Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Spider-Gwen and the Cho Incident: When Feminism Erases the Hourglass

Trawling the internet earlier last month, as is my daily habit, I found so many furious posts about Frank Cho's Spider-Gwen sketch. If I hadn't seen all of those posts, I never would have known there was a Spider-Gwen comic that existed in the world.

I'm going to be honest with you. When I first saw the sketch, I was tickled. Absolutely giddy. My meat name is Gwen, and when I was a kid, I climbed on things and pretended to be "Spider-Gwen," your friendly neighborhood wall-crawling badass seven-year-old. Now I'm in my late thirties, and I'm sexy as hell, and I still love superheroes.

Not realizing that Spider-Gwen was a real thing, I believed that Cho was making a cheeky joke that coincidentally tapped into everything I needed to see at the time. I made the image my avatar on facebook. I defended the image on comment boards. And once I became aware that she had her own comic, I became Spider-Gwen's fan, vehemently, enthusiastically, and for life.

Now, I understand why people were upset. They have every reason and every right to be. Women have been sexualized in comics to a ridiculous degree. Websites like The Hawkeye Initiative and Escher Girls have hundreds of posts illustrating this point, and it's both hilarious and sad. The Mary Sue made the point that the comic’s intended audience is teen girls, and that Gwen Stacy herself is a teenager in that universe. Spider-Gwen co-creator Robbi Rodriguez was unhappy with the drawing as well, and to a certain degree, I’m always going to empathize with an artist’s feelings about responses to his work.

At the same time, I still feel good about Cho's drawing. I've got big boobs and a big ass, and I want to feel sexy, and beautiful, and powerful. Cho’s drawing gave that to me at a time when I needed an ego boost. While I agree much of the time with what feminists have to say, this sort of thing kicks me right in the nethers.

There's a deeply scary thread running through some versions of feminism. This point of view assumes the male gaze is the all-important, ever-present villain. The hourglass figure must never be portrayed, lest it give the menfolk a boner. Anita Sarkeesian criticizes female video game characters with my body type almost exclusively. As Liana Kerzner put it:

There are women like me all over the world who have found ways to be proud of our flawed, unique bodies, and we refuse to accept that breasts or hips over a certain size indicate anything inherently immoral. This puts us in direct opposition with Feminist Frequency, since they call out characters in the Tropes vs. Women videos just for having large breasts.

The Cho drawing with my childhood alter-ego as a sexy bad bitch showed up right at the moment I was thinking about this. Spider-Gwen becomes almost tangential when looking at the larger picture. I’m reminded of the weird time when the right-wingers and certain feminists were united in the cause against women’s sexuality in the 1980’s.

Man, was that a drag. Just when I was learning about what it was to be a girl, when I was learning about politics, when I was absorbing concepts of the world that would be sure to stick with me throughout my life, the people who said I could be anything said I couldn't be sexy.

Today, it’s the same. Pearl-clutchers fall against the fainting couch because women have tits, love sex, and use their hard-won agency to flaunt it. Next time, we’re going to talk about Black Widow, and how a great many of the people in the media who were complaining about supposed sexism in Age of Ultron were men.

For now I will close with this: we still need feminism to battle against perniciously right-wing forms of feminism. The hourglass exists, and will not be erased. And Spider-Gwen is fucking awesome.

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