The issue of gender may be the most obvious issue plaguing the superhero genre, traditionally representing masculinity through hard-bodied, muscle-bound heroes, and women as secondary characters who may be as plucky and determined as Lois Lane, but who are perpetually in need of rescuing. Captain America: The First Avenger tried harder than most to make its one and only female character more interesting and independent, but even though Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) is clever, plucky, and comfortable with firearms, I find it difficult to remember what her function was in the plot (if any) besides that of curvaceous love interest. The bottom line seems to be that the entire narrative and visual logic of the superhero genre is predicated on the male gaze, and fantasies of empowerment that incorporate very specific images of what masculinity and femininity entail, and how they should relate to one another.
Rare female superhero characters like Wonder Woman are often referred to as “feminist icons“, but the way they’re portrayed in ongoing comics continuities illustrates just how ridiculous that claim most often is: the most recent edition of Justice League features the characters striking a sultry pose amongst her so-called peers, functioning as the eye-catching centerpiece of a classically composed study in sexism. This cover design has drawn out some complaints amongst comics fans:
The point of contention still is, as it always was, that people are getting tired of seeing all of the female leads drawn with body language and uniforms that make them appear less heroic, powerful, legitimate, and all-around able to be taken seriously than their male counterparts.
As a fun way of drawing attention to just how offensive this ongoing depiction of women in comics is, artist Coelasquid has quickly visualized what male superheroes would look like if they posed like Wonder Woman.