May 06, 2008

If every woman had a cape

Even superheros get static cling

A few years ago, my husband and I went with some friends to see a movie, the name of which I've completely forgotten. The plot of the movie was as forgettable as the name of it, and mostly I remember the way that Staten Island Woman and I mocked the movie while we watched it, much to the annoyance of the two men with us, who both claimed they prefer to watch movies without a running commentary. (Yes, I know. How crazy is that? Our insightful comments were CLEARLY the best part of the experience.)

It was a comic book movie, except with human actors and actresses instead of drawings, and I couldn't help but analyze the corny dialogue as we listened. The movie was a wonderful illustration of the black-and-white thinking in which people fall neatly into the categories of villain, victim, or hero. Even with all kinds of cool special effects, it's incredible how tiresome those narrative can be. And more than tiresome; it's downright sad. I know real life people who get stuck in those narratives.

Anyhow, the main character, a female superhero whose special powers involved throwing knives around and then disappearing without a trace, decides to avenge her mother's death by going to battle with the villain. There is a dramatic scene in which the camera focuses on the villain, who is of course evil to the core with no complex or redeeming qualities, and then shifts dramatically to show Female Superhero standing in the doorway, ready to throw knives. The drama of the moment was spoiled when Staten Island Woman and I both started laughing aloud.

See, it turns out that Female Superhero, in her fit of revenge, had felt the need to stop and buy lingerie on the way to battle. A convenient wind blows away her cape to show her standing in the doorway in skimpy spandex underthings and — of all ridiculous things —high heels. Before reaching for her knife, she wastes valuable time to throw back her hair and push out her breasts. Staten Island Woman convulsed with giggles, "Oh, god, my mom would kill me if I showed up wearing that outfit to avenge her death!"

It's the peculiar assumption of the comic book world: women can only be powerful if they have large breasts, long legs, and tiny waists. And they must be willing to dress like sex objects. I can't tell you how many times I've cringed at the sight of a small child wearing a superhero outfit that included fake cleavage. The messages that these superhero narratives give to our children fit in nicely (of course!) with the goals of patriarchy.

So I've decided to start a campaign for a new kind of superhero. I'd like to see superheros of all sizes and shapes. Superheros with grey hair. Superheros who make their kids' lunch on their way to battle. Superheros who recite poetry instead of cliches. Superheros who wear sensible hiking boots or sneakers. Superheros who stop to talk to the villains and see what's bothering them before throwing knives.

And the one part of the costume worth saving, it seems to me, is the cape.

If every woman had a cape

47 comments:

K said...

I am SO with you on this! Do you know anything about the RPG Mutants & Masterminds? It's like D&D, but everyone is a superhero. Of course, most of the artwork in the source books shows women in ridiculous get-ups. When my friends and I play, we make real-life female characters...no heels, no bondage gear, no capes!

As far as superhero movies go, I'm now subscribing to the Alison Bechtel movie rules: 1. There must be two or more women in it
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something other than a man.

Here's to hoping for more realistic, positive women in this summer's movies!

Wol

lizardek said...

Haven't you seen The Incredibles? NO CAPES! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M68ndaZSKa8

YourFireAnt said...

....superheroes who wear NOTHING but the cape.

;-)


FA

Yankee T said...

I like The Fire Ant's idea.
Wonderful photos, btw.

jo(e) said...

K: I hate the heels, the bondage equipment, the sex object outfits (which are apparently meant to appeal to the male viewers, which is kind of insulting to enlightened males), but I'm all about the cape. How else can you give the illusion of flying?

jo(e) said...

lizardek: With-a-Why and I just clicked over and watched that clip. And now I'm laughing. I guess I didn't realize how much danger I put myself in when I had that cape on.

jo(e) said...

And Fire Ant, I will lend you my cape next time we have lunch if you'd like to pose as the Naked Caped Superhero.

BlackenedBoy said...

First of all, those pictures are hilarious, and your friend's reaction ("My mom would kill me if...") literally made me laugh out loud.

Gawdess said...

I like the cape idea very much and what you had to say and how you looked as you scaled the chain link fence!

YourFireAnt said...

Deal!

FA

readersguide said...

What a great idea. Making lunch really is heroic, if you ask me.

Kyla said...

My husband gets irked at the commentary, too, but sometimes a movie just BEGS for it.

KayTar wears BubTar's Mr. Incredible costume which appears to have breasts, but they are meant to be manly pectoral muscles.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Laughing. Made my day. As you knew it would!

jo(e) said...

Phantom: I'd like to point out, too, that the railroad bridge I'm climbing around on is right on the main street of town. So I wasn't kidding when I said I was willing to march up and down the streets with a red cape on.

Songbird said...

Awesome, as ever.

Lomagirl said...

Yeah for super heroes! My son is very into Super Why right now, so we have to make capes for his birthday party. Now that I think of it, the grownups might need one, too.

billie said...

That is so very cool! I want a cape. We should all have capes. And tiaras.

jo(e) said...

I'm telling you, Billie, forty-something superheros are coming into style. You definitely need to get a cape.

BerryBird said...

The cape rocks, Jo(e).

susan said...

Sign me up for the cape AND the tiara.

CC said...

You SO wrote this post for me, didn't you?! ;)

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

YAY! I love this. Sign me us as the fat one with the grey hair. I'll recite poetry while giving out wild karate chops and becoming invisible --can I have a few super powers, that would be fun! I want to FLY and be invisible. AND save the world. YEAH! Count me in!

Jane said...

Hear, hear!

Does the cape have to be red? I'd love to wear an orange or purple cape instead.....

jo(e) said...

I'm thinking we could have capes in a whole rainbow of colours.

sherry said...

I have 3 Superman t-shirts, one glow in the dark batman shirt and one super-fleur (a fleur-de-lis that looks like superman) shirt....I wear them to work and I always wear one to parent teacher conferences. Sometimes this 40 year old mom/pediatrician just needs to get her superhero groove on.

Capes though, that would add panache. I can just see women randomly wearing capes as some sort of secret code that it is a day they feel powerful, empowered, or that they/we need to tap into the power of other women just to get through that day.

Zhoen said...

Mom and Dad Save the World, Teri Garr.


Much as I love capes, Edna E. Mode makes a strong case against.

concretegodmother said...

right here, right now -- i'm signing on to your campaign! count me as dues-paying and card-carrying. and cape-wearing, despite the hideous danger involved.

you've inspired me to start creating superheroes to mend the ills i face daily (school bureacracy, educational insanity, student incorrigibility, traffic nightmares, and the like). heh. this is fun.

dogfaceboy said...

I would have laughed, too. But, unlike you, I'm encouraging those costumes.

My daughter (that's daughter) was Superman, Batman, and Spiderman. Most of them came with that fake pectorals shell attached to the spandex, so she could look like a buff superhero warrior.

As for perpetuating stereotypes, as long as women will do it, it will get done. It's not the men doing the exploitation anymore. It's the women. And most of them are so empty inside, that baring their outside is the only way they can feel good about themselves.

OK, that and all the money they usually get to do it.

Come to think of it, if I had the body, maybe I'd prance it around, too. I'm all about parading the brain around, after all. And getting paid to do it is da bomb.

kathy a. said...

i have a cape! it's black, though, and i can see that capes of color and beauty might do far more good.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

I love capes. I have a blanket material Batman cape that I wear around the house when I'm needing to feel particularly heroic. But, at the same time, I just watched The Incredibles (such a good movie!) this week, and knew that capes are not the way to go.

j said...

Awesome!

By the way, next time you're in Big City Like No Other, I highly recommend a visit to the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. (http://www.superherosupplies.com/). You can pick up all kinds of supplies there (they have a wide selection of capes). But behind a revolving bookshelf is a back room where they run an after-school writing and tutoring program. Fun for kids and grown-ups alike. :-)

kathy a. said...

J, how cool! i went to superherosupplies and was sad to see, no online store. but it is connected to the 826NYC project, which is connected to the 826 valencia project in SF -- a fabulous program for young writers, which also features a Pirate Store! if you can't be a superhero, a pirate is a good substitute.

Heidi Renee said...

My blogger friend Andrea inspires all women to be their own superheros and she has an amazing line of superhero jewelery.

http://www.superherodesigns.com/journal/

http://www.superherodesigns.com/jewelry/index.html

I received a necklace from my DH for our 20th wedding anniversary and every time I wear it I feel like I have special powers.

Princess of Everything (and then some) said...

I am SO making me a cape!

Picky Mick said...

"the main character, a female superhero whose special powers involved throwing knives around and then disappearing without a trace"

You know, I think I dated her.

jo(e) said...

Picky Mick: (laughing) Somehow, that does not surprise me.

KathyR said...

While I agree totally with everything you say, I do have to point out that boy superheroes' costumes are not exactly sweatpants and sensible shoes.

Casey (kcb) said...

I will be GardenWoman and go around with holey gloves, a broad-brimmed hat, mud on my jeans and a floral-chiffon cape.

I might not look Hollywood-style hot but my superpower will be growing food using only dirt, sun, seeds and water. What's sexier than keeping people alive and well fed?

Rahul Saha said...

This reminds me of when I went to watch Spiderman. Except, it was so bad no one was really bothered by our comments.

Autumn Song said...

One of the things I liked about 'Batmin Begins' was that it had shades of grey between good and evil. Entirely good or entirely bad just doesn't work for me.

And I think all superhero characters (male or female) should trade their fancy shoes in for something more practical. Trainers go with a cape and lycra just as well as anything else...

Julia said...

i was just going to comment about The Incredibles, but I see someone beat me to it.
However, I do love me some capes...

Overeducated Twit said...

There truly is something magical about a cape. Put it with the right boots, and you feel like a million bucks. Even without the lingerie.

kate5kiwis said...

yeah, i am thinking a Whole Wardrobe of capes, one for every mood.
tonight: the black doc martens with the flames and a burnt orange cape.
i haven't got grey hair yet though X

Lilian said...

Hey, you should check out the only superhero allowed in this house, a heroine, actually: Word Girl!

You'd love one of her main powers -- she always knows her vocabulary :-)

This is a new PBS show (also the only channel the boys watch).

Lilian said...

Here's her website: http://pbskids.org/wordgirl/

She does have a cape, and funny monkey sidekick.

Teacher Girl said...

We should absolutely keep the cape. I was just thinking how well it would go with my red crocs.

I love this post! Thanks.

Best wishes for your trip to Venice.

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