There’s an old cliche that likes to hand-wave away visual sexism by arguing that everyone’s a sex object: women loved looking at Robert Redford/Paul Newman/Cary Grant/Johnny Depp/Heatlh Ledger/insert appropriate star of your choice, don’t they? SO how is that any different from men checking out women.
As Foz Meadows discusses in a post on fan service, the two aren’t equivalent. Anime offers harem fantasy set-ups for men and women alike, but it doesn’t visualize the men with as much skin. And the sexual display doesn’t undercut the men the way it does the women.
This topic came to mind when I started rereading American Flagg! recently (cover by Howard Chaykin, all rights with current holder). The book is set in a near future America where the military industrial complex (“The Plex”)is literally trying to sell off the country, corruption is rife and a black market in pretty much everything flourishes. Reuben Flagg is a former video star, a sex fantasy for millions of women, who winds up as a cop for the Chicago-area Plex.He sets out to change things, and along the way, has sex with a lot of women.
When I first read this it was hard not to be blown away. I hadn’t seen a massively corrupt America portrayed in comics before, nor anything with this much sex (nothing X-rated, but I think it manages a soft-R). Writer/artist Howard Chaykin’s storytelling was impressive too.
Rereading, I’m less impressed. Chaykin’s art is great, but now that corruption and sex are so much less remarkable, so is the book. The story took a much longer time to get going but it’s picking up now, so I’m glad I kept reading.
But then there’s the woman. Lots of women doing the nasty with Flagg or other characters, frequently shown stripped down to their stockings and garter belts (very big in the early 21st century it turns out), bra and panties … well you get the idea.
In the last issue I read, someone brought this up in the letter column, to which the editor’s response was that Reuben. the former screen star, was just as much a sex object as any of the women. Which from the point of view of the characters is reasonable: women lust for the man who played “Mark Thrust” as much as Flagg lusts for them.
But from the reader’s viewpoint? Not so much. The women, as noted, strip down pretty much every issue to their sexy lingerie. The most i think I’ve seen a man is with his shirt off. The women are posed as eye candy pin-ups; Reuben and the other men are drawn to show they’re getting dressed after sex. The eye isn’t invited to check them out the same way.