Commenters have been calling the cover of Marvel's Heroes for Hire #13 "tentacle rape," using the term only slightly ironically. (And, really, accuse me of being dirty-minded or seeing something that's not there to support my position, but I don't care if it's technically "slime" on Black Cat's breasts; you are hopelessly naive if you don't see it for what it's meant to resemble.) I'm not going to use up any of our server space hosting the image, but you can go see it at the link above or where Heidi MacDonald (at The Beat), Elin Winkler (owner of Radio Comix), Lea Hernandez (comic book artist) and JK Parkin (blogger and reporter at Newsarama) comment on it.
Even if you don't know what tentacle rape is (and it's exactly what it sounds like it is, duh), it is obvious that the women on this cover have been depicted in a distressing, degrading situation in a manner meant to titillate. Why? Because that's what appeals to their target audience. I am not Marvel's target audience for this comic. (Though maybe I could be if it were handled differently.) But I am a woman who works in the comic book industry, and over and over I have to see that the industry's largest companies have no problem reducing my gender to tits and ass. Oh, and possibly a bad-ass attitude, mostly likely the result of being raped.
And I don't want to say this, but I really don't think a lot of men in the industry and who read comics understand. I don't think they get why it bothers someone like me or Heidi or Lea or Elin (a self-proclaimed publisher of pornographic comics). People steeped in the imagery of the superhero comic book have become rather numb to this kind of depiction of women, it seems. And they don't see their whole sex depicted as a sexual object as a rule rather than an exception by the industry's biggest companies, with the result that no matter what kind of work we do to bring different kinds of comics to the marketplace, tits and ass are the abiding image of women in comics.
An image like this bothers me for several reasons, most on a personal level, but since I am writing in my professional capacity here, I will write about why it bothers me on a professional level. First, as I said, that kind of imagery is the dominant one of women in comics, so every time I tell people I edit comics, I have to add a disclaimer: Not those kinds of comics. I don't want to be ashamed of the industry in which I work. And, perhaps a bit more personally, I feel these depictions of women in comics color how I am treated when I am doing my job -- not by my co-workers, men who all treat me with respect -- but mostly at conventions. Thirty seconds into conversations, I realize that the man talking to me thinks I am a booth girl. Perfect strangers who have no idea who I am ask to take my picture. To them, my primary and most obvious value is in my image; obviously I must be at the booth to be pretty and friendly to men so they'll look at our comics -- and in the case of the men with cameras, my image is something that they would like to capture and keep for themselves, and they see no problem with this.
No, I don't feel objectified every minute of every day at Comic-Con. (I admit I've been amiable and let some of these guys take my picture; no more of that, though that kind of thing seems to be on the wane since I've stopped wearing dresses and skirts to conventions, or perhaps at 29, I've just aged out of their idea of what a "cute girl" is.) But it has happened often enough to make me realize that the perception of what a woman's role is in the comic book industry is still one skewed toward "object" for a lot of people. Realizing that actually makes doing my job, which is fortunately free of allusions to tentacle rape, a matter of defiance as well as of skill and responsibility. If this sounds like it's something that should make me feel happy or "empowered," well, then I am sorry to inform you that I would much rather do my job and be good at it without having to constantly prove something on behalf of my sex at the same time.
Heidi has brought up Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own at The Beat lately, and I think of it, too, of how Woolf writes that women's work--in the case of Woolf's essay, the work of writing novels--suffers when they are constantly aware of the indignities her sex is subject to:
"Her books will be deformed and twisted. She will write in a rage where she should write calmly. She will write foolishly where she should write wisely. She will write of herself where she should write of her characters. She is at war with her lot. How could she help but die young, cramped and thwarted?"
I don't anticipate dying "young, cramped and thwarted," but I don't want my work to be twisted by my indignation. I don't want to be outraged. (And I'm not, just kind of... curiously enough... sad.) I just want to do my work. But images like the cover of Heroes for Hire #13* and the "you're making a mountain out of a molehill" response to the women who have objected to it (witness the rampant idiocy in the comments thread at the Blog@Newsarama post), remind me that there's not just work to do but still a fight to be fought. And I really don't feel like fighting.
*Drawn by a woman, Sana Takeda, which makes this situation more nuanced to say the least. The art that can be seen on her website is often quite lovely but just as often more tits and ass for the course. EDITED TO ADD: Takeda has a different cultural perspective, perhaps, but that's where editorial responsibility comes in, especially in a work-for-hire situation.