Saving the world in skin-tight spandex

Claire Gilliland, Editor-in-Chief

When women don capes in comic books or Marvel movies, they shoulder stereotypes and stigmas that haunt them even as they work to save the world. They must fight through ignorance, through judgment, through speculation and doubt. And with such sexism facing them, it’s a shame that female superheroes have to endure demeaning, scantily-clad outfits while they battle evil villains and gender stereotypes.

Often, when women are depicted in comic books or other superhero paraphernalia, whether as villains, heroes, or other characters, they are oversexualized. They are displayed in revealing outfits such as Wonder Woman’s unitard or Black Widow’s skin-tight leather or spandex jumpsuit and shown in uncomfortable and unrealistic but overtly sexual positions. How are women supposed to save the world when hindered by unprotective, limited clothing and impossible, acrobat-level positions?

Women can wear whatever they want. Like men, they should be allowed to wear clothes within various spectrums of revealed skin. However, there is a limit, and that limit arises when there are inarguably oversexualized women fighting crime alongside their relatively normal male counterparts.

Fighting crime is not an easy task, and women cannot do so in uncomfortable clothing. Sure, stretchy clothing can be comfortable, and materials such as spandex are flexible and good material for exercising, but this doesn’t mean that it is necessarily optimal material for crime-fighting, especially seeing as the unitards many superhero women wear do not cover their whole bodies, regardless of whether they are made of some super engineered material that makes them bulletproof.

Female superheroes must endure enough as is. Some view them as less strong or inferior to their male counterparts, and they must face this burden and fight against these stereotypes. Many, such as Supergirl or She-Hulk, are much less well-known than their male counterparts, Superman and The Hulk. Along with that, they also are blatantly hypersexualized, which can prove to be detrimental to young girls perhaps looking for strong women to hold as role models.

“Although women play a variety of roles in the superhero genre, including helpless maiden and powerful heroine, the female characters all tend to be hypersexualized, from their perfect, voluptuous figures to their sexy, revealing attire,” said “Scientific American” writer Cindi May in an article entitled “The Problem with Female Superheroes.” “Exposure to this … can impact beliefs about gender roles, body esteem, and self-objectification.”

Women in comic books, when they’re not saving the day, are typically the focus of the men’s advances and there simply as a beautiful side story, showing no real personality or intelligence. When they step into larger roles like superheroines, these traits — or lack thereof — continue to haunt them.

“Today’s superheroines, like their female victim counterparts, are often unrealistic, sexualized representations of female figures, with large chests, curvaceous backsides and unattainable hourglass dimensions,” May said. “Their skin-tight outfits accentuate their sexuality with plunging necklines and bare skin, and many of their names (e.g., Risque, Mystique, Ruby Summers) connote, shall we say, a slightly less respectable profession than superheroine.”

The treatment of females coupled with their oversexualization not only affects the view of their physical appearance, but also impacts views of women as a whole.

“The sexualization of the superheroine characters serves to reinforce rather than challenge stereotypical gender role beliefs, and this effect may overshadow any benefit derived from observing a strong, intelligent, capable female character,” May said.
There is no reason that female superheroes need to be portrayed and depicted with such revealing clothing. They don’t need to be completely modest; outfits more appropriate for facing the world’s toughest villains would suffice.