Tuesday, October 19, 2010

X-Men, Feminism, and the Idealized Body

Watching the first season X-men with my son—the 90’s cartoon, not X-men Evolution--brings up a lot of feminist considerations, probably in part due to my recent Feminist Composition class, and doing research on Twilight.X-men as a concept, is pretty damn great. I’d love to read some cultural studies scholarship on the comics and the cartoon versions. It’s such a charged metaphor of for the persecution of Others in society. Senator Kelly, with his ‘Let’s round up all the mutants!’ seems an implicit echo of Senator McCarthy and McCarthyism witch hunts.

But on a feminist level, it’s pretty great—all these girls and women are equally kicking ass alongside the dudes. Mutant powers have leveled the playing ground of physical difference and strength, so tiny Rogue is able to flip over giants three times her size. Everybody in third-wave feminism talks about Buffy, but surely these super-hero chicks were her forerunner.

At the same time, the way they are visually depicted is evidently male-gaze driven. All the women are busty, with long gams, and very developed hour-glass figures. This is only true of the super-heroes though. Other women in the series are more flat-chested and, while they have long hair and wear conventional feminine garb of the 90’s, they are not hyper-feminine. This is true for the men as well—all the X-men are super-ripped with idealized bodies, and normal dudes are well, normal. So I think that’s more what the busty women are about—all the good guys have great idealized bodies (even Beast, while blue, is strong-chested and slim-wasted).All the guys have super strong jaw lines, wide chests, ripped arm muscles.This all seems very Tarzan to me—or maybe it’s just most pop culture phenomenon and literature, started in the penny-dreadfuls and pulp fiction and continuing on through comic books and romance novels.

I don’t have any real conclusions to draw from all this. Just interesting observations. At least in our heroic asthetic, even the Others can be the beautiful people, the ones we identify with and want to emulate. Also I can see why this is so appropriate for adolescents who are attracted to texts like this. And you know, for grown ups who never seem to have gotten past adolescence ;)

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