A Mother’s Love – Mothers in the Harry Potter series [Guest Post]

This week’s guest post was written by Kelly over at mischiefmanaged. Kelly is a graduate of Durham University and took a course on Harry Potter. She is a Gryffindor, and maker of fandom jewellery and props.

The theme of mothers is prevalent throughout the Harry Potter series, and this is arguably influenced by JK’s close connection with her own mother. In the year that JK Rowling started to write Harry Potter, her mother Anne died and this heavily effected the plot of story. As a result, the theme of death became much more prevalent in the book, which begins with the death of Harry’s mother, something that JK could easily emote with at the time. Harry loses his own mother but throughout the narrative he is saved by Lily’s love, as well as the love of the other motherly characters–even those without children of their own. Lily’s continual protection of Harry is clear through the series. By sacrificing herself to protect her baby, Harry is protected in a way that means for a while, Voldemort can’t touch him without being burned by it. And although he loses this ability, Lily’s love is still a driving force and she manages to keep him safe even after her death.

Although she took him into her home when Lily died, Harry’s Aunt Petunia wasn’t much of a motherly figure. Harry was an abused child and Petunia did nothing to stop it or do anything to make his life any easier. Instead, Petunia’s devotion and love was entirely focused on her own son.

This is perfectly juxtaposed by the love and affection of Molly Weasley. Molly has an incredibly large family but still adopts Harry and shows him unconditional love throughout the story. She does become his mother in law later in the books but she practically adopted him since they met at Harry’s first visit to Kings Cross station. The Weasleys are the polar opposite of the Dursleys and the Burrow becomes like a second home for Harry. Molly is the archetypal mother and is invaluable to making Harry feel happy and loved after years of abuse.

Another mother who has a large impact in Harry’s life is Narcissa Malfoy. Narcissa is an incredibly dedicated mother who dotes on Draco and makes an unbreakable vow to ensure his safety. She is also prepared to defy Voldemort in to protect Draco and in doing so, she also saves Harry’s life. Narcissa, Molly and Petunia all protect Harry. In Narcissa’s case to save her own son, for Petunia it was familial duty and Molly acted purely on motherly instinct.

Arguably, Minerva McGonagall is another motherly figure for Harry. His head of house always looked out for Harry and openly objected to leaving Harry with the Dursleys, deciding that they were unfit to look after the baby. Her vigilant watch of Harry and the advice that she gives him during his school years definitely makes her a prime motherly figure.

But by far the most motherly of all of the characters was Rebeus Hagrid. (I’m firmly in the camp which believes that Harry should have named his child after Hagrid. Albus Severus Potter, you were named after a man who kept me alive just to sacrifice me at the right time and another man who was crazily obsessed with your grandmother. Good luck with that.) Despite being a male character, Hagrid displays the most stereotypically feminine traits. From the pink aprons to the outbursts of tears, Hagrid is presented as a feminine and maternal figure. Hagrid instantly takes Harry under his wing, getting emotional when he has to leave Harry at the Dursleys doorstep, then baking him a cake when they’re final reunited on Harry’s 11th birthday and Hagrid a definitely the perfect parental figure for Harry; maternal or otherwise. It’s clear how the death of JK Rowling’s own mother impacted on Harry’s development. He may lose his own mother early in the narrative but the love of his own mother and the motherly figures around him keeps him safe during a very dangerous time in his life.

Featured Image by Hung Chieh Tsai via Flickr

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Dissecting Disney: Lilo and Stitch

This series analyses Disney movies and shows from a feminist or other critical perspectives. It is not condemning Disney; it is analysing a beloved piece of childhood from an adult point of view

Once upon a time, Disney released a movie about two sisters. The younger one was free-spirited and unashamed to be herself, while the older one did what she had to do to keep her baby sister safe. There was a cute sidekick and lots of strange events that couldn’t happen in real life, but the charm of the story came from the love between the sisters, the sacrifices they made for each other, and the message of the importance of sisterly bonds.

The movie I’m talking about is, of course, Lilo & Stitch.

Lilo & Stitch was released in UK cinemas in 2002. It was a commercial success, being one of only two Disney films in the 2000’s to make its budget back during its initial release, the other being The Princess and the Frog.

The plot is a simple one. Experiment 626 is a genetic experiment which escapes incarceration in space when he steals a ship. It crashes on earth, in a small town in Hawaii. He is mistaken for a dog and adopted by Lilo. She names him Stitch. The story follows him adjusting to earth, avoiding capture, and learning how to be good and what to do when there is nothing less to destroy.

It’s a cute story. The animation is pretty and the music is delightful. I like the characters, and I think it’s an under-rated movie. The colour comes from the aliens, from Stitch, his creator, and the zoologist who pursues them. The heart comes from the sisters.

Lilo is a six year old girl living in Hawaii. Her name means lost, or generous one. Her interests are photography, hula dancing and Elvis. She’s quirky, but it’s believable because she is a child. She’s not the manic pixie character, she’s just a kid with the strange interests kids develop. She likes to play with her home-made voodoo dolls. She claims the cruel children at school are her friends. She’s off, but believably odd.

Nani is the older sister, and Lilo’s legal guardian after the death of their parents. She’s voiced by Tia Carrere, a Hawaii native. We see her work as a waitress and beg for jobs after Stitch causes her to lose that job. And sadly, we know that she is a talented surfer. She had won trophies that she proudly displays in her room. She could have been going pro. Instead, she now looks after Lilo, supporting them financially while acting as mother to a damaged child. She indulges Lilo’s passions, never makes her feel odd for her world view. She prints the photos of tourists, adopts the blue dog because Lilo wants him, and doesn’t even place the blame on Lilo when Stitch makes her lose her job at the Luau. It leads to this heart-warming scene:

Lilo: Did you lose your job because of Stitch and me?

Lilo: Did you lose your job because of Stitch and me?

2

Nani: Nah. The manager’s a vampire.

3

Nani: He wanted me to join his legion of the undead.

I believe Nani loves Lilo. When Cobra tries to take Lilo away, she screams at him that Lilo needs her, that she understands her. In initial viewings of the movie so far, many mistook Nani for Lilo’s mother.

Lilo & Stitch was a big franchise for Disney. It spawned three more sequels and a pretty successful TV series that ran from 2003 until 2006. Unfortunately, the focus was on Stitch and the aliens. The heroic, interesting and relatable Nani and Lilo have been relegated to side-roles. I would like to see more of them in media and merchandise. Women of colour dolls that step outside the usual Disney princess proportions can only be a good thing.

The story was not meant to be about Lilo. She was added later and it shows in the final product. She is the heart of the series though, and I think we could use more characters like her and Nani in the media.

“Women’s Issues”

Today a friend of mine asked me why we can’t have one conversation without me bringing up “women’s issues”. I wasn’t sure what that meant, since we talk about a lot of things.

You know,” he typed slowly from the other side of the ocean. “Rape and abortion and wife beating and stuff like that.”

For context, I was talking about the ambitions I had for this site. And yes, I do like to discuss feminist theories and discourse with people, but we also talk about comics and US crime dramas too. I was still confused by what I was being asked, but not because of what it meant.

“Women’s issues” is the wrong term to use for that kind of discussion.

First of all, that is a severe case of cissexism. Women should not be synonymous with uterus or vagina, as many so-called “women’s issues” are focused on. Things like reproductive rights and sexual health for example. Trans men and those who identify outside of the gender binary can also be affected by them.

medium

It also marginalises the issues of violence. When we are discussing sexual or domestic violence, it is important to remember the culture of victim-blaming that surrounds it. When you say that sexual assault is a women’s issue, it absolve the perpetrator of any fault; it is a woman’s issue, therefore it is the victim’s issue to contend with.

Following that, labelling sexual and domestic violence as a women’s issue further adds to the culture of male silence. Calling it a women’s issue further alienates male victims for the crime, whose voices are often taken away because of the toxic masculinity that surrounds these thoughts. If it is a women’s issue, these men are either not true victims or they are not true men.

It is not just my stateside friend who thinks this way though. My female friends and I were taught how to avoid rape and assault, when the boys in the class were sent elsewhere. One friend’s anecdote was her male classmates were allowed to play football instead. Women’s magazines and newspaper sections may contain stories of rape or domestic abuse, but such stories are never marketed to men. In fact it is only through sensationalised headlines of the most brutal of violence that mainstream media seems interested, bordering on torture porn with the level of details reported, or else it is a celebrity who is the victim and they are shamed, ridiculed and blamed a la Rhianna.

These are not issues of women. These are issues of violence which can affect anyone.

After doing research, I found other issues usually labelled “women’s issues”. The biggest one seems to be childcare. Of course, this makes sense. There are only female parents, and that is why it is a women’s issue. If men were the primary caregivers or had any share of childcare duties, then obviously it would be called a parent issue.

Oh. Wait. Fathers exist, don’t they?

Even this seemingly harmless labelling has a misogynistic undertone to it. It states that women should be the caregivers, and it should be their issue when it comes to children. It once again ignores that men do want to be involved in their children’s lives. It’s the reason why many women’s restrooms come equipped with changing facilities, but men’s restrooms don’t.

These are small matters of semantics, but they make a big difference. Dismissing something as a women’s issue does not solve it. It makes it more difficult for it to be taken seriously.

There are gendered issues, just as there are race-specific or specifically trans issues. But more often than not, calling something a women’s issues is an excuse to pass them on or to mock them. Appropriate language should be used to discuss them–watch out for casual cissexism.

Call them what they are. Childcare issues. Domestic and sexual violence. Reproductive rights. Educate to all and allow people’s voices to be heard. It will help address the destructive cultures of violence and silence which surround them.

Dissecting Disney: Esmeralda

This series analyses Disney movies and shows from a feminist or other critical perspectives. It is not condemning Disney; it is analysing a beloved piece of childhood from an adult point of view

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released in 1998, and it was never truly well-received. The conception was too conflicting. For the most part, it is a beautifully animated and compelling story, told with a sincerity and that famous Disney charm. It was dark, but so was the original source. On the opposite side of the conflict, there was unfunny comic relief and annoying side-characters. This post isn’t about them though. It’s about Esmeralda.

Esmeralda

Esmeralda

Esmeralda is the Romani street dancer from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and possibly the only social justice warrior of the Disney renaissance. Princesses and heroines had stood up for honesty and against their foes before, but Esmeralda was speaking for more than that. She spoke for her people, and she spoke for justice. She is a woman of colour who takes no blows for who she is. She’s feisty, she’s quick-witted, but she is also very grounded and passionate.

Her only song is not about wanting more in life a la Belle (Reprise) or Part of Your World. She sings God Help the Outcasts, walking the other way from the selfish congregation as they wish for material possessions and glory. Her prayer is simple:

God help the outcasts, hungry from birth. Show them the mercy they don’t find on earth. God help my people, we look to You still. God help the outcasts, or nobody will.

She wants only for her people not to live in fear. It is a beautiful hymn with a deep message. She is called gypsy and has money she’s earned taken from her. She deals with racism and the corrupt law system that would sooner see her exterminated than protected. It is an allegory which works today, with stories like Sandra Bland and Mike Brown making international headlines.

A big criticism that is usually levied against Esmeralda is that she ends up with Phoebus. Phoebus is the captain of the guard, and he is the conventionally attractive pretty boy in the trio of interested men. The other two are the villain—the old and lecherous judge, Claude Frollo—and the hero of the movie—the disabled and unattractive Quasimodo. To Esmeralda’s credit though, Phoebus is the only option who treats her as a person. Frollo is an old pervert who wants to possess and burn Esmeralda, casting her as a witch in fantasies to explain his unholy thoughts. Quasimodo has the exact opposite problem; he casts her as an angel, and sees her as a perfect being. Being a sex object or on a pedestal are both dehumanising, albeit with different connotations. Esmeralda ends up with the man who shares her belief in justice, and who takes the time to get to know her as a person.

When a creep gets in your personal space [Caption reads: Do not want]

When a creep gets in your personal space

[caption reads: Do not want]

Esmeralda is sexualised in her design. She dances around a pole for money, which is pretty risqué for a Disney movie. Even her smoke silhouette is sexy. The infamous villain’s song Hellfire shows a smoke version of Esmeralda dancing in the flames of the fireplace in a fantasy sequence, beckoning and attempting to embrace Frollo. Animators had to go through frame-by-frame and made sure there was no errant nipple to offend the audience. In the commentary, director Kirk Wise said she was designed to look like she’d “been around”. It is unfortunate phrasing, meant to indicate she is older then the traditional heroine, but it adds to this sexualised image of a great character.

Disney is not the first adaptation to sexualise Esmeralda. Hugo’s Esmeralda was a beautiful 16 year-old girl who was desperately in love with Phoebus; she was not a sex siren. Yet many adaptations have written her as possessing sexual charms to some degree. Disney at least places the perversion on the characters to ogle her.

Frollo’s attitude towards her is especially relevant to a feminist interpretation. He is the essence of victim blaming. He blames her for his ‘unholy thoughts’, and calls her witch. He would rather believe she was manipulating him than admit that he is attracted to her. And there is no shame in that, she’s gorgeous.

That she is the only speaking female role outside the comic relief gargoyle is honestly a shame. Esmeralda has all the makings of Disney feminist fave. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a classic that needs more love than it’s received over the years. Its soundtrack is incredible, the hand-drawn animation still holds up well, and Esmeralda is one of the greatest female characters Disney has ever written.

What is Victim Blaming?

This post is part of the Defining Feminism series, and was requested by Linda G from North Carolina.

Defining Feminism is a series providing small, simplified explanations of theories, ideas and issues often mentioned or discussed in feminist criticisms.

The post comes with content warning for talk of sexual violence.

Victim blaming is the discourse of devaluing the experiences of the victim, often citing potential reasons for the crime, or faults the victim may have to warrant the crime that was committed against them. The term was coined 1971 by William Ryan, in an attempt to discuss racism in America. It has since adopted a new usage, and is a very important talking point when discussing rape and sexual assault.

These so-called reasons and faults are rarely aimed at the attacker, hence the name. It is a way of both further stigmatizing survivors and to discredit their stories.

Below are some examples of what victim blaming looks like:

  • She was asking for it
  • She was wearing a short skirt, what did she expect?
  • He didn’t overpower him, so he must have secretly wanted it.
  • She shouldn’t have been drinking
  • She didn’t cry for help
  • She has had a lot of partners in the past
  • But we’re dating

A protester. Her placard reads: Things that cause rape [ ] Flirting [ ] The outfit I'm wearing [ ] Drinking too much [X] Rapists

A protester. Her placard reads:
Things that cause rape
[ ] Flirting
[ ] The outfit I’m wearing
[ ] Drinking too much
[X] Rapists

These examples are shockingly common when media and society discuss rape cases. They don’t sound malicious, but the intent is. The victim’s motives and state are picked apart to find a reason as to why they was assaulted, when the questions should lie with their rapist.

So to clear up, this is what makes these arguments ridiculous:

  • No one is asking for it. To ask for it is to consent. Rape and assault are not consensual by definition. Nothing anybody does is them asking for it.
  • The way a person dresses should not serve as implied invitation. Rape predates miniskirts and rapists would still rape even if everyone covered all of their skin. People should be allowed to wear what they want without fear of sexual violence.
  • Men are not born with the strength of Hercules, and should not be held to this impossible standard of strength. If he cannot overpower his attacker, that does not make him any less of a victim. He did not want it.
  • Alcohol means she cannot consent. If she cannot consent, it is rape.
  • People react to trauma in different ways. No one is asking for it if their body shut down in terror, and it is a common reaction to have.
  • Those partners got consent. A rapist did not get consent. This is why in the US and Canada, Rape Shield laws are in place so that in the event of a trial, the sexual history of the victim is not cross-examined.
  • It doesn’t matter if you have received consent before. If they say no and you continue, it is rape. Partners and loved ones are capable of rape.

The main issue with these comments is obviously that they place blame on the victim. The consequence of this is that they take blame away from the attacker. They learn to justify their actions using that same harmful discourse, and people will believe them. Discussing sexual violence and blaming the victim is not helpful.

This takes a toll on the victim. It fuels their own guilt and shame over the incident. They can feel no one believes them, or worse, that everyone thinks it is their fault. This stigma is one of the reasons why incidents of sexual assault and violence often go unreported.

Finally, some UK statistics, courtesy of An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, released by the Ministry of Justice, Office of National Statistics and the Home Office in January 2013:

  • Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year; that’s roughly 11 rapes (of adults alone) every hour
  • Nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted in England and Wales each year
  • 1 in 5 women aged 16 – 59 has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16
  • Only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police
  • Approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence

These statistics exclude child victims. 15% is an appalling number of reports. The conviction rate does not add much confidence, but things are getting better. Does it help to be blaming these 97,000 people instead of the people who committed the crime?

If you have been affected by this post, there are a number of UK resources available to you:

  • Childline | 0800 1111
  • Rape Crisis | 0808 802 9999
  • Men’s Advice Line | 0808 801 0327

Where Are All The Women: Age of Ultron

Was the backlash against Joss Whedon for Avengers: Age of Ultron warranted?

Short answer: yes. Long answer…

I knew vaguely that there was dissatisfaction in the fandom over some choices, but a lot of it I had chalked up to puritanism. There will always be backlash when it comes to adaptations because everyone has their favourite story arcs.

So when I went to see it, I found myself just as angry, for reasons almost completely unrelated to comics.

This post is not going to be spoiler-free, but I will try to keep it to a minimum. Here is why Age of Ultron deserves the hate it’s getting.

Natasha is a godsend in the Avengers franchise, much loved by the fandom by and large. She was sorely underdeveloped in Avengers Assemble, but many of the characters were. Natasha got the development she deserved in Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier. We were ruined for all others as it turns out. The Russo brothers set a high bar that Joss Whedon didn’t even attempt to reach when he took the reins back.

Whedon’s feminism is a relic from the era of Spice Girls and girl power. It was liberating in the 90s, but feminism has evolved since then. We are no longer satisfied with female characters who know how to use a weapon being equated with development. We want emotionally complex characters, characters with depth, and characters not written in a problematic manner. Whedon’s feminism has not evolved, and thus we are left with his signature woman: cutie with a weapon. We had it with Buffy as well.

Natasha is relegated to love interest. Now Natasha having a love story is nothing bad. Steve, Thor and Tony have love interests and they still get to be the hero. The problem is that Natasha’s romance comes at the cost of heroism. It’s strange, but suddenly the Black Widow can’t break out of a Medieval-looking cell without someone coming to her rescue. Gone is the woman who can bring an empire to its knees with her mastery of manipulation. Instead we have a damsel.

Black Widow's Age of Ultron poster

Black Widow’s Age of Ultron poster

And while we’re talking about Tony and Thor, let’s discuss an interesting scene where the boys play a game of one-upping, talking about their absent girlfriends. Pepper and Jane are mentioned, but never shown. Maria Hill (who in the comics is a biracial Latinx) makes the quip of “Where are all the women?” and it’s greeted with laughter.

But this is a legitimate criticism. The main female cast in this movie is Natasha, Wanda Maximoff and Dr Helen Cho. Others like Maria and Peggy Carter make cameo appearances, but these three play a major role.

Dr Helen Cho, I will admit, is a marvel. A Korean actress playing quite a progressive character. I can’t remember the last time I saw an Asian woman who wasn’t a geisha fantasy for a white man. The white men actually appreciate her prowess, and her knowledge is what saves her. I am white though, so any criticism of her character from Korean or Asian feminists should be valued, and just because I have not seen any criticism does not mean it does not exist.

Wanda is slightly more difficult to discuss. I don’t feel qualified to talk about her, but I will try. Wanda’s history and heritage in the comics are tricky. Most remember her from the 2005 House of M arc, in which Wanda, driven insane by the loss of her child, tries to alter the fabric of reality. It was a poor depiction of a homicidal mentally unstable person, but has unfortunately impacted her character, as seen in the end-scene of Captain America 2.

Wanda is Romani and she is Jewish, just like her brother. They have never been white, only white-passing depending on the artist. One of the more popular theories as to why they were whitewashed is that Fox still owns X-Men, therefore they could not have that link to Magneto. However Quicksilver and Scarlett Witch have been Avengers since 1965—they are barely X-Men. And surprisingly, Magneto is not the only Jewish character in the world. So to have that positive piece of representation retconned is insulting enough. The actors chosen, while talented, were not Jewish or Roma. What makes it worse is that Whedon decided that the Maximoff twins should side with HYDRA.

The Vision & The Scarlet Witch #3 (1985)

The Vision & The Scarlet Witch #3 (1985)

Just to reiterate: the Jewish-Romani characters are siding with the Nazis.

And then we come to Natasha. Suddenly she’s cast as Bruce Banner’s love interest, despite no indication from the first movie that this was even coming. They ended the first movie with a Natasha still afraid of the Hulk. Now she is his handler, singing lullabies and casting bedroom eyes.

Odd romance aside, it’s disappointing to see her handled this way after Captain America 2. She seems suddenly helpless, unable to escape on her own and brooding over the fact that Bruce won’t be with her. Natasha is human, but she is goal-orientated. That is what makes her a good assassin and a better Avenger. She knows how to get things done, and that is difficult to do when you are trying to convince a man to run away with you.

And then we come to the infamous sterilisation scene.

Let me point out that this is a canonical piece of characterisation. That Natasha is sterile is not the main concern here. Many women are sterile or made sterile, and it is good to see those women represented as strong and wonderful.

The issue comes with the tone of conversation. Bruce and Natasha are discussing monstrosity. To Natasha, that she is sterile makes her a monster. It reads less like Natasha’s own demons make her think this, and more like this is an irrefutable fact. Natasha was made infertile in Russia, and now she cannot have children. This is comparable to Bruce’s Hulking out.

This point could have been handled well. It has been in the past. If you are interested in this origin and want to read it done right, Marjorie Liu’s The Name of the Rose graphic novel is phenomenal. It’s sensitive, it’s aware, and it plays a part in the narrative. It didn’t in Age of Ultron. It was simply to have Bruce and Natasha compare their monstrous pasts. It’s highly insensitive of Whedon, and can be very offensive to others.

So is the backlash warranted?

I’m saying yes. I’ve provided links to other posts below which further elaborate on points above. The writing was sexist, racist and ableist. From a creative perspective, the world he is trying to build doesn’t work because there is too much disconnect from the wider MCU. Characters do things which we don’t believe they would do because as an audience, we follow more than just Whedon’s interpretation. Things become shaky, characters lose dimensions, and it can be painful to watch.

It was a decent film. The effects were great, the villain was enjoyable… but the writing is weak and disjointed, and relies too heavily on harmful tropes. The backlash is deserved.

Other Articles:

  • Elizabeth Olsen’s ableist interview (x)
  • A fansite exploring the MCU and its relationship with PoC (x)
  • Sexism and Age of Ultron (x)

The Portrayal of Male Victims in Comics

Hello and welcome to Friday’s Feminist.

I recently did two guest posts over at Verbal Remedy; Women in Comics: Women in Refrigerator and Women in Comics: The Sexy Lamp Test. They explored the double standards and excessive sexual violence aimed towards women in superhero comics. This post will follow a similar exploration.

The depiction of male victims of sexual violence is a different realm to their female counterparts. They do not add to a systematic oppression based on gender, nor are they indicative of how the general character pool are treated. In most cases, the victim either receives some reward or benefit from the encounter, thus coding the encounter as necessary or somehow worth it, or else it is never brought up again. Both of these are problematic, especially for real life victims of sexual abuse or assault. It portrays assault as either a good thing, or it endorses a culture of silence around male victims. Some of the biggest names in superhero history have at some point been the victim of sexual violence in various forms, but you wouldn’t know that if you weren’t a reader or only read recent issues.

This post comes with content warnings for domestic violence, sexual abuse and sexual assault.

In Hulk #23, Bruce Banner is cornered in the showers at a YMCA by two men. Bruce says no, only to have one of them respond that that only means he won’t like it this time, but his attacker will regardless. Bruce is only able to keep them away from him when he tells them that he is The Incredible Hulk, and if they touch him he’d rip them apart. Bruce was almost gang raped. It’s never referenced again, though one could see how this might impact his life in a significant way.

There is no almost in Nightwing #93. Nightwing, the adult moniker of Dick Grayson, has teamed up with a young woman named Catalina Flores, code-named Tarantula. Catalina murders Blockbuster, and driven mad by Blockbuster’s attacks on his personal life, Nightwing lets her. It’s a traumatic event for Dick, and it takes an even darker turn when Dick lies in the street, injured and unable to move. Rather than help him, Catalina climbs on him and rapes him in the street. He clearly protests, but it doesn’t deter her.

This scene is not treated as rape by the creator. In an interview, the series writer Devin Grayson said of the issues: “For the record, I’ve never used the word “rape,” I just said it was non-consensual”. Grayson wants to draw a distinction between rape and non-consensual sex when there isn’t one to draw. Dick did not consent and could not do anything to stop her. After, she takes a drunk and shaken Dick to the registrar’s office to trick him into marriage. He does manage to stop this though when he is summoned away by Batman.

After this, there are no ramifications. Dick and Catalina continue working together, and two issues later he’s even tempted to kiss her. Dick doesn’t mention it again and Catalina doesn’t receive any punishment until she is eventually incarcerated for the murder of Blockbuster.

In The Invincible Iron Man #30, Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit gains sentience when it is struck by lightning. What follows is a nightmare. The suit believes it loves Tony, murders Whiplash, and abducts Tony and takes him away to an island to torture until he loves the suit back.

The scene is ridiculous, but the pattern is a familiar one. The suit hurts Tony. Apologises. And then makes it Tony’s fault. It is all done out of love and only because he doesn’t understand his feelings for Tony. And yes, it is a romantic love he feels, as the suit states there is no difference between his love for Tony and Tony’s love for his then-love interest, Rumiko Fujikawa. The suit is no longer his captor, and instead becomes an allegory for an abusive relationship. He locks Tony away and threatens to kill anyone important in Tony’s life. When Tony tries to escape and suffers a heart attack in the process, the suit rips out its own heart to give to Tony to save his life. Despite the torture, Tony tries to save his suit and the suit rejects him, saying “you’ve done enough”. The cycle of abuse ends only when Tony is burdened with the guilt of essentially killing his suit.

See the end of the post for resources

See the end of the post for resources

Perhaps the most famous example is Batman, in Grant Morrison’s 2006 series Batman and Son. In it, one of Batman’s many love interests, Talia al Ghul, drugs Batman and rapes him. This results in the conception of Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce and Talia. Damian is sent to live with Bruce when Ra’s al Ghul is attacked in his home. Bruce takes Damian under wing, and teaches him compassion and the way of the batfamily. Damian is the ultimate reward for Bruce’s hardships; he is given a son and new sidekick from it.

It is worth noting that from 2011, the events of this saga were changed to make it a consensual union, and the 2014 animated movie Son of the Batman follows this retcon.

Finally, we come to a character with two stories to tell—one handled poorly, and one handled surprisingly well.

Back when Tobey Maguire was playing Peter Parker in 2002, it was decided that they should update Spider-Man’s web-slinging power. Gone were the web-shooters invented by Peter; now he could organically produce webbing as a side-effect of the bite. This was all well and good, but Peter in the comics was still using machinery. To fix this, Marvel introduced a storyline called Changes. During this, Spider-Man is restrained by The Queen and assaulted with her kiss. That kiss mutates him from the inside, causing him to become pregnant. He becomes a giant spider, only for the mutation to become unstable and for him die. He somehow manages to birth himself though, with all his old memories and his new webslinging powers. His assault and violation are once again deemed worth it because he benefits from new powers and he doesn’t deal with the trauma.

Sadly, Spider-Man has been in a sexual abuse storyline that was handled well. In Spider-Man and Power Pack #1 (1984), Spider-Man is talking to a young boy who is being abused by his babysitter. It leads to Spider-Man telling his own story about his own experience with Skip, an older boy that he trusted who abused him. It is not even a lie he told to make the child feel better. As he swings through New York in the end, Peter is able to come to terms with what happened. He admits to feeling shame and to thinking it was his fault, which are very common emotions to have after abuse.

From Spider-Man and Power Pack #1 (1984)

From Spider-Man and Power Pack #1 (1984)

This is not the only time it has been mentioned. It was referenced again in 1987 in Spider-Man: National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse #1. It’s a part of a monologue where he talks about the sexual, emotional and verbal abuse he suffered through because of Skip. He urges people to get help if they need it, because there is no weakness in that. He understands the pain.

Both of these were special issues, meant to help children going through the same problems, but they were handled well. There is no reason that it couldn’t be referenced in the new continuity. If characters like Oracle are expected to relive their traumas and have it as a constant part of their character history, then Peter Parker could have it too. He would be no less heroic; he would be even more of a hero, especially to young people from similar situations. His gender does not preclude him from coping with trauma.

That men suffer from sexual abuse is something which the media does not always handle with sensitivity. Superheroes would be perfect avenues to explore this in: they are renowned as being strong, even if it isn’t their core power. It would be an easy way to combat the stereotype of weakness in male victims, and give hope towards a better future for readers with similar stories. Instead, superheroes are either rewarded, or these episodes are not referenced again. It’s like they never happened; sometimes they are retconned so they never did. If you are a man and have been affected by this post, there are some UK resources available for you below. If you think you need help, please seek it. You deserve to feel safe too.

Men’s Advice Line – 0808 801 0327

Survivors UK Web Chat – https://www.survivorsuk.org/ways-we-can-help/web-chat/
Monday – Friday – 10:30 – 21:00 | Saturday – Sunday – 10:00 – 18:00