Compulsive Heterosexuality within Comic Books

In C.J. Pascoe’s article, “Guys and just homophobic”, the gendered norms in which young boys are raised in are analyzed. He claims that adolescent males are brought up to be homophobic, and that attacks toward actions and behaviors that are not explicitly heteronormative further the attacker’s own masculinity. The article provides multiple case studies of young boys in social settings and Pascoe was able to discern how the male social sphere operated by saying that: “men or boys who do not conform to normative understanding of masculinity and sexuality should be mocked, humiliated, and possibly feared.” But what contributes to this compulsive heterosexuality? How can we stop it? This article will look at the role Marvel has played in shaping the compulsive heterosexual norms of young males, and what steps it has since taken to rebrand itself.

Many of the interviews that Pascoe conducted with young boys revealed that they have no issues with gay people, and that they are only making light hearted jokes when they engage in “fag discourse”. However, these “jokes” apparently had lasting effects on some of the young boys. Two of the interviewees, who the article refers to as Ray and Peter, claim that they are okay with homosexual men, but would act physically violent toward “effeminate” men. “I can’t stand fags. Like I’ve met a couple. I don’t know. The way they rub you. Gay people I don’t care. They do their thing in their bedroom and that’s fine. Feminine guys bother me. If they try to get up on you. I’ll kill you.” Ray and Peter’s comments shed light on the distinction between sex and gender (in an unbelievably intolerant and violent way). They claim to accept male homosexuality, but only if the men involved still project heteronormative male traits.

These assertions that men have to act stereotypically masculine do not end with the “fag discourse.” Young girls also play a significant role in the sexualization of young boys. This is where ideas of compulsive heterosexuality come into play. According to Pascoe, “In the same way that boys’ homophobia is not specifically about a sexual identity, compulsive heterosexuality is not only about expressing love, desire, and intimacy, but about showing a sexualized dominance over girls’ bodies.” Based on a number of other case studies and interviews, Pascoe was able to establish three components of compulsive heterosexuality: “rituals of getting girls, rituals of touch, and sex talk.” All three components assume the complete submission of girls to these advances, and perpetuate the idea of the female as an object to be sexualized, rather than a human being of equal standing.

So how has Marvel helped create the culture of compulsive heterosexuality? This can be looked at in two ways: how female characters are depicted visually, or how their actions are depicted (i.e. what are they actually doing in the story?). Historically, ideas of compulsive heterosexuality have manifested themselves more in visual depictions, but that is not to say that they never existed in the actions of female characters (more on the second part later). Visual depictions of women in the Marvel (and the entire comic universe) are usually grossly hypersexualized. Women are often illustrated with bodies that are physically impossible (similar to a Barbie doll), and wear extremely revealing costumes. This is not to downplay the hyper muscular bodies of male superheroes, but the effects that visual representations of these characters have on compulsive heterosexuality more apparent with the female characters.

Not only does creating hyper sexual representations of the female body allow for the possibility of young girls trying to imitate these bodies, but it creates unrealistic expectations for young boys to fantasize about. For adolescent males who read comic books, the bodies of Wonder Woman, Black Widow, and Rogue (among others) become the standard of their desires. This opens the door for all three components of compulsive heterosexuality to be exacted on young adolescent female bodies

In a more positive twist though, the content of the modern comic book is quickly become more diverse, more inclusive, and more representative of different types of bodies. For example, Marvel has announced that Captain America will be a black man, and that a woman will inherit Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer) and protect Asgard (Thor’s planet) from the Frost Giants. DC Comics, meanwhile, has introduced its first transgender character into its primary universe, Batgirl’s roommate, Alysia. To combat many of the heteronormative ideas within comic books, classic character Archie Andrews (not associated with Marvel or DC) passed away last month taking a bullet for his gay friend. While the comic book industry cannot single handedly dismantle generations upon generations of compulsive heterosexuality, they are taking positive steps in the effort to distance young boys from the fag discourse and expose comic book readers to a variety of sexual identities and body types.

Do you think Marvel is moving in the right direction? What steps, if any, should be taken to combat the hyper sexual illustrations of many comic book characters? In what other forms of media is compulsive heterosexuality perpetuated?

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One thought on “Compulsive Heterosexuality within Comic Books

  1. I really enjoyed this connection you made from comic books and heterosexuality and heteronormativity. The depiction of romance or sexual implications for a man and woman are present in comic figures and through comic books. I find this to be also be consistent with Disney characters and princesses that naturally depict this idea of heterosexuality being the “obvious” or implied sexuality of the characters. I do admire Marvel’s steps to change this even in small ways and I think that the introduction to the first transgender character in comic books is definitely a step in a more diverse depiction of characters. The hyper sexualization of comic book characters has been something that I have noticed before and I find that it is also something that seems to be a trend in video games. The idea that the woman is hyper sexualized with extremely large breasts and a tiny waist and men are extremely muscular and without much body fat does in fact lead to negative body image among women and men but also, I feel, contributes to heteronormativity as it seems consistent with the idealistic appearance in relation the the oppositional gaze.

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