Girl Power? Grrrrrrr!

Green-Lantern-The-Animated-SeriesThe other day, as I watched an episode of Green Lantern: The Animated Series (developed by Bruce Timm, Giancarlo Volpe, and Jim Krieg for Cartoon Network), I wondered whether or not the producers, animators, and writers of animated superhero shows really want more female viewers. The point is moot in regard to this show, however, since it was canceled after one season. But the catalyst for my musings is the look of the females in it. Many have the look of swimsuit models with Barbie-like measurements. Even a starship’s AI (artificial intelligence), after deciding to take on human form to travel and converse with three male comrades, chose to be a female wearing a midriff-baring shirt and tiny briefs.

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Aya the computer turned Green Lantern warrior

In the illustration below, note the amount of clothing of males like Hal Jordan, one of the Green Lanterns, in comparison with females like the Star Sapphires—a group of women wielding pink power rings. The woman in the suit is Hal’s boss and girlfriend, Carol Ferris. Her Star Sapphire outfit (long story) is at her right.

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When referring to the Star Sapphires, Hal Jordan calls them “hot girls” (not women or smart, powerful women). How’s that for empowerment? Fine. I get the fact that to him, they’re “hot girls.” They’re supposed to be powerful, but do you think of power when you look at the illustration above? (Makes me long for Katara and Toph of Avatar.)

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Katara and Toph

Look, I grew up reading comic books and loving superheroes. But some things irritate me. I realize that writers and animators have the right to do what they want with these characters. I’m speaking as a woman who watches them, but sometimes is ready to throw in the towel. If the power of women is really to be emphasized, let’s start with the basics, namely wardrobe. If I’m blasting people with my power ring while ducking their energy blasts, a bikini and six-inch high boot heels don’t add up to a smart wardrobe. Ever try to run in six-inch heels without turning an ankle? Also, anyone who has ridden a roller coaster high up in the air knows how cool the air can be. Who in their right mind would fly around half naked in cool air? Who would expose that much skin to an energy blast that could singe you?

Okay, I realize I’m in the minority with this. And I’m not saying I haven’t enjoyed many of the Green Lantern episodes I’ve seen. I gave the show a shot by watching 14 episodes. But I can’t help seeing a pattern here which also was obvious in other series. Women might have powerful abilities, but that power is deemphasized when design choices for the characters are made to appeal to only one demographic. My thought is this: why not try to appeal to a wider market?

I searched the Internet to see if I could find anyone who had a comment on this issue. I found a different take on the subject. Writer/director/actor/producer Kevin Smith and famed writer of Batman/Superman animated series, Paul Dini, discuss the issue of female viewers and canceled animated superhero shows on this SModcast. Warning: if you’re sensitive to language, avoid listening at all costs. I listened, because I’ve seen many of Paul Dini’s scripted episodes in various Batman animated series. I wanted to hear what he had to say. Part of the conversation was transcribed here. This part especially jumped out at me:

DINI: “They’re [Network executives] all for boys ‘we do not want the girls’, I mean, I’ve heard executives say this, you know, not [where I am] but at other places, saying like, ‘We do not want girls watching this show.”

SMITH: “WHY? That’s 51% of the population.”
DINI: “They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys.” (Emphasis and punctuation as per the transcript.)

Well, my blood boiled after that exchange. Adults buy the toys—not boys. I’ve bought many toys for the kids in my life. And I’ve seen many girls playing with action figures long after the boys have given up and turned to Hot Wheels or Thomas trains.

I like Kevin Smith’s solution to those who claim they can’t market to girls toys related to animated superhero shows: “Get better at your job.” In other words, find something else you can sell, rather than write off a significant group of viewers. Irate listeners agreed with Smith and totally disagreed with the notion that girls weren’t interested in the licensed products. The problem, says the parents whose children watched some of these series, is the lack of toys for girls.

Honestly, based on the decisions made about female characters in some series, I wouldn’t want to hand a little girl an action figure of those characters, where the depiction of women leaves a lot to be desired. I’d rather give a girl the X-Men action figures (particularly Rogue and Storm). Or, better still, I’d rather just say, “You’re beautiful and special just as you are.”

Toph and Katara from fanpop. Green Lantern logo from Wikipedia. Aya, Green Lantern, and other characters from Cartoon Network.

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42 thoughts on “Girl Power? Grrrrrrr!

  1. A friend of mine recently watched the Green Lantern series and her response to the Star Sapphires was “… Really?!

    I just read the part of the transcript you linked to on i09 and that’s… just so bizarre. Where are they getting these stats from?!

    • I have no idea, Emily. They should see the kids I know. They’ll play with anything they’re interested in.
      The Star Sapphires never made sense to me. In some series they’re the villains. In this one, they’re uneasy allies. And of course they have to have pink power rings, ’cause y’know, women like pink. I’m staring at my midnight blue nail polish as I type this.

  2. Hi L. Sexism in comics pops up now and again as a discussion in the industry, and it always makes me laugh, watching grown men trying to justify scantily-clad female characters as ‘liberated’ or ‘strong’. Liberated from their clothing somehow makes them strong. Of course, that’s why women walk about in their underwear in my town – it makes them feel empowered. Policewomen, fire fighters, doctors and nurses would all face much less discrimination if they went to work in their skimpies.
    I don’t buy the ‘girls don’t buy toys’ argument, either. I know these company executives can be a bit dense, but if it’s true, it just sounds like a lazy excuse from men who don’t feel they have to enter the debate or take it seriously, because they’re in the driving seat. Get a few more female execs and see what happens… that’d be interesting, at least.
    The sad truth is that the ‘men’ that write these characters have barely experienced girls or women in real life, as they’ve spent much of their teenage years, in their bedrooms fantasising about how nice it would be to meet one of these exotic creatures from the pages of sports illustrated, playboy, or nowadays, their comic book pages.
    A sad truth. I’ve worked with them. I know them. And of course the successful ones are rewarded with cosplay girls who are willing to fulfil their fantasy as their fulfil theirs. Although, I’m not sure what the cosplayer gets out of being groped during the obligatory photo session at the stand by an overweight bearded perv? Perhaps it’s a form of aversion therapy for them both?
    I asked a fellow comic creator once, what relationship his very well rendered female characters had in the story with their male counterparts, who happened to be animal/human hybrids. Were they just eye candy? Do they have sex? He got quite annoyed as he struggled to answer me, because he hadn’t really thought about what their deeper relationship was. He was just using the comic book language of stereotypes. Powerful men are surrounded by women with huge tits wearing spandex knickers. But that’s okay, because powerful women in these story can kick people’s ass from time to time and that adjust the power indifference.
    To see this sort of crap filtering down to younger and younger audiences as a way of capturing young bucks, is frightening.
    The solution – you need to start writing some comic books. 🙂

    • Spot on! Love your sum up :

      The sad truth is that the ‘men’ that write these characters have barely experienced girls or women in real life, as they’ve spent much of their teenage years, in their bedrooms fantasising about how nice it would be to meet one of these exotic creatures from the pages of sports illustrated, playboy, or nowadays, their comic book pages.

      That and the fact that women want to be smart and sexy, cute and cutting edge, powerful and protected, etc. We want to be bad ass with a perfect ass. We want to inspire awe and lust. We want it ALL. 😎

      • Excellent! There’s nothing I like more than a recognition of human potential.

      • Yes, and that’s the fantasy, isn’t it? That we can have it all. I remember an old perfume commercial (and I’m dating myself) where a woman sings about bringing home the bacon, frying it, and never letting a man forget he’s a man–the myth of having it all.

    • Oh, man, John! Your response is gold! I’ve thought about writing comic books. I really have. I’m working on my fantasy series, which I’d like to someday see as a graphic novel.

      The trouble especially with existing superheroes is that they’re from a bygone era when women weren’t really empowered. So their characters aren’t as full and rich as their male counterparts. So I’m totally unenthusiastic about writing stories featuring them. That’s why I’m working on my own stuff. That’s why I’m glad to write young adult fiction.

      • I would gladly welcome more female authors in the comic sphere! The only one I knew at the time I was working at Marvel UK, was Myra Hancock (Sticky Fingers)
        I think you’re right, it’s more tradition now that carries this over into new titles. But I still think it’s a bit ‘boys own’. Maybe they’ll grow up some day?

  3. My husband loves that show. He doesn’t see the problem with the outfits. *sigh*

    I’ve never understood why female heroes in any genre should have to run around in high heels and skin-tight clothes that can’t possibly allow for movement (book covers are not exempt). It’s always sexiness over function. Male characters get to look cool while being covered up… Not that male characters aren’t also unrealistic, but you’re right: It diminishes the importance of someone’s power when sex is more significant than what she does. I get that sex sells, but I think that’s because it’s what we expect. Someone has to change the expectation.

    And I like Kevin Smith. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders. Have you seen “An Evening with Kevin Smith,” where he answers fan questions? Too funny.

    • I’ll have to look for that, Kate. And yes, Kevin Smith had a lot of good things to say.
      I’m tired of the double standard and the excuses given in regard to female superheroes. This is 2014, not 1914! When will we overcome??? Kids learn to perpetuate stereotypes because they’re constantly shoved in kids’ faces.

  4. I agree with both you and Kevin Smith, Marie. “The girls buy different toys”…is this guy for real? When I was little two of my favorite toys were the Hot Wheels stunk track and Rock em Sock em Robots. This guy is completely out of touch.

    • I had the same toys, Jill!!! With two brothers, I couldn’t help having those. The execs mentioned that girls like princess stuff. True. But they also play with toys their brothers play with. I’ve seen many girls with older brothers. They all play with the same toys.

  5. This is not an issue of recent vintage ~> think of the revealing costumes worn by Jeannie, the Catwoman, and Wonder Woman. Even Samantha of Bewitched had a stellar figure.

    These character’s play into male fantasies and girls fantasize about fulfilling those fantasies.

    • I totally agree. And I’m not against attractive people. There’s a reason why I watched Captain America: Winter Soldier three times in a row. 🙂 But it would be nice if people moved away from the fantasy every now and then.

  6. The world is heavily populated with inside-the-box, circular thinkers. “Female superheroes have always been scantily clad and hot. Which proves that female superheroes are scantily clad and hot. Which is why is doesn’t occur to me to come up with female superheroes who aren’t scantily clad and hot. Do you get it now?”

    It’s the same reason male vampires always meet modern women who happen to look exactly like their long lost love from the middle ages and why werewolves are always tortured souls and so on. One a storytelling box is filled, nothing new can go into or come out of it.

    • Okay, you crackd me up with “It’s the same reason male vampires always meet modern women who happen to look exactly like their long lost love from the middle ages.” So true, Eric! They’re soulless, yet always in touch with their feelings.

      I agree about the circular reasoning. That’s why going outside the genre sometimes is a good way to clear one’s head. We get so caught up in clichés.

  7. Hah. Tell my wife that girls don’t buy toys. Our house is filled with action figures and figurines. I agree with Kevin Smith’s assessment. They need to get better at their job. If I was their boss, I would reprimand them for missing out on a large chunk of customers.

    • Aww. I’m picturing your wife buying action figures. That makes me smile. 🙂 I just bought one for a little boy. (And speaking of little boys, I need to scroll down further to see if you answered my kitten question.)

  8. I always loved that Lynda Carter could do the things she did in high heels. As a kid, I never thought about what she was wearing, just that she was kick-ass. I do think these drawings have grown more extreme in intervening years, with impossible female proportions and almost-non-existent clothing. But this stuff sells. Plenty of dudes (and some women) want to sit in their rooms with their fantasies.

    I’ve grown weary of this entire genre. It’s all the same, recycled over and over again. I’m sick of every third movie being this predictable stuff. I hope I don’t sound like a snob, but our creative industries have a tendency to wear things out to make money. Whatever happened to variety (in clothing and characterizations, not to mention plot?)

    • I concur. Hollywood’s addiction to comic book movies is a bubble that should have burst long ago – but this one just keeps on bubbling! (But I hope it doesn’t pop before I get my comic book made into a movie! Don’t worry, it’s sic-fi parody and nobody wears spandex, male or female.)

    • Agreed. I grew up reading comic books and I like, sometimes love, the comic book movies. But it seems like that’s all we can do these days. So, yeah, bring on the quirk.

  9. Hear, hear, L.! I recently blogged about the lack of female superhero movie franchises, and it’s the same excuses there. “Girls do not go to those kinds of movies.” Aargh! As for toys, I loved to play with my She-Ra, Princess of Power dolls because they could kick Barbie’s butt. Childhood me would have loved to have more action figures. Sigh.

  10. I’ve never watched Green Lantern, but you are not at all in the minority in feeling this way!! Not at all! Grrrrrrrr, is right! How frustrating!

    Just the other day I was pleased to see the Wednesday line up of shows on one of the major networks. The three shows feature strong female lead characters, one a judge, one a detective and I forgot what the other woman did, but the fact that these shows feature women in these powerful roles is encouraging! 🙂

    • Glad to know that, Maria. I don’t know why some animated series are slow to follow, especially in this day and age! Though females have powers, their authority is undermined by cosmetic aspects. They also send a mixed message to the kids who might be watching.

  11. Pingback: Women: Six Films, Six Weeks | Spirit Lights The Way

  12. So, this is completely dating me, but I had a bionic woman doll when I was a kid. And she came in a jogging suit. So, all female action figures don’t have to be bikini’d but kick-ass Barbie-types. Yes, they need to “get better at [their] job.” Great post and great argument!

  13. Yeah, but even Rogue and Storm are drawn to be alluring, with highly exaggerated curves and in stupid positions. Since you’ve been following Arvid, I’m guessing I don’t need to expound upon my opinion of the way many women get portrayed. In fact, I better not. If you ever want a good laugh, though, check out the Hawkeye Initiative. Warning: the original drawings being spoofed are offensive. Not merely irritating-offensive. Infuriating-offensive.

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