A Comic Review
As a result of my exploration through the world of comic books, I came to the conclusion that, although most female leads are depicted as exaggerated stereotypes of the female physique, most are strong and respectable, not needing male assistance to accomplish their goals and defeat their enemies.
For instance, one of my favorite comic book characters is Red Sonja. Her physical attributes aren’t much different than any other leading lady – or minor female character, for that matter. She is always drawn with DD’s or better; she is frequently scantily clad; she sports perpetual, flawless and unsmearable makeup; and she has ridiculously voluminous, long hair. Sonja’s background story is unique; she grew up in a household where she was treated as a second-class citizen. Her brothers were taught the sword by her father while she was forbidden even to watch. She hid herself and observed her father’s teachings anyway, being the independent and strong-willed girl that she was – she was determined to learn the ways of a warrior, with or without daddy’s permission. One day, her family was slaughtered by lots of bad guys – herself being raped and “ravaged” by the lead pillager. After this ordeal, a “vision of a goddess” visited her and bestowed upon her special powers; the goddess told Sonja that she would have invincibility with the sword under the condition that she was never to lie with a man who hadn’t first defeated her in battle. Sonja’s perpetrator came back for more… but this time, she was ready for him. She eviscerated him as well as his entire blood-thirsty army. This background story makes Sonja’s interaction with men very unique; she doesn’t possess the stereotypical desperation for companionship and validation from men that so many female characters are depicted to have.
Her personality is that of a warrior; this component is first and foremost in every action, gesture and statement she makes. She is portrayed similarly to the way a male hero would be; the only marked difference is the reactions of those around her. Sonja is constantly encountering sexism in every nasty form possible. She is either mistakenly considered a sexual object, to be cajoled – or one with which some lead-brained male assumes he will have his way – or she is challenged by perceptions of her inappropriate gender role. For instance, her first comic shows her in a bar setting full of supposed warriors; however, she is the only soul brave enough to fight for the cause she’s been called to. After her voluntary induction into the Lord’s army, patrons of the bar begin to harass her. Some suggest that she is too weak to fight a man, since she is obviously a mere woman. This is proven incorrect immediately, when she slices open the throat of her opponent with barely the blink of a well-mascaraed eye. In addition to being perceived as a member of the “weaker sex” on the one hand, she is simultaneously perceived as being “too” masculine. She obviously never “disproves” this suggestion, nor does she even attempt to, but she is clearly misunderstood from both angles and the comic clearly reinforces the stupidity of the ignorance yielded by these prejudicial zealots.
Once in a while, however – and almost always after being forced to prove her mettle – she is given acknowledgement and treated with respect.
Wonder Woman, a similar breed of heroine, differs from Sonja in several ways. For one thing, she is far more interested in men – she is, in fact, passed around between Superman and Batman as well as having had her initial human male love interest. She encounters similar reactions from men about being too weak, but she doesn’t get hassled much about being “too manly.” As a sexual icon, she is repeatedly represented as a seductive temptress, irresistible to fellow heroes, evil villains and hapless humans alike. It is my opinion that Wonder Woman is more sex symbol than hero, in stark contrast to Sonja, whose life solely revolves around her combative lifestyle.
In general, most leading women are shown to be somewhere between Sonja and Wonder Woman, most displaying strength, independence and intelligence despite their ridiculously exaggerated appearance. I believe that the exaggeration of the female appearance in these comics, though overall harmful to society, is a palatable enough trade-off for depictions of strong women at this current point and time, but I hold out hope that these stereotypes might change in the future.
In the words of infamous Jessica Rabbit, “I’m not bad; I’m just drawn that way.”