Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Friday, August 04, 2006

Thoughts about Equality

Okay, so a while back on Ragnell's blog, a discussion erupted on whether Diana and Clark should be together, versus with their actual significant others.

There were good points raised on both sides, I think, even though I'm firmly on the side that Clark and Diana do not actually make a good couple. Whereas Clark and Lois and Steve and Diana do, in my opinion. (I won't go into why, as they're at the link.)

There was something that bothered me though, the constant assertion that Clark and Lois (or Diana and Steve) were ill-matched because they were unequal. That in the case of Diana in particular, it wasn't "feminist" for her to settle for some guy who isn't her equal.

This is a revolting concept for me. Not that couples shouldn't be equal of course, but since when does equality mean "the same"?!

Honestly, the idea strikes me as anti-feminist in a sense. Because if physical power is the only way in which equality counts, where does that leave women? I mean, face it, the average woman is not usually as physically strong as the average man. We're compensated in other ways, of course, but if you only judge equality by physical strength, then where does that leave us?

Equality, to me, isn't about having the same abilities as my significant other. It's about difference. It's about being strong where the other is weak, compensating for one another's weak points. It's about balance.

I mean, sure Diana and Clark are very different in personality, but it's the similarity of powers, their physical strength, that gets them touted as equals.

Lois Lane will never be as strong physically as Superman. But in personality, she's more than a match. He's a calm, easy going, and occasionally very passive fellow. He lets things happen. She's proactive and ambitious. She goes after what she wants and gets it. She's very brave. And reckless. She puts herself in dangerous situations all the time for a story without Superman's strength. Sure she needs saving a lot, but she's willing to take the risk.

She's smarter than he is though. More adaptable. And certainly the better reporter. She's got a knack for scooping out the big stories...even if that knack gets her tied up more often than not. She's very strong emotionally, unphased by being constantly in danger, threatened, or facing death. (And I challenge anyone to read that OMAC tie-in issue where she tries to face one down with a hair dryer and ducks for cover in the bathtub to tell me she's not strong.)

So what do we have? A man with superpowers and a woman with the personality to meet him halfway in anything. A couple in which the man is strong where the woman isn't and the woman is strong where the man isn't... That seems equal to me.

Now Steve gets a lot of flack because he's essentially Lois Lane as a man. But that's a shame, because he balances Diana in much the same way Lois balances Clark. He's not as brash/forceful because Diana's not as passive, but he's got his own strengths.

Diana is an intelligent and diplomatic woman, but she's from an alien culture. She's always going to be a bit awkward in American social situations. Steve excels there. He's charming and socially adept. She may be the more intelligent of the two, but a lot of her knowledge is inapplicable to American culture. Steve has the knowledge and understanding of modern American culture that she lacks.

And like Lois, he's brave. Far braver than Superman, for example, because he faces danger daily without any sort of powers to protect him. Sure he gets in trouble and needs saving, but that's because he's doing his duty for the country. He knows the risks and accepts them. And he tends to enjoy being rescued by a sexy, powerful woman.

So he'll never be strong/fast/enduring as she is, but he makes up for it in his social adeptness and applicable knowledge and skill. They sound pretty equal to me as well. And he's pretty in a uniform.

Though I should be using past tense here, as Steve was rewritten post-crisis as a brother figure. But I'm not, as I protest taking away Diana's Lois Lane. Hmph. As cute as Etta is, it's like giving Lois to Jimmy Olsen. It's Not Right. :-(

Anyway there are a lot of good reasons to prefer Clark/Diana to Clark/Lois or Diana/Steve, but I protest at including "equality" among them. People can be equals without being the same.


  • At August 04, 2006 12:58 AM, Blogger notintheface said…

    Maybe Tom Tresser (Nemesis) can be the new Steve.

  • At August 04, 2006 1:48 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    :-) That would be cool. Personally I thought he might be being established as Donna's foil/love interest instead of Diana.

    But I like Diana better, so I'm all for a Nemesis/Wonder Woman thing. :-)

  • At August 04, 2006 1:52 AM, Anonymous david brothers said…

    My idea of the Lois/Clark/Diana triangle is complicated, but makes a bit of sense, I think. I went into this on my blog a few weeks back, but let me try and in-a-nutshell it:

    Let's take for granted that there's three different portrayals of Superman. This is kind of Hypertime-y, I guess, but it works if you think about it. Mild-Mannered Clark Kent is Superman (aka, the one currently in the comics), Superman as Clark Kent (aka, the one who does all the slapstick accidental stuff as Clark [Whoops I fell down and knocked all this junk off my desk! Oh no I tripped and knocked Lois down! Stutter stutter, nervous laugh!] to ensure that no one confuses Clark and Supes), and Superman is a Freaking Alien With Laser Eyes, also known as the Superman from Dark Knight Returns/Strikes Again and various Elseworlds.

    The first and the last are relevant here.

    The first one is basically human, despite his DNA and powers. He was raised by God-fearing farm folk, and he's humble and a good man to a fault. He self-identifies as Clark first and Superman second. He's often drawn away from being Clark due to his duties as Superman, but those duties were birthed from the sense of responsibility and right and wrong his (human) parents instilled in him. He's the one with a human wife (Lois) who is, if not his equal, at least the perfect complement. They can sit in silence and just bond and know that they love each other and other such hippie-type turns of phrase. Lois means the world to him, and the world means slightly less than Lois does. Greg Rucka showed this well back when he had Lois get hit with a sniper's bullet in some Middle East stand-in, and Superman was there in seconds to find out what's going on. Azzarello showed this when he showed that a Superman without Lois is a Superman who is a man without his center. He's Wally West without Linda Park.

    In this case, Clark is a man first and a hero second.

    In the latter example, Superman is Superman first. Clark Kent, if he exists at all, is a useful fiction, but that's it. He's a means to an end. This is the Superman that will run up in your house when you hit your wife and throw you against a wall. He is fearsome, and he won't hesitate to impose his sense of right and wrong on you and your face. This is what I got from the old Action Comics Superman, as well, even though he was after Lois back then :). This Superman is a god, and he deserves a goddess as his wife. That, to me at least, means Wonder Woman.

    DKSA showed this pretty well. The two of them are far, far beyond humankind. They deserve each other metatextually, in that they're pretty much the top two of DC's heroes, and realistically, as they both exist above normal humans. The two of them are role models for other heroes. When either of them enter a room, that room not only goes quiet, but people stop breathing to hear what these two are going to say.

    Of course, the problem with holding (and supporting) this position is that Lois Lane has a 60+ year head start on Wonder Woman. It's easy to point to awesome Lois Lane stories, of which there are many, to support the Kent/Lane marriage. It's somewhat harder to pull good Superman/Wonder Woman stories out of the long box.

    Anyway, I think that your opinion on Lois/Clark/Diana depends on how you view Superman. I couldn't ever see (Human) Clark Kent with Diana, but I could totally see him with Lois. Similarly, I can't see (Alien) Superman with Lois, but I can see him with Wondy.

    Does this make any kind of sense? It sounded good in my head at least.

  • At August 04, 2006 2:47 AM, Anonymous Ununnilium said…

    David said this wonderfully. And that's part of why giving Diana a male Lois Lane doesn't work; Clark was raised in the same Western culture as Lois. Diana, on the other hand... I very much doubt romantic relationships were allowed on Themyscira (though no doubt Hippolyta turned a blind eye to "warrior's comfort"). It wouldn't work the same way. Not that it couldn't work at all, but you'd need a different personality, IMHO.

  • At August 04, 2006 4:42 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    david: I agree completely, which is why I think Superman Returns fell flat. That Superman might be too alien for his Lois Lane.

    ununnilium: Steve was a little more complicated than just the male Lois Lane though. He was a soldier, just like Diana. One whose talents lay in other directions than hers, but still a soldier. That's the key to understanding their dynamic really.

    It was Steve's bravery (and ass) that got Diana off of Themycira in the first place. He was alien, intriguing, but still had that common ground deep down of understanding duty, honor and responsibility.

    When I call him her Lois Lane, it's because he was the mortal/damsel to her hero. But Steve was very different too. Lois is primarily a selfish character, to balance Clark's extreme altruism. Steve though was all about his country and his duty.

    So it definitely was a different personality involved. :-)

  • At August 04, 2006 9:42 AM, Blogger Katherine said…

    I can't help wondering if the impulse to pair Superman and Wonder Woman doesn't come from the same impulse to say that Batman and Superman should be best friends. It isn't necessarily anything to do with the characters themselves, taken in isolation, or even with their actual relationships as depicted; it's a feeling that "the Best" should be together, because nobody else is "worthy" of them.

    While the truth is, "worthy" has nothing to do with what makes a good relationship. And these characters have lives that have nothing to do with their position in the DC pantheon.

  • At August 04, 2006 10:54 AM, Anonymous ben said…

    Kalinara: In Returns, I was very much pulling for Lois to end up with Richard. He seemed more emotionally capable and realistic with his love for Lois versus Kal's bordering-on-stalking.

    Comics-wise, they're different. The relationship is extremely solid and well-matched, Lois and Clark - she saves him as much as he saves her. And it's not always solid which is one way to have the Clark/Diana thing without having it - occasionally Lois gets jealous of Clark's teammate and best friend. She has a wholly different way of relating to him. 's why the occasional drama over Lana Lang always works, because she and Clark have *history*. Especially if it's treated reasonably rather than melodramatic freak-out, the jealousy always worked for me - Lois is confident but she's allowed to have her own doubts about the relationship on occasion - and enriches the marriage. Occasionally, used sparingly.

  • At August 04, 2006 12:20 PM, Anonymous Lyle said…

    Kalinara, have you checked out the Alison Dare comics from Oni? They're not the focus of the comic, but J Torres captured that sort of dynamic with Alison's divorced parents -- dad's a Clark Kent/Superman type and mom's an Indiana Jones character, they have inequalities that mix well together but also caused tensions that led them to divorce.

  • At August 04, 2006 12:48 PM, Anonymous david said…

    I don't know if this really adds much to the debate but I think thats it's interesting to note that both wonder woman and lois lane are both workplace romances (JLA/Daily Planet). So maybe clark just has a thing for strong ladies in the workplace.
    Also, as mentioned in the article, both clark and diana are aliens in contemporary america and i think that they could both really use guides to help them to navigate this semi-foreign world. i think that if clark and diana were together they might lose their tether to the common man, and with characters that powerful that would be a pretty bad thing.

  • At August 04, 2006 2:15 PM, Anonymous Ununnilium said…

    Hm, I see. I gotta admit I haven't read a lot of Steve Trevor stories.

    And the attraction to a Superman/Batman relationship isn't just because they're The Best; it's because they have such wonderfully contrasting personalities. They're so different, yet so alike.

    (Also, I always liked the implied Bruce/Diana thing in Justice League Unlimited.)

  • At August 05, 2006 1:48 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    katherine: I do think a difference though is that Batman and Superman do have compatible enough personalities to be friends (best is a stretch I admit), as does Diana.

    Bu you're right, there probably is an element of elitist in the ranks of the DCU.

    ben: I was pulling for a threesome myself. :-) I'm weird though.

    But yeah, comics Clark and Lois are just awesome and incredibly well-matched in my opinion too.

    david: That's a good point, I agree that they need Lois (and Steve, or a Steve-like character) for that human element and connection. Superman doesn't need another Olympiad.

    Ununnilium: Honestly, you really should go with the Golden Age stories. That's Steve at his best. Silver Age Steve was a bit of a joke, but early Steve and Diana were very understandable.

    (I liked it, but I liked the Aquaman-Diana flirtation in JLA better. :-))

  • At August 05, 2006 2:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I dunno. I have to laugh at these kind of things like "we're a good match. I'm strong where he's weak, we complement each other!" Not just in comics, but in everyday conversation generally. But even in comics I think it's bad because it generates lazy writing. Instead of fleshing out Clark or Lois as individual characters they get locked into a boring binary characterization. Clark must be a weak reporter so Lois can shine, Lois has to get in over her head so Superman can save her, etc...

    I would actually be vaguely interested in knowing what Clark Kent's writing style is exactly. I know there was that terrible "Under a Red Sun" story, but like I said, it was terrible. And Lois has mostly served as a plot device. I surprised myself by really enjoying the very early issues of Action Comics: Lois comes off as a strong character, so does Clark/Superman and they're miles away from the hokey way either of them are portrayed nowadays.

    I think the tendency for mixing and matching characters is really just due to the fact that the issue-to-issue status quo is so pedantic and boring that they can't pay any lip service to real character growth or development - no matter what happens to Lois, Clark, Diana or whoever - they've got to be here next month.

  • At August 05, 2006 5:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That's "Under a Yellow Sun", sorry. But anyway, it wasn't particularily memorable.

  • At August 06, 2006 1:04 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anon: That's your prerogative. I think personally, looking at my parents (who've been together for 25 years) and other long term relationship that sense of balance is a necessity.

    You need to know how each one ticks to figure out how they fit together. And honestly after 60-some odd years, they really should never have to be.

    And I think Busiek's really doing a great job with them right now. I'm happy. :-)

  • At August 06, 2006 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh, go on. I'm glad your parents are still together or whatever, so are mine, but it still sounds like a really weak argument. No relationship is ever really "balanced." That's why couples argue. Why there can be tension in a relationship, both good and bad.

    But whatever: I think Busiek's a terrible hack, but to each their own.

  • At August 06, 2006 11:14 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Who said balanced means lack of fighting? For a lot of couples, that's part of it.

    For Superman for example, the bickering is probably something he needs. He needs someone able to snipe and bitch at the Man of Steel. That's a rare quality. It's probably why he gravitates to people like Perry White and Batman as well. It's part of balance.

    And as for the last part, you won't get any agreement from me there. :-)

  • At August 11, 2006 12:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    "As cute as Etta is, it's like giving Lois to Jimmy Olsen."

    And if Clark/Lois and Diana/Steve are okay, then so is Lois/Jimmy.

    Diana is settling if she is paired with Steve, and she deserves better. I hope DC remembers this for a very long time.

  • At August 11, 2006 5:42 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    No actually, it's not.

    Because I just spent this post detailing ways in which Lois is equal to Superman. Different, but ultimately equal. Her personality and will is a match for his strength.

    Steve's bravery and social ability is a match for Diana's powers.

    Jimmy is a kid photographer. He's got nothing within him to equal Lois and he knows it. They're not on equal levels.

    Finally, Diana would be settling for Superman, honestly. Settling for a man too caught up in his human identity to appreciate what she is. (Steve doesn't have this problem because, being actually human, he doesn't have to cling so fiercely). Clark could never put her first.

    There are many other forms of equality and what Diana and Steve had was one, filled with mutual respect and dignity. It was a lovely pairing.


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