DC announced a slew of new titles in recent days. Even accounting for the number of female-lead titles that have been done away with recently, it still looked like a step forward for this company’s troubled relationship with female readers, and it generated excitement among creators and critics.
I hate to be the cranky person at the water cooler, but when a company claims to be making something designed to better include me, I feel like they could bear to release a single image with it that doesn’t depict the new title as being about as nothing but a sex object worth ogling.
Sadly, however, no one pointed out that female readers are not dumb as rocks, which is why we now have this incredibly pink image, to make us all appreciative and excited about the new DC line-up!
Giving new readers more than five seconds of lip service would go a long way towards un-burning bridges. DC could’ve led with a picture about the character, waited a week, and then put out this image to reassure core readers that her sole function is to be stared at.
If you haven’t been reading really terrible books for the last few years, you may have missed the point when an empowered, free-lovin’, fire-haired alien in an incredibly dumb costume turned into a borderline-amnesiac, mentally and emotionally damaged extra from a Whitesnake video chained to a tree, but this this book was the go-to when it comes to all the ways the New 52 was problematic.
Rebooting, redrawing, and giving Starfire a distinct storyline where her agency won’t be entirely determined by BatFamily angst and Arsenal’s molestery junk is a really good idea. I was willing to call this a significant step forward in listening to female readers.
Even the new costume is…better? C’mon, she has like half a shirt now, how needy are you people!? You seriously expect artists to draw a woman wearing shorts instead of a bikini with holes in the sides? You people are what is wrong with this industry!
Then I took a closer look at the picture, and realized that there’s a problem here. Take a look at the people in the background.
There are 8. And a dog. All 8 of them would like you to know just how badly this new, enlightened relaunch of one of the former strong, female super heroines with a ‘Batgirl-style’ visual refresh is going to go for you.
Lets break it down left to right:
- ‘OMG, my husband will not stop comically staring at this bimbo’s ass!’ Oh, joy.
- Yep, that’s an old guy falling over himself to lean out and stare Starfire’s ass. Oh good; I’m sure male readers didn’t realize this book would have butts in it.
- Boy doing the classic drive-by double-take at the same ass. Seeing the pattern yet?
- Ah, the incredulous sun-glasses raise! But it can’t possibly be because the young girl managing to show the viewer her butt and both breasts simultaneously wants to be even more oversexualized…
- Oh, wait, her friend is feeling inadequate about how small her assets are. Clearly we are supposed to feel envious of the walking ogle factory. I know how much I hate it when I walk down the street and people don’t constantly obsess about having sex with me.
- You know, I really admire Amanda Conner’s ability to draw a tiny firefighter that fits in Starfire’s knee, yet still convey that he is staring straight at her ass.
- Is this guy estimating the size of her boobs, or her ass? Or is he barely restraining himself from grabbing some? Read Starfire #1 to find out! (Either way, it won’t even be the first time she’s had a consent problem since the New 52 began.)
- Don’t worry, bland female cop! If Harley Quinn is any indication, your inability to cope with a ‘confident woman owning her sexuality’ will probably be played for laughs in a scene where the heroine frenches you in a way just serious enough to give the main demographic boners and just humorous enough to avoid acknowledging the Kinsey scale!
Literally the FIRST thing we know about this new Starfire is that she is an object for men to ogle at. There are two pieces of information in this picture:
- Her chest isn’t as cold as it used to be.
- Men want to grab her ass, and women want to be sex objects like her.
I’m sorry that the first point isn’t so transcendently exciting that I’m willing to overlook the second. And I realize I’m acting ungrateful that you painted that background pink for me. (I assume you only made it pink because women like pink, since it clashes with every other damn color in the picture.)
The thing is: this picture isn’t FOR me. Its for the people who want to stare at Starfire’s ass. Its for people who don’t realize that you would have to use vacuum-sealing to get a costume to cling to cleavage like that. People who aren’t confused about why that cutout on her hips adds to the attraction factor here.
This picture isn’t about a female character any more than Red Hood’s Starfire on the car is about a female character. Its about how the men around her react to her ass. Not to her. To her ass. Not to how incredibly sexy and cool fire-hair that lets a person fly is. Not to the weird sparkly thing she’s doing. To her ass.
It really is a shame, because there are an infinite number of opportunities to release pictures like this one in future, but only one opportunity to undermine the entire announcement by showing that the company missed the point of it completely. Instead of letting all this exciting news suggesting that the company was headed in a new and more inclusive direction get out to the public for a day, or a week, it was undercut in the same hour with a picture that serves incredibly well to clarify that while this character might have part of a shirt now, she serves no real function and has no desire except to be ogled.
If all you can tell me about the new Starfire is that she found half a sweater in a trash can, I’m not giving you money. If that is still the only value you can find in this character after all this time, you should pick a different character to show me what you can do.
Tossing in there that the same author is still trying to make Power-Girl a viable character confirms what a terrible idea this is. Oh, good, I was worried you were objectifying women to the detriment of storytelling, but now that the giant walking rack is in a book again I feel much better about being nothing more than a conveyance mechanism for two globules of fatty tissue.
As far as I can tell, this is how the whole thing probably plays out:
First, there’s a very good chance that the book that conveyed nothing but objectification of women from the first preview image turns out not to be a book targeted to women. Even if it is, miraculously, good, it gets saddled with that image as a cover.
Next, it doesn’t sell with women, because your average potential reader doesn’t know anything about Amanda Conner, but she does know she doesn’t want to read a pink book about nothing but a spray-tanned stripper with eyeballs glued to her posterior.
And just like that, everyone who needs an excuse for why they can’t be bothered to draw or write a female character they didn’t see on a porno last night, and every executive who doesn’t want women in the writing room pointing out when something is unforgivably sexist, will all point to how nobody bought that female-friendly DC line those nice executives put together for us.
Either way, in the meantime, DC gets to spend a little time as belle of the ball. Not long, I’m sure, but long enough to distract everyone from their latest poor choices, get some people to forget the Batwoman rape plotline, maybe pull some eyeballs away from the competition. That’s the problem with announcements like this.
Taking an announcement like this one at face value, and celebrating the company that made it, makes future complaints about problematic or disrespectful treatment of female characters and creators less valuable. After all, complaints are easy to fix when you get praised for every tiny concession to inclusiveness you make.
Losing market share? Just toss the girls a bone, guys! Add two centimeters of fabric somewhere the guy’s won’t see it, and launch a new female headlined book to make up for the three you just cancelled! Maybe hire a new female artist. (Put her on one of the lady books though, we don’t want them infecting the manly titles.)
So yes, it’s progress, but its the kind of progress that teaches companies they can inch into the future a single grudging step at a time and be thanked for it. It’s the kind of progress that devalues women and their voices by exchanging ‘concessions’ that are actually exciting new ways to objectify characters for a free pass on a shamefully low female employment rate and a consistent trend of ignoring devaluing female readers over the last few years.
So I think I’ll save jumping on tables (or reading DC titles) for the next time, when they feel like my money is worth enough to merit announcing new female character-driven books without reminding us that our only value is as objects in the same breath.