Undead Sexist Cliches: Arm candy

There’s an annoying undead sexist cliche (though not one of the big ones I run into everywhere) that no matter what a woman accomplishes with her life, it’s real significance is how it affects her value in the marriage market/sexual marketplace.

That was the point of the Forbes story some 30 years back or so that coined the concept “trophy wife.” While the term eventually came to mean the young, hot, probably airheaded wife of an older dude, that wasn’t the typeo f woman the article focused on. They were college educated professionals, often with their own careers and businesses, but they were just as determined to make their marriage work as their profession.

A later article (in Ms., I think, but I can’t swear to it), said the wives hadn’t been told  Forbes’ trophy-wife slant. Instead the interviewer gave them the impression it was about high-powered executives’ second marriages. Several of the women were PO’d at learning the finished piece implied they’d accomplished was only important because it made them better arm candy for their spouse.

Or consider screenwriter David Goyer’s take on Marvel’s She-Hulk. The character was nothing but a marketing ploy when she debuted in 1980, a way to cash in on the Hulk TV show’s success. But John Byrne, Steve Gerber and Dan Slott all did interesting things with the character in a couple of later revival series. She’s strong, heroic, a lawyer and often a lot of fun (like the story where she battle’s Dr. Doom’s fifth cousin, Bob Doom, DDS).

According to Goyer her success isn’t because she’s an interesting character, or that female readers might like a super-strong woman hero but because she’s a sex fantasy for nerds. Nerds read comics to imagine being as powerful as Superman or the Hulk; the She-Hulk fantasy is being so strong and powerful you’re man enough to bang She-Hulk. She’s a trophy hookup.

Which ignores that She-Hulk has slept with a number of guys and “powerful enough to dominate her” isn’t something she looks for. But it’s an idea that I’ve seen elsewhere, a tough woman who’s desirable because she won’t be with a guy unless he’s more of a man than she is (I’ve heard at least one woman say that IRL, though not directed at me).

Marvel’s Red Sonja, for example, started out as simply a free-spirited mercenary. Then Marvel (I’m not sure who the writer was) saddled her with a rape backstory and a curse: she can never have sex with a man who isn’t stronger than she is. Which makes her a trophy of sorts again — it takes a hell of a man to tame a woman like that!

This is one of those posts where I don’t really have a conclusion, just sort of noting patterns. So there you are.

#SFWApro. Cover by Dale Keown, all rights remain with current holder.



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