Saturday, July 19, 2008
Fishnets and Feminism
So apparently some Christian group is making a hullabaloo about the new Barbie version of the superhero Black Canary. Likely not even aware that this is a character that has been around for some sixty years, they see a Barbie in fishnets and shiny black leather and start crying, "S&M!" (Because, you know, all decent Christians know that the only reason anyone wears leather is to participate in kinky fetish orgies.)
I'm somewhat ambivalent about sexy superheroine costumes. My conservative upbringing lends itself easily to a brand of feminism that distrusts a primarily male-driven comic book industry where female characters on average wear half the clothes of their male counterparts, but at the same time I recognize other feminisms that consider a woman's ability to look sexy a valid expression of her power and independence (perhaps Chanson can correct me if I'm misrepresenting that view). And I also distrust conservative interest groups who protest when Barbie puts on fishnets but have no problem with the fact that the entire children's toy and entertainment industry--from Barbie to Disney to Tonka--does nothing but reinforce outdated gender roles that harm little girls far more than a doll in shiny leather could possibly do.
I like the perspective of Amanda Conner, the (female) artist who designed this particular version of Black Canary's costume, as represented in this interview. And I also know that if I were ever to buy my daughter a Barbie, I'd much rather get her a Black Canary or a Supergirl or Batgirl or Wonder Woman than any other Barbie who's just as unrealistically sexy but doesn't also have the ability to kick Ken's butt going for her--at least not quite so obviously.
My guess, though, is that we can all rest assured that the majority of people who buy these superheroine Barbies will not be seven-year-old girls. Rather, it will be the thirty-something fanboys who quickly realize the advantage of these over more traditional superhero action figures: with the Barbie version you can take Wonder Woman's clothes off.