Double Standards?

Normally, I don’t read the comics section in the newspaper but today’s Mallard Fillmore strip caught my attention when I glanced at the “funnies” section for one particular reason: THOR.



I immediately recognized the crimson-clad costume and winged-helm as belonging to the recently revealed female Thor. Even if I hadn’t seen her image plastered across the Twitter-verse a week ago, Mjolner’s presence would have been enough to catch my eye.

The comic is amusing, and while I haven’t heard this commentary for the first time (that male superheroes are largely unrepresentative of a realistic body image for real men), I think that it is a message that fans and/or consumers of media should not forget: that images of male bodies in media might set unrealistic standards for men in the real world. When I consider this, I can’t help but think that this comic strip might have been more effective, though. Why not include a sketch of male Thor, for reference, in the second panel? I suppose “space” is always a concern for print media, and the reader uses their imagination to understand the punch-line, but a comparison might have driven home the author’s notion of the absurdity of realistic “body image” standards for both men and women in comics.

Thor as we know him today.

Thor as we know him– pure muscle and testosterone.

This comic strip not only resonates with me because it speaks to a fandom of mine, but also because I am going into an academic field that researches media effects: what media, including images, film, music, etc., do to their audiences (for better or for worse). Body image in the media is only one such topic addressed in the field, and it is one that I look forward to studying, along with how media might effect individuals’ sexualization, moral choices, and risk-taking behaviors, and how these factors may or may not correlate with gender.

The Mallard Fillmore comic is a reminder that fictional characters might effect the self-esteem and self-worth of not just women but also men. Personally, the Goddess of Thunder doesn’t speak to any of my own insecurities; I think she looks powerful and beautiful, and she’s certainly far more conservatively dressed than most Marvel heroines. For this reason, I can’t help but think that if some women take issue with female Thor’s armor-clad body then they are simply grasping at straws. The drawing of female Thor in the first panel of the Mallard Fillmore comic strip, without pants, is inaccurate to the official artwork (below). She’s also not depicted as a sex object in the released images. There’s a sense of power and strength in her pose– not pandering sex appeal.

Marvel's new Thor.

Marvel’s new Thor.

Perhaps Mallard Fillmore’s creator agrees with me? If it wasn’t for having shown-off her thighs in the first panel, I would think so, because he chose to position her in a powerful stance, not a sexy one. I think that his own portrayal of Thor in the comic strip speaks to my own sentiments that the outcry against the new Thor’s “unrealistic body image” is a bit of an overreaction. Sure, she might have a rather large bosom, but she also has larger shoulders, biceps, forearms, and thighs than most of her heroine peers. She appears to be a healthy-sized woman, bottom line. I think she’s “realistic” in the only way that she needs to be: that I expect her to be worthy of Mjolner and to defend Asgard and Midgard alike.

In an effort to reach out to my small number of readers– what do you make of the idealized body images depicted in comics and graphic novels? Has it effected you? Do you think that the criticism of female Thor is valid? Why or why not?

2 thoughts on “Double Standards?

  1. I think a female Thor is fantastic, and I agree that unlike many other comic book heroines, she is reasonably dressed, sufficiently bad ass looking, and beautiful. Reminiscent of your previous post on women in GoT (and video games), I think a female Thor will be a perfect representation of atypical strength, confidence, and power for women (in comic books).

    As much as female fans are a growing group in the gaming industry, the same applies to the comic book industry, and there needs to be less sex symbols and more “role model”-type women represented. This is a great example, despite what some people might be saying, and honestly, you inherently expect a super hero to have an unrealistic body type (or power or ability of some sort), so to say it’s something negative just seems ridiculous to me.

    And in response to your other question, the idealized image of women (or men) in comics and graphic novels effects me minimally. I don’t expect to ever look like a super hero. I can only hope to cosplay one as closely as possible 😉

    • I’m excited for female Thor. The think I’m going to pre-order the comic from a local shop since it hits October 1st… and I want to stay in the loop despite the demands of grad school (I’m also slooowly working my way through The Walking Dead comics, thanks to the local county library <3).

      I think the representation of women in comics and media of all types will remain in the public discourse as long as sexualization/objectification persists (and I don't see it going away). Like yourself, it doesn't always bother me personally, unless it's an extreme case. Currently, there appears to be a lot of hoopla over the new variant cover for the first issue of Spider-Woman. Marvel hired an artist well known for his erotic images, and a lot of women have spoken up against the unnecessary sexualization of the character.

      I've seen a lot of imagery like this before, and while I do find it a little disheartening, the fact remains that I've seen a lot worse in video games and even some films. And I also think it's unfair that there is a double-standard, because male and female superheros predominately cater to heterosexual male tastes. It's a bit contradictory/hypocritical when Marvel does inclusive changes, like female Thor and African-American Captain American, but persists with blatant sexualization of other characters.

      ANYWAY… my hope is that this semester I will work with some other students on a content analysis of comic book covers, specifically looking at representations of female and male characters, and how and they differ. If we get it off the ground, I'll post some of the research here! 🙂

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