Martha Thomases: Betty and Veronica and Adam Hughes and Sex
This week, Archie Comics announced a Kickstarter campaign to launch a bunch of new titles. If you read the comments at the link (which normally, I would never recommend), you’ll see people who object to Adam Hughes drawing Betty and Veronica because it objectifies the characters, seeing them through the male gaze.
First, let me say that I like Adam Hughes’ work. I think the women he draws, while beautiful, also look physically possible, more like movie stars with trainers than broomsticks with hair and boobs. If that gets me booted out of Feminism Camp, so be it.
But mostly, when has Betty and Veronica been about anything but the male gaze? Two beautiful teenage girls, interchangeable except for the color of their hair, wear the most revealing clothes the Comics Code would allow, mooning over a boy who is average at best. The fact that these have been described as “comics for girls” is an example of gender-role indoctrination at its most insidious.
And, yes, I kind of like them, too. I contain multitudes.
Anyway, this story, which might not be important in and of itself, seems to me to be part of a larger issue. We are in (I hope) a period of transition, as women and other groups who don’t look like studio heads and venture capitalists (i.e. by and large mostly straight white men) are trying to tell their own stories or, at least, see stories about characters who look like them.
This happens most felicitously when a variety of people get to tell their own stories in their own ways. It can also happen when talented straight white men who actually know a variety of people tell a story honestly.
It doesn’t happen when they take a straight white male hero and slap tits/black skin/brown skin/queer impulses on him. Unfortunately, that last option happens a lot. And when the hero is made female, she is too often cast because she looks beautiful, not heroic.
This was satirized brilliantly on a recent episode of Inside Amy Schumer. A jury of 12 angry men sat in judgment as to whether or not Amy Schumer was hot enough to star in a cable television show. They didn’t talk about whether or not she was funny, or a talented actor. They talked about whether or not her appearance gave them a “chubbie.”
Lots of women in show business have complained about this type of behavior, and for the most part, men – even sympathetic men — haven’t fully believed them. In fact, the show was inspired by a real event and a real idiot, a man with access to entertainment executives, a man to whom the industry listens.
It’s tempting, at this point, to sigh and make a (stereotyped and bigoted) joke about nerds who live in their mothers’ basements and don’t know any real women. Those jokes might even have a bit of truth to them. However, we live in a time when women who express opinions and demonstrate autonomy get death threats. Their jobs are threatened. The men responsible complain about the tyranny of feminism (in which case, where is my scepter?) and lament that women get to control their own bodies when deciding with whom they want to have sex.
(Note: I read that somewhere online in a comments section, and can’t find the link anymore. It might be the opinion of only one guy. I hope so.)
There will be nothing on television in the upcoming season that extreme because television exists on advertising aimed at the mass market. Instead, we’ll get a bunch of shows that pat women on the head for being so gosh-darned resourceful as to manage both a career and a vagina . All the women starring in these shows will be as beautiful as Betty and Veronica. and they will have gorgeous wardrobes. Some will be able to chase criminals while wearing high heels.
It is up to us, as the audience, to see to it that this condescending, patronizing kind of show falls flat on its face.