Representation of female characters in mainstream comics has never been great, in fact from 1980 to 2010 the percentage of new female characters from DC and Marvel never reached higher than 50%, according to DigitalSpy. Out of all the characters from each of these universes female characters make up just over 30%, they also tend to be one of the good guys or natural. All the male villains outnumber every female character put together.
Comics quietly burst out into the world as a medium in the 1930s and the irony is that in the very beginning more girls read comics than boys. The target audience was aimed at child and young adults, the first comics usually featured teenagers (no super powers yet) who done pretty ordinary things. As the market grew and evolved, more boys began reading when superheroes and crime fighting got involved. The 30s and 40s are knows as the Golden Era of comics as this was the moment in history when comics grew from strips to books. Women in these comics, unless a superhero, were generally portrayed as three things; a career girl, romance opportunity or a sassy teenage girl.
The industry developed and exploded into mainstream markets, gaining a huge audience all flocking towards the heroes and villains creating a mainly male fan base. This gave way to the creation of female characters that almost exclusively were subpar compared to their male counterparts. Although the male heroes were seen as strange at first, being depicted as extremely muscular while wearing colourful skin tight suits, people slowly got used to that and it’s now accepted as the normal hero get together. If you think about it, it makes sense. You wouldn’t want to be fighting villains or saving civilians with a baggy suit on and no strength.
That’s why the female costumes are a little puzzling. Characters such as Wonder Woman are depicted as wearing similarly colourful, yet not quite as modest suits. It would be very difficult (and cold) if you were to fight bad guys and save people in nothing more than a leotard. It something that is seen all over the comic industry and not just within giants such as DC and Marvel, however it is far less common in indie comics. The strange thing is, the hyper sexualisation of women in comics is relatively new. In the past there were still questionable suits for our female heroes however they are actually an improvement to what we have now.
Star Sapphire 1962 and one of her in 2014.
Star Sapphire is only one example among many; note how her neckline at first was pretty acceptable, now it’s not so much as a neckline, more a huge tear down her suit. This outlines how the mainstream portrayal of beauty that women have to face every day is everywhere. Photoshopped images of women have been strewn across our daily lives. Sure some women look like that, but for all of us to try to adhere to it would be impossible and extremely harmful. These characters have infinitely long legs, extremely bendy spines, permanently shiny skin and a huge bust.
The indie comic scene over the world has more women creators now than ever before; this is the beginning of a market that doesn’t sexualise women. An example of one of these is ‘Roller-skates and Breakfast Dates’ by MJ Wallace, the comic features a collection of light hearted strips where a girl is dating a bear, in this comic the girl features wears normal day-to-day clothes and there’s no sign she’s being sexualised in any way. Another is ‘No More Heroes’ by Gordon Mclean and Caio Oliveria, its main characters are male but that doesn’t dim the fact that all female characters are well respected in their own right. There was talk of introducing an older female character into Marvels universe, it was originally going to feature a woman who was a ex-police officer who gets dragged into a series of unfortunate events. Original concept art released of her showed that she would be dressed in casual attire.
The main issue with all this hyper sexualisation within the industry is the fact there is a growing female fan base, not only is it spreading even more unrealistic beauty standards, it is only catering for the male fan base. Before anyone goes on at me for not mentioning the muscles and 22 inch waist of superman, let me explain something. Look at the bare legs of Wonder Woman, now imagine if Superman went around with bare legs. It’s weird right? That’s because you sexualise those legs. Marvel and DC have said multiple times that they love drawing sexy women, but for the future of equality there has to be more respect for the female characters.