A Philosopher's Blog

Scantily Clad Heroes

Posted in Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on March 17, 2017

Wonder Woman 2017cFeminists have long been critical of how female superheroes are presented in comics. In terms of appearance, they have expressed concerns about the body types of female heroes, the way they are posed, and the skimpy costumes most wear. One interesting visual response is the Hawkeye Initiative in which Hawkeye (or another male superhero) is drawn in the same pose and costume type as a female superhero. As would be imagined, the male hero looks absurd when so posed and costumed, which is exactly the point.

While the presentation of female superheroes in comics is certainly a first world problem, it does raise some important concerns. These concerns normally focus on such matters as the impact on body image, but my interest here is with considering the superhero costume from a practical standpoint. That is, what such costumes should be like when considered from a realistic perspective. While I am no expert on fashion, I will draw on my experiences as an athlete, martial artist and gamer to guide the discussion.

In the realm of fiction, being a superhero generally means being very physically active (running, swimming or flying after villains) and engaging in combat. This means that a sensible superhero would have a costume designed to take these into account.

While I am not a superhero, decades of competitive running have given me considerable insight into what sort of clothes are best to wear. One important factor is mobility—you need to be able to move properly in athletic clothing. One approach is looser fitting clothing that allows a lot of motion (such as running shorts) while another is the tight-fitting spandex (such as running tights) that also allow free motion. As such, the idea of heroes wearing tights makes sense—for the same reason that it makes sense for runners to wear them. Another important factor is temperature management. If a hero is like a normal human, they will generate body heat and sweat when they are active. As such, they will need to be able to stay cool while active but also remain warm when they are just patrolling or engaging in dramatic dialogue.

As a runner, I wear as little as possible when I am running in warm weather (for me, “warm” is anything over 55 degrees). This typically means just shorts, socks and shoes.  Many other runners are the same, with women generally adding at least the legally necessary coverage. Presumably a superhero that runs about would also want to wear as little as possible. As such, in warm weather superheroes dressed in super versions of running clothes would make sense—skin tight clothing with lots of skin exposed.  This, of course, assumes that the super heroes have the human need to stay cool when being active. A superhero that had no need to sweat could wear whatever they wished—the concerns of mere sweaty mortals would matter not to them.

Considering this, it would make sense for female superheroes to wear the same amount of clothing as competitive runners—that is, not much. However, the same would also apply to male superheroes.

While wearing minimal clothing is a good idea when active under warm conditions, like runners facing cooler weather, superheroes would need to cover up more to remain comfortable and perhaps avoid hypothermia. Practical and sensible superheroes should also consider following a standard practice of runners: wearing more clothing to warm up or when waiting to compete, then shedding clothing when it is time to get down to business. Since hanging out all day in sweat-soaked clothes is uncomfortable, sensible heroes would also change costumes when they can. And shower.

Unlike runners, superheroes spend much of their time in combat and this would impose another set of practical considerations in regards to clothing. Since superheroes tend to fight hand to hand, it would be unwise to have costumes that provide a foe with easy handholds. As such, tight costumes without extraneous material would be the best choice. Capes would, as always, be a poor choice.

When engaging in combat, it has always been a good idea to have protective gear. Some of this protection is intended to deal with the incidentals of combat, such as ending up in contact with rough surfaces (like being knocked down in the street) but most of it is supposed to provide protection against attacks. This protection usually takes the form of armor, ranging from ballistic clothing to powered armor (like Iron Man wears).

Armor does have the usual trade-offs: it tends to restrict movement, tire out the wearer quicker, and create overheating problems. As such, heroes that rely on speed and freedom of movement might be inclined to avoid armor or at least keep it to a minimum. The classic Batman, for example, did not wear any armor. However, as anyone who plays games like D&D knows or faces combat in the real world, armor is generally a good idea for those who are going to end up in combat. Otherwise all those knifes, bullets and ray blasts will be hitting your skin.

To be effective armor must at least cover the important parts (usually the head and torso) and that means that exposing a lot of skin (especially cleavage or the abdomen) is a bad idea when you are counting on your armor. As such, the typical fantasy drawings of heroines in armor are absurd. Or, as a veteran D&D player put it, “if the enemy can see your cleavage, they can cut your boobs.” And no one wants their boobs cut.

Superheroes who have powers that make them invulnerable or otherwise grant great defensive powers do not need to rely on armor and they can safely wear whatever they like; such as Power Girl’s famous cleavage window costume. While the classic Wonder Woman relied on her magical bracelets, the updated version seems to be close to Superman in her ability to withstand damage—as such, she would not need to rely on armor for protection. Superman, of course, does not need armor—his skin is almost certainly stronger than anything he could wear. As such, a superhero who still had to deal with the sweating problem but did not need armor would want to wear as little as possible, be they male or female. Perhaps this explains why Wonder Woman still dresses the way she does.

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Should Wonder Woman be a Lesbian?

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on July 3, 2010
Invisible plane
Image via Wikipedia

DC Comics recently announced that Wonder Women is getting a costume change. Her traditional starry short shorts have been replaced with skin tight pants and she wears a jacket over her bustier. She still has her magic bondage lasso, however.

This change has generated buzz in the mainstream media, indicating either a slow news week or some sort of Apple like power on the part of DC.

Wonder Women has gone through some significant changes over the years. Originally, she had to rely on an invisible plane to get around, but she eventually got the ability to fly (or glide on air currents-however that works). At one point she even got a major downgrade and lost her powers (but learned karate). However, the most recent version of Wonder Women presents her as sort of a lesser Superman: she is almost as strong, almost as tough, and almost as smart. She does, of course, lack his super senses and heat vision (as well as his special vulnerabilities).

Despite these changes, Wonder Women has largely been a supporting character who has had her best stories as part of the Justice League. However, she is still an iconic character and is perhaps the best known female superhero. Since Alicia Ashby has already done an excellent job of explaining why no one cares about Wonder Woman, I won’t go into this matter. I also will not address the change in costume, since Jeff Winbush has dealt with this. What I will, rather, is address the issue of whether Wonder Woman should be a lesbian or not.

Since Wonder Women is from an island populated entirely of women, some folks have contended that she would be a lesbian. Interestingly, this sort of view would seem to be based on the idea that environment determines sexuality. Making her a lesbian because of her upbringing would seem to run counter to the view commonly held by homosexuals, that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice.

Also, if she merely was a lesbian because of her upbringing, the fact that she spends so much time around men (and supermen at that) could result in a change from her learned behavior. Or not.

Alternatively, she could be a lesbian because Amazons are genetically lesbians. This would match with the view endorsed by many homosexuals. Of course, the idea of an entire island of hot, super lesbians does seem to be a male fantasy taken to the extreme. This option would probably be interesting an appealing to some and would make a degree of sense. After all, the Amazons are much stronger than normal humans and hence might also be different in this way as well (that is, all being lesbians).

While it seems likely that an island populated only by women would see a large amount of lesbian behavior (unless the women had no sex drive), there seems to be no compelling reason to think that once Wonder Woman left she would remain a lesbian. Perhaps she would, perhaps she would not. Naturally, if the Amazons are genetic lesbians, then she would stay a lesbian.

Some folks have also argued that it would make the character more interesting if she were a lesbian. If Wonder Woman had been a lesbian when she was first created or had come out of the closet twenty years ago, then that would have been somewhat interesting. However, these days it would not be particularly bold or dramatic. After all, using homosexuality in a bid to make a character more interesting is nothing new. It is done so much in shows and movies, in fact, that I suspect it will soon be not very interesting at all.

As I see it, a character being gay is not, in itself, any more interesting than a character being straight. Or white. Or black. Or Catholic. What tends to make a character interesting is what the character does and how the character does it. As such, merely making Wonder Women a lesbian would not make the character more interesting. It would just make her a lesbian.

Obviously, her being a lesbian could be used to develop some interesting stories. However, her being straight could also be used to develop some interesting stories as well. As such, the idea of making her a lesbian to make her more interesting seems to be a poor idea.

It could also be argued that she should be a lesbian so as to provide lesbians with their own superhero. After all, straight men have all sorts of superheroes and this superhero inequality needs to be addressed.

While there is a certain appeal to arguing that each group should get its own superhero, this runs into two problems.

First, making Wonder Women the lesbian superhero would seem to “steal” a straight women superhero. As such, straight women would need to be provided with a new superhero.  Also, some people might have an issue with the assumption that strong, independent women are lesbians.

Second, the important things about a superhero should be the qualities that make her heroic. Being a lesbian is no more heroic than being straight.  After all, Superman, Batman and Iron Man appeal to a wide range of people and not just white males.

That said, it can be countered that people desire to identify with heroes who are heroic but also are like them. So, for example, a lesbian superhero would not be heroic because she is a lesbian, but her being a lesbian would appeal to lesbians. After all, people tend to relate best to people like them. Since most people are not heroic, they need to relate to the non-heroic qualities.

My final thoughts on the matter is that Wonder Woman should be made more interesting by making her more distinct as a character. As it stands, she is very much like a lesser superman.  While she could be re-envisioned (like the Marvel Ultimates did), this would create an alternative universe Wonder Woman, leaving the “real” one unchanged. As such, what might be needed is a major change in the current character and not a change in sexual orientation. While Wonder Woman does not have the rich background of characters like Batman, she could be developed into a very distinct character, rather than just being a lesser superman in skin tight pants.


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