A character is more than just a catsuit
March 5, 2023
Often when we think of a hero, it is supposed to represent something for us to look up to and admire. For many women growing up watching these heroes, they felt more disrespected and objectified than empowered. The reason being the way most women are portrayed in many of these comic book adaptation movies is half naked and without any armor unlike many of their male counterparts.
Some notable moments being the way Black Widow’s character is represented in The Avengers compared to the rest of the male characters. Or with many of the X-Men movies having uniforms fitting the women much tighter, much lower, and without the extra protective padding.
Although there is opportunity for the filmmaker to make certain changes such as wardrobe, it is not fully their fault. In 1989 there was a change in the comic code which no longer banned suggestive posing of women or exaggerated female characteristics. After this code we began to see hypersexualized female characters.
The guys that were creating these comics were not looking at real women. They were drawing their own fantasies of what women should look like. Except not many women ever looked like that creating an unrealistic standard and dehumanizing these women creating a caricature out of them.
However, heroes were not the only ones that this affected villains are a big part of this issue as well. They might even cause some even larger self-image issues amongst young women especially when sexuality and having confidence in your body equals being the bad guy.
Take for example Poison Ivy and not only is her costume hypersexual but her list of powers includes toxic touch, pheromone control, poison lips, and skill in the art of seduction. Not only that but before Pamela Isley’s transformation into poison ivy in Batman & Robin 1997 She was portrayed as an ugly woman who cared very little about her personal appearance and a lot about science.
Poison Ivy is not the only character in Gotham that this portrayal is seen in, Selina Kyle or cat woman also has a similar background. Of course, that depends on which storyline you follow in Batman Returns 1992 when Michelle Pfeiffer claimed the role her character was seen as a helpless secretary with little to no confidence.
She fit the stereotypical spinster cat lady only to be shown destroying her apartment representative of her life and changing into a sexy confident antihero. By sexualizing her and destroying everything about her life before that moment it takes away her relatability; it’s almost as if no woman can have both.
However, with other portrayals of the character such as in Catwoman 2004 with Halle Berry and Catwoman in The Batman 2022 played by Zoë Kravitz she is seen as being driven by doing what is right. While still having some aspects of a personality outside of the suit.
Zoë Kravitz even stated “I didn’t want to get trapped into trying to make something iconic or sexy. I really wanted it to be a story about a woman who survived a hell of a life and is trying to figure out what to do next.”
There were of course still a few drawbacks such as in the most recent portrayal Selina Kyle was shown as a sex worker. However, it did not come from nowhere; it drew a connection to a version of the comics and helped show some of the dark sides to the work as well.
Not only that but her character had probably the least problematic costume out of them all spanning clear back to the 1960s while still being easily recognizable. Hopefully leaving room for more of a humanistic approach to these female characters in the future.