Posts Tagged ‘strong female characters’

Wonder Woman has acted as a symbol of strength for girls for generations, starting back in the 1940’s. When the world gave them dolls and kitchen play sets, these girls found the radiating woman with the golden lasso like a beacon of light, the solitary female superhero among superheroes. I, too, have fond memories of watching the strong and beautiful Princess Diana on the cartoon, The Justice League when it aired on Cartoon Network when I was a kid. Forget Superman and Batman; I wanted to see more and more of Wonder Woman and sucked up every second of the rare episodes that focused solely on Wonder Woman like precious drops of water in a desert.

Wonder Woman throughout the ages.

But as I grew older and more observant, the more I began to wonder if Wonder Woman was really such a great image of a strong female character. Somehow star-patterned mini-shorts and bosom didn’t scream powerful to me. Then again, grown men running around in spandex and capes isn’t too different. Even so, something wasn’t sitting quite right with Wonder Woman and me.

For those of you like me who are not as familiar with the ins and outs of comics, Wonder Woman was created in 1941 (almost 10 years after Superman) when DC Comics decided to try to bring in more female readers. For a comic symbolizing female empowerment for many, Wonder Woman was originally created by a man, a psychologist by the name of William Moulton Marston (he also created the systolic blood pressure test, a component for the modern polygraph). Supposedly a more modern thinking man (though I have begun to wonder), Marston has been described as having “feminist” notions by people as close to him as his wife. Perhaps he had some, given that he was writing the story of the first female superhero.

However, being the first female superhero certainly did not mean Wonder Woman escaped entirely from the restraints of society. Wonder Woman was bound literally and figuratively in ways her fellow male heroes were not. In an entry by Julie D. O’Reilly in the Journal of American Culture back in 2005 wrote, “many female superheroes have the privilege of demonstrating their abilities or defending their roles as heroes in a manner not afforded their male counterparts.” Unlike Superman, Spiderman, and many other male superheroes who decide on his own that he will use his powers to help, Wonder Woman had to first gain the approval of her family, the Amazons. Though Wonder Woman did make the decision that she wanted to began a superhero, in the end, the final decision is given to someone else, like some child who must ask permission. This is a pattern that has continued into more modern female characters as well.

Also, the Wonder Woman comic was veined with sadomasochist themes of bondage; in fact, Wonder Woman’s weakness is having her arm bracelets bound by a man. Below is an amusing comic discussing the issue perfectly which I found on Sociological Images.

Click to enlarge

Wonder Woman is not without her merits; she will still be idolized by girls as a strong female superhero and certainly, we could use that. Here’s some food for thought though; 70 years later, are the majority of our female superheroes any less bound?

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(Read on; this title will make sense shortly, I promise.) I must admit, I’m a huge geek when it comes to manga. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, manga (mahn-gah) is the Japanese word for “cartoon,” but here in America it is more specifically associated with comic books from Japan. Americans commonly think only of big-eyed, cute manga girls, but it really ranges to every genre imaginable and some are quite sophisticated and complex. But as much as I love manga, it certainly isn’t the leading force in promoting strong, realistic women. Instead I’m often assaulted by the usual flimsy, submissive girl-next-door types, damsels, and sex kittens, all of which make me cringe in unbelievable frustration. All is not lost however. In manga and other medias of fiction characters are being pushed outside the cheap, crammed little box that is stereotyping and stronger female characters are popping up like refreshing daisies after a long winter.

Unfortunately, some of these characters start at hopeful buds and, as you will see in this article, bloom into…big boobs.

Recently, I’ve been running into female characters in manga that have all the potential to act as the powerful, admirable characters only to fall victim to heavy sexualization. Literally. These female characters are presented as tough, reliable in a pinch, commanding and are even, in cases, in very powerful positions in the story…and have breasts the size of melons on bodies as toned as Barbie‘s. Like over-sized, fleshy badges of power (that only undermine respect), these massive chests are worn proudly and openly and as often as possible. These are what I like to call “power boobs.”

Tsunade lounges in the background. Does that image say “respectable leader?”

Tsunade proudly shows off her power boobs.

Take Lady Tsunade from a well-known manga by the name of Naruto. In a world of ninja, she’s extremely powerful physically, one of the most skilled and knowledgeable in medicine, and acts as the leader of what is essentially a large, bustling community. She is also one of three of the most famous ninja in this fictional world and the only woman of the three. That is certainly a profile worthy of what I’d consider a type of strong female character. But she is also equipped with a chest that could give even Barbie a run for her money! They hang disproportionate and exposed for all eyes to see and see them we do (although at least the artist applied gravity). I looked up some statics on what Tsunade’s chest measurement would be and, although I never got an official source myself, the recurring number was 41.7 inches. To put that number into perspective, Barbie‘s notorious monsters would supposedly be a whooping 39 inch chest, an FF bra size. Ding! Ding! Ding! I think we have a new queen of topple-you-over boobs! Tsunade must be physically strong to hold up that amount of weight!

The skill it must take to wear that shirt all day without mishaps.

It is not that Tsunade has a big chest that bothers me per say. It is the body these mammoth-sized melons are on, a body that would never naturally have such a large chest. The result is awkward. Also, although it would be impossible to mask the unrealistic size, that fact is only accentuated by a shirt that acts more like a sling for Tsunade’s weighty luggage. This makes her acceptable to the masses that may not accept a realistic, strong woman and makes Tsunade just another woman with big breasts among the many in manga, certainly not a threat that pushes the limits of society.

Not only are people going to be unavoidably drawn to her busting bosom, but Tsunade is actually a 50-some-year-old woman who, through the use of what is basically magic, keeps the appearance of a 20-year-old. There are occasions when this magic wears off, however, and each and every time this occurs, Tsunade’s face is conveniently blocked from view so as not to ruin the beautiful voluptuous 20-year-old image that the readers are used to seeing. Now does that say she is to be known as a powerful woman or a sex object?

Tsunade when she really was in her 20s. Note that she’s not nearly as sexualized then (before she was a main character).

This is the animated version of Tsunade. Though she’s just as busty, her shirt does have slightly more coverage.

Don’t get me wrong; I am actually an avid reader of Naruto which I do believe has some fairly strong females (a couple of which are older women). And while I do have my beefs with what I feel are female characters that have all the potential to reach great heights only to be frustratingly held back, I do recognize at least an effort to introduce stronger female characters. I would also like to point out it’s not just manga that falls into this trap. Tons of top-heavy, stick thin female superheroes litter comics from Marvel and other American comics. It’s like women can’t have the power if they don’t have the boobs to match, as if the bigger the breasts, the bigger the amount of power or strength they are “allowed” because as long as these female characters are presented as sex objects, society will accept it. “Power boobs” are the literal embodiment of this weighting down of strong female characters and though many boys drooling over these page fillers may disagree, there are far too many female characters with “power boobs.”

(Stay tuned for more installments of strong female characters weighted down by heavy cleavage! I have a feeling it’ll be hard to miss.)

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