Marvel’s demeaning Mary-Jane comiquette

In the wake of Spider-man III, Marvel have released a ‘comiquette’ of Mary-Jane. ‘Comiquettes’ are small sculptures depicting the character in a particular situation1 and the Mary-Jane depiction is causing quite the stir. With good reason.

Most comic-book artists and writers are, for whatever reason, male. For this reason you find a large number of thin-ish male superheroes who look relatively realistic – if the average guy went to the gym all day every day for a year, he could probably get a similar physique – and female superheroes who definitely don’t. Finding actresses to play Wonder Woman is really, really difficult, because no woman actually looks like that. Plenty of people object to this. I’m rather conflicted. Sometimes I think it’s harmless fun and that the average comic geek is perfectly capable of understanding it’s all fantasy, and sometimes I think it’s a bit much. I just read what seems to be a reasonable position: there’s no problem with any particular female superhero being permanently sexy and dressing in revealing outfits, but there’s a problem when they’re all this way

So what’s the fuss with the Mary-Jane figure? Firstly, she’s posed like a Playboy model. With incredibly long, vertical legs and bending over with low-riding jeans and visible thong, Kylie has nothing on her. Move around to the front and she has a cleavage that looks like she’s kidnapped Right Said Fred. If it stopped there I’d think it was tacky. It’s excessive and they’d get some deserved criticism – even if your aim is openly to make a sexy sculpture, you could be far classier about it – but I could possibly be convinced that your average teenage boy would get some entertainment out of it without thinking real women hang around in such poses. It might make an amusing joke-present, too. But it doesn’t stop there. There’s a reason she’s bending over: she’s washing Spider-man’s costume.

I’ll say it again: she’s washing Spider-man’s costume. Barefoot. Pictures here.

Clearly, you can’t defend that. There’s nothing inherently wrong with fantasising over looks – even if every comic geek is in fact only attracted to non-existent Supergirl-lookalikes, that still needn’t imply a lack of respect for women2 – but adding a clear element of subservience to the fantasy is unambiguously demeaning. I’m aware there’s worse out there, but this isn’t some small company run by some guy with a broken sense of humour, it’s one of two major players in a huge industry. What were they thinking?!

  1. I don’t actually have any, but wouldn’t be averse to getting one if they upped the quality – it’s a geek thing []
  2. although I can appreciate the argument that it does, as a side-effect []

Criticising Jane

With the new Jane Austen kind-of-a-biopic out at cinemas, the BBC has an article on the enduring appeal of her novels. It includes biting criticism such as:

“I think she betrays her time and I’m always gob smacked by what she ignored,” says Celia Brayfield, author and lecturer at Brunel University. “She focused on such a narrow strain of human reality. Correct me if I’m wrong but wasn’t the Napoleonic War going on at the time when she was writing, she doesn’t mention it.[…]”

I’m amazed at what critics can say with a straight face: JA writing romantic novels was a betrayal of her time. Maybe she has a point. If the new Harry Potter novel doesn’t mention Iraq, I’ll arrange a boycott. Later we have insights from the ex-editor of Nuts magazine. You might be temped to make assumptions about his views of women based on this, but don’t be so hasty. He is, after all, an Austen fan:

“She is fun, dry, ironic – as funny as any male writer out there,”

Praise indeed.