Every time someone brings up the problem of sexism of the comics industry, there are always a few people who are oddly incensed. "It's bullshit! A double standard! You're the one with the issues!" they yell. They're wrong on all counts. Here's some helpful logic that proves why.
We've listed each logical fallacy about sexism in comics below, followed by a rational rejoinder.
"Avengers Booty Ass-emble" image by the delightful Kevin Bolk.
1) Male Superheroes Are Drawn In The Same Way
This is empirically untrue. The proof — and lots of it — is easily found at The Hawkeye Initiative, which takes art of female characters in comics, redraws them as men, and reveals exactly how men are virtually never drawn in the same position (and, as a bonus, often highlights how improbable the positions are in the first place). Sure, you can find some drawings of male comic characters where they seem similar to "sexy" drawings of female characters, but even a cursory examination will reveal this is not actually happening.
For instance, let's take the recently infamous Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover, and this J. Scott Campbell Spider-Man cover where Spider-Man seems to be roughly in the same position. Certainly there are some similarities between the Spidey and Spider-Woman, most notably in their vividly defined buttocks, but Spider-Man's back is straight, meaning his ass is not positioned up in the air. Because the ass is at the top of the picture, it appears similar to the Spider-Woman cover, but Spider-Man is clearly curved over the ball of webbing, and his impossibly wide-apart legs confirm this.
Spider-Woman, on the other hand, is arching her back so she is most definitely sticking her ass up in the air. I previously made a joke that this is called "presenting" in the animal kingdom, which is not really a joke because it's true. It's called Lordosis behavior, and specifically means when female animals stick their ass up in the air to attract male mates. You can read the whole Wiki entry here. In humans, it's popularly known as "face down, ass up" and let's just say if you do a Google image search for "lordosis" you're more likely to find mostly-naked models and porn stars in the position than clothed women (and virtually no men at all).
Also, while Spidey has a reason for his improbable position, that of holding onto his big ball o' webbed criminals, Spider-Woman is ostensibly climbing over a rooftop but in a way no human being ever would. This is just an extreme example of what the Hawkeye Initiative chronicles regularly and so aptly.
2) All Superheroes Wear Tights, So They're All Supposed to Be Sexy
Not true. You can still find plenty of heroes and heroines who rock the full-body, every ab and body-contour defining tights look, but there's been a definite move away from the painted-on look. DC's New 52 gave most of its iconic characters armor, including Superman, the one superhero who needs it least of all. Captain America, Thor, Hawkeye, the X-Men, even if they're not actually pictured in armor, they're pictured as wearing clothes — you can see the fabric bunch up, or seams, or even just rips that serve as a visual shorthand that the characters are not in fact wearing body paint.
There are a great many more male recipients of this change than female, and coupled with the abundance of sexualized poses mentioned above, they're both part of a clear double standard, where female characters are often relegated to providing sex appeal for male readers.
3) But There Are Women Who Like Sexy Women Too!
True! And there are also women who like sexy women who don't like being sexually objectified! Surely there are bisexual men and women, and lesbians who would look at Milo Manara's Spider-Woman and find it sexy, but finding it sexually attractive does not equal approval. In fact, there might even be some straight men who might find the cover visually appealing, but disapprove of it for a wide variety of other reasons.
Look, this isn't about what people find attractive. It's about how women are consistently represented in a sexualized way, and men aren't. Actual sexiness is not a "get out of sexist jail free" card for sexism.
4) If You Don't Like It, You Don't Have to Buy It
This is technically true but completely irrelevant. Sure, you don't have to buy it, but it still exists. A comic company still released it, giving it tacit approval. If Marvel released an X-Men cover of naked Emma Frost scissoring Jean Grey, choosing not to buy it wouldn't somehow make it okay. You don't have to purchase the cover to find its content problematic. Period.
5) 47% of Comics Readers Are Female, So They Clearly Don't Have Any Real Problems With This Stuff
This just makes no sense whatsoever, unless you assume that by reading comics female fans have absolutely no issues or qualms with anything in the industry. These female comic readers might be purchasing the comics that don't objectify women, but even if they aren't, purchasing one or more comics hardly proves a blanket approval of the entire industry. For instance, I would assume that gay Batman fans are not big fucking fans of DC's decision to not let Batwoman marry — even if they keep buying the comics.
In fact, we can assume that the increased female audience is why when comics pull shit like the Milo Manara cover it gets more attention than it used to. The more female readers the comics industry has, the more it should be sensitive to them — if not just because it's run by decent human beings, then in order to maximize their sales. It's just good business to try to prevent these readers from feeling uncomfortable, objectified or gross, or give them reasons for not wanting to purchase their products.
6) It's Stupid to Be Upset About Anything in Comics. They're About People with Superpowers!
Yes, superhero comics are fiction, and fantastic fiction at that. But that doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't hold them accountable for their problems. If nothing in comics matter, then why did fans lose their minds over Spider-Man's Clone Saga? Surely if fans are allowed to be upset about an (exceedingly) awkward storyline with no negative social ramifications, then people are also allowed to be upset by sexual objectification in the comics as well.
Just because these things are about people who can fly and have crazy powers doesn't somehow excuse or justify any crap you want to write or draw. Writing a comic about Captain America going on a Mel Gibson-style anti-Semitic rant would not somehow be excused by the premise that he was injected with the Super-Soldier Serum during World War II. Nor does the fact that Spider-Woman has spider-powers somehow mean that Milo Manara cover is not sexist.
7) What's Wrong with Female Characters Being Sexy?
Nothing's wrong with having a sexy character. There is something wrong about relegating female characters to plot devices and/or sex objects. History is important here: we're talking about comic books, a medium that has historically neglected female audiences (straight, bi and lesbian!). Comics need to offer a wide range of roles for female characters, and so far they haven't done a good job offering many roles beyond sidekick, "lady version" of a male hero, sexpot, girlfriend, or background decoration.
8) Comics Aren't Any Worse Than Magazines Like Cosmopolitan or Elle. They Show Sexy Undressed Women Everywhere!
I doubt that you could find many pictures in women's magazines where the models, no matter how undressed or posed, are objectified like they are in countless comic book illustrations. In comics, we have superheroines unnaturally turning in order to present both their breasts and their butt to the reader. That's not even physically possible in real life, so no, you won't find that pose in Cosmo.
But let's just say, for the sake of argument, that you consider the pictures in women's fashion magazines to be more sexualized than the representation of superheroines in comics. That doesn't magically make comics "good." It just makes them less bad.
9) You're Just Trying to Make People Feel Ashamed About Sex!
Being opposed to sexual objectification in the comics industry does not equate to hating sex. You can love sex but still hate the idea of limiting women's roles in pop culture to sex objects. Treating women as objects absolutely takes away their humanity, and then they are valued less. Sexualize objects all you want — go fuck your car or whatever — but the fact remains that reducing one class of people to sex objects is objectively bad.
10) IT'S A DOUBLE STANDARD
It's not. I'm sorry, it's just not. It may seem like it is, because you only hear about it when Marvel or DC mess up, but that supposes there's some hidden plethora of male objectification the entire world refuses to talk about. And that's not true.
If people only "lose their minds" when the comics industry objectifies women or ignores its female audience, that's because it's not happening the other way around. Male readers are not being ignored, and female readers are not being pandered to at the cost of men's dignity.
You can pretend that pictures of male characters and female characters are drawn in the same way, but they're not; you can argue that male characters are sexed up to sell comic like female characters are, but that's wrong; and hell, you can even pretend that there's some big conspiracy that is trying to somehow elevate women over men through the medium of comics. But that's fucking absurd.
We bring up problems with sexism in comics, and will continue to bring them up, because the comics industry has been treating fictional and non-fictional women with a double standard for decades. And now we're trying to muddle our way to actual equality. Because comics have been traditionally made for an almost exclusively male audience, and the entire industry built itself around it; because female readers almost equal male readers now and they deserve to be acknowledged and treated with respect. Because like so many things, practices that were once considered acceptable are no longer. Because we recognize things need to change, even if requires holding companies to a higher standard regarding female characters and audiences.
It's not a double standard, it's the right thing to do.