Thursday, September 8, 2011

Wonder Woman's Invisible Pants

One of the most talked-about changes of DC's New 52 is something that on the surface seems pretty inconsequential: Wonder Woman's pants (or lack thereof). After DC radically altered the character's costume last year for J. Michael Straczynski's "The Odyssey" storyline, giving the character full-length pants to replace the traditional bathing suit bottom, it appeared that the more permanent New 52 redesign was also going to feature long pants:

But then a couple of months after the first preview images were released and everyone was talking about Wonder Woman's pants, DC quietly replaced the original preview images with updated ones:

You'll have noticed the missing pants. My theory is that Wonder Woman's pants are made from the same material as her jet, and she's able to turn them invisible at will. Who wouldn't want that superpower?

Actually, I find the whole debate about Wonder Woman's pants fascinating. I can see either side from a feminist perspective: On the one hand, you can argue that the bathing suit look is a product of male creators objectifying the female form, making Wonder Woman into nothing more than a sex icon. On the other hand, you can argue that the pants are a product of male creators trying to desexualize the character because they feel threatened by a woman who embraces her sexuality. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Personally, I prefer the pants for aesthetic reasons--I think the costume looks good with pants--and for practical reasons--I know I wouldn't be comfortable fighting crime in a swimsuit.

But setting my own preferences aside, I really think that the only solution is to have Wonder Woman written and illustrated by female creators. Typically I'm not a believer that one must be a woman in order to write women, or that one must be Latino to write Latinos, or that one must be bisexual to write bisexuals. One must be an observer of human beings in order to write human beings convincingly, regardless of sex, gender, orientation, race, or nationality. But Wonder Woman is not just meant to be a woman; she is meant to be the woman. She's an Amazon ambassador to Man's World, the ultimate living ideal of womanhood. William Moulton Marston (yes, I know, a man) created her to be the ultimate hero for young girls to look up to. I just don't think the character works when she's interpreted as a man's idea of what the ideal woman should be. Gail Simone's run on Wonder Woman is by far the best run in recent years, mostly because Simone is a damn good writer, but also because Simone is one of the few female writers to tackle the character. By the same token, Amanda Conner's Power Girl is by far my favorite interpretation of the character, not only because Conner is a damn good artist, but also because when Conner draws P.G. looking ridiculously sexy, I know it's a woman embracing female sexuality, not a man drawing his fantasy girlfriend. Have Amanda Conner or any of the other great female comic artists out there redesign Wonder Woman's costume, and then her pants or lack thereof can honestly be claimed as a woman's expression of sexuality or practicality or whatever, and not as the object of the male gaze that it will inevitably be otherwise.

The other part of the solution would be to embrace the sexual objectification of male characters in comics. As Sonia Harris points out in this blog post, sexual objectification swings both ways when it comes to superheroes with perfect bodies dressed in very tight clothing. I think to truly make the argument that male characters are as much sex objects as female characters, though, we need to see more male characters with costumes like Namor's traditional nothing-but-a-Speedo look, and we need to see more male characters twisting their bodies into uncomfortable positions in order to thrust their crotches at the viewer, the way female characters do with their chests and rears. Heck, it would be nice if some (presumably straight male) artists would just stop drawing men who appear to be castratos, judging by the lack of bulge. When Power Boy showed up in Supergirl a few years back, I was thrilled to see the chest window in his costume, mirroring Power Girl's:
Wouldn't it be all the more awesome if his bulge had (and deserved) the same reputation Power Girl's bust does?

So I guess what I'm saying is that you straight men and lesbians can have your pantless Wonder Woman if that's what you want. Just give us gay men and straight women some equally sexy men to ogle in return.

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