sprodingseacreature asked:Silly question time: at what point is it usually considered (assuming the anatomy is correct) the artist sexualizing a character rather than the character wanting to be sexy of their own in universe will? Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not trying to defend artists who put every female character in skimpy outfits for combat. But rather pointing out the fact that there are women who are empowered by their sexuality. Is it possible to write/draw such a character without being exploitative?
First off, I appreciate that you’re looking for an answer to help you in future creations. :) I’m obviously not in a position to give you some definitive, objective answer. I don’t really think there is one for something like this, but I’ll give you my thoughts on the subject since you asked. :)
There’s nothing wrong with creating a female character that likes to be sexy, but it’s important to keep in mind that that’s also often used as an excuse just to depict female characters in sexualized ways that are irrelevant to the plot (oh that’s just how SHE wants to act in battle). They aren’t real, so the onus still falls on the writer. Because we live in a society where the dominant imagery of women is sexualized for hetero male consumption, that can affect how people view your character.
It doesn’t mean you can’t create a female character that likes being sexy during battle, just like our society having racial stereotypes doesn’t mean you can never create a black criminal character, or a non-sexual East Asian male character. But nothing happens in a vacuum, and you may want to think about how you might be contributing to the overall culture. (Or how the overall culture is contributing to your own creative thought process)
Thinking doesn’t mean “don’t do it”, it just means thinking. It also doesn’t mean there’s a right or wrong thing to do. But you should keep in mind how it might come off because of dominant stereotypes and imagery in society.
However, simply because a character is sexy doesn’t mean she can’t also be a person, and be complex. Even women who would like to pose sexily in battle, have other things going on in their heads, and aren’t “on” all the time. Just like any character you create, think about them as a person, what they want, who they are, beyond just “this is the black character, this is the sexy female character, etc”.
For example, one thing I sometimes see in fiction, is “oh this character’s a stripper, so of course she’ll be sexual”. Except that that’s just her job. Simply because a woman is sexual as part of her job doesn’t mean she’s sexual at home in pajamas, on the street buying groceries, or out in costume fighting crime. She’s a person, just like a woman working at McDonald’s isn’t acting like she’s at work when she’s not. She MIGHT be sexual, but she might not, and she might have lots of other things going on too.
Depictions of Starfire pre-reboot are a good example. She was sexual, and wore few clothes, but she also was caring, and compassionate, and intelligent, and heroic. And more importantly, we got these qualities from how she was portrayed (in art and in writing), not simply because we were told she has them.
It’s not about “no sexy” vs “sexy”, it’s about complexity, context, and fleshing your characters out. There is no “line” or “point” I can give you where things go from exploitative to empowering. My best advice is to not write characters worrying about that, but to write characters. Flesh them out. And flesh out the scenes they’re in. What’s she doing? Why’s she doing it? Is she posing because of what she’s doing, or is she posing because it’d make a great pin up, and if so, is that hurting or furthering the story you’re telling? You can do sexy in many many ways without it being jarring in context. The recent redraw of the Jade Warriors picture is a great example. It’s sexy, but pulled us into the scene, rather than pulling us out of it.
Ultimately, it’s fiction, and “well it’s just what she WANTS to do” can be used to justify anything after the fact. (Just like “well they just WANT to do this” can be used to justify any plot hole in writing.) So don’t worry about that, worry about what YOU want to do, and what you want the readers to get out of your creation. :) For example, do you want them to feel empowered too? If so, then their feedback is important.
And remember, sometimes what you intend doesn’t come out in your work. Sometimes people might read it differently. Maybe it’s them, or maybe you decide that you didn’t present what you were going for well, and you try a different approach. Just like any writer or artist who gets misinterpreted, we are the ones who have to decide whether it’s something we can learn from, and change how we express what we’re trying to express, or if it’s okay that some people don’t see it that way, and keep doing things the way we are.