Loving, steadfast companion or alluring, wanton adventuress?

(my post on Monday regarding the Mary Jane sculpture reminded me that this was hanging around in the drafts folder from months ago)

The last three words of the post title leapt out at me from amongst the denser verbiage of an essay on the writing of Turgenev, which I was listening to on Radio National as I drove about doing errands this morning.

It’s a vivid description, isn’t it? The author used it to describe the recurring romantic dilemmas of Turgenev’s male characters: which woman to choose to pursue?

Statistically, I would have to say that although both stereotypes of women tend to suffer and die in dense romantic novels, Turgenev’s protagonists would have better odds of a lasting relationship (if not lasting happiness) with the loving, steadfast companion (LSC) type. The LSC has a slightly higher survival rate than the alluring, wanton adventuress (AWA), who nearly always comes to a sticky end. LSCs expire elegantly from consumption or nobly in childbirth, while AWAs jump in front of trains or are strangled by male adventurers.

Turgenev wrote in the 19th century, but here in the 21st century things haven’t changed much for the women in comics (graphic novels), except perhaps that these days LSCs are nearly as likely to suffer a gruesome fate as the AWAs. Writers for DC and Marvel keep topping up the angst that drives their male superheroes by bumping off their girlfriends and female sidekicks. The phenomenon is so widespread that a website named Women In Refrigerators that lists all these dead heroines exists to document the way that their (always mutilatory and lingeringly gruesome) deaths are used as mere plot devices.

Gail Simone, creator of the original list, maintains that despite defensive accusations provoked by the list she has no overarching radical feminist agenda:

“… simple point (had) always been: if you demolish most of the characters girls like, then girls won’t read comics. That’s it!”

The current Wikipedia entry on WIR (Women in Refrigerators) is interesting reading.

In some cases the attention brought by the site and fans writing about the site has led to the resurrection of murdered superheroines, although as an essay called Dead Men Defrosting points out (in response to the “but the men heroes suffer too!” rejoinder), the women are usually drastically diminished after passing through death, whereas resurrected male heroes return to full potency when they rise again.

This double standard brings me right back around to the MJ sculpture and the responding illustration of a sexualised Spidey parodying her pose –

MJwife and Spideywife
Image Credit: BoingBoing

– it’s still not the same, because Spidey is anatomically possible with natural effort (here in Sydney’s innerwest, I can see half a handful of metrosexual gym junkies looking pretty much just like that on any trip to the supermarket and last trip I saw a couple of genuine bodybuilders looking much more like the lovechildren of Wolverine and the Hulk), whereas MJ’s body is missing several sets of lower ribs and half her internal organs in order to have a waist that thin, and her breasts are only possible through surgical enhancement, just for starters. As Amanda points out, that’s only the beginning of how such a sculpture sets up the fanboys for terrible disappointment when they start interacting with real live women (and you just know that their disappointment will be blamed on the women not living up to expectations rather than the people who sold them the unreasonable expectations in the first place).

Categories: Culture, gender & feminism

Tags: , , ,

4 replies

  1. And some of those disappointed boys will go on to become surgeons. When you look at the handiwork of plastic surgeons you have to think they spent their adolescence watching Carla from Captain Kremmen (and failing to understand Kenny Everett was joking). Which means the first crop of anime inspired mutilations is only just around the corner.

  2. Thankyou for taking me back to the late 70s, Carla, and the Kenny Everett TV Show. I loved that show. In retrospect, Kenny wasn’t entirely free from his own moments of misogyny, but at least he recognised the ridiculous distortions of feminine drag in characters like Carla.
    Edited to add: great post from Designated Sidekick about the fanboyz’ unrealistic grasp of monetary arguments for not alienating people who would like a collectible Mary Jane that looks like Kirsten Dunst instead of Silicon Sally.

  3. the women are usually drastically diminished after passing through death, whereas resurrected male heroes return to full potency when they rise again.
    Or in many cases, the male heroes are even MORE powerful when they return :


  1. When Fangirls Attack
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