I don’t really talk about politics on this blog…ever. Well, aside from, y’know, the historical or entries on diversity or women in fiction. But every now and then something shows up that’s nonpartisan enough but still related enough to what I usually write about for a good discussion.
An interview with Jeb Bush (Or JEB) has been making the rounds lately, wherein he’s asked who his favorite superhero is. This alone is worth noting because we’re at the point in where a presidential candidate can be asked about superheroes. Yes, this is a part of nerd culture becoming mainstream, but it’s also a reflection of superheroes forming a new mythology. They can be discussed as a cultural touchstone no matter who you are. Point is to say that the fact that he was even asked this question is remarkable in and of itself. Superheroes have become a new pantheron, to some extent; though decidedly fictional, they are a sort of example of humanity in all its forms (which, y’know, is all the more the reason to have a more diverse lineup, but I digress). There’s probably a whole other paper in that idea, but not here.
Anyway, after mentioning that watching Marvel movies makes him wish that he owned the company — which I’m not even gonna touch here — he decides that Batman may be his favorite, albeit a dark choice. But he’s aware of Supergirl being a thing, courtesy of the new advertising blitz, and thinks she’s hot.
Okay. He could have answered the question one of a dozen very neutral, safe ways; but he chooses to bring Supergirl up… because she’s hot? Dude, no. It’s fun that this is the sort of question we can ask a presidential candidate, but at the same time, but why does one of the more serious presidential candidates think it’s okay to talk about her looks as a defining factor? Even if a question like this takes center stage, a female hero still gets the short end of the stick. Yes, she got mentioned — that’s great! But she gets mentioned only to be reduced down to a pretty face. He could have mentioned that she could fly — that’s in the marketing too! — but nope, she’s hot and that’s key.
“But Josh,” you say, “you’re making way too big a deal out of this, it’s just one guy’s opinion!” Well, straw man, remember what I said earlier about superheroes being a new mythology? It goes with it then, that the perception of them is a reflection of culture as a whole. And Jeb’s comments reflect a culture that still judges a woman by her appearance rather than her abilities.
Which is really frustrating, because there’s a steady cultural shift away from female superheroes defining characteristic being their looks and related attributes. Carol Danvers got a new outfit and is firmly regarded as Earth’s Mightiest Avenger. I can’t speak for the show (having not seen it), but it looks like Supergirl is doing something similar, for starters by giving her a costume that’s more practical than titillating. Going beyond the world of comics, Fury Road mad us like Furiosa because she was badass and capable, not because she was ‘hot.’ Furiosa, more so than Carol Danvers or Supergirl, has been recognized for this in a big way.
In the movie/TV world characters are idealized, and this means prettified, but while handsome male characters can still be interesting, the pretty women are often there just to be pretty. While kick ass grungy women are awesome, to really even out the gender imbalance we need to allow for attractive women to be interesting and valued for qualities beyond their looks. Because it’s not fair when a male character needs no justification, but a female one does — and it’s her looks.
In any case, we, as a culture, from presidential candidates on down, have gotta stop defining women — in fiction or not — by how attractive the are. In the meantime, we should at least talk a lot more about how hot the new Batman is. But especially the new Aquaman.