Is long hair on women superheroes sexist?

The latest episode of Pecksniff Syndrome on the Left is an article from racked.com, retweeted by the increasingly obnoxious site Vox below.

The premise of the article “Superheroes don’t wear ponytails, and yes, it’s sexist,” by Rebecca Jennings, who specializes in accusatory fluff, is that superhero women wear long hair rather then ponytails because it makes them look more feminine and sexy. Thus they cater to the males who (the article presumes) are the consumers of these comics and movies. Thus the lack of ponytails is a sexist trope

My emphasis in Jennings’s words below:

This Friday is the premiere of Avengers: Infinity War, a film so buzzy that it’s already broken presale records and is on track to become the biggest domestic box office opening in history. It combines characters from no fewer than 18 Marvel movies and an absolutely dizzying 76 superheroes and supporting characters, from Black Panther to Iron Man. But one thing you won’t be seeing a lot of? Hair ties.

. . . So why don’t Black Widow, Gamora, Scarlet Witch, and Mantis — and even superheroines beyond Infinity War, from Wonder Woman to Jessica Jones, Elektra, Storm, and She-Hulk — ever seem to take a second to throw their hair into a chic chignon (or, more likely, a half-assed messy bun like the rest of us do before an activity as simple as getting on the elliptical)?

The simplest answer is that comics are a visual medium, and a bunch of long, flowing hair swirling around during an already epic fight scene looks pretty cool. Camille Friend, the head of the hair departments for Marvel’s Black Panther, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and the upcoming Captain Marvel starring Brie Larson, pretty much confirms that that’s at least the way Hollywood sees it.

. . . But there’s a reason we don’t see many male superheroes with waist-long hair just so we can watch all that cool hair fly around. [JAC: See Grania’s counterexamples below.] Christina Dokou, an assistant professor of American literature and culture at the University of Athens, explains that the “boys’ club” legacy of comic books, in which female characters were stuck with sexist stereotypes, still endures. “Even today, the physical attributes and feminine beauty of superheroines are exaggerated to make them look like, well, frankly, porn stars at worst, and sexy female athletes at best,” she tells Racked over email.

But what about short-haired or shaved-headed superheroines like Tank Girl? The article says that this denotes either a “godlike mental ability” or “a precarious relationship with traditional femininity”, i.e., bisexuality or lesbianism.  I don’t know enough about Tank Girl to know if she was a lesbian (a cursory search says no), but author Jennings, who has a thesis to maintain, says that Tank Girl ” inspired weekly lesbian ‘Tank Girl nights’ in London.”

Since my knowledge of superhero movies and comics is nil, I turned to Grania, who told me the whole racked.com article was, frankly, authoritarian bullshit.  Her comments and counterexamples are indented below:

Women superheroes with ponytails:
Lara Croft in Tomb Raider:
Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Felicity Smoak:
Zoë Washburne:

Although many others have their pony-tails in their “normal” disguise like Clark Kent wearing his glasses that get removed when he is Superman (e.g., Isis, who went incognito as the mousy academic Andrea Thomas). Nevertheless, many of them, even with long hair, have some sort of head-gear that keeps their hair off their face, like Cat Woman.

Isis in disguise:

Isis as hero (note hair band):
Cat Woman:
Some points:
1. This is the “I was born yesterday” approach to op eds: these kids literally don’t do any homework before they start writing, like the one who claimed the Murder On The Orient Express looked like it didn’t have enough Asian actors in it based on the poster, or the one that claimed that the new Star Trek series was the first one with a Person Of Color in the lead role (it wasn’t) or the first female captain (it wasn’t) or the first female lead (it wasn’t).
2. They fail to take into consideration that long hair on men is only a very recent trend. In the last few decades short hair was in fashion which is why superheroes were designed with short hair.
3. I concede that most young women’s hair on TV or in the movies is designed to be visually appealing rather than practical, regardless of what her role is. So are the young male actors, though. Hollywood mostly sells movie tickets based on looks, not on the gravitas of their actors.
4. Particularly in the superhero genre, the visual aesthetic is deliberate. That is why Superman is muscles, not beer belly.
5. I am putting up some male pics into your post.
And here are the long-haired male pictures with Grania’s comments:

Khal Drogo (Game of Thrones) did have a pony tail, but let’s face it, at that length he needed one to prevent tripping over it.

Thor headbutting and getting his do totally messed up because he didn’t have a pony tail.

Also sans ponytail, Qui-Gon Jinn. Actually, this may explain a lot of things.

Aquaman was also forced to endure a lack of a ponytail and a lack of clothes in an icy lake. For reasons of plot, of course.

Legolas managed to skate down stairs and impale an orc on an arrow, long locks notwithstanding.

Come to think of it, there was a lot of long hair in Lord of the Rings:

 

A Sam Winchester hair flick that was totally integral to the plot and not at all so that the audience could re-watch again and again in slow motion afterwards.

Q.E.D.

63 Comments

  1. Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Thor is notable in that when Marvel recently changed him from a He to a She they didn’t have to change the hair. Or the breast plate.

    The reason why comic characters don’t tend tie their hair back is because it loose hair is dynamic. It’s like a cape: entirely impractical in a fight but it looks cool swinging behind someone as they run or fly.

  2. Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    Particularly in the superhero genre, the visual aesthetic is deliberate. That is why Superman is muscles, not beer belly.

    Except George Reeves. And Ben Affleck playing George Reeves.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      B. Affleck was pretty good in Hollywoodland, I think. Stick-in-the-mud is playing to type, I guess. See also Gone Girl. It’s in regular leading-man roles where he tends to be wooden.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted May 1, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        Afleck & Gone Girl: pretty good film. It’s rare for Hollywood to feature unsympathetic, shallow lead actors. They should do it more often & maybe I’d start watching Hollywood films again [only those with plenty dialogue & no superheroes of course!]

      • BJ
        Posted May 1, 2018 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        I really wanted Hollywoodland to be a good movie, but it just wasn’t.

  3. Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I don’t get it. Don’t you need long hair to wear a pony tail?

  4. Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Sometimes the free hair is integral to the character. I mean, if you put Medusa’s hair in a bun she doesn’t really have a superpower. She’s just a woman with a twitch bun.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Like Samson with a flattop.

  5. TJR
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    On the other hand, I bet the male superheroes are more likely to appear stripped to the waist than the female superheroes.

    • Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Dr Manhatten didn’t stop at the waist.

      I think if Bruce Banner was a little less body conscious the Hulk might not wear such a pained expression.

      • Craw
        Posted May 1, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

        I googled. Lettin’ it all hang out!

  6. XCellKen
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    But I think women with ponytails are incredibly sexy.

    So, what does THAT mean in Authoritarian Leftist world ???

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      Sorry dude. At best you like submissive women, at worst you’re a paedophile. Either way, it’s off to the re-education camp for you. The best men are all gay.

      (I feel the need to note that I’m kidding. It’s not always easy to tell.)

      • XCellKen
        Posted May 1, 2018 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        I could tell you were kidding midway thru the first sentence 🙂

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted May 1, 2018 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

          Oh good! 😀

      • XCellKen
        Posted May 1, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

        Actually I am quite submissive, and love strong powerful dominant women !!! 🙂

  7. Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    So what if this is done to appeal to boys and men? If they are buying the tickets, then it makes sense and is ok by me. The argument for more female superheroes also makes sense and has recently been answered. The sexes both attract each other and movies take advantage of it to sell tickets. Let the market decide! If women complain to their boyfriends that there are too many women in the superhero movies, and they display their long hair too much, and this results in them refusing to buy tickets, the movie makers will respond.

    • BJ
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

      Because things women finding men sexy/things that appeal to women’s sexuality is empowering and liberating. Things that appeal to heterosexual male sexuality are objectifying and promote toxic masculinity.

      It really does seem like there’s a campaign to shame men into being completely submissive and devoid of any ability to express their sexuality.

  8. Paul S
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Katniss Everdeen was pony tailed as well.

  9. Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    But what about short-haired or shaved-headed superheroines like Tank Girl? The article says that this denotes either a “godlike mental ability” or “a precarious relationship with traditional femininity”, i.e., bisexuality or lesbianism.

    Her boyfriend’s name is Booga. He’s a kangaroo. They take what they can get Outback.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      But no poofters!

    • phil
      Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:30 am | Permalink

      Ah, Tank Girl. I saw a cartoon of her taking a morning dump with her her duds around her ankles. Of course ladies never do that.

  10. dabertini
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    One need only watch Roman Holiday or my personal favourite, Bend it like Beckham and then come and talk to me pecksniffs. I love that word. Not to be a pecksniff myself but I do think you mean rather than as opposed to rather then. With my head under your feet always.

  11. Posted May 1, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    It’s only a few months since these people were claiming braided hair is a symbol of white supremacy. Doesn’t Lauren Southern braid her hair?

    Yup, just googled it and there she is posing with an assault rifle with her braided hair over one shoulder. And braided hair or buns were the officially endorsed hairstyles of women you find on every Nazi propaganda poster.

    Of course you could give Wonder Woman a less problematic hairstyle. Like cornrows. That’s not going to upset anyone, is it?

  12. Posted May 1, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Yet Thor gets his long-hair shaved off in Ragnarok, but Bucky has no problem with long hair in Infinity War. The things that people take offense at…

    How many people also remember that old ISIS saturday morning tv show???

  13. Michael Fisher
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    Here is a 92 second video by Rebecca “vocal fry” Jennings, that appears to be ripped from the BBC point for point, on the history of high heels. I recall another Rebecca equally averse to acknowledging sources:

    PROBABLE SOURCE or indirectly via Mental Floss etc who used the same source

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    I dunno, call me weird if you wanna, but I kinda dug it when Ripley shaved her head in Alien 3.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

      I love long hair, hate too-short hair.

      Alien 3 – yes, that’s a counter-example, but I think it only worked because we were used to Ripley’s normal hair from the first two movies, and because Sigourney Weaver has the screen presence to carry it off.

      cr

      • BJ
        Posted May 1, 2018 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

        I agree, I love long hair, not a fan of short hair. But that’s what’s great about humanity: we actually have varying tastes because we’re all individuals. And that (should be!) OK!

        • phil
          Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:40 am | Permalink

          Yes, we are all individuals!

          I think Emma González looks fine in short hair, but maybe I’m projecting something about her activism. And what about Khatia Buniatishvili, is her hair long or short?

    • BJ
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

      And, for any MMA fans, Rose Namajunas is super attractive with her shaved head.

  15. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    Aquaman was also forced to endure … a lack of clothes in an icy lake.

    Hear that? That’s not a glacier calving, man; that’s the sound of shrinkage.

  16. Posted May 1, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    We are expecting too much from the postmodernists. They should perhaps be treated as people with special cognitive needs.

    Christina Dokou at least plainly states the opinion: sexy or attractive is sexist. Of course only on women. The prejudice plus power punching down school of thought.

    When the male lead is shown shirtless, it has an important reason and totally nothing (they swear) to do with the female audience, Star Wars now tries to appeal to.

    Grania’s observation is apt regarding the (willful?) ignorance of such writers. They really have no idea about the medium they write about and their opinion are pure confirmation bias. I can now declare that women are always shown as meek and dull in cinema, and go hunt for examples. Or I can declare that women always have a hat on, and populate an article. That’s the Sarkeesian style of research, and the best they can do in the postmodern humanities.

    What mystifies me, why has that any currency? Or do these publications know their days are numbered and they simply burn up their reputation for quick click-money as long as it works? Rebecca Jennings and Christina Dokou might be reality- and sexually challenged, but why would anyone take that seriously?

    • BJ
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      “Everything is racist; everything is sexist; everything is homophobic, and you have to point it all out!” — Anita Sarkeesian (yes, she really said that)

      In order to believe this, you have to find a way to find a way to interpret literally everything in the world so it fits your oppression narrative, and that’s become a specialty of millions of journalists, bloggers, academics, politicians, activists, students, keyboard warriors, and others.

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      I would *love* for them to attempt to convince my (departed) friend Raven how she is “upholding the patriarchy” or something. That tended to get her really ticked off. (Raven used to have a pinup of Chyna [the wrestler] in one of her workshops.)

      Or is that ok because it is woman-woman?

  17. Craw
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    Did Arnold Schwarzenegger ever appear on screen with no shirt on?

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      At the top of the all-time leader board with The McConaissance.

    • Posted May 1, 2018 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      Are you serious?

      • Posted May 1, 2018 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

        Right! When did Arnold NOT! As I remember them, he appears without a shirt in some part of virtually every movie.

        • Posted May 1, 2018 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

          Yes, in the early days, his physique was his only asset as a Hollywood star, so he didn’t cover it up. In the Conan films he never put a shirt on.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted May 1, 2018 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

            Yes, in his early days he had such a thick accent you could hardly understand a word he mumbled. By the time of Terminator, his accent had improved a lot and besides, the slow guttural voice suited the role.

            I saw him first in an early comedy western called Cactus Jack (aka The Villain) where he played the straight guy to Kirk Douglas as a country hick. (“A naive, slow-witted cowboy” – Wikipedia – they’re right). The whole movie was agonisingly unfunny and I think the whole cast would be mightily relieved that it promptly sank from sight.

            Based on that movie, I would have confidently Schwarzenegger would never, ever, make it as an actor. Happy to say I was wrong.

            cr

    • James Walker
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

      Um did you see the first Terminator?

  18. Posted May 1, 2018 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I do not consider Scarlett Johansson’s hair length long. Is hair length a real threat of sexism? I notice they do not have pictures of Lupita Nyong’o or Danai Gurira from Black Panther.

    If Rebecca Jennings wants to go after character qualities that actually matter, why not properties of health, like obesity, smoking, or lifestyle choices.

    I wonder what she would think of Chunk from the Goonies and the other kids making fun of his weight?

  19. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, Superman’s strong and self-reliant girlfriend Lois Lane had a ponytail in both later years of the TV series “Smallville” AND in the Henry Cavill Superman series.

    (I have a theory that in 2008 Smallville’s Lois Lane acquired a ponytail to make her look LESS like Sarah Palin, but I could be wrong.)

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

      Also, Jerry Coyne posted a 15-year-old pic of Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft with a pony tail, but THIS YEAR, Lara Croft was rebooted with Alicia Vikander in the lead…also with ponytail.

  20. Posted May 1, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    Similar remaraks pertain to Anita Sarkeesian and her bizarre one-sided obsession with butts.
    https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/hive-mind/201603/when-you-assume
    One good reason why we need (genuine) diversity in behavioral science is that folk tend to have a tin ear/ blind eye for elements of intra-sexual competition that they dont themselves participate in.

  21. Taz
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    All I know is, PCC has posted a picture of Buffy.

    I’m happy.

  22. Tig Anderson
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Scarlett Johansson is synonymous with super heroines in pixie haircuts

  23. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    “Is long hair on women superheroes sexist?”

    No, just sexy.

    Just like hulking muscular male superheroes.

    The movie producers want to appeal to the widest possible audience. They probably don’t give a stuff about ‘sexist’ except insofar as it impacts their audiences.

    Jeez, there was a time when feminists were moaning about the lack of women superheroes (and they had a point). Now they’re** moaning about the length of their hair?

    (**Well, some of them, apparently)

    cr
    P.S. I *like* long hair, on males or females. Hate short haircuts, they look thuggish.

    • Doug
      Posted May 1, 2018 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

      Haven’t you heard? The word “thug” is now considered racist. Even though it originated in India, the people in charge of deciding these things have decided that it’s anti-Black.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 2, 2018 at 5:09 am | Permalink

        Hmmm. I know it has Indian origins (a long time ago), but I tend to associate it primarily with short-haired crewcut probably blond fascists. Notably un-Black, in fact.

        It seems I am in error. I have oppressed [somebody]. I have caused grievous harm and offence to [some sort of ethnic minority].

        Oh goody.

        cr

  24. Posted May 1, 2018 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    No.

  25. W.Benson
    Posted May 1, 2018 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    No superhero, not a single one, woman or man, is over 70 years old. I am unspeakably offended.

    • Posted May 2, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Are you sure? Didn’t Superman appear in 1939? 😉

  26. phil
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    “2. They fail to take into consideration that long hair on men is only a very recent trend.”

    WTF? How old is Grania? Has she not seen Easy Rider?

    In my late teens (about 45 years ago) my hair was well below my shoulders.

    During the 17th and 18th centuries men wore wigs with hair that fell well down their torsos. It is something that goes in and out of fashion.

  27. Jose
    Posted May 2, 2018 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Vox Site, uh?

    Funny enough, in Spain Vox is a far right party. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vox_(Spanish_political_party)


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