Mindy Newell: The Spider-Woman Scandal – A Different View
The rabbis of the Talmudic period debated two contradictory versions of Creation related in the Book of Genesis (Bereisheet in Hebrew). The first version of Creation actually referred to Adam’s first wife, Lilith, who was made at the same time as Adam from the dust of the Earth. But Lilith believed herself to be equal to Adam because God had shaped her from the dust of the Earth and had blown the Holy Spirit – the soul – into her form at the same He made Adam. This displeased Adam, so God replaced her with Eve, who was made from one of Adam’s ribs while he slept, so that she would always be dependent and subservient to him.
I have a confession to make.
I’m not as disturbed by that butt shot of Spider-Woman as are many of my good friends and various pros in the comics industry, including my pal and fellow columnist Martha Thomases here at ComicMix.
As my good friend and fellow columnist here at ComcMix pretty much summed up my feelings about that variant cover of Spider-Woman #1 by erotic artist Milo Manara, sex sells in corporate America; the biggest example I can think of right now is the increasingly pornographic pictures of the women in Sports Illustrated annual swimsuit issue, which is always their biggest issue. Way back when – 1977 – Cheryl Tiegs modeled a crocheted swimsuit that – gasp! – showed her nipples, it raised eyebrows… and more than that for some, if you know what I mean. Today, that picture is considered tame. There is even a video on YouTube in which the photographer, Walter Ioosso, and Tiegs talk about how that now iconic photo was considered “nothing, a “throw-away” shot at the end of the day.
Buzzfeed posted a video on its site back in March 2014 in which sexualized men in three commercials shot by Doritos, GoDaddy.com, and Hardee’s replace sexualized women. I suggest checking it out and forming your own opinion – but, especially in the Doritos ad, the overall effect for me is of humor, not sexiness.
Why is that? Why doesn’t that cover disturb me as much as it does other women in this field? Why do I mostly feel envious of the models in Sports Illustrated? (And also, it must be said, a little sad that the days in which I looked incredibly hot in a bikini are pretty much behind me, no pun intended, even though I still look pretty damn good for a woman coming up on her 61st birthday.)
It has been said that the female body is inherently more attractive to the human eye, i.e, our brains. This has something to do with the fact that, anatomically – and as more than one artist has explained to me – it is made up of curves and arcs and circles rather than the hard lines of rectangles and triangles and squares. So maybe that’s part of the answer, because I, like most women, heterosexual or not, do appreciate a beautiful woman’s body – though I don’t know if all straight women are comfortable openly expressing that appreciation. Obviously, I am.
It may also be that at some level I’m reacting to all those commercials that I watched in the late 50s and early 60s in which a housewife, girdled and brassiered up the wazoo, mopped floors in a dress and high heels and a stiff bouffant hairdo. I mean, maybe the freely naked and sensual female body doesn’t offend me because at some level in my pre-adolescent brain I resented that, as a girl, I had to be trussed up like a turkey ready for roasting at Thanksgiving to be considered appealing.
The other thing is, American society is still, in many way, a Puritan society, i.e., sex is bad, and women and men should only “do it” to procreate. You know what I mean – that whole “a woman is creature easily tempted by the Devil, we all carry Eve’s sin within us, we must fight this urge and bow to the wisdom of men, first as a daughter, then as a wife” crap.
And yet at the same time the erotic S & M novel Fifty Shades Of Grey sold bazillions of copies and Tupperware parties have been replaced by “sex toy” parties – the most profitable being held in the Bible Belt region of the country, home of the “women as original sin” theology. And though last summer former Disney girl Miley Cyrus and her “twerking” aroused the ire of uptight citizens…
This year Ms. Cyrus used that notoriety at the MTV Video Awards to raise – sell – awareness of the plight of the homeless and was lauded for it.
So which is it?
Sue Storm, the Invisible Woman, changed her Fantastic Four uniform to show off her boobs and her body. Was it just a sexist change by the artist, or an “I am woman, hear me roar” celebration of everything that she is? “Hey, Reed, get your head out of the Negative Zone and appreciate this brainy babe with the bodacious ta-tas!” And if you don’t, well, I’m moving on.” I mean, did the costume make her less powerful, or more?
So on one hand, yes, that shot of Spider-Woman with her butt up in the air is about anything but power. And yet, on the other hand, it is all about power. Embracing what you’ve got and who you are. For as Tess McGill (Melanie Griffith) said to Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford) in Working Girl:
“I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin. Is there anything wrong with that?”
Yeah, I think there is “anything wrong with that.” Power based on sexuality is a power based on pleasing men. We don’t celebrate the sexuality of “ugly” women (as judged by society). For example, Melissa McCarthy in BRIDESMAIDS isn’t feared for her powerful sex drive. Instead, we laugh. And that movie deserves credit for acknowledging that she has a sex drive at all. Usually, only “beautiful” women (as judged by society) get to do that.
Sue Storm (and almost every super heroine who wears a costume) doesn’t look strong to me. She looks like she needs a better bra.
I don’t know, Martha, I think Melissa McCarthy’s power is making you realize that “overweight” women (by today’s standards–in the past buxom, voluptuous women were the ones considered beautiful, i.e., check out Titian, for instance) are sensual and sexual and comfortable in their bodies.
Well said, well written! My wife turns 61 today (Labor Day 2014) and although she won’t be caught dead in a bikini, our sex live survives quite well, thank you very much!
True, Manara’s art is erotic, if not prurient! But I agree with your observations and arguments. Why are we, or rather who, is trying to de-sex women?
Yes, there is severe rape in the world, and many victimized women! Yes, there is war, and poverty, and bigotry! There is a perverse religious thread in de-sexing and thus subjugating women!
I truly did enjoy your article! Thank you!
The real problem with that costume for Sue Storm is that it’s ugly.
Actually, Mike, the real problem with “that” cover is that it’s ugly!
What i meant was that, objectively, that is an ugly design. If someone designed an exact male analog, it would be ugly, too.