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Spider-Butts

Some of you have already seen Milo Manara’s cover art for Spider-Woman #1, which generated a great deal of unhappiness across the internet. As io9 pointed out, she basically looks like she’s wearing body paint. One of many complaints raised was that a male superhero would never have been drawn like this.

Au contraire, says some dude on the internet, who heroically stood up to defy the “Social Police,” those “preachy, bloviating, pharisaic shit-heads,” and to explain why everyone who was upset about this cover was wrong, and it’s really a non-issue.

What his point seems to mostly come down to is the fact that J. Scott Campbell did a Spider-Man cover just like Manara’s, and you didn’t hear the Social Police converging on Tumblr for an outrage-fest then! Total double-standard and made-up non-controversy. So there!

Let’s take a look at both covers, shall we?

Spider-Butts

You can click to enlarge the comparison, and yes, there are some superficial similarities here in that…well, they’re both crawling. But where Spider-Man is clinging to a spherical mass of webbing and bad guys, Spider-Woman is perched on the edge of a rooftop, thrusting her ass at the city skyline for no particular reason.

There are some issues with Spider-Man’s artwork. For starters, what the heck is going on with his fingers? And his costume is almost as tight as Spider-Woman’s. You can see a few small wrinkles in his suit, which is a step up from hers, but they’re both wearing some serious butt-huggers.

Internet-dude’s whole rant sounds vaguely similar to the, “What about the Romance Covers?” response I got for pointing out the oversexualization of women on SF/F cover art.

So let’s take another look at these two covers.

Point 1: One of the basic rules of climbing is to keep your body/hips close to the wall. Or if you’re a superhero, to whatever surface you happen to be climbing. Which is exactly what Spider-Man is doing. He’s hugging his climbing surface. Spider-Woman, on the other hand…she’s not climbing. She’s posing.

Point 2: Look at how the two characters are drawn. Both are in skintight costumes. Spider-Man’s costume highlights his muscles. We’re seeing a physically strong character with extra finger joints. Spider-Woman, on the other hand, is drawn to highlight the curves of her body, sans muscle. It’s not about drawing a character who looks strong or powerful; it’s about drawing boner-bait for young teen boys.

Point 3: Even if both characters were equally sexualized (they aren’t), you have to consider the larger context. I have nothing against sexuality, or against characters being portrayed in sexual ways. But when we’re consistently reducing female characters to sexually appealing/inviting caricatures, regardless of whether or not it’s appropriate to the character or the story, then we have a problem. When women are being drawn time and again in ways that prioritize exaggerated sexuality at the expense of all else, we have a problem.

The problem here isn’t one cover. The problem is one more cover. One more woman reduced to a sexual object. One more woman portrayed in a way that de-emphasizes any strength she might have — because women can only be strong up to a certain point, and only if they’re also sexually submissive to the male reader/viewer.

Are there exceptions? Of course. Are guys sometimes sexualized? Absolutely. But don’t try to pretend that the sexualization of men occurs on the same scale as that of women, or that men are sexualized in ways that rob them of strength and agency the way women so often are.

Or to put it another way? Double standard my ass.

Related:

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

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Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
nelc
Sep. 22nd, 2014 02:32 pm (UTC)
I feel that Manara's been made to carry too much of the blame for this cover, as though all the decisions that produced it were the artist's alone, and none of it due to whatever specific editorial direction he was given, let alone the ambient attitudes of the industry. It rather creates the impression that this is a one-off, and that if Marvel never hires Manara again, everything will be alright.

The mere fact that this is an alternative cover for "collectors" indicates that the editorial staff cynically wanted a "sexy" cover, with the bodypaint suit, exaggerated sexual characteristics and all, and hired Manara specifically to produce that.

Axel Alonso is the editor-in-chief at Marvel who has faux-pologised for the cover, while also managing to imply that it was Manara who was at fault, and not him or his staff who had full oversight of the artwork.
jimhines
Sep. 22nd, 2014 02:34 pm (UTC)
No argument here. As I understand it, this is basically what Manara draws and is known for. It would be like hiring Michael Bay to direct a movie and then acting shocked when lots of things exploded.
nellorat
Sep. 22nd, 2014 04:15 pm (UTC)
Exactly--I didn't even know Manara had ever worked for Marvel but remembered him from erotic comix such as *Butterscotch*. It would have been amazing if the cover he did wasn't sexualized.
martianmooncrab
Sep. 22nd, 2014 06:54 pm (UTC)
and she has such a tiny waist....

now I am waiting for you, Jim, to don such skintight and unforgiving outfits!
spooph
Sep. 23rd, 2014 01:27 am (UTC)
And the exaggerations of her body are just ridiculously comical as well. Okay, well if you must make it sexy, fine, but this doesn't really try to emulate reality when it comes to a woman's shape.

And while "sexualization" doesnt happen as much to men, the notion of being attractive, does. You can see this every time you turn on the TV.

- mark
tzaddi_93
Sep. 23rd, 2014 04:42 am (UTC)
In some ways. There are certainly attractive men on television and movies, and there has certainly been an increase in men being the object of fan service shots. But the standards that men are held to have much more variety and "wiggle room" than the standards for women. You still see huge mismatches in how well actors who are playing a heterosexual couple meet said standards. Actresses who meet the highly improbable standards for women get paired off with actors who don't meet the looser standards for men all the time in tv shows and movies that are not meant to be transgressive.

Edited at 2014-09-23 04:43 am (UTC)
docnerd
Sep. 24th, 2014 03:59 pm (UTC)
I agree with you, but would point out that the "attractive actress paired off with unattractive guy" is virtually always a sitcom thing, where the slim, pretty woman is married to the big overweight guy. And she's always the "straight man" while he's always the bumbling fool. It's not violating the "attractive people on TV" trope, it's the "fat people are funny" trope. You NEVER see a slim, attractive man married to an overweight woman (or even attracted to one, unless it's played for laughs). The most you get is Roseanne, where two overweight people were married to each other. The whole thing just reinforces a number of awful stereotypes.
lietya
Sep. 23rd, 2014 11:53 am (UTC)
My main issue with the *artist* is a now oft-repeated Italian interview in which he claims, among other things, that he's not to blame for her pose because it's God's responsibility for making women look like that. Whereas actual living people attempting to replicate this pose might not be able to without breaking bones (this is NOT one for the cover imitation project!). Much of the blame for this particular cover accrues to the people who chose him to create it, but I'm not absolving him of the ridiculous belief that women must be portrayed as pinup models with spines as flexible as a cat's because they simply are built that way. That excuse might work for Jessica Rabbit, but not for whoever drew her.
jimhines
Sep. 23rd, 2014 02:09 pm (UTC)
I'm not familiar with that interview, but...ugh.
lietya
Sep. 23rd, 2014 02:21 pm (UTC)
http://www.fumettologica.it/2014/08/una-copertina-di-manara-per-la-marvel-fa-discutere-i-giornalisti-americani/

http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=55052 has an English translation; I don't speak Italian fluently, but I am a third-generation Italian immigrant and reasonably confident that the translation is correct in the important particulars. (also, ugh, indeed.)

"What I wanted to do a girl who, after climbing a wall of a skyscraper, crawling on the roof, she finds herself on the edge, and his right leg still has it off the roof," Manara said according to Google Translate. "So the criticism anatomical that were made, I think they are wrong: it is not to have both knees on the roof. One leg is still down, and the other is pulling up. Precisely for this reason, also, then this back arched. I tried to do this."

"After that, it's not my fault if women are like that," he continued. "I do the design only. It's not me that I've done so: is an author much more 'important,' say, for those who believe... For evolutionists, including me, on the other hand, women's bodies have taken this form over the millennia in order to avoid the 'extinction of the species, in fact. If women were made ​​exactly as men, with the same shape, I think we would have already been extinct for a long time."
serialbabbler
Sep. 23rd, 2014 04:29 pm (UTC)
Mind you, comic book artists aren't exactly known for their strong grasp of human anatomy* so he probably genuinely believes that women do put their butts up in the air like a cat in heat whenever they climb onto something.

*Which is not to say that a lot of them can't get it right. It's just that the job practically requires those that do know anatomy to forget it entirely.
lietya
Sep. 23rd, 2014 04:41 pm (UTC)
True enough! Not an excuse, but likely the case.

Also, thank you for pinpointing what seemed familiar about that pose. :) Sheesh.
jimhines
Sep. 23rd, 2014 06:59 pm (UTC)
So it's a combination of "She's in mid-transition from the wall to the roof" and "women are supposed to look 'sexy' at all times"?

I can see a bit of the former, though I don't think he did a great job of illustrating what he was trying to illustrate. And that image doesn't capture "crawling spider" feel the way the Spider-Man one does. It captures "not-terribly-graceful climbing plus ass-flashing."

Yeah, not buying it. And even if I did, as he notes, he *wanted* to draw her in this specific pose, as opposed to any other pose that wouldn't have screamed "I have a web-shooter in my butt and I'm going to capture the whole darn city!"
fiddlingfrog
Sep. 24th, 2014 04:42 am (UTC)
Just letting you know, but a model and a photographer on DeviantArt photographed their own live-action version of this cover. As a heads up, the "costume" is bodypaint but you can't see anything that would get blurred on TV.
sunlit_music
Sep. 24th, 2014 08:51 am (UTC)
Thanks very much for this thoughtful post and for getting it, Jim. :)

That interview is awful, and so disappointing and sad. :/ I'm not buying it, either. I don't think people can do such poses without dislocating joints or injuring themselves.
wintersillusion
Sep. 24th, 2014 04:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks and well said again. I tried to talk to my friend after he posted the video about it not being a big deal and he consistently wanted to cling to all of the arguments made in the video which I felt were rather flimsy. I appreciate that I can come here and know that I will be able to read someone expressing my views more eloquently than I can and that there are actually people out there that agree with me.
realmjit
Sep. 24th, 2014 10:17 pm (UTC)
I actually had to argue with my husband over this. Okay, Manara's ouvre is adult comics, aka porn comics. Hire a porn artist, expect uber-sexy (oversexualized) art. It's intended as a variant, which means less than half of the released copies will have this cover.

Yes, Hunny, it sucks that an artist's work is getting the axe because he provided exactly what he was commissioned to do. Why the hell couldn't they ask for an angle that didn't make it look like her ass is sticking up in the air? "Probably because it wasn't interesting enough."
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