Crazy for Batman: Catwoman, “melon-breasted” damsel

Interesting conversation on my private Facebook on Tuesday, edited and cross-posted here:

I wrote: [Over the weekend], ALL the internet was happy: CATWOMAN is a playable character in the ‘Batman: Arkham City‘ video game… and she looks strong, confident and in control.

I then posted a link to a game trailer showing Catwoman fighting a street gang: Embedding of the video is disabled, but you should start watching at the 01:06 mark. It’s a fun, energetic CGI fight scene.

I continued: Today [on Monday], 10.000 feminists are angry because DC wrote the following teaser text about September’s new ‘Catwoman’ book:

‎”Meet Catwoman. She’s addicted to the night. Addicted to shiny objects. Addicted to Batman. Most of all, Catwoman is addicted to danger. She can’t help herself […]”

‎’Addicted to Batman’…?😦

Facebook friend Julia replied: Ok, this is waaaay cool. It’s cute though that at the same time, someone in the editing team of the ‘Catwoman’ promo decided to omit the line “like a prostitute” from to soundtrack [a song by Lykke Li]. Surprisingly, there were more feminists at work than you should think…

…but then, another Facebook friend entered the discussion: ‘Kitty’ is a feminist artist, maker and fashion blogger in her late 20ies. Currently, she’s majoring in Japanology. She’s a big manga fan, but not very familiar with the Batcomics.

Her reply: oh no, stefan. concerning aesthetics, she is really catty – but not in the way her name suggests: she should rather be called “catty bull woman” Ö_Ö

okay, this is just mocking… bringing in gender, the rest of this character from her marble breasts to her fighting style are just shaped and limited by patriarchic logic.

what i thought was really interesting when watching ‘the dark knight’ was that the whole batman universe consisted of nothing but men. it emphasized the fact that the whole narrative was from a male perspective, describing a through and through male universe:

‘male’ here means competition, fight, brutality, segregation and bipolarity, simply lions on their turf, not even limited by law anymore.

the catwoman presented here absolutely fits in this universe: she doesn’t even raise any awareness for STRUCTURAL patriarchic problems and is limited to the consistence between her sex and her gender. from my point of view, this is not strong, this is weak. she is absolutely not in control as she fails to change the system. she embodies nothing but the tickling idea that what patriarchy has created will explode in its face, however, still using patriarchic logic.

so it’s only resonable that she is bound by the “real world” and is “addicted to batman”. or, as orbaugh wrote in her brilliant (but not yet perfected) “the body in contemporary japanese women’s fiction” (however, it’s not restricted by nation state logics): fiction in which women can own strong male attributes will always end in them being retrieved to “normal” behaviour or even tragedy as these women will collide with the “real world”.

for me, as a feminist, an intellectual and a gender conscious person, this catwoman is tragedy.

my reply: first: that was some seriously kick-ass writing.

I know where you coming from, and I don’t want to ‘defend’ the game: Selina – as a character – is someone I don’t really know well enough, and personally, her attitude (and the whole over-sexualized, animalistic way she holds herself) often makes me uneasy… I don’t like this whole mix-up of ‘sexually agressive’, ‘animalistic’, ‘female’

… and when I saw her KISS one of her opponents in the video, I felt irritated: Is this a character using her sexuality? Or an animator portraying women as agressive, over-sexed sluts?

With all that said, I still have a fondness for the character. She is a former sex worker and dominatrix. She has her own moral code. She is the sole rogue female in a VERY male corner of the DC universe… and while she clearly respects Bruce, she doesn’t NEED him as a foil to form her identity (something that EVERYONE in the bat-family does: Alfred, the Robins, the Batgirls…).

So… while I’m personally not terribly interested or fascinated with morally ambigious, agressively sexual cat burglars… I think Selina, as a consistently INTELLIGENT, sardonic, smart woman, can handle the bullwhip, the dominatrix attire, her whole objectification etc.: She seems WAY more conscious about what she’s doing with her body, her attire than, for example, Xena… or Supergirl…

as for ‘The Dark Knight’: I don’t think Bruce is capable of a relationship, and in all the previous Batman movies, there was some ham-fisted, one-note ‘love story’ attached that didn’t really advance the plot. What happened to Rachel Dawes is something that SHOULD have happened to a LOT of women Bruce toyed with and led on, so my reaction wasn’t “Gotham is a bad place for women” but “Bruce is hurting people left and right. He’s not capable of love.” …something that I want to see addressed more often and more deeply.

With ALL THAT said…: The trailer, to me, took a FAR more simplistic approach. To a lot of fans, Batman is a power fantasy. And the Catwoman trailer gave Selina that exact role: She’s a “cool action girl” the way Bruce is “a cool action guy”. All the dysfunctional, neurotic and alarming SEXUAL implications of these costumes IS there – and yes: Selina is WAY more sexualized than Bruce.

But to me, that’s the central idea about this (THIS!) character: Selina is a smart and strong woman who USES her body in EVERY way. The same thing with Buffy? Or Xena? Or the Alias girl? I would have groaned. But with Selina, it makes sense.

One last thing: Can you give me some examples of female characters challenging a (male) universe with her… ‘female virtues’ who end up suffering for that? It sounds interesting… but all I can think of is… Lars von Trier’s ‘Breaking the Waves’ (which I hated).

Kitty replied: what you have written about catwoman explains her role in the set of the batman universe using this universe’s logic. seen from a “real world” in which the bipolarity of the hetero normative system is considered normal and natural and is shaped like this mainly by means of power and force, a fictional universe where these principles are over-subscribed will consequently produce a figure like catwoman.

it’s not true that she doesn’t need bruce or batman – she needs all men in this universe to be what she is.

i found the kissing scene very irritating, too, but concerning the whole set, it’s not abnormal: sex and power go hand in hand in this universe. first of all, humans are devided into male and female. they are not definded by reproductivity reasons here, but more by desire: catwoman is a clear sign for men being reduced to their “sexual inflammableness” while women are the object of this desire.

as this system is kept alive by power and force, of course anything related to desire is shaped by these two.

this also explains batman’s role as alpha male: he is a power fantasy as you have pointed out, but also overly male. love as a mechanism to overcome the gap between his alpha male-ism and women would therefore mean weakness.

“examples of female characters challenging a (male) universe with her ‘female virtues’ who end up suffering for that” – this is not what i have written or meant:) it should be: “examples of female characters challenging a (male) universe with her ‘MALE virtues’ who end up suffering for that”.

as catwoman does, such females use male attributes as strength, rudeness, hunting abilities, being active not passive, speaking up to “stand their man” (luckily and sadly, there is no english term for this german idiom :)) in a male universe to get what they want or deserve. the femme fatale is a symbol for that. she uses male techniques combined with her femaleness but in the end, often is punished for that.

i’ve got two examples for you: first of all, i had to think about the women in “Sin City” who assumedly have reached a state of self-determined peace (but always without guarantee). they have become warriors to survive in a world that is shaped by male power – like catwoman. however, while men can kill in this universe for self-discovery, for bravery and for virility (if these criteria aren’t met, power and cruelty are clearly marked as being pervert!), the fact that the women bring their male inspired lifestyle to its termination by killing a man, will end in the fall of their “empire”.

example number two is from star trek (sci fi is sooo interesting in terms of gender – while the narratives of time and space are lifted to a new level, sex and gender are still the same as in our western hetero normative matrix!): vixis is a klingon (female) which means she is – by nature! – stronger than human beings. in [Star Trek V: The Final Frontier?] she fights against an alien monster and wins due to her klingon strength. but in the end, she is dependend on two human male crew members to carry her back to the space ship.

the “damsel in distress” motif applies in the first and in the second example: it doesn’t matter how strong women are displayed, in the end, they can only be saved by a male.

to look for similar scenes in this video game would of course be interesting.

oh, and an example as you may had have intended: dawn campbell (played by naomi watts) in i ♥ huckabees :)

Personally, I know Selina as a morally ambigious but VERY competent criminal schemer in Darwyn Cooke’s “Selina’s Big Score” and a more melancholic and emotionally invested (but still: capable and extremely likeable) character in the Jeph Loeb / Tim Sale trilogy ‘Batman: The Long Halloween’, ‘Catwoman: When in Rome’ [excellent even as a stand-alone] and ‘Batman: Dark Victory’.

I bought most trade paperbacks of her 2002-2008 solo series and might read them later this year…

…and while I can see Kitty’s reservations and criticism, Selina still strikes me as one of the most interesting Bat-characters… and I’m eager to see her in the upcoming ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.

Internets? What do you think?


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