So, there’s some discussion going on about a site called Superheroine’s Demise. What, do you ask, is this site? Well, it’s a pornography site that focuses exclusively on the violence and humiliation of female super heroes. Honestly, although I define as sex-positive, my kneejerk reaction to this site was, “Ugh, yet more misogynistic porn. Just what the world needs.” And after several hours to think about it, I still can’t shake that feeling.
Maybe part of it is because I have issues with pornography, period. I’m not flatly against it, but I have yet to find porn that isn’t in some way problematic. Maybe, also, because I feel like I should be uncritical of this because humilation play is a valid fetish. But, you know what? I’m not uncritical of anything. So, fuck that. I don’t like this site because I think it’s misogyny dressed up in a super heroine fetish, and this post is going to be discussing why I feel that way.
I. Fantasy? Reality? Where’s the Line?
Part of my problem with this site is the problem I have with comic books: I believe that the objectification of women here influences the way the consumers of the porn view women. On the one hand, at least this site is honest about wanting to see strong women torn down and humiliated (comics just resort to things like the women in refrigerators syndrome), and honest about acknowledging it as a fetish/fantasy. On the other hand, dressing up women in spandex and mixing up the storylines doesn’t change the fact that getting off to the humilation of women is normalized in Western society.
Where is the line between having a fantasy of degredation and wanting to make it a reality? For me, the line is a lot more clear in real life where two people play together than when a person with a fetish watches pornography. In the former case, there are easy guidelines to follow — safe words, boundaries, etc. In these circumstances, consent is clear. The sexiness of the situation is, in fact, based on the fact that both parties are getting enjoyment out of it. But with porn, it’s a single party: the porn watcher. The fantasy on screen doesn’t involve a beforehand with the parties talking about the scene that is about to happen, nor does it show the aftercare that one normally goes through. It’s just the scene, and the only thing that is there to stop the lines between fantasy and reality blurring is the assumption that, somewhere in the watcher’s mind, there is an acknowledgement of this being a scene.
“But wait,” you say, “it’s super heroes! Of course there suspension of disbelief. No one could mistake that for reality.” Maybe so, but it’s also actual women (and the occasional male villain) involved in these scenes. There’s a theme of dominating a strong woman — which I would argue is a common male fantasy, especially in a society where men are encouraged to see women as stripping them of their power (or, as Gay Prof says: “straight men are [encouraged to see themselves as] losing power… [to] a tyrannical matriarchy where women threaten to hamper menâ€™s natural rights to denigrate others, ignore womenâ€™s point of view…”). Given the prevalence of this theme in real life, it’s hard to be sure that those who watch humiliation pornography, even with caped crusaders, don’t have it spill over into their real life thoughts and lives.
II. The Ideal Woman?
Another thing that bothered me about the site was the way in which the super heroes were described. Part of fantasy is often times an idealization of a situation, but the way in which these women are idealized is… well, honestly, I find it creepy. While I’m only going to pull relevant parts of the Mission Statement, I would recommend browsing it in full first to get the original context.
First off, the attraction of the heroines themselves:
The image of supergirl or batgirl standing proud, hands on hips, ready to destroy their foes with just a flick of their powerful wrists is quite, quite sexy. Perhaps itâ€™s the tight costumes they wear, or perhaps itâ€™s their indescribable beauty matched with purity, power, and justice.
Given the way that female super heroes are depicted in comics, it’s not surprising that we have the “sexy woman who kicks ass” paradigm. And I can’t complain too much about the whole being the objects of lust. It is, after all, porn. And, admittedly, I understand the sexiness of powerful women — and I’d agree that erotic stories are a fine place to explore those kinds of power plays.
When I was reading the mission statement, I was nodding my head up until that last line excerpted. Indescribable beauty? Well, cheesy, but… well… okay. Purity, though? Purity?! Arguments on the cannon elements of the purity of super heroines aside (my take: it depends on who we’re talking about), this description screams “guilded cage” to me.
In real life situations, people who “idealize” women like this do so in place of seeing the humanity behind those same women. They are delicate flowers to be protected, not equals to be understood. The “respect” for their “power” is just a way to erase the reality of the woman while having a perfect way to make her feel bad if she objects. Actually, maybe my argument about the “purity” of super heroes varying from woman to woman isn’t just an aside after all.
This brings us to the second, but still necessary, element of this fantasy; the firm subjugation of these women:
See batwoman brutally defeated in hand to hand combat, and humiliatingly stripped, bound and photographed. See superwoman thrown through a wall and left sprawling on the ground in her shredded costume with plaster and debris all over her.
After all the talk about the “sexiness” of power, the what it comes down to is that the real sexiness here doesn’t come from these women’s strength, but in seeing that strength stripped away. Like I said above, power plays can be interesting. It’s the juxtaposition of these two issues — the gilded cage plus the end product of women’s subjugation — that bothers me well, if not the most, then certainly more than either issue alone.
It is, perhaps, the ultimate humiliation: a woman who is used to being dominant is not only physically beaten, forced to be submissive, but her personhood is erased. Completely. Without her personality, her powers, or her role in life she becomes yet another hole to fuck, or face to punch, or body to cage. Gee, sounds like mainstream porn to me!
III. Fanboy’s Dream Come True
Whether or not it’s true, the Mission Statement also portrays this fetish as a normal one for a comic book fan to have:
Simply put, this site is a comic book superheroine fanâ€™s dream come true.
The implication here bothers me. Even moreso, because I think there’s truth in it. If you accept my premise that the fantasy of dominating powerful women is a pervasive one for men in Western culture, then it would obviously follow that (male) comic fans would have this fantasy, too. Not to mention those who write and draw these heroines. In essence, the fetish of humiliating strong women is perpetuated by the comics themselves, in turn influencing comic book readers to see it as erotic, which feeds the idea that this is what comic fans want… lather, rinse, repeat until you have these themes becoming codified into mainstream thought.
And, frankly, if I’m iffy about the line between fantasy and reality (and the ability to distinguish between a consensual fetish and the abuse of women) on a site that specifically markets itself to a fetish crowd, then you’d better believe that it bothers me that themes like this exist in comics, but in much more subtle ways. Most people don’t consider themselves sexually deviant. Most people would pale at the idea of looking into “risk-aware consensual kink” fetish practices. To most people, it would be very easy for this line to be blurred. If, of course, we’re assuming it hasn’t already been.
Perhaps because it hits too close to home, it’s hard for me to see this site as being confined to purely fantasy. The theme has appeared in too many “normal” romance stories, or random bits of popular culture. It has affected my own life. And, you know what? Seeing that site makes me uncomforable. It makes my skin crawl. I really, honestly, and completely don’t like the idea of people getting off to the humiliation of women except in a strict BDSM scene in which clear boundaries are established. And given the history of violence against women in Western society, I really don’t think that there’s anything wrong with the way I feel.