in acts we might find degrading – sexually and otherwise. I always felt the “Story of O” was unforgivingly degrading to women… until meeting some that found a fantasy outlet in it and liked the book. Still confused over that one! I suppose anything done with mutual consent is fine by me. Heck, some people want to be degraded.

    All of our heroes are routinely degraded for our entertainment. Has anyone been humilated and tortured more than Wolverine? Kind of sick that we read it, isn’t it? Maybe this isn’t about sick or not sick but just how sick.

    That being said, I agree that these powerful women heroes in comics are far more attractive when they are strong and powerful. Fanboys can draw Starfire in submissive poses of degradation all they want, and it won’t tarnish her heroic image in my eyes. This is the alien princess who absorbed our lagauge by forcefully kissing Dick Grayson in the first Teen Titans adventure. She’s a warrior, and not anyone’s toy. And if you want her captive, you can join the ranks of the dead Gordanian slavers who tried and died!

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    • What a thoughtful assessment. Your point about general character degradation is spot on, and I’m thinking of poor Arsenal’s needless destruction in that miniseries. Thank you for adding your voice to the discussion and for reading.

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  20. question: why sex must be something degradating for women? I mean women are sexual beings too and if we like sex we must not be victimized or condemned cos we enjoy it. Why a drawing of a powerful woman having sex, enjoying her sexuality should be something that slave us or degradate us all. Sex is also power and a woman well awared of her sex life is more powerful than some other that hides it or think she will be judge as slut or a victim. Don’t you think?

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    • I guess it’s a question of agency vs. one-sided objectification. Of course women are sexual beings and there is no shame in expressing or showing that. But the drawings I’m speaking of struck me as degrading to the women in the equation – as though they existed solely as exaggerated props, not as equal participants.

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