Batman and Catwoman Depicted Having Sex, Is It Sexist?

Laura Hudson argues that the picture above is sexist, and especially so when taken in context of what has come before it:

the writer and artist have decided that out of all possible introductions to the character of Selina Kyle, the moment we’re going to meet her is going to be the one where she happens to be half-dressed and sporting bright red lingerie. That is in fact all we see of her for two pages: shots of her breasts. Most problematically, we are shown her breasts and her body over and over for two pages, but NOT her face. No joke, we get a very clear and detailed shot of her butt in black latex before we ever see her face looks like. Can’t you show us the playful or confident look in her eye as she puts on her sexy costume? Because without that it’s impossible to connect with the character on any other level than a boner, and I’m afraid I don’t have one of those.

 

why is that last page a full-page splash of Batman actually penetrating Catwoman? Why do we need to see that? What does it accomplish or tell us about the characters that would have been lost if that page had been omitted?

The answer is nothing. They just wanted to see Catwoman and Batman bang on a roof. And that is the whole problem with this false notion of “sexually liberated” female characters: These aren’t those women. They’re how dudes want to imagine those women would be — what Wire creator David Simon called writing “men with t*ts.” They read like men’s voices coming out of women’s faces. Or worse, they read like the straight girls who make out with each other at clubs, not because they enjoy making out with women but because they desperately want guys to pay attention to them.

This is not about these women wanting things; it’s about men wanting to see them do things, and that takes something that really should be empowering — the idea that women can own their sexuality — and transforms it into yet another male fantasy. It takes away the actual power of the women and turns their “sexual liberation” into just another way for dudes to get off. And that is at least ten times as gross as regular cheesecake, minimum.

Read more of Hudson’s analyses of pictures of sex and women in comics.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • speedwell

    Oddly, that is extremely close to the pose of the Shiva/Shakti figurines where the Hindu god and goddess are depicted having sex. The major difference is that Shiva and his wife are always shown looking lovingly into each others’ eyes.

  • http://blogingproject.blogspot.com/ Ing: Od Wet Rust

    Wasn’t DC talking about being more family friendly? Isn’t that why they ended Vertigo or something? Am I insane here?

    Also…um…what did he punch his Batcock through her pants?

    • julian

      Also…um…what did he punch his Batcock through her pants?

      Actually that’s a favorite form of penetration in hentai. Anyway, super heroes should have a space in their costumes to pee through. Especially since they spend days in them at a time don’t try to tell me thy hold it in that long.

      On topic

      That picture itself doesn’t seem sexist to me. Batman and Catwoman are just doing their on again off again thing. The rest of the comic (including her half nude introduction) seems a bit more supportive of the idea. For starters, the character seems very poorly developed and the justification for her being over sexed seems weak.

      In every panel she’s in, the goal seems to be to show off as much of her body in as erotic a pose as possible. For example, her back-flipping half dressed giving the reader and wonderful view of her bra covered breast, slim waist and long legs. The action in the scene seems drawn almost as an afterthought to showing off her body. It’s a center spread like you’d see in Playboy or Penthouse (probably not explicit for Hustler).

      Sex is what Catwoman is there for. She’s there for her naughty bits and giving them up to the Aplha Male+ that is Batman (Depicted as over muscles, indifferent and aloof)

    • julian

      sigh

      first sentence is supposed to be the blockquote. Rest is me.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      fixed

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

      and if, as a character, she isn’t doing what the character would choose to do, but robotically does what some masculine, heterosexual author or reader *wants to see her doing* then It’s frickin’ sexist.

      This is why I thought it was bad, even though CwH pointed to the whole article, for the post to be framed as “Is it sexist for Guy X to have sex with Woman Y?” (or, well, vice versa, I suppose)

      Of course one panel of sex is not by itself sexist. But your whole post, Julian, supports the idea that the final page is sexist *when it is put in context*.

      This book is a huge fail.

    • julian

      This book is a huge fail.

      No argument from me. Even if you set aside all the sexism, the book still fails because the characters are so poorly done. You’d think the writers would be aware of the inverse relationship between the amount of fanservice in a work and the quality of the work.

      and if, as a character, she isn’t doing what the character would choose to do, but robotically does what some masculine, heterosexual author or reader *wants to see her doing* then It’s frickin’ sexist.

      this

      It isn’t uncommon for writers to depict characters in an idealized way. Hell, it’s expected in some mediums. Sometimes you have to ditch some traits to emphasize others and make the character assume the role you want. But when that role is hole to shoot in, and what you’ve sacrificed is every aspect of their personality you’ve lost any leg to stand on.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      I didn’t ask whether their having sex was sexist, but whether the depiction was, by which I meant the specific depiction (not all possible depictions).

    • John Morales

      Sex is about as family-friendly as one can get — the alternative is IVF.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Edindro danielkogel

      Yeah, but it’s time to give up on family friendly Batman. This is a whole other argument, but I’m pretty sure joker just cut his own face off.

  • william

    Well, I agree that it is not sexy. Mainly because Batman looks jaundiced. Also I agree with Ing: Od Wet Rust that penetration can not be assumed from the picture. As far as I can tell they are enjoying some frottage… which is probably the thing to do when you are both wearing spandex, honestly.

  • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    It’s sad that you excerpt just that.

    The thing is ONE piece of art in isolation could mean anything. It is how the art is USED that creates meaning. A crucifix in a sculpture – is it pro-christian or anti-christian?

    What if the statue is being crawled over by ants, swarms of ants, and video of the swarming is used as art in itself?

    What if the crucifix is submerged in a pee-bath?

    These are real uses of the crucifix in art. One page of artwork cannot possibly tell you, on its own, if the depiction of sex is supposed to be positive or negative, or (as is the issue here) if the depiction itself is supposed to be “for” women or is “for” men – is this a picture designed to appeal to the masculine, prurient gaze, or is this designed to be a depiction of a woman fighting against the limitations of her society in order to achieve her own, independent desire’s fulfillment?

    We don’t know from this page.

    But we DO know from the context of the entire issue. The post you excerpt from is long, but it is necessary to read the rest to understand the case that is being made. For TWO FULL PAGES we see panel after panel, and ALL of them show exposed boob-flesh or a latex-wrapped bottom protruding directly at the comic-reader (except, I think, one which shows legs in a way that may or may not be sexualized – opinions will vary, but I think from the context that it would be a vast departure if it wasn’t intended to be a “sexy” image – but you cannot argue that it does something to humanize her from the faceless object status she has over those pages). Why does Catwoman thrust out her butt so unnaturally? Why is her face not depicted when her breasts are repeatedly depicted?

    etc. etc. etc.

    And then, let’s put the issue in context: Is this an art medium where guys never get eye-candy and there have been years of chain-mail speedos and business-suited women with guys repeatedly getting killed and stuffed into refrigerators just to make fights between women seem more emotionally charged and dramatic?

    Is the artist trying to finally say, “Enough! If you’re going to put men into stories only for the benefit of making women’s lives more dramatic and/or giving masturbation fodder to gay men & straight women, then I’m going to put a WOMAN in a sexualized position for once?”

    I think we know the answer to that question.

    Let’s analyze the page you’ve singled out, but let’s analyze it using the appropriate information required for proper analysis – including the context of the other pages in the issue and the other books in the genre.

    It’s frickin’ sexist. Read the OP and its original comments if you want more specific reasons why.

    • julian

      It’s sad that you excerpt just that.

      I know.

      But, I guess, if we can make the case for the Catwoman comic, worse offenders (like Ms Hudson’s other example) will have no place to hide.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Edindro danielkogel

      It’s the linking of “sexualized” to “sexist” – Cat Woman as a character has always been sexualized, it’s kind of important…it’s very much a part of who she is, and she is one of the most crucial characters to play off of Bats specifically because of the challenge against that part of Bruce Wayne that seeks to have absolute control over himself. But it’s not all sex. She’s portrayed as an intellectual match for Batman, a strong figure of strength for the “stray” women she takes in (for Batman even), she has her own moral code and usually uses her sexuality as a weapon against her atypical male enemies.

      I’m just saying that sexuality and sexism aren’t the same thing.

      And really just…sex is awesome and boobs are great! I feel this is a gross misuse of the word sexism, that seems to misunderstand the interpretations of many many artists who – including this one – have treated this strong female lead with the utmost respect, reverence and care without feeling any need to pretend that men don’t love admiring the female form.

    • julian

      No, you don’t love the female form. Sorry if that sounds mean but what you love is a glammed up, idealized version of the female form. When a sagging and aging Catwoman somersaults half naked over some background goons with the same detail and focus I’ll be willing to believe you love the female form.

      And really just…sex is awesome and boobs are great!

      No argument here. Most people (factoring in the number of bisexuals, heterosexual men, lesbian women and pansexuals) also happen to like boobs.

      But this isn’t about breast, sex or adult content. This is about the objectification of female characters in comics and how this, in turn, affects women who read comics.

      And yelling ‘Boobs rock!’ at a group of women complaining about feeling objectified or about objectification is generally a bad idea imo.

      I’m just saying that sexuality and sexism aren’t the same thing.

      Again, agreed. Ms Jupiter in Watchmen was very comfortable with her sexuality. She was also depicted in a very nonsexist way despite engaging in sex multiple times throughout the book.

  • http://www.blondelimbo.com C. Mason Taylor

    I can understand why men would defend this, because the image isn’t horrible in a vacuum, but being a long time comics reader myself, I am very well-versed in the context, and in context, Ms. Hudson is absolutely right here. And this is one of the reasons I’ve found it increasingly difficult to enjoy mainstream comics.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com WMDKitty

    I can see how it’s sexist, but it’s… strangely arousing.

  • Lynette Cowper

    You left out the part where there’s two whole pages devoted to portrayals of Catwoman’s half-clothed body– boobs and butt– without any depictions of her face at all. And that these were the first two pages introducing the character.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

    Okay, originally I included less of the original text to avoid copying too much, but I have added a little more (and taken a little away) to prevent the lack of understanding of the context, as readers have requested.

  • Bruce Gorton

    It makes it clear why Gail Simone is one of the best comic book writers of right now – she isn’t writing what is primarily porn.

    Too few comic book writers understand that if we wanted porn we would go and get porn. What we want are characters – well rounded and interesting characters. That is what made Gail Simone’s run of Birds of Prey so successful.

    In isolation – the image is not particularly sexist. Batman and Catwoman have been an item for decades. It is certainly not on a level of what was done to Black Canary in her marriage to Green Arrow.

    What it is however, is cheap, crappy writing that ruins what has always been good chemistry by making it blatant. It is the sexual equivalent to midichlorians in Starwars Episode 1.

  • Dunc

    Blatant fan service in comics? Never!

    I’d kinda hoped that the widespread availability of actual porn would have decreased the need for this sort of thing, but I guess I was wrong…

    • julian

      We’ve seen the opposite. Now that graphic depictions of sex are a few clicks away (and maybe a little white lie about being 18 or 21 where appropriate) everything is becoming more overtly sexual. Which I can understand and sympathize with. This stuff, not very long ago, was Taboo (yes with a capital T) and now it’s finally seen as largely ok.

      So overtly sexual characters and explicit sexual content is just an artist letting his creativity go where it couldn’t before.

      And if it were just that, I’d be tossing out high fives. But it isn’t about seeing what they can do with sex or with characters open and comfortable with their sexuality, it’s about recapturing (or at least maintaining the interest) of those people who’re downloading the latest Big Tits Round Asses clip off BangBros.

      Maybe I’m being to critical (and unfair) but comics are something I love and seeing the big names of the genre stoop to this hits me hard.

  • sailor1031

    Well it looks to me as if Batman has his legs pretty firmly crossed so he’s not coming out of those batpants anytime soon. But seriously – is anyone being forced to read this crap?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Edindro danielkogel

    I don’t think this is necessary, but depicting women sexually in a medium with a target audience of young adult males is sexist how? When male action heroes run around shirtless with over exaggerated muscles, long flowing hair, and piercing eyes how offended should I be as a man who is more than just a body? That guy appeals to female sexuality.

    Is it sexist to admit that men want to have sex with women? Should this male demographic be more interested in seeing confident glints in the eyes of women as opposed to their breasts?

    Denied.

    By nature.

  • http://www.3faltigkeit.blogspot.com alexandro

    My thoughts on the topic (too long to post in the comments) can be found here:
    http://3faltigkeit.blogspot.com/2011/10/is-catwoman-sexist.html

    Short version: the new version of Catwoman is less sexist than all of her previous incarnations.

  • Josh

    oh change your bloody tampon already. Big whoop. Don’t you have anything better to complain about?

  • devil’sadvocate

    She made the choice to have sex with him, didn’t he? It’s not like she’s a sex slave to Batman.
    The artist left himself with little choice after this picture, anyway. Would it make sense for a woman to take off a man’s clothes without some sort of sexual motivation? (disregard a mother helping her young son dress for school.)

    Besides, isn’t the target audience for this comic young adults anyway? And regarding her introduction, I haven’t actually read the comic, but I’m guessing that they didn’t WANT to reveal who she really was at the outset; maybe they wanted to illicit some form of anticipation.

  • reggie

    This is more Feminist bullshit that has litterally been failing since its inception.
    Simply making men feel bad for loving sex and the female body , this is also how metrosexual men are born .

    Also didnt CATWOMAN innate the sex by attacking batman , also hello catwoman past before she became the worlds greatest thief is that she use to be a Call Girl and Dominatrix.
    Im sure she was naked alot in her past life as well , I think this chick missed the point about CATWOMAN .

    cATWOMAN is a Feminist , she took on dangerous men who wronged her in the comic single handily.
    She is highly independent , she has another woman work for her as well she doesnt ask another man for anything that she cant get herself.

    Also she is comfortable with her body also her body is actually acurate for a healthy woman who does do PARKOUR and ACROBATICS .
    sO I dont wanna hear how her body is not real when i know several women on the gymnastic team , roller derby as well female extreme sport junkies who have simlar muscle tone as her for an active athlete.

    Also one more thing it was not BATMAN with his come here manly voice that called her to have sex.
    She genuinely is attracted to the man , she takes charge she wants it , he fights it .
    But she keeps coming at him , that is the sign of a take charge woman, also it is implied they have had sex before .

    I taught femnism on the sexual side of the discussion was about women not being ashamed about their wants and needs .
    Taking charge of their vaginas has i have read in their pamphelets passed out in the village within NYC .
    Taking control of your orgasms and telling men what you need on that side of things as well not just only in equality .

    CATWOMAN wanted BATMAN she saw a man she has deep feelings for so she expressed aggressively .
    Im sure alot of men would agree they wouldnt mind meeting a cool aggressive strait forward woman like CATWOMAN .

    THIS Article is bullshit and screams of making men feel bad for being men , well FUCK that im not and im taking my bullshit with me to the strip club with my catwoman comic Holla.

  • Paul

    No, it’s not sexist. [sexism being discrimination on the basis of gender] Laura seemed to know it herself as she wrote:

    “They just wanted to see Catwoman and Batman bang on a roof.”

    *EXACTLY*

    The intent of the authors was clearly to play with the sexual fantasies of the nerds that read their books. Since a large proportion of their audience is male and fantasises about having sex with female superheroes, that probably seemed like a good idea to them.

    Could they have done it in a different way? Sure, they could have wrote a whole love story around it and made some passionate scenes. But that’s not what their audience wants.

    And may I remind, books don’t discriminate. If you don’t like the way they present their characters, don’t read them.

  • Vicious Ink

    Seriously? These comics aren’t written for people who don’t know the long, long history of Batman and Catwoman. It’s just painting a picture of what’s been obvious for more than thirty years. Do we need to see it? Probably not. But Catwoman being sexualized is NOT a new thing. For that matter, Batman is pretty sexualized too. To think that those two have been flirting it up for fucking decades and they’ve never had sex on rooftops is just naive. Granted, usually they’re in love, but anyone who has ever seen a comic with Catwoman in it knows that Batman loves her. I might be waxing romantic here, but I personally enjoyed seeing Catwoman’s boobs. they were perfectly drawn and I’ve been waiting to see a genuine adult characterization of the relationship between the Bat and the Cat.

  • anon

    As a female, I say get the fuck over it. Nothing sexist here, move along.

  • nath

    Which batman comic is this in

  • ThatOneGuyWho…

    This is ridiculous. Seriously, get over it. I’m trying so hard not to be a dick about this but the whole feminist thing with comics is getting a little ridiculous. There are some seriously stupid things happening in comics where women are concerned but two consenting adults having sex is far from sexism. Laura’s original piece makes a couple of good points but none of it is really that bad. If Starfire wants to use too much self-tanner and screw every guy on the planet, then so be it. If you don’t like it, DON’T FUCKING READ IT. There are plenty of indie books you could attack for heavily misogynous content. But that article wouldn’t attract nearly as many readers. I’ve seen lesser-known books depict rape, gang-rape, genital mutilation and more. Why don’t you do a little work and find those.


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