Posted by : Wendy B Monday, 3 August 2015


I love Emma Frost but the reigning image of the former White Queen of the Hellfire Club continues to disappoint me. I am not alone in this train of thought. Writes Julie Kahn at Comics Alliance:
"Look, I can dig Emma Frost as an overtly sexual woman. Butt floss and pasties are too often justified as ‘liberated female sexuality!’  by creators who seem to draw breasts by tracing nickels, but y’know what? When it comes to Emma, I’ll accept it. Women who enjoy expressing their power and sexuality through fashion exist. It’s just that, y’know, these women typically understand when and where overtly sexual clothing is appropriate. And are at all in touch with notions of style and class. And understand that channeling one’s sexuality is not equivalent to wearing literal lingerie as daywear as often as possible."
I consider Emma Frost to be one of my childhood idols. I met her through Classic X-Men when I was a pre-teen and I loved her. Those scenes in Classic X-Men #34 were my first introduction to concepts of feminism and sexism at a time when I had no idea what those things were.
Classic X-Men #34
I loved her. I loved her confidence and her arrogance. She was a big counter to my other idols, Storm and Jean, who were righteous and good and innocent. She spoke to my Scorpio leanings and set me on my path to secret naughty things that are not readily acceptable to society and my overly religious mother. But I also understood that Emma was the bad guy. That automatically meant her views were flawed and that she was meant to be defeated. The girl Emma admonishes in those scenes sums her up at the end clearly: “She thinks she’s risen above something, she feels so superior to me. Yet she is a slave to games. I may be more vulnerable, but the true victim here is that White Queen.”

I have grown up since then, but Emma, apparently, has not. Or rather, she did at one point under the right pens, but her current iteration seems to exist only on the basis of showing skin and overtly oozing sexuality with no real purpose other than, well, being sexy. She's become a one note joke.

Writes Claire Napier at Women Write About Comics (from which many of my thoughts here stem):
"Emma is one of the few Marvel characters with any kind of consistent aesthetic, and it’s not surprising to see it go unchallenged, or spring back to this form, for this long. It’s eye-catching, continuity has its own agreeable charm, and Marvel comics approves of sexual drawings of women. What it’s not is good storytelling. What once was explained, and coherent, now is not."
Emma has defined herself by the power games she plays. Sex, or rather, the teasing promise of sex, is one of her many weapons but it is not necessarily her primary one--and despite what writers and artists try to tell you, it is not dependent on her attire.
Emma works Namor in AvX.  She could have achieved the same result wearing track pants. Stylish, expensive Lulu Lemon track pants, of course.
In fact, I imagine the act of sex itself is distasteful to her if not with someone she wants as well, but she loves the power and control it gives her. That thrill of wearing clothing that makes people want her or envy her. From personal experience, I know it to be intoxicating. I love her relationship with Scott (initially, not now), because I think that was first about defeating Jean. It just turned out that Emma actually fell for Scott, but she is constantly aware of the fact that she’s second fiddle to a (dead/younger) redhead. The chess game she plays against Sebastian Shaw in Classic #34 is not about sex. It is about her bringing Shaw into a realm where she is more powerful than his physical strength. Where she can be his equal. But it is very telling that she is defeated even as she defeats him.

This is one of the many reasons why I hated her appearance in X-Men: First Class. She was not Shaw’s equal. He sent her to get ice. Her disgust at having to seduce that one guy is about the only thing they got right. Oh and the jumpsuit. The rest of her attire was atrocious. And that is now how the image of Emma Frost has been solidified for people who do not know what the character used to be. Not only is she depicted in a cheap bra and ill-fitting skirt, none of her power as a business woman and Shaw’s equal is present. She’s sex candy. Poorly dressed sex candy.
Ugh.
I don’t know the actual rationale behind her secondary diamond mutation. As a telepath, she is vulnerable on the battlefield, so the diamond form gives her protection in a similar manner to the purple armour Psylocke wore in Australia. But it seems to me that it really just gives artists an excuse to keep her in skimpy outfits that she continues to wear off the field.

I love sexy. I believe Emma loves sexy because there is a thrill in it. I believe she should be dressed for sex appeal because she drinks that power and because she loves clothing and fashion. It's certainly not because she wants to impress others. Emma is not lacking when it comes to self esteem and getting what she wants.
Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis
But what comic book artists tend not to understand is that skimpy does not automatically mean sexy. Emma is a high class woman who I expect to see dressed in high class fashion. If artists can find porn magazines to reference for poses, they most certainly can find a fashion magazine or two to reference for attire. That's not to say her clothing can't be revealing from time to time as she deems appropriate, but lets work on some elegance and class instead of the constant excuse to slut shame. I am so tired of her being the butt of this "joke."
Slut Shaming 101 in Astonishing X-Men
Emma Frost has carefully cultivated her image — fake body, fake accent — of sexuality, high class, and power. She still craves and clings to the (shallow) victory of her rise to the top of the food chain at the Hellfire Club. She wears the white to remind you of who she was but has also come to revel in the society she has conquered. She wraps the world around her perfectly manicured fingers and alters it to suit her desires--or alters it to mess with yours. Because she can.
High tea in Astonishing X-Men
Emma is off to check her karats in New X-Men
Even with the fa├žade she maintains, there is so much more to Emma Frost and as an X-Man, she’s been forced to face the truth of what she really is. Yet still, she oozes so much self esteem that the opinions of others clearly rolls off her back. I imagine a future where she stays in diamond form just to avoid being defeated by her only true enemy: wrinkles.

The moment when I finally gave up on Marvel’s writing of Emma was when they had her leave Scott in Schism, but then go back to him just a few panels later. For that brief moment, I had hopes of a woman who no longer defined herself by Scott as Jean had and who would return to her love of teaching. She could have been a great headmistress — just like she had been in Generation X — and run the Jean Grey Academy (oh she would have hated that name, though it is fitting penance for her role in turning Jean into the Black Queen) and handle Cerebro. She should be as much a foil for Scott as she is for Xavier and truly rise above Jean's shadow. I don’t see her as someone who wants or needs to be in the field. She’s a business woman. I want to see her running her business and handling the business of the X-Men.
"On paper, she sounds great. Powerful, wealthy woman, likes being in charge, she’s got super powers, and I assume she is into fashion. I can’t find any evidence of her loving fashion, but I’ve read several issues of X-Men where she insists they all go shopping in New York. Let’s face it. She likes clothes. So you’d think that for someone who likes clothes she would not wear the same thing all the time. I don’t even care about her showing so much skin." Terry Blas, The Emma Frost Fashion Redesign Project
Terry Blas, The Emma Frost Fashion Redesign Project
She could be and should be wearing sexy and classy pant suits or pencil skirts with spike heels like Gina Torres in Suits. She should be finding a new way to dominate and exude the confidence that I loved so much when I first saw her. She could still cling to her White Queen image and maintain her arrogance, even as she reveals her kinder, gentler side. She could come to define herself as something more that her compatriots respect and maybe still fear just a little.

I want an Emma that gives no fucks and is not afraid to grow older because she knows that power is so much more than a corset (even though she can totally still wear corsets because corsets are awesome.)

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This is my mindspill. Mostly about comics, books, video games, movies of the science fiction and fantasy leanings. Sometimes recipes and parenting stuff will sneak in, along with a real world rant or two.

I also write about geek culture at Women Write About Comics, and I review genre fiction at The BiblioSanctum.

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