Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Fear of Big Ones

When I was in college I belonged to a feminist organization for English Majors. I had never really done any "feminist" sorta things before this, having been raised on largely male-oriented media and having mostly male friends. But college introduced me to a world of new perspectives, and I embraced them.

We had health fairs where we taught about AIDS awareness and issues about rape. We had a sexual harassment taskforce. I introduced the idea of using the comic book format to introduce our ideas to a wider audience. We had poetry readings, "women's spirituality" talks, everything.

One day on an open mike poetry reading a new girl that we hadn't seen before stepped up to the front of the room and read her piece. She had giant breasts squeezed into a tight silver spandex shirt. After she read, and her and the other women who were not of our "core" group left, I was witness to the following exchange:

"Can you believe the nerve of her?"

"Her tits just hanging out like that?"

"It's so gross!"

"Those ugly things...they're so fat!"

"She thought she was all hot and stuff. Like she was better than us."

"She looked like a cow."

"She just does that to get attention from guys. It's so *pathetic*."

"She doesn't love herself."

"They were like two big pendulums."

Between this and the way the one guy who *was* accepted into our group was treated (alternatively as "resident beefcake" and favored eunuch), I lost interest in the group. No, it wasn't that I lost interest. My idealism took a hit. I held this group to a higher standard than others and maybe that was wrong.

But I still think we need to examine more closely why we think the depiction of big breasts in comics is offensive.

I know that part of it is that that particular physical attribute is used too often -- this is true.

I know that part of it is that big tits are often used as a way merely to stir up male sexual interest -- this is true, and it reduces the female character as merely an object of the male gaze.

But I also think there is probably another factor in play that's never addressed. And it probably never will be. And that's ok. But I know this factor exists.


  1. To me it's usually a proportion thing. If the body isn't drawn in a way that logically supports large breasts, the breasts as drawn are gratuitous. Mammaries are mostly fat, and it doesn't stand to reason that otherwise thin women (and most comic book characters are drawn as thin) would have overly large breasts. Some do, but not that many, certainly not the nearly 100% that are drawn in superhero comics.

  2. check out anything by brian k vaughan or joss whedon and tell me women aren't depicted fairly.

    also noted is mike carey/bachalo/or/ramos's x-men where rogue's boobs are mostly covered by her large "shawl" thingy, and mystique's aren't busting out anytime soon.

  3. While I'll be one who says there's nothing wrong with large breasts, as I have a set myself, I do think that in comics they are overused in order to have sex help sell comics.

    The other night my sister and I were talking about the olympics and it got me thinking about superheroines. Aren't they the equivalant of a gymnast? Or women body builders? If that's the case then the laws of biology should have them be fairly flat chested. The fact that some of these characters sport some overly large breasts coupled with the fact that any other woman who was as physically fit as them would be flat chested unless she had some plastic surgery done makes these DD heroines look gratuitous.

  4. I think the amusing thing is when you have an artist like, say, Jim Lee or Ed Benes, who draws every single female character with silicon breasts (as elayne said, the proportion is usually off, but the shape is usually just as off), and then when that same character appears in a comic drawn by an artist without the same inclinations (and of course, I can't think of any, but there are some), her breasts are more moderately sized. So much for continuity, right?

    Power Girl, of course, always has big, and very obvious, breasts. Which is why, I suppose, Michael Turner drew especially large and unpleasant-looking breasts on her; that's his attempt at consistency. :P I do enjoy the stuff that Johns and Conner did with Power Girl in that arc from which you have posted an excerpt, as it is a fairly intelligent treatment of the whole set of... issues. :P

  5. I like boobs. They're pretty awesome. I just also like seeing a variety and a certain amount of naturalistic proportions.

    Isn't this one of those strawman arguments, anyway? Where an argument about proportions or lack of variation becomes "You're just jealous because yours aren't that hott!"?

    (In case it matters, 38C and quite happy with 'em.)

  6. There's two things going on here. One is, as Elayne and Lisa pointed out, the ridiculousness of huge plastic tits on anorexic female superheroes. We all understand that's wank material and stupid and sexist. In real life, it's a different story. The patriarchy forces women to compete with each other for men's attention; any women who can attract more of men's attention needs to be torn down. She is a threat to "the rest of us". And big tits are obviously there for men to enjoy, along with the assumptions that go with them (low IQ, easy sex). It takes a huge effort to stop hating other women; the patriarchy ingrains that deeply and encourages it at every turn.

  7. ^ In my experience, and as your comment suggests, it's more often the 'matriarchy' which forces women to compete for men, or at least think they must.

    Males and females tend to look for many of the same things in a member of the opposite sex. Intelligence, a sense of humor, and a giving nature are the qualities most widely admired - before physical attractiveness, which is a close fourth.

    Physically, a neat appearance (for whatever social set) is apparently the most important. After that, hair and eyes are the features males find most attractive; females prefer eyes and hair.

    The likes and dislikes are strikingly similar. Yes, there are differences: muscles - but apparently only a 'toned' look - for women looking at men, and curves - but trim - for men looking at women. Assertiveness is more highly admired by women, but men appreciate confidence as well; both prefer a balance of boldness and vulnerability.

    Most of women's ideas of how they need to attract men are perpetuated - and enforced - by other women. They're largely a myth, and have mostly to do (by way of origin) with the marketing efforts of certain large companies, and (by way of endurance) with women 'keeping in line' other women.

    Outside of a certain percentage of considerable louses, men are probably a lot more accepting of women than are most women. And while many men probably appreciate the idea that women compete for their attention, most find the ones they like most want - the really nice, competent, clever ones - are hard to come by. And, for what it's worth, most men probably feel like women are competing for the attention of the other guy.