When people complain that women (even female superheros) are portrayed as sexual objects in comic books, one of the more common counter-arguments is that male superheroes are also drawn in an over-sexualized way "with attractive, muscular bodies designed to be ogled" as Boing Boing put it.
Blogs like The Hawkeye Initiative have repeatedly shown the differences in how women and men are drawn in comics, and earlier today Andrew Wheeler explained why. Writing over at Comics Alliance, Wheeler explains that both men and women in comic books are drawn to appeal to male readers.
He argues that the overly muscled bodies are a male power fantasy, not a female sexual fantasy:
Big muscles are a male fantasy. That’s not to say that women aren’t ever into them, but let’s face facts; women have never been the primary target audience for superhero comics, and male heroes are drawn with big muscles anyway. Make no mistake; women are there. But those big muscles are not there for women. They’re there for men; straight men who find male power exhilarating. If women didn’t exist, superheroes would be drawn just as buff as they are today — because as far as most superhero comics are concerned, women as consumers do not exist.
“Heroes tend to be drawn with tons of bulky muscles and weird proportions that I find unappealing,” said Lysandra, one of a number of women I reached out to via Twitter to find out what they want to see in superhero comics.
All of the women I spoke to seemed to echo Lysandra’s sentiments. Amy said she likes men “lean and muscular, but not bulky.” Tory noted that “too much muscle is gross, it looks like they can’t move.” Sarah said the focus on muscles “veers into the grotesque”. She noted the designs of Hulk and She-Hulk illustrate how both male and female characters are designed for a male reader; “one is a musclebound power fantasy, whereas the other is a powerlifting pinup girl.”
If you're not familiar with the characters, here are a couple covers to refresh your memory:
You can find his post here, and it's well worth a read.
I haven't written on this topic before, but it's one I've been following since long before a certain Spider-Woman cover. It's a situation many of us aren't happy with, and you can even find artwork with similar biases on the cover of many books.
Even when a book features a female lead character, she's too often portrayed as a sexual object while at the same time men are drawn to convey power.
An author by the name of Jim Hines illustrated the differences in a series of posts back in 2012. (I was just tipped to them a couple weeks ago by Maria of Bear Mountain Books).
Hines duplicated the poses used on book covers and showed that the female characters, far from being powerful, were actually posed in a sexually suggestive position of weakness. The male characters, on the other hand, exuded strength and power.
Here are a few examples:
While the male poses were easy to assume, the female poses were often physically painful if not physically impossible.
I won't claim that this is a universal problem, but it is more common than I'd like, and it's just one of the problems with gender biases on book covers. (Don't get me started on covers made for female authors vs covers made for male authors; we could be here all week.)