Phantom Lady and Reproductive Choice

Deny me the right to make choices about my own body - Paul Day

This image was photoshopped by the comedian Paul Day. (You can learn all about him in the update to my article, Billy Bob Neck in Heaven?) I thought it captured rather well the conservative mentality that all women secretly desire an Aryan demigod to tell them how to live their lives so they don’t have to worry their pretty little heads.

I don’t know who drew the original panel. It’s a classic style. Even Johnny Craig used it in some of the most ghoulish of EC Comics’ horror titles. But what I find really interesting is that if you go back before 1954 and the establishment of the vile Comics Code Authority, there were a lot of racy comics. Consider how Phantom Lady was portrayed:

Phantom Lady - Comparison

What’s important here is the idea of women as nonthreatening helpers, just waiting for a man who they can follow. This was only ever an image that the power elite and its status quo chorus pushed on the rest of us. It was never real. Of course: Phantom Lady is explicitly a character of male fantasy. But the neutering (Spaying?) of the character is all about the proper role of women in society. Mae West was out and Barbara Billingsley was in.

Female Power Isn’t Safe

The reason that things like Paul Day’s image above works is because we know all those “safe” comic book representations of women were a crock. Just the same, today Phantom Lady is about as close to soft-core porn as you are likely to see. But even in that, she has a power that would terrify the American man if she weren’t confined to the pages of a comic or any other non-threatening media. No man would try to deny her reproductive choice. And that’s why conservatives want to portray women as dictated by the Comics Code. If that’s who women are then we men really do need to step up and make all the decisions.

It’s not surprising that the most conservative of men find pornography so titillating. Whether it is some Baptist minister or Osama bin Laden, the fantasy of explicitly sexual women is very appealing. But these same men are far too afraid of this same power in real life — both explicitly because such women would never find such cowering men attractive and implicitly because of what such women would expect in other areas of life — namely: equality.

3 replies on “Phantom Lady and Reproductive Choice”

  1. James Fillmore says:

    Paul Day might still be alive — but Billy Bob Neck is dead, and I dearly hope his character is in heaven, pestering other fictional characters. Like Billy Graham.

    This post brings up a lot of issues. My first response would be “it’s a fantasy of teenage boys,” AKA, that women are just boobtacular objects you can have sex with, they’ll help you defeat Doctor Deathray, and you’re still in charge.

    And the most famous comic book, “Superman,” exemplifies this. Lois Lane loves Superman, and sees Clark Kent as “just a friend.” So it’s a myth of secret awesomeness frustrated teenage boys can relate to. Yet their dream never involves working together with ace reporter Lois Lane to defeat corruption. It’s always supervillains Lane couldn’t possibly handle.

    I also assume many adult males feel this way, comics aside. Girls are supposed to be the helpers. We praise them for their loyalty and steadfastness, rarely their ingenuity and courage. Even when they exhibit both, it’s to bolster our far greater powers. Behind every great man …

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Which is why Turtle really screwed up with his denial of Warren’s opportunity to speak.

    It galvanized even more women to oppose.

    • James Fillmore says:

      Don’t even get me started on that guy. He breaks my vocabulary of “asshole” so hard, I don’t know what to say.

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