I don't want to ever get married
Feminist/Gender Theory, Identity, Pop Culture, Society and Politics

I Don’t Ever Want To Get Married – Am I ‘Woman-ing’ Correctly?

Originally published on Fanny Pack, 19th October 2016.

Hello, I’m a woman and I don’t ever want to get married.

It’s not a proclamation likely to make anyone gasp, shudder, faint or feel an uncontrollable urge to form a Frankenstein-esque mob of angry villagers to hunt me down and force a wedding band around my finger, but it is likely to auto-generate one particular question in most people’s heads like a predictive text:

In a world where we – especially women – are still expected to tie the knot at some point in their lives, almost as a default setting, this might seem like a fair response. Except that I don’t think it should be. Not me, Oprah Winfrey, Kourtney Kardashian, Chelsea Handler, Jon Hamm, Charlize Theron, Helena Bonham-Carter and anyone else – famous or not – who choose never to marry their significant other do. But even though marriage is now very much a choice in most places, culturally it still feels like very much the opposite.

Jennifer Aniston magazine covers

I know that it is first-hand – without being Jennifer Aniston – because every time I have to vocalise (when prompted) that I won’t ever be getting married, the reactions I usually get make me feel like I’m either the bearded-woman at the Victorian freak show, or I’m accidentally doing something eyebrow-raisingly rebellious. I’m inadvertently railing against the all-powerful regime of hen parties and white veils and ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ monogrammed everything. It kind of makes me sound like I’m actively fighting against the entire institution, but that’s not true either. Not wanting to get married is exactly the same as being an atheist: just because you don’t have a religion, it doesn’t mean you’re actively trying to stop everyone else from having one. (Richard Dawkins, aside.)

Well, just call me The Walking Dead forever, in that case. Weddingbee.

There’s also this ridiculous wheeze echoed through “think-pieces” and trolling comments in the darker recesses of Reddit and Twitter that feminism has “killed” lovely old-fashioned notions like romance; empowering women to focus too much on silly things like gender equality and their careers rather than keep protecting the sanctity of the nuclear family, as if marriage and motherhood were the last holy bastions holding back the coming apocalypse spilling forth from Hell.

Here are some home truths: not believing in marriage doesn’t mean you’re not a romantic person. I’ve got two very-worn out copies of Love, Actually and When Harry Met Sally that can attest to that fact. I can also tell you categorically that I was a non-believer in marriage long before I called myself a feminist. Feminism didn’t ‘convert’ me into something I’m not – it just helped me give voice and reason to feelings and beliefs I already held to be true.

The main root of my feelings was planted when I realised that women are culturally conditioned from young ages to ‘aspire’ to marriage as a crowning achievement rather than the simple lifestyle choice it actually is. This conditioning continues into our adulthood, when we’re then culturally pressured into thinking that spending the amount of money we’d also deem an appropriate price tag for a two-bedroom semi-detached house on what is essentially a piece of paper, two bits of boring jewellery and a giant party made-up of estranged relatives we can’t stand and random acquaintances is somehow the key to life-long happiness.

As a kid, I bought Barbie dolls already decked out in their perfect bridal gowns and consumed hours of Disney princess films that were remiss if their heroine’s journey didn’t culminate in a wedding. I watched women in countless TV shows and rom-coms as a teenager lovingly pour over wedding scrapbooks they’d had since they were children; try on wedding dresses just for the fun of it; browbeat tired and disinterested caricatures of boyfriends into the perfect proposals and then scream and wail when their actual wedding plans started going awry, as if their very existence depended on one day in their whole lives going absolutely perfectly for fear of the rest of it being cursed to fall to shit. And once the rings are on, the curtain falls. Their lives are fulfilled, done and spent.

I watched these stereotypes of wedding-crazy women and wondered why I couldn’t relate to them. Was I not ‘woman-ing’ correctly? Then one day it hit me. I’d always played ‘wedding’ with my toys as a child, but I never actually imagined myself to be the bride. To someone who did relate to all those things I mentioned earlier, that might seem like a sad realisation. To me, it was life affirming. I’d seen all the evidence of what marriage could be and what it could mean. My own parents have been very happily married for over twenty years, too. Having weighed all this up, I’d been able to come to the informed opinion that weddings really meant nothing to me, bridal gowns didn’t make me giddy, and being a wife wasn’t a description or title that suited me.

Wedding dress scene from Friends

Just about the only thing I would do in a wedding dress. Cosmopolitan.

It’s a choice that women in the past fought tooth and nail for me to be empowered to make. But, I think it’s important to remember that my ability to make that choice is a luxury not afforded to everyone. Women and girls are still being forced into marriages they wouldn’t choose for themselves, sometimes to men who are physically and sexually abusive to them. My ability to choose also carries heterosexual privilege too. If I wanted to spend my life with someone of the same sex, I would either not be able to marry them at all if I lived in certain countries, or even in countries that have legalised marriage equality, the choice to not get married would still be less viable as LGBTQ couples face complicated legal baggage around having children. And, as Princess Jasmine’s father learned in one of my favourite Disney princess films, the decision to get married should be based on love, not legalities.

The Sultan allows Princess Jasmine and Aladdin to wed.

“Screw bureaucracy – I’m the damn Sultan!” Fanpop.

At the end of the day, we need to stop treating marriage as an inevitable destination rather than the equal-opportunities choice in our lives we have fought – and still fight – for it to become. If you like it, put a ring on it. Or not. And that should be nobodies’ business but your own.


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Body Image, Fashion, Feminist/Gender Theory, Identity, Pop Culture, Society and Politics

There’s Nothing Empowering About Those ‘Body Positive’ Sports Illustrated Covers

Originally published on the Fanny Pack blog on February 23rd 2016


Last week the 2016 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue released no less than three different covers featuring three different body types: American model Hailey Clauson, UFC fighter Ronda Rousey (who appears in a body-painted swimsuit), and plus-size model and body image activist Ashley Graham.

Ashley Graham, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Annual 2016

Ashley Graham, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Annual 2016

Hailey Clauson, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Annual 2016

Hailey Clauson, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Annual 2016

Ronda Rousey, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Annual 2016

Ronda Rousey, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Annual 2016

It marks the first time a size 16 model has graced its cover and needless to say, the Internet went crazy. “Wow. Just, wow,” gushed The Huffington Post. “The body positivity movement is booming,” proclaimed Shape magazine. “And we couldn’t be more excited that SI picked women who add fuel to the fire.” Exactly the kind of responses that SI had been hoping to create as Assistant Managing Editor MJ Day made clear at their unveiling event:

“All three women are beautiful, sexy and strong. Beauty is not cookie cutter. Beauty is not ‘one size fits all.’ Beauty is all around us and that became especially obvious to me while shooting and editing this year’s issue.”

 She’s right, of course. Beauty certainly isn’t “cookie cutter” or “one size fits all” and seeing this (not so) ground-breaking idea finally appearing on the covers of an iconic beauty magazine gives it even more commercial validation for all those women out there who have never considered themselves to be ‘conventionally’ beautiful. And yet, as I looked at these uniquely beautiful cover girls in their swimsuits, all I felt was unease. There was just something about all this self-congratulation and buzzworthy empowerment that didn’t sit right with me.

Let’s break it down.

The pros are obvious. Women of all shapes and sizes deserve to feel loved, sexy, and beautiful, and celebrating that breaks down the harmful monotony of the ‘one-size’ beauty culture. A lot of women feel undervalued and invisible when they can’t see themselves on a cinema screen, or a catwalk runway, or a shop window, or a magazine cover, and so the more the body positive movement is allowed to infiltrate all of these fiercely image-conscious industries, the more women will feel healthier and happier in their own skin without the crushing pressure to constantly change themselves.

Let’s also not forget SI’s clear target demographic: heterosexual men. Another misconception that the ‘one size’ culture helps to wrongfully prevail is the idea that there is similarly a singular type of woman that all straight men find attractive. But from my research of actually, y’know, talking to straight men about their tastes in women this just simply isn’t true. Men have a very diverse range of sexual tastes and desires that different kinds of women can easily fulfil. Sometimes they can even open them up to new fantasies they didn’t even know they had.

'Not Models' photo shoot calling out an M&S campaign for claiming to use "real women", from Stylehasnosize.com

‘Not Models’ photo shoot calling out an M&S campaign for claiming to use “real women”, from Stylehasnosize.com

Speaking of the straight male demographic, let’s get into the cons. There is always a fine line to tread between owning your sexuality and allowing it to be owned by others. This is something that has plagued feminist debate for decades, especially when feminist artists and performers use nudity or provocative imagery as a means of self-expression. Whenever I think about this debate, I am always reminded of a particular section from art historian John Berger’s Ways of Seeing (1975):

“A woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. […] From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually. […] She has to survey everything she is and everything she does because how she appears to men, is of crucial importance for what is normally thought of as the success of her life. Her own sense of being in herself is supplanted by a sense of being appreciated as herself by another….

 “One might simplify this by saying: men act and women appear. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only most relations between men and women but also the relation of women to themselves. The surveyor of woman in herself is male: the surveyed female. Thus she turns herself into an object — and most particularly an object of vision: a sight.”

As inspiring as the body positive movement is, you can’t escape from the fact that these covers are sexualised female bodies for the approval, delight, and consumption of male eyes specifically. They still place sexuality and image as the most valuable trait for any women of any visible description. Ashley Graham is a role model for plus size women. But who cares about that unless she also looks great in a bikini! Ronda Rousey is a successful and respected female athlete. Yeah, but is she hot though? Any way you slice it, it’s the same old objectification but with a ‘body positive’ Get Out Of Jail Free card attached.

Now THIS is an empowering cover. (Ronda Rousey on the cover of Sports Illustrated May 2015)

Now THIS is an empowering cover. (Ronda Rousey on the cover of Sports Illustrated, May 2015)

It’s also worth noting that out of the three covers released, not one single woman of colour has been featured. I guess racial inclusivity and body inclusivity are two completely separate things to SI. 

In fact, I think I’ve finally worked out what that feeling of unease is that I just couldn’t find the reason for earlier. It’s exactly the same feeling I get from all those “real beauty” Dove adverts. For years, the personal care brand Dove has – in the brilliant words of Mark Duffy – “passive-aggressively assaulted women’s physical insecurities to sell beauty products.” Think about every Dove TV advert you’ve ever seen. Did you ever worry about not having soft enough underarms, firmer skin, or more radiant under-eyes before watching it? Nope, me neither. But apparently Dove thinks these are pressing issues to further women’s empowerment. Who cares about the patriarchy when you have a natural-looking glow!

Dove's 'Campaign For Real Beauty' Ads revealed to have been Photoshopped.

Dove’s ‘Campaign For Real Beauty’ Ads in 2008 were revealed to have been Photoshopped.

Hijacking an aspirational movement or trend like body positivity to use as an empty marketing ploy for easy headlines is certainly nothing new, but judging from the trend-worthy hype those SI covers have generated it’s effectiveness clearly hasn’t diminished either.

I’m not saying that Ashley Graham and Ronda Rousey aren’t empowering women. I’m just saying these particular photos of them aren’t. And incidentally, if you want to see some real body positive photos of women (and men) that don’t reduce their models to sex objects, then take a look through this great collection on Bustle.

Although I can see some of the positive benefits of using models of different sizes, when you break it down SI is still a magazine that pedals eroticised photos of swimsuit models to cater to straight male sexual fantasies and little else. The only difference here is that the editors have found a way to trick people into applauding that.


 

IMAGE CREDITS

1 – 3: Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Annual 2016 featuring Ashley Graham, Ronda Rousey and Hailey Clauson.

4. ‘Models vs. Not Models’ photoshoot campaign from Stylehasnosize.com

5. Sports Illustrated cover featuring Ronda Rousey, May 2015

6. Hacktivist photo from Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’ advert campaign, 2008

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Feminist/Gender Theory, Society and Politics

Equalism: The Feminist Alternative?

A/N: This is a follow-on piece to my previous post, ‘A Response to Women Against Feminism’, and some of the comments I received on it, so if you haven’t already it might be helpful to read it – as well as some of the comments – before reading this.

I have always tried to separate emotion from criticism as a writer, but when I came across an article about the group ‘Women Against Feminism’ and scrolled through some of the photos from the group’s members, I did get emotional. At first I was frustrated. Then I was disheartened. Then I began to think about some of the statements from the group more rationally; think about their context, and perhaps their misunderstandings about a cause I believed in, and decided to do what I normally try to avoid – put my honest and emotional reaction into writing. I read about the group in the morning and by the early evening I had finished, edited, and posted the response, thinking nothing more would really come of it.

Somehow a lot of people not only found and read the post, but they shared it, commented on it, liked/disliked it, and even wrote their own response to my response. I was truly overwhelmed by all of it, so, to all of you reading this who did one or more of the above things – thank you. Whether you agreed whole-heartedly or thought I was talking absolute rubbish, I am touched that you felt strongly enough to contribute to this ever-growing debate.

A common trend I noticed both in the ‘WAF’ group and within the comments on my response to them was the rejection or negation of Feminism as a word and/or concept in favour of words and/or concepts such as Humanism or Equalism. While I can’t respond to every single point raised by every single person, nor do I want to directly answer specific questions or criticisms thrown at me, this trend did get me thinking:

Is Equalism really the antidote to the perceived problems of Feminism?

As I made mention of in my response piece, Feminism is a political, social, and cultural movement with over 200 years of history behind it. One of the reasons why it is has remained so prevalent – other than the fight for women’s equality not yet being won – is because of a cycle of continual reinvention. Get ready for a cheesy pop cultural reference: It’s pretty much the Madonna of equal rights movements. It’s history is not defined as simply ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ as many make the mistake of thinking it is, but broadly as Feminism and Post-Feminism, with those two halves then being divided again into four ‘waves.’ From Goddess worship to Cyborg Anthropology, Suffragettes to Riot Grrrls, Feminist history is diverse, militant, creative, crazy, and even unappealing and downright ugly at times.

Isn’t that what keeps a cause alive, though? Isn’t that what keeps a democratic society in general thriving? Constant debate, constant re-examination, constant rebirth… It’s an exciting and fascinating movement, whether you agree with its aims or not.

As long as there has been any kind of women’s movement, there has also been an opposing one. WAF is certainly not the first, and it most certainly will not be the last. From what I can tell, this particular group seem to be saying that they feel brow-beaten, belittled, patronised, or even abused by Feminists (or ‘Femi-Nazis’ as they are affectionately called by some…) And you know what? I do empathise with this to a certain point. Like any flourishing political movement, Feminism’s supporters hold a broad spectrum of beliefs – much like the Left, Right and Centre spectrum of the political landscape as a whole. To put it simply: On one side you have liberal Feminists, and on the other, you have radical Feminists. (Just for the curious – I consider myself to be a liberal Feminist with Post-Human leanings).

Whilst I don’t want to put words into their mouths, I know from research and experience that some radical (really radical) Feminists might argue that women should in fact be superior to men; that all heterosexual sex is rape; and that marriage should be abolished. Liberal Feminists (like myself) might argue that women should be equal to men, and that women should have complete freedom of choice in their lives without judgement or alienation from any other woman or man.

That is not to say that there aren’t points of cross-pollination though. Even as a liberal Feminist believing in gender equality, I hold some beliefs that may seem extreme or odd to some, but are purely personal choices based on my political preference. For instance, I don’t believe in marriage. Does this mean I go around telling every man and woman that he or she shouldn’t get married? No. That belief to me is a personal choice and I am grateful that I live in a society in which men and women can now choose whether or not to uphold this tradition. However, issues relating to marriage such as child-brides and legalised rape within marriage in certain cultures are not personal beliefs of mine – they are global injustices that I think are important to stop.

That is the difference between a personal belief and a global injustice. I think that the point in which a healthy debate turns into a nasty argument is often when we confuse the two.

Most of these extremely radical beliefs seem to be in the minority though, and whilst I would speak against any Feminist who promoted something I didn’t agree with, I would not tell him or her that they couldn’t believe in those ideals, just as I wouldn’t tell anti-Feminists they couldn’t be anti-Feminists. I would – and did – however, present my side of the argument for their consideration. If you believe in a cause strongly enough you will always defend and promote it. Whether you manage to convince the opposing side of your point, well, that depends on the strength of your argument.

Whether you are a radical or a liberal, all Feminists (Female Supremacists aside…) are united and bound by the goal of reaching total equal political, social, and cultural status with men. We may take different roads, but the destination will always remain the same.

The question I ask now is: With so many different beliefs, theories, and splinter-movements to pick and choose from within the rich history of Feminism – and indeed other movements for similarly oppressed groups – what does something like Equalism really offer you as an alternative?

Reading the comments and statements of its supporters and champions, the central ideal of Equalism for many appears to reject movements that cater to a specific oppressed or disadvantaged group – e.g. Feminist groups for women, Men’s Rights groups for men, Civil and Racial Rights groups for people of colour, Disabled Rights groups for disabled people, or LGBT groups for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people – in favour of lumping them all together in one easily digestible package of equality.

This is all well and good in theory, and I certainly support Equalist ideology, but the fundamental problem I keep getting stuck on is this: If you’re focussing on everyone, who are you making them equal to?

The point of these individual pressure groups is that they recognise that they belong – not through choice – to a marginalised and disadvantaged faction in society, and so seek to advance themselves to match – not surpass – their comparative dominant and over-privileged faction. Their goal is to level the playing field by bringing the oppressed side up, not the oppressive side down. Very often, the toughest battles to fight are on a culturally systemic one – where this oppression is so inherently indoctrinated into an oppressive group, that they may not even be aware that they are enacting it, or when they are made aware of it, they find it hard to accept and reject it completely.

Identifying the most privileged/least oppressed group can be tricky, as it is usually bound up in varying socio-economic and cultural systems from country to country. Certainly in most of the Western world – the perspective I write from – this group appears to be white, able-bodied, heterosexual, and middle to upper class men. This does not mean that this group suffers no oppression whatsoever, but that they suffer the least amount compared to the others.

The most privileged and least oppressed group in a society therefore provides the ‘pinnacle’ or set standard that any disadvantaged group strives to reach.

This gets more complicated when you begin to crossbreed the perceived disadvantages with one another. For example, a black woman may experience more oppression than a white woman. A gay man may experience more oppression than a heterosexual man. A disabled, transgendered Asian woman may experience more oppression than a disabled, bisexual white man. You can see how complicated this can get, and how the levels of oppression can multiply and multiply based on numerous social and political stigmas.

Each of these groups has completely different obstacles to overcome, completely different experiences of life, and completely different needs to be fulfilled to feel like they are truly accepted within a particular society. Or maybe they don’t even want to be part of a society at all. Maybe they want to be part of their own.

Therefore, if the goal of Equalism is simply ‘to make everyone equal’ then how is that going to be achieved in practical terms? This definition, as sweet and simple as it is, seems to be just that – too sweet and too simple.

Of course, you could say this of Feminism – that the goal is too big and the target group too diverse. Except that Feminists have already recognised this, and, as I said earlier, split into various splinter groups and waves that aim to address the needs of all kinds of different women. The one common thread that weaves through them is that they are all women – biological, Cis, or transgendered – whatever their definition is. Feminism also practices what it preaches. Better women than me do more than write ranty blogs, sign petitions, donate to charities, and join in on ‘Reclaim The Night’ rallies. They physically go out into disadvantaged communities and directly make a difference in people’s lives. Brave and intelligent activists like Malala Yousafzai, for example.

Furthermore, if your definition of ‘everyone’ really means everyone, does that include the most privileged/least oppressed groups as well? What is the measure of equality for the group that sits comfortably at the top? There is nowhere else to go for them except up or down. In this case, the terminology would need to either be Disenfranchisement or Advancement, not Equalism. Surely, it seems more sensible to focus on enabling the groups below them to first reach their level at the top before we decide how to advance society as a whole.

Don’t get me wrong. Just like Equalists I really do want to live in a world in which everyone is equal, in which no child is brought up in a world that will punish them for the circumstances of their birth that they do not have any chance of changing – nor should they be forced to. I want to live in a world in which difference and diversity is so accepted that those words have lost all meaning.

The crux of what I’m saying is that Equalism certainly has it’s heart in the right place, but I’m just not convinced that it offers any practical solution to the problems of the individualised Equal Rights groups. In fact, the blind rejection of the hard work these groups have done in favour of lumping them altogether seems almost offensively simplistic. If there is a real, working Equalist agenda that sets practical and achievable aims as to how each and every person in our society can be made exactly equal to one another – I’d really like to see it. If you think I’m wrong – Change my mind.

In the meantime, I will continue to support individualised groups tailored for individualised needs and hope that one by one, or in collaboration with one another, they win every battle, and continue to change every heart and mind set against them for the good of our society as whole.

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Comics, Pop Culture, Visual Cultural Theory

Comic Lore: Batman, Superman, and The Third Identity

 “As you know, I’m quite keen on comic books. Especially the ones about superheroes. I find the whole mythology surrounding superheroes fascinating. Take my favorite superhero, Superman. Not a great comic book. Not particularly well-drawn. But the mythology… The mythology is not only great, it’s unique…Now, a staple of the superhero mythology is, there’s the superhero and there’s the alter ego. Batman is actually Bruce Wayne, Spider-Man is actually Peter Parker. When that character wakes up in the morning, he’s Peter Parker. He has to put on a costume to become Spider-Man. And it is in that characteristic Superman stands alone. Superman didn’t become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he’s Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red “S”, that’s the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears – the glasses, the business suit – that’s the costume. That’s the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He’s weak… he’s unsure of himself… he’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

Bill, Kill Bill Volume 2

 

So far so good, Bill. Except I would dig a little deeper into this.

Superman’s origin story is so cemented into pop culture history that I know I needn’t even bother re-telling it…but I’m going to anyway. Superman, as you’ll know, was not born Superman. He was born as Kal-El on the planet Krypton. He did not have super special powers on Krypton. He was just your average Kryptonian baby. It was not until he was (luckily) jettisoned into space just before Krypton exploded and arrived on Earth that he started the transition to become super (due to the effects of our yellow sun on his physiology, as opposed to the red son of his birth planet). He did not, however, become Superman. Not right away anyway.

Image

His identity as Kal-El was temporarily lost as he grew up. Instead, he became Clark Kent – a human identity – the adopted son of Martha and Jonathon Kent. He eventually rediscovered his original identity as Kal-El from the ingrained knowledge within his fortress of solitude from his birth father, Jor-El. Kal-El is what evolves into Superman: the human translation of his Kryptonian heritage. And what does Clark Kent become? A caricature. As Bill rightly says – the suit, tie and glasses are the mask. Bumbling and stumbling around the Daily Planet by day and soaring through Metropolis’ skies by night. The mortal vs. the God.

But what happens when neither the Clark nor Superman personas are needed? Which role does he play when he is sitting at home reading Lois’ articles? Or buying dog food for Krypto? Or visiting Ma and Pa back home on the farm? Clark Kent the country boy becomes Clark Kent the reporter; and Kal-El the fallen alien becomes Superman the world’s first superhero. This fracturing of two identities leaves behind a third persona that could be the true identity of the character. This is his private self – Supes with his guard down that only his nearest and dearest will see.

We can see this puzzling trinity of identities in one other comic book character. And it so happens to also be Superman’s direct counterpart – Batman (Who is also my favourite. Sorry Bill.) Again, his origin story is well imprinted into pop culture lore. And again, I’m going to re-tell it.

Bruce Wayne was the son of Martha and Thomas Wayne – Gotham City’s foremost philanthropists and gothic mansion-dwellers. Just like Superman, their sudden deaths triggered the birth of Bruce’s superhero persona – Batman: a physical manifestation of his childhood fears. But unlike Superman, Batman witnessed the death of his parents firsthand. Their killer was not the natural demise of an entire world. Their killer had a human face. Something to punish. Whilst Superman learns of his birth planet’s death in a history lesson, Batman’s knowledge of his parent’s murder is a memory he can never forget. Hence the dramatic contrast between their identities as crime fighters. Justice vs. Revenge. Light vs. Darkness. This binary opposition between the World’s Finest seems to always bind them together like Yin and Yang at the forefront of DC Comics’ empire.

This mysterious third identity draws a distinct parallel. Because just as Clark Kent becomes a secondary costume to Kal-El, Bruce Wayne projects a fabricated public persona of himself to protect his identity as Batman. The Hugh Hefner style billionaire playboy. Clark Kent was created to assimilate, but Bruce Wayne was created to hide in plain sight. And the Bruce Wayne that returns home to the mansion where Alfred is always on hand with a sandwich and a cup of hot chocolate (or a first aid kit) removes the mask or the tuxedo and becomes…what? The third persona. The face beneath the mask beneath the mask. The real Bruce Wayne.

Another option is one that has probably been argued before: That Bruce Wayne’s identity died with his parents. The Bruce that could have been if they had lived. Batman becomes his true identity and the version of Bruce Wayne that shows up to all the charity galas with a model on his arm is the costume. I believe this is interesting but too simplistic. What about all those times that Batman has ‘revealed’ himself to those he trusts? When the mask comes off, Bruce Wayne – the real Bruce Wayne – is what is underneath, very much alive. Not a promiscuous rich kid or a psychotic detective, but a world-weary man.

Image

But does the celebrity face of the Bruce Wayne identity have hidden depth as well? Is it the way Batman thought he would have turned out should his parents have lived? Or could it be seen as a form of escape…from his original form of escape? Batman was the coping mechanism that gave a grief-stricken child a purpose to go on living for. But as time goes on this mechanism becomes bigger, heavier, and darker. Sometimes it even seems like a burden. This certainly makes the lazy and debouched costume of Bruce Wayne certainly seems like a lighter and easier one to play. But the fact that he constantly returns to the cape and batarangs tells us that – even if it is the harder road to walk down – it is one he can never turn back from.

These two characters, as I hope I’ve shown, are far more complex and intricately built than first meets the eye. As our oldest comic book superheroes, they could have faded into obscurity, but thanks to the strength of their characters and unique origin stories they instead became the two templates of practically all subsequent heroes. The first being those who were born with powers, and the second being those who were given/created their own. The stories of their creation have become our modern day myths and folklore – continually re-told and re-packaged in hundreds of different voices, pens and languages but never straying away from their original formulas.

(And yes, Batman is a superhero. Could you do any of the cool shit that he does? I don’t think so.)

* More of my illustrations and arty stuff can be seen on my tumblr page*

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