What image comes to mind when thinking about female superheroes? Chances are, these fierce women are usually depicted as scantily clad with extremely nonfunctional costumes. Why aren’t the ladies of comic books wearing comfortable outfits like their male counterparts?
Students in Professor Alan Shaw’s Comic Books as Art course, offered through the Honors College, were “open and eager to different heroes, different protagonists and issues that are more controversial,” according to Shaw. This idea led to learning about more than the relatively well-known female superheroes.
The class began studying a newly reimagined comic book heroine called Ms. Marvel, written by G. Willow Wilson about a 16-year-old Muslim named Kamala Khan from New Jersey. The Pakistani-American teenager’s story is one of the newest Marvel comics, and both Shaw and his students were fascinated by her.
This character became a catalyst for the class to analyze how women are portrayed in comics, and what they could do to open the door for discussion.
“All of the men get to wear proper clothing,” Shaw said. “Women have this objectifying, sexualizing and ultimately unfair costuming. Kamala’s costume isn’t like that — it’s chic, it’s fascinating and altogether functional. The students seemed to really like the idea of the difference in her costuming.”
Shaw and his students were inspired and decided to hold an event called CausePlay — taken from the term meaning to dress up like comic book characters, cosplay — on Friday, to show their take on new costumes for already-established female superheroes.
Shaw said the event, which will be held from 7 to 10 p.m., will feature a one hour meet-and-greet with feature representatives from Victim’s Advocacy, Women and Gender Studies and PRIDE.
“Then there will be a one-hour presentation from the students where they will talk about the characters they chose, whose costumes have been historically objectifying and which the students remade and will be cosplaying in,” he said. “Finally, we’ll close the show with a viewing of the first episode of the new Netflix series ‘Daredevil,’ premiering that night.”
Courtney Tucker is one of the students who has redesigned a costume for Friday’s event.
“I’ve decided to revamp Black Canary’s costume,” Tucker said, explaining her take on the superheroine includes harem pants and a three-quarter sleeve sweater with black feathers.
Like many other students in Shaw’s class, Tucker believes she has gained far more beyond enjoying comic books.
“This class is truly amazing and I really enjoy being able to talk with other people about how ridiculous and nonfunctional female superhero costumes are,” she said. “Despite the class being all about comic books, it’s a primarily female population.”
The event will take place in Juniper-Poplar Hall Room 1317 on Friday at 7 p.m. Shaw said he hopes to engage other students and inspire them to look more closely at how women are seen in popular culture.
“There are people that want to do this, and the world of comics has become much more inclusive,” he said.