Sex and the New Female Superhero

Sorry Cara, writer Karen Yossman says, skimpy costumes are not the problem

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Cara Delevingne recently revealed that she battled constant rejection and ‘pervy men’ before eventually conquering the fashion industry. Now, she's facing a new challenge: Hollywood sexism. 

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'There are only three girls but in my opinion they have the best roles,' she tells Empire Magazine of her latest movie, Suicide Squad, which she's currently filming in Toronto alongside a roll call of A-listers like Jared Leto, Will Smith and Margot Robbie. 'Generally though, superhero movies are totally sexist,' she adds. 'Female superheroes are normally naked or in bikinis. No one would be able to fight like that. Wonder Woman, how the hell does she fight? She would be dead in a minute.'

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While I admire Cara’s chutzpah for speaking out about sexism on screen - something many actresses are too afraid to discuss - it’s a shame she picked such a rubbish example: it’s not skimpy outfits that are the problem in Hollywood, but the fact there are hardly any heroines in the first place.

In a new animated short, a skimpily dressed Wonder Woman saves her boyfriend from a giant monster before ripping off his shirt and getting down to business. Frankly, who cares what she’s wearing when she’s clearly such a badass? As it happens, female superheroes are dressing more conservatively than ever. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, Scarlett Johansson (aka Black Widow) wears a full-body jumpsuit while her co-star Elizabeth Olsen sports a loose black dress and leather jacket. Zoe Saldana actually helped design her character’s costume in Guardians of the Galaxy, which consisted of a corseted top with thick straps and matching trousers. And Melissa Benoist, the Glee actress recently cast as Supergirl, will wear a high-cut, long-sleeve top with matching leggings under her skirt when the TV series airs in the US later this year. Then, of course, there’s Wonder Woman, played by Gal Gadot in the upcoming Batman v Superman movie, who will swap her star-spangled bikini briefs for a battle-ready leather tunic, a nod to the character’s comic book origin as an Amazonian princess.

Meanwhile, Wonder Woman has had a makeover in the comics too. Cara will no doubt be pleased to learn that the superheroine now sports a long-sleeve polo neck and leggings under her 'bikini'. Ironically, the new additions make her costume less practical rather than more, as Scarlett Johansson has already experienced. After a long day fighting on set ScarJo said her jumpsuit felt more like a 'wetsuit', adding: 'It was so hot, I would wring out my socks at the end of the day'. Erik Larsen, a sometimes-controversial comic book writer, says Wonder Woman’s original outfit was 'perfectly fine' for her job as a crime-fighting powerhouse. 'It’s strong, it’s iconic, it harkens back to ancient Greece with athletes in appropriate sporting attire,' he explains. 'It’s a costume that functions.'

So OK, while the new breed of female superhero costumes are functional, they’re still pretty sexy. But let’s be clear: that doesn’t mean they’re sexist. Instead they’re a reminder that being strong – physically and emotionally – doesn’t make you any less of a woman; that you can kick someone's ass and direct your sexual destiny while showing as little or as much flesh as you like. 

And you have to admit, male superheroes wear equally suggestive outfits, designed to show off rippling torsos and bulging muscles. 'None of [the costumes] were comfortable, especially in the middle of the desert,' Chris Hemsworth, who plays Thor, said of the Avengers’ wardrobes. And spare a thought for the poor sod that will eventually step into He-Man’s boots. If they ever make another film: he’ll only get a pair of Y-fronts and a bondage harness to protect his modesty. As Chris Pratt recently quipped, equality isn't about objectifying women less but 'objectifying men just as often'. He was kind of joking but, actually, he's not wrong - if we expect our male superheroes to look super hot, why not the female ones?

Cara has a point about comic book movies being sexist, just not in the way she’s thinking. More women than ever are watching these films – latest statistics show that in the US over 40% of the audience for Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: Winter Soldier were women - but that’s not being reflected onscreen.  Yes there might be 'three girls' in Suicide Squad but there are six male leads, something Delevingne tries to gloss over by claiming that, in her opinion, women have 'the best roles'. Meanwhile Batman v Superman and the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot, starring Kate Mara, have a similar ratio problem.

And that’s before we even get to the issue of female-fronted films – or lack thereof. All the main Avengers have their own franchises (Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America and Thor) but Black Widow is yet to get a standalone movie despite pressure from fans and Johansson herself. As for Wonder Woman, wrap your head around this: despite being the most famous female superhero on the planet, the character has never appeared in any live-action movie, let alone her own (although Warner Bros have promised one for 2017).

So Cara, while I appreciate your point, how about we focus on getting more kickass women like yourself on the big screen? And then we can worry about what they're wearing afterward.