Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Men *Never* Sacrifice the Sluts: The Virgin/Whore Dichotomy in Comics

Wonder Woman is a virgin.

That's a little weird to think about isn't it? I mean, in the Teen Titans Annual, it's very clear that Wonder Girl isn't following in her mentor's footsteps there. Odd that in one way, Cassie is more "experienced" than Diana.

But it's not like it's a big deal, after all. Sex is a choice to be undertaken, and there's certainly nothing wrong with a woman choosing to wait or partake whenever she's ready. And comics certainly have no dearth of strong, sexual female characters such as Oracle, Black Canary, Power Girl or Starfire.

But around the time she was in the courtroom for arraignment for killing Max Lord, there was a storyline with the Cheetah stalking Diana growling about her "purity" and how it made her favored by the gods moreso than the Cheetah herself.

It seems like an odd thing to be sensitive of, as Cheetah tends to be off her rocker, so there's no real reason to think anything of it beyond delusion, right? It doesn't even make sense, as of the Greek Goddesses who patron Diana, only three were virginal themselves (and neither Hestia nor Athena seemed particularly inclined to disfavor of the activity as long as it's not in their temples), of the others, Demeter was a fertility goddess and Aphrodite's the goddess of love... Only Artemis, in my very limited understanding of the Ancient Greek Pantheon really tended to favor virginity and that tended to be less important than strength or skill in the hunt. The Gods certainly didn't seem to glorify virginity. It must just be Cheetah being crazy and delusional as always, right?

But there are little things... A scene in Batgirl, with Batgirl and Spoiler, where Steph brings up her baby, causing Cassandra to confess that she'd never even kissed a boy. That part of Batman/Superman 19, where being kissed by Poison Ivy, Supergirl remarks shocked that that was her first kiss...

It doesn't really mean anything, I suppose. I mean, virginity certainly makes sense for both characters given their histories, temperaments and lack of opportunity. I certainly have no problem with young female characters being openly virginal.

But something about the portrayal bothered me. Steph's sexual history and pregnancy, written about poignantly enough in Robin, is suddenly relegated to a side comment designed to emphasize Cassandra's innocence. And in the case of Supergirl, the line read like something out of a silly school girl manga. I certainly never felt the need to proclaim my first kiss to anyone, and I don't know any other young girl who did.

I suppose, considering the skin tight, sewn up, leather almost-fetish outfit Cassandra wore as Batgirl, or the very open midriff, tight shirt and low riding skirt that make up Supergirl's costume, that it's beneficial to assert these provocative young women's "purity".

I'm a comic fan and as I'm not a masochist, obviously I'm not bothered terribly by skimpy or provocative outfits. But if the outfit is provocative enough to make one inclined to assert the lead character's virginity in such an obvious manner...maybe it needs redesigning.

As an example, Wonder Girl, Cassie Sandsmark. I don't recall it outright stated, but it's assumed that until the Annual at least, she was a virgin. It was never needed to be said. She's pretty young, dressed like any other young girl (midriff included, unfortunately), and thus it's easy to assume. I certainly wasn't losing sleep about her virginity or lack thereof. Notice also, that in the upcoming Teen Titans, her character design is changed to look markedly older. A reflection of the change in status from virginal teen to sexual adult? If so, I'm not terribly bothered.

Stargirl, Courtney Whitmore, is another one. She's young, dressed like a stylized version of a normal teenager, I assume she's intended to be portrayed as a virgin, though it's not stated for sure. That's fine. Again I don't need to know.

I wouldn't need to know for Cassandra or Kara either. I know the character histories, but for some reason they felt the need to *say* that. Perhaps the over-the-top costumes are a part of that...

Which then leads to another question, putting these young girls in costumes based after predecessors...both Helena and Linda were adult sexual women...without alteration, or in the case of Kara, altering it to be *more* provocative, but at the same time emphasizing their virginity.

Well, what does that *say*? What does it say that Wonder Woman, in all other ways an embodiment of all the great potential within women, and wears a glorified bathing suit into battle I might add, is portrayed as a glorified virgin?

There's a rumor that Wonder Girl will be pregnant. Which might make for good drama, I certainly have no problem with babies, and Selina's story's going well...but it starts to look a little odd...

Cassie might be pregnant, seems to have (if temporarily) lost her powers and suffers a profound emotional loss, Mia has HIV, Steph is dead.

Three underage girls...three very dire life-changing (or life-destroying) fates. That might be a coincidence...but it disturbs me that every case of underage sex in comics that I can think of seems to have been or will be thematically "punished".

As for the older single, sexual women, most of whom I love and think are usually very well written, well... Barbara has been attacked and shot, Dinah has been tortured, Helena shot, Kory loses her people and planet (again), Karen's had her world upheaved, Hippolyta is dead.

That's a lot of misfortune to happen. Again, it's probably just a coincidence...

But I wonder what the Women In Refrigerators list would look like if we weeded out the virgins and the (currently married) wives.

Even more irritating has to do with personal histories, of those sexually active female characters...the only one I can think of without any sort of implied or actual sexual assault in her history is Karen. (And possibly Helena, I can't recall.)

And then there's Marvel, where the majority of female characters seem to be either currently married wives (Sue, Jean), somehow untouchable in either power or personality (Rogue, Storm), or constantly being reverted into young teenagedom, (Kitty, Jubilee).

I'm not saying every female character should have extra marital sex. I'm not saying that sex should even be brought up terribly often. But I'd like to lose the impression that *sexuality* is somehow a bad thing.

As for Cassandra, Kara and Diana, these virginal women in fetishized clothing, all dressed up yet emphasized to be untouched and pure...what the hell does that mean? That male readers can appreciate the sexuality of the outfits, but need to be *reassured* that these women haven't appreciated the sexuality of *anything*?!

Grow up!


  • At April 05, 2006 7:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Of course,when we are dealing with classic mythic personae,the term for virgin takes on a whole different meaning....

  • At April 05, 2006 9:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Artemis is still a virgin because Apollo killed Orion, her love (bastard).

    Superboys the father right? that could be handled right what I have aproblem w/ is GA sidekicks no matter sex are always "damaged".
    Also Wonder Woman isn't always a virgin, see KC, The Dark Knight Strikes Again,& I believe silver age stuff

    The Superman/girl, Batman, and Wonder Woman costumes have from the start been ment for flag waving pin-ups, originating in WWII era as they did er go outfits

    Last it's completely possible to be virgin & sexual for anyone. Great piece Kal Cheers!

  • At April 05, 2006 9:37 AM, Blogger joncormier said…

    I'd read a story about Wonder Woman feeling alone and having a moment of doubt about where she is and how she got there. There's always a hint of sadness to the older "Virgin"-character (but it never appears as an issue to older virginal men). She took on a social role but had to sacrifice her personal life. This is a story lightly dealt with in a derth of Superman Stories - his entire early relationship with Lois Lane is based on his inability to balance personal and public but it was never seen as bad so to say.

    I think a huge part of this is that men are portrayed as "complete" when they are fulfilling a social role. Superman and Batman are father-guardians for their respected cities, whereas women characters almost always have their power attached to their bodies - edible women in other words. They aren't defined by their social role but through their relationship to men.

  • At April 05, 2006 10:03 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anon: heh,there *is* that to consider.

    green: Pregnancy's only a rumor thus far.

    I don't think it's necessary for Diana to be a virgin, and really, doesn't make thematic sense. I'm not saying she should go around with everything that moves, but there really isn't any reason that it wouldn't have come up at all.

    Oh yeah, definitely possible to be a virgin/celibate and sexual. Virginity doesn't equal purity or anything after all, but our culture tends to go to extremes to glorify what amounts to a mix of personal choice and opportunity.

    jon: *Are* there any older virginal men? The only male characters I can think of who are declared as virginal, or hinted at it, are very young. Connor Hawke's really the oldest stated virgin that I can think of.

    If you mean *celibate* men though, I agree. I also dislike using the term virginity for women over the age of 18-19 or so. I figure after that point, the exercise of sexuality should be considered more of a matter of personal choice. "Celibate" is a fine way to define Diana that doesn't push my hot buttons.

    And you're right as men being portrayed as complete...though both Superman and Batman have sexual experiences at some point. But Diana's one of the few females to be defined solely by her own traits and role, rather than by one relating to men...except the virginity thing. Which might be why it annoys me.

    Heh, "edible women". That's a nice choice of phrase.

  • At April 05, 2006 10:04 AM, Blogger Melchior del DariĆ©n said…

    Interesting post (and comments). One more for the list: with Selina Kyle, different creators have dealt with the question of whether she was ever really a working prostitute in varying ways over the years since 1986. (There's a discussion of this in the biographical FAQ at East Side Gotham. It's under the "Nine Lives" link.) As a single mom "with a past," Selina's character history now embodies both sides of the dichotomy that you're writing about.

    Oh, and though I haven't read it, I believe that in Helena B.'s first origin story, she was depicted as a victim of childhood sexual abuse. (Cry For Blood erased this origin from continuity, though.)

  • At April 05, 2006 10:07 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Melchior: *nod* Selina's actually one of those reasonably strong sexual female characters that I like so. Of course naturally this means Batman Year One has her a prostitute...

    Huh, well, that's one retcon that I have absolutely *no* problem with. Helena's got more than enough problems without adding *that* into the mix.

  • At April 05, 2006 12:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I should note that, to my eye, Supergirl's new costume is just an updated version of her original uniform. She's dressed as a cheerleader for the Superman team, with a cape and boots.

  • At April 05, 2006 1:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    As for "virginal" vs. "celibate" I've thought of Wonder Woman as celibate-by-indirect-choice. She's just too busy promoting peace to have a relationship, something that probably shows a different kind of sexism -- as you note, Bruce and Clark are allowed to "have it all" as a sign of how great they are. Meanwhile, Diana is expected to sacrifice her personal life to achieve her goals.

    I think there's a different sexism at work with Wonder Woman, though. For decades, writers have struggled with Wonder Woman's love interest because a man in a relationship with a physically stronger woman is seen as a wimp. (Though, truthfully, I'd love to look at some of those silver age stories where Steve Trevor is written as a male Lois Lane, scheming to trick Wonder Woman into marriage and putting himself into peril.) I think writers' fears of tackling this double standard has lead to the "she's more concerned about her mission" rationale.

    I dunno. I've enjoyed a lot of Rucka's run, but there's still a joy to the concept that's been missing since the Crisis.

  • At April 05, 2006 2:06 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    anon: That's kind of my point really. The Supergirl outfit was always designed to tantalize. Thing was Kara (Pre-Crisis) never needed to shout her virginity (it was assumed given her temperament, upbringing and age, but it didn't need stating) and Linda (Post-Crisis) was an adult woman.

    Lyle: I don't necessarily need a Steve Trevor, but I'd love to see Diana in a relationship with a guy. Some sort of young academic professor type, I think would be ideal. Not a physical man by any means, but smart enough to challenge her intellectually and respectful of her own mind.

    Maybe an Ancient Greek Studies professor following in the footsteps of Julia Kapitelis or Helena Sandsmark.

    It just seems like for a concept that's so heavily based on an ideal of womanhood, it's odd and vaguely insulting that she's missing out.

  • At April 05, 2006 2:34 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    Hmmm, virginal goddesses, chaste heroines...why does this sound familiar? ;-)

    "Of course naturally this means Batman Year One has her a prostitute..."

    Well, I think that has more to do with Frank Miller's proclivities than anything else... :-)

    I can't speak for the comics, but I like how the interpersonal relationships have been handled on JLU. It's fun to watch Diana pursue a reluctant Bruce: she doesn't come across as openly sexual as some of the other ladies; but she clearly hasn't taken a vow of chastity, either. It's also fun to see the John-Shayera-Vixen triangle play itself out. It's fun to watch Ollie and Dinah, or the Huntress and the Question, dance around one another. It's just generally nice to know these people are trying to fit love lives around their deranged professions. :-)

    A common theme for a lot of superheroes are the personal sacrifices they make, including their love lives, in order to do what they do: either due to lack of time, fear of endangering their lovers, or simple emotional dysfunction. Taking a vow of chastity - either openly or implicitly - is one way of proving your devotion to your cause. Batman plays the celibate brooder far more often than the lover-boy.

    And I think we can all agree that Bruce would be a lot more mellow if he just got laid more often.

    "Virginity = innocence or purity" is a pretty common Western literary theme, going back at least to Adam & Eve. The loss of one's virginity - and thus the start of one's sexual life - is generally seen as an important turning point in a person's development. "Innocence once lost can never be regained" and all that.

    As for "virginal young women in slutastic outfits" - not how you put it, but it sounds funnier that way :-) - I've always seen that as representing the threshold between childhood and adulthood; between innocence and experience; between virginity and sexuality. It clearly demonstrates the characters' physical maturation as well as their yearning for respect as adults (by dressing more "grown up"), even while you are reminded that they're still inexperienced in such matters.

    Or it could just be there so the pervs can get their rocks off from superheroic jailbait. That combination of sexual innocence with lithe young bodies is quite the turn-on for some... X-P

  • At April 05, 2006 2:41 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Ferrous: I don't disagree with you about the costumes. That's why I mentioned Wonder Girl's previous costume and Stargirl's. Both showy and revealing, but still definitely...well, highlighting the divide between child and adult. Even Supergirl's isn't that bad, though it certainly shows more of her skeleton than most.

    Cassandra Cain was in skin tight black leather with a sewn up mask though. And as cool as it looked well...that's a crossed line. Which they tried to make okay by emphasizing "Oh no, she's still a virgin"

    I don't mind celibate heroes, but it annoys me that the only sexual women we see in comics that don't seem to be punished for it are wives. And that the only woman of the the only virgin of them too.

  • At April 05, 2006 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I agree about Steve Trevor, the character's not a requirement to the franchise but I think the way writers felt challenged by him indicates a sexism the character faces (one that believes that a woman shouldn't become involved with a weaker man and that being saved from death by a woman is emasculating). There are other circumstances (like editorial vision not seeing WW with another hero) but I think this one has kept WW from having a lasting love life.

    A few writers have tried to introduce a love interest. The guy who followed Byrne introduced a Hindu superhero, Rama, but the story wasn't so great and written away before the next writer started the series. Phil Jiminez also tried to introduce a love interest who readers didn't like.

    I agree about wanting to see Diana with a man who's an intellectual match, though I could also see her with an Indiana Jones-type of character (smart, adventurous and not unwilling to accept aid when needed).

  • At April 05, 2006 3:58 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    In general, when it comes to women, "virginity > monogamy > promiscuity" in our society - true of fiction, true of real life. A woman is expected to "save herself" for her One True Love; and she is expected to remain loyal to said OTL no matter what. Anything less is seen as a "failure" on her part.

    So it is unsurprising (if unfortunate) that sexually active single female characters are usually stigmatized in ways sexually active single male characters are not. [Though it is usually seen as a sign of a character's maturation when they're finally ready to get hitched - male or female.]

    Not saying that's a fair standard, I just calls `em likes I sees `em.

    I've always seen Wonder Woman as derived from the "virgin warrior goddess" archetype (e.g., Artemis). She usually comes across as "above" such things: she is an icon of such purity that sex would taint her; she is expected to remain chaste, like Galahad. As such, it doesn't surprise me she has few if any real love interests in most incarnations. That's simply part of her nature, y'know?

    Again, though, I like the way JLU handles her and Bruce. She's obviously far stronger physically than he is, but it doesn't seem to be an issue for either of them. It seems clear to me Bruce rebuffs her interest because of his own screwed-up issues, not because he feels emasculated by the fact she could punch him through a brick wall. :-) And Diana's assertive without being too pushy: she accepts Bruce's personal boundaries, yet she doesn't let him get away with dodging her all the time, either. Too often, women who actively pursue men in fiction come across as predatory, but that's not the vibe Diana gives, IMHO.

  • At April 05, 2006 6:18 PM, Blogger padgett said…

    I recall the Jesuits teaching the "virginity > monogamy > promiscuity" for both genders, but that's certainly not something that's true for society in general.

    Overall, the punishment of sexually active women isn't really an issue that's unique to comics (e.g., horror films, CSI), but it would be nice if that could be one medium that is a little more enlightened. I'm still trying to come up with a sexually active superheroine who hasn't been subject to years of abuse. Zatanna? I might have missed some dark 90's treatment of her, but I recall her being fairly well-balanced, dating coworkers, and generally acting like an actual person (at least during satellite-era JLA).

    And, while I'm all in favor of giving Diana a proper relationship, I sort of figured that she might be a little behind relationship-wise having jumped from celibate, single-sex Themyscira to ambassador/warrior. I can see how she might have relationship issues, but you'd think a writer might want to tackle them.

  • At April 05, 2006 6:33 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    lyle: I know I'd personally rather not see Diana with a hero precisely because of those reasons.

    Though I always did like the subtle thing she seemed to have going on with Aquaman...

    An Indiana Jones character could be interesting too. :-) *Something*.

    Ferrous: I wouldn't mind Diana being portrayed as above all that, if there wasn't, *at the same time* this constant idea that virginal/unmarried women are missing out on a part of human experience. Certain comics have even gone so far as to show Diana regretting being above it as much as she is.

    Which is the other reason the term virginity over celibacy urks me. It not only glorifies the condition, but it also diminishes it. Girls, maidens are virgins. Women are wives and mothers.

    Diana is not a character that is meant to be portrayed as "lacking". Besides, given the makeup of her pantheon...there is *no* reason for a glorification of virginity.

    dr. flem: Zatanna's got all the Identity Crisis stuff now though, and while I don't think that's a conscious punishment, it does fit the unconscious trend.

    I don't mind Diana having relationship issues, though personally, I'd like her to get far enough to *have* a relationship or two. I don't even mind if she stays celibate. It's the handling of it that urks me.

    And the notion that the ideal male Superhero is the only real option she's had (and he's taken), and is sexually experienced, where the ideal female Superhero is divorced from her sexuality completely.

    That just From this woman's perspective at least.

  • At April 05, 2006 11:09 PM, Blogger Marionette said…

    Sorry, but Karen got magically impregnated and ended up giving birth during Zero Hour. I'd consider that a sexual assault.

  • At April 05, 2006 11:19 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    marionette: *sigh* I knew something about Zero Hour pissed me off. I much preferred it when it was implied to be Hal/Parallax's baby. At least then it came from a consentual sexual encounter

  • At April 05, 2006 11:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I don't think Connor Hawke is still a virgin; when he was the title character of Green Arrow and fans started to speculate he was gay, there was a random issue where he and Eddie stumbled across this hidden city in China and had sex with a woman there (something like that, it was a bizarre story), although it's only ever referenced in passing, so whether they actually did it is hazy (of course, it neatly deflates the gay rumors and gives him sexual experience without having to give him a relationship with a woman, and so stinks to high heaven of plot device).

    As far as Diana goes, her virginity seems to be a side effect of her humanity being downplayed (admittedly I don't read much of her series, so feel free to smack/ignore me if I'm being stupid here). Many of the recent stories take place on Paradise Island, and the people she interacts with are either Amazons, gods, or other Justice Leaguers, none of whom lend themselves very well to a story about sex.

    Ugh, I don't articulate well. I think what I'm trying to say is that as long as the writers push the 'icon of purity' (purity itself implies some kind of virginal innocence, rather than inherent goodness) aspect of her (I know I don't remember it from JLU), and downplaying her humanity, it's highly unlikely that we'll ever see her in a significant relationship.

    (or maybe this is exactly what you're saying, and I'm just tired. Difficult to discuss things when the central cause is always 'the writers are being silly')

  • At April 06, 2006 1:44 AM, Blogger JP said…

    This stuff really pisses me off! A male hero's sexuality is never seen as a central issue - no Robin has ever had to make remarks about his virginity, even with all the prurient popular speculation thereof, Bruce Wayne never got punished for his playboy persona (male slut) - although maybe all the post-Miller angst and stuff vented upon him might be a sort of payback, and so on and so on.

    I actually believe that the silver age, with all its unexamined sexism, was a less offensive time than our much-vaunted PC, enlightened era.

    (PS: Small clarification. Rama can be characterised as a superhero, and is in fact originally intended as such, as a paragon figure and exemplar, but is also an avatar of a god, and worshipped as a demi-god, if not a god in his own light, by a living culture. I'm just saying.)

    (PPS: I like the idea of Wonder Woman taking up with an academic type. As a corollary, I've known women who are sportspeople, and I've noticed that a reasonable number of them prefer to go out with the more bookish, intellectual type, as they see enough jocks in the world of sports. It's the sort of thing that does happen.)

  • At April 06, 2006 5:42 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    catrina: You're probably right about Connor, I'm behind on Green Arrow. :-)

    Diana probably does interact only with those legends as you say, but I really dislike that aspect of her story. She's supposed to be an ambassador, which means she should be around every day people more.

    I get the downplaying her humanity thing, but I think that's a very bad idea, the point of Diana is that she's not innocent. She killed Max Lord with full knowledge, with the pure certainty of the truly just. She shouldn't be innocent, she should be wise, experienced and knowledgeable in all areas, not all but one. IMO.

    JP: Honestly, I'm not much most Silver Age stuff (aside from some Flash and all of Green Lantern). There're I think a whole different kettle of problems there.

    The Modern Age in general is still much more to my taste...though I wish that certain things, like this topic, were improved.

  • At April 06, 2006 7:26 AM, Blogger JP said…

    The thing is, it's hard to take silver age sexism or stereotyping very seriously. The current stuff is more disturbing because it's like a hidden agenda emerging behind a veneer of awareness and equality.

    Erm, but, yea, it's not that overwhelming. I was just being a drama-king when I made that remark in my last comment!

  • At April 06, 2006 7:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Supergirl's first kiss was with Poison Ivy? I know if I were a girl, and that was my first kiss, I'd probably mention it too - possibly adding an "oh, for F---'s SAKE!", and bemoaning it a bit.

  • At April 06, 2006 7:30 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    JP: I do get what you're saying about the humor aspect. Silver Age is supposed to be on crack, whereas Modern Age isn' the flaws of the Modern Age tend to glare more.

    :-P Drama King.

    Martin: Maybe, I probably would too. But that's not how she *said* it. :-P

  • At April 06, 2006 9:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Regarding Storm she's actually one of the most realistic women in comics. She has a interesting multi-layer relationship w/ Logan. In the episode "One Man's Worth" (FOX X-MEN) temperal alternates of them were married. By african tribal custom the son of a women unable to nurse and care for him was surgated to Storm who in every way accept birth Is his mother. (Misznari, also in one of the most poinent X-MEN episodes) And She has a nephew and is mother figure Wisewoman to the x-kids if not everyone, near proof she's expierenced.

    In regards to Bruce he's so emotionally @#$% he's more angst then a red power ranger!:-)!And Kal next time I see you I've got the superman wedding album out for you in witch it's clear from page 1 that while Clark wears the tights Lois wears the pants in the family, it's great stuff!

    ps.Could I be an ancestor of Brainic 5, my remembering all this obscure shite & all? :-)

  • At April 06, 2006 9:58 AM, Blogger joncormier said…

    Kalinara, good call on the use of terms. I was going more for the celebate type of characterisation rather than the Virginal Queen type.

    Every time I see the title for this post I think there must be a lot of volcanoes in the DCU.

  • At April 06, 2006 11:26 AM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    "Certain comics have even gone so far as to show Diana regretting being above it as much as she is."

    Well, as I said, a recurring theme in a lot of superheroes is the sacrifices to their personal lives they make. I.e., they compromise their personal happiness in order to devote themselves to helping others. Most of them don't exactly have normal love lives, but that's something they've given up in order to serve the greater good.

    So, from that perspective, I have no problem with Wonder Woman expressing that sort of regret, though I'll admit it depends a lot on its execution. E.g., a small scene where Diana pauses to reflect on her life, to take note of all the good she's done - but also to wonder about "what might have been" had she had a normal life, about what she's missed out on - well, I'm fine with that. Who doesn't reflect on their own past like that, on the path not taken? Whereas having her whine a lot about how she needs a man in her life? Not so cool. :-)

    "Which is the other reason the term virginity over celibacy urks me. It not only glorifies the condition, but it also diminishes it."

    It's a curious paradox. On the one hand, staying virginal in order to devote your life to a higher calling is generally seen as admirable - for both men and women, but especially the latter. OTOH, by staying virginal, you are suppressing your biological imperative to reproduce and stopping yourself along the "child -> adult -> parent" progression we're expected to take, keeping yourself in a kind of developmental stasis. So in that sense, you are "diminishing" yourself by removing yourself from the general mass of humanity.

    Personally, I just think Westerners have screwed-up attitudes towards sex: we recognize its biological importance to reproduction, which is good; but somewhere along the way they got the idea that sex was inherently sinful and should be avoided. "If it's fun, it's gotta be a sin!" In extreme instances, you get groups like the Shakers, who believe in total abstinence and the only ways they can increase their ranks is through adoption or conversion. Gee, I wonder why there's only a handful of them left now... :-)

    "Besides, given the makeup of her pantheon...there is *no* reason for a glorification of virginity."

    OK, my memory of Greek mythology is pretty hazy at this point; but that's OK, since I'm pretty sure your average Wonder Woman writer is no Joseph Campbell, either. :-)

    Anyway, yes, there is a full pantheon of goddesses standing behind Diana, who run the gamut as different icons of womanhood, as it were. But I always saw Diana as derived from the likes of Artemis, or maybe Athena: warrior maidens who were definitely single and usually chaste / virginal, IIRC.

    So I don't know if you would see that as just cause for the "glorification" of Diana's apparent virginity, but it is true to the archetypes upon which I think she was based, IMHO.

    "She shouldn't be innocent, she should be wise, experienced and knowledgeable in all areas, not all but one. IMO."

    There is a difference between innocence / ignorance and abstinence. In Diana's case, I think she's meant to subscribe to the "celibacy = purity" school of thought: not pure as in innocent, but purity of purpose, of discipline, of dedication. Here I'm thinking of, say, the Arthurian knights, who were expected to remain chaste, but they were still badass killers, well versed in the arts of war. In D&D terms, she's like a Lawful Good paladin: pure of heart and faith, but not in a namby-pamby sort of way. :-)

    "She's supposed to be an ambassador, which means she should be around every day people more."

    I dunno: I don't see too many real-world ambassadors spending a lot of time rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi, so that may be fairly realistic... :-)

    Honestly, I think one of the recurring motifs with Wonder Woman - which may or may not be explored by different writers - is: how does someone who represents such relatively archaic values - who comes from an all-female island frozen in time for centuries, essentially - adapt to the modern world? How does she reconcile her values with those of the people around her? The very fact we're having this conversation suggests that her attitude towards sex and yours differ considerably... :-)

  • At April 06, 2006 2:19 PM, Blogger kalinara said…


    I dunno: I don't see too many real-world ambassadors spending a lot of time rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi, so that may be fairly realistic... :-)

    But how many Queens decide to move in with a midwest family and let them call her Polly? :-)

    Besides, Diana herself indicates that her role is to reach out to all people. Not just the upper levels of society.

    Really though, if it were just Diana, I wouldn't be bothered terribly much. The chaste=pure idea really doesn't, in my mind, fit the ancient greek/amazonian society that's meant to be her origin, but I could deal with it.

    The thing is, the twisted, hypocritical and archaic attitudes toward sex, especially with women, seem to be pervasive throughout all comics. And it's true for other media as well. But they don't have to be. And that irks me. :-)

  • At April 06, 2006 2:39 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At April 06, 2006 2:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Kal ALL medias always been distortive, obtuse, and double standard pc obcessed. Hell it touck an act of congress to force them into showing anything close to atrue social cross section and they still mess it up <50% ofthe time.
    VERY sad;-(

  • At April 06, 2006 2:54 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    [Redoing my last, now-deleted comment]

    "The chaste=pure idea really doesn't, in my mind, fit the ancient greek/amazonian society that's meant to be her origin, but I could deal with it."

    I disagree, obviously, but it's an academic argument at best at this point. :-)

    "The thing is, the twisted, hypocritical and archaic attitudes toward sex, especially with women, seem to be pervasive throughout all comics."

    And I don't disagree wth that. My last post was merely commenting just on Wonder Woman, not all superheroines.

    Mental note to self: write single superheroine who is allowed to have active sex life and NOT be seen as a slut for it.


  • At April 06, 2006 3:19 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    Took me a while to dig up this comic, but it seemed appropriate to the discussion at hand... :-)

  • At April 06, 2006 3:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    ferrous buller: -nod- note to self write said type of hero a innocent young male sidekick in need of much "guidance" (snicker) :)

    (Tapping franticly to be let out of Kalinara's psichic submission hold) ALL RIGHT, I GIVE!!! I'll start my blog next Tuesday!! Kal email topic/theme/ pointers please.
    TAP, TAP!

  • At April 06, 2006 4:12 PM, Blogger kalinara said…


    Mental note to self: write single superheroine who is allowed to have active sex life and NOT be seen as a slut for it.

    And not gratuitously punished for it? I'm in. :-)

    And heh, that comic...very true.

    green: Ph33r my mad mind-control skills.

    (go with what you like. I always recommend starting with favorite character lists, with reasons why, and character-you-don't-like lists. :-) That's what I did. Good way to get into rant mode. :-))

  • At April 06, 2006 11:04 PM, Blogger Elayne said…

    Never mind Wonder Woman's ties to Greek mythology, what about Cassie's? After all, she's the daughter of Zeus, a god known for not keeping it in his pants, in a culture where that was considered a god's and goddess' due. I don't think I'd like her exactly predatory, but I wouldn't mind seeing writers play up that aspect of her genetic makeup. But yeah, pregnancy would kind of ruin it for me, it's like saying "you can't be a sexual young female without having to suffer consequences" and, besides, it'd be kinda cheap writing.

  • At April 06, 2006 11:10 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    elayne: That'd be nice to see. Especially as with OYL, and the new character design, Cassie seems much more like a young (legal) woman than a girl.

    It looks like they didn't go with the pregnancy option, and it's probably bad that I've become so used to that cliche that I'm relieved and grateful for that.

    Instead, she seems to be punished with the losing her lover element instead. But I suppose it's better than the alternative. :-)

  • At April 07, 2006 3:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Does anybody have any idea how old Diana was supposed to be - modern age - when Steve Trevor was first on the verge of leaving scorch marks on Themyscira? It's been ages since I read the Perez run, but the sense I have now was that she was meant to be . . . what, college-aged? Same as Donna, I suppose.

    Then she turns up in the States and is a celebrity before she can even speak English, and she's stuck with a job that requires her not just to be the Amazons' diplomatic representative, but to all intents and purposes the living example of their ideals. Her identity is public, her social circle consists mostly of professors and teenagers and, God help her, the Justice League, and she has to figure out how to deal with American gender expectations from scratch.

    A few years down the line, I figure it's a measure of her emotional strength that she's not curled up in a fetal position in a Watchtower closet, just dreaming feverish dreams of Hal walking into things.

    That said, I'm pretty much on Kalinara's side here: I can buy Diana as a virgin at this point in her life, if they insist on selling it to me, but it doesn't strike me as anything fundamental to her character. From my nice, comfy seat over in the male perspective, it's too hard to imagine accidentally transgressing against Diana for her to be a proper virgin huntress/cautionary figure - and "knightly virtue" in anything like the Arthurian sense just seems way too inward looking for someone whose first duty is supposed to be teaching. She's not out in a brass-n-stars bathing suit for spiritual transcendence; she just wants us all to grow up and fly right!

    Or, y'know, whatever the neo-classical alternative is.

    Anyway, virgin or not, she's almost certainly been the most convincing grown-up in the upper reaches of the DC pantheon for the past year or two - that's probably what really ought to matter.

    Big picture: your essay is hugely awesome, though it is kind of depressing to see all the stories of abuse lined up next to one another.

    Still, to play devil's advocate - from the latest Titans, I'd say Tim's taking Conner's death at least as unhealthily as Cassie is - in fact, as a general rule of thumb, it's probably always safest to assume that it's the member of the Batfamily on the scene who's going to crack up the worst in the long run. If anything was gratuitous, it was probably the sex scene itself - or, at least, sticking it in the annual for maximum pathos.

    Is it punishment if the idea for the sex came after the idea for making the characters' lives hell?

    Mia and HIV: okay, I'll admit, I just don't know how to look at Mia. I don't read much Green Arrow. That said, from the outside it seems consistent with the texture of Ollie's world: she has a manageable disease, he has one or more grown children he never acknowledged (to say nothing of the ward with the drug history). Yes, it's a hit, but it's doesn't seem like a disproportionately hard one, and it certainly doesn't reflect as badly on her as some of Ollie's choices do on him.

    Steph . . .

    Okay, the devil's advocate is out to lunch. The Bat-office can justify what was done to her all on its own.

    As for the grownup women - well, again, I'm not even going to try to defend what happened to Dinah or Helena (or Jade, dammit), and I wasn't reading Wonder Woman when Hippolyta's clock ran out. I'd comment on Karen, but I try hard to pretend that the pregnancy thing never happened.

    Babs' shooting and the consequences thereof are just too damn complicated for the small hours of the morning, but that moment at Gordon's front door basically marked the break between Silver Age Babs (who, as far as I know, never had any romantic encounters beyond sharing quips with Jason Bard) and modern, Grayson-haunted Babs - if only because the norms of the genre changed. Basically, the scenes of her in her maturity take the chair into account, for better or for worse; the bodily harm came first.

    As for Kory - well, from her first appearance as a nudity-loving runaway slave princess . . . from space! you could pretty easily make the case that a big part of her role in the universe was to give twelve year old male readers strange and wonderful feelings, and from there she didn't always make it through day-to-day dealings with Robin/Nightwing with her dignity intact (particularly in the later stages of Wolfman's run). But that's objectification, rather than punishment.

    I think the sad truth is that Tamaranean civilization is going to get destroyed at least once or twice a decade for the rest of our lives. It's just one of the basic truths of DCU cosmology: if you live on any world that isn't Earth in a time period when the Legion isn't around to look after you, you're going to go through hell. I can't count how many times Thanagar has been rendered unlivable, or plague-infested, or fascist, or blown to rubble, or really poorly decorated in the last few decades. Rann gets stolen or invaded anytime Adam Strange gets complacent, the Omega Men live in an exceptionally large ball of lint floating somewhere near Vega, New Genesis and Apokalips crack up whenever Darkseid's status quo changes - and now that we know that Guy's taking up permanent residence on Oa, I can only assume the little blue people are looking hard at co-ops on Maltus.

    . . .

    I may never have written a more comic dork-y paragraph in my entire life.

    Anyway, the point stands: alien civilizations really only seem to exist in the DC universe so that they can be rescued, or destroyed. If we knew more about Tamaranean culture, I guess we might see stories with it apart from those that either take it away from Kory or thrust husbands at her, but we don't, so we don't, and that's that.

    Anyway, it's probably not about the sex.

    So, my two cents. At least some of it probably really is coincidence. The DCU isn't a particularly nice place to live, after all - particularly if you're being written by Ron Marz.

    That said, one could make a strong case that the female characters take hits that have to be endured, while the guys have those that get to be overcome. Never mind Bruce and Babs' different approaches to spinal injuries - Dinah's supposed to be infertile now; anybody think that could ever happen to Ollie?

    But, the madonna/whore break? I honestly don't know. You don't get more good-girly than Donna Troy, and she had her ex-husband and son killed and her identity demolished, then she was killed by a Superman robot, then she was revived as the brainwashed "wife" of a mopey Greek god so that she could lead an army of fanatics on a campaign of war crimes. That's a pretty lousy couple of years.

    . . .

    I do like your blog, by the way, and I'm really, really sorry to've rambled on for so long. Kinda hard to stop once you're on a roll.

  • At April 07, 2006 4:10 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    djack: Nice rejoinder!

    Honestly, I don't really think the sexual activity is deliberately portrayed as the cause of these bad things happening to the characters. I do think that the characters are chosen for other, storyline determinate reasons.

    But I also think the string of connections between sexually active female characters and gratuitous misfortune is rampant enough to note an unconscious connection that's still pretty disturbing.

    I'm not advocating retconning anything mind you, but I do think the upper brass at DC and Marvel might benefit from creating a few more confident, adult, single, intelligent, sexual female characters that are currently unassociated with past sexual abuse, and might go for some time without bad stuff happening.

    And for the record, I do think Marz tends to get a bad rap for certain things that aren't *completely* his fault. :-) He's a lazy writer on occasion, but that's not exactly the same. :-)

    And I'm glad you like the blog! :-)

  • At April 07, 2006 5:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    At this point, I've seen so many characters I like abused so badly I'm almost incapable of putting together coherent theories for the hows and whys. How can you make sense of acing Hawk and Dove because turning Captain Atom evil is suddenly too obvious? It's just a dark, whimsical world.

    Pardon me while I brood.

    That said, I see where you're coming from, and I'm afraid I can't really deny it - I just nitpick at the fringes, and hope that the worst standing offenses will slowly drift out of continuity.

    I'm absolutely with you on new characters (though I sheepishly concede I waited on the trade for Manhunter, and in so doing utterly failed to walk the walk). I'd also like to see Morrison do more with Zatanna, for that matter, along with more prominence for a lot of old B-listers without too much bad history or too many ties to immutable properties. Firehawk's new prominence in Firestorm isn't a bad start, and Geoff Johns gets a free pass from voodoo whammy for bringing back Dove.

    Also, we need a Raven/Hellboy special. Just because.

    As for Marz, don't get me wrong - I followed him for his whole run with Kyle (all his runs with Kyle, actually), and though I needed to have periodic infusions of Kyle-as-Justice-Leaguer along the way to reinforce the boy who would be king vibe, I thought the good (or at least likable) pretty consistently outweighed the bad.

    With the possible exception of anything having to do with Grayven.

    But I certainly didn't come out of his original run respecting Jade or Donna more than I did going in, and those were wasted opportunities. Not enough to condemn fifty plus issues for, but good for the occasional snark!

  • At April 07, 2006 5:27 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I'm with you on Donna and Jade really. especially Jade. She's such an interesting concept, but no writer's really made her work for me. Much to my dismay. I want to like Alan's daughter with nifty green powers!

    I did like Alexandra though. And that nude model chick. :-)

    And yeah, even though I liked a lot of the Monarch/Extant stuff, I can definitely see what you're saying about Hawk and Dove. It's a little disapointing.

  • At April 07, 2006 6:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Agreed - Alex and nude model chick were both cool. Kyle may just need to keep away from the ones with super powers . . . .

    And now I sign off before I go any further off-topic.


  • At April 07, 2006 9:35 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Hehehe, the poor kid just needs to stop dating until he lifts that "All of my girlfriends die" thing he's got. :-)

  • At April 07, 2006 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Regarding the sexual female heroine who doesn't get punished later thing and the "innocent young male sidekick in need of guidance" It ocurred to me that it might shockingly actually exist between Tim Drake & Lady Shiva...Interesting when you think about it.

    With Babs her sexuality shouldn't be conected to her disability or vice versa. They honestly only change mo's Thats avery unheath but sadly pervasive false stereotype. I speak from expierence, please take this seriously.
    Thank you

  • At April 07, 2006 5:25 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    green: I don't actually believe there's a connection between Babs' condition and her sexuality. Babs is clearly a sensual, sexual person, wheelchair or no.

    However, the matter in which she became paralyzed, specifically the Joker taking those pictures becomes disturbingly part of the trend that most of the sexually active female characters have had some kind of sexual-abuse/assault in their backstory. That's where the connection lies, I think, not so much in her condition as in that horrific experience.

  • At April 10, 2006 3:26 PM, Blogger Lis Riba said…

    If you're looking at the classic Titans, don't forget it was a triad: Kory, Donna and Raven. Not a dichotomy, but a trio: Kory was busty, Raven was flastchested, Donna somewhere in the middle. Kory exhibitionist, Raven covered up, Donna somewhere in the middle Kory very emotional, Raven extremely reserved, Donna somewhere in the middle. All three had romantic relationships: Kory&Dick, Raven&Flash, and Donna became the first to marry, with Terry. [Not only that, but she lept straight to motherhood without pregnancy, by wedding a divorcee.]

    And just to play with the stereotypes, when Wolfman&Perez added Terra to the team, her innocence and virginity was very clearly an act -- she hated the Titans, smoked, drank, swore, and was possibly having sex with Deathstroke.

    Go figure.

  • At April 10, 2006 4:07 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Actually, I think Terra very much fits the stereotype. She's an evil character. So of course she does all those things including having sex. When she pretends to be good, she also pretends to be virginal.

    But it's pretty much again a matter of sex=evil. And she does end up dying at the end...

  • At May 05, 2010 12:30 AM, Anonymous Mandy said…

    However, the matter in which she became paralyzed, specifically the joker taking those pictures becomes disturbingly part of the trend That's where the connection lies, I think, not so much in her condition as in that horrific experience.

  • At September 27, 2010 12:44 PM, Anonymous Generic Viagra said…

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