Zamaron — A Green Lantern Femme-Site

{August 29, 2006}   The Balancing Act: Hal Jordan and Women

Every once in a while I’ll see an icon or meme putting classically sexist dialogue (such as “The fair sex belongs in the kitchen!”) into Hal Jordan’s mouth.  While I know these are merely a joke on the misogyny typically associated with the comics industry in general and the Green Lantern franchise in particular, the part of me without a sense of humor always goes a little bit cross-eyed.  My response, as always, is to get just a tad overanalytical.

See, as far as my understanding of Hal goes, he seems to be rather indifferent to those members of the fair sex who are spending their time in the kitchen.  The majority of Hal’s love interests break the mould as far as traditional gender roles.  Carol Ferris and Olivia Reynolds are the kind of driven career women that Forbes Magazine (everyone’s favorite feminist-rage inducer!) would disapprove of, Rose Hardin ran a farm on her own after the death of her husband, Dorine Clay is a rebellion leader in spaaaace!, and Arisia proved resilient enough to be a very good superhero from a young age.  Also, Hal apparently had a brief flirtation with Power Girl during his JLE years, which I haven’t read so I can’t really comment on, but it’s worth saying that no one says “woman kicking ass and taking names” quite in the same way that Peej does.

Of the women in Hal’s life who tend to fall into more traditionally feminine roles, Eve Doremus can be pretty fairly considered a case of rebound, and Iona Vane falls into the time-honored comics tradition of love-under-mind-control.  Kari Limbo, like Eve, can also be considered a case of rebound, though I would put her more into the category of a highly gendered Other than “traditionally feminine.”  Nevertheless, her category is probably closer to Eve and Iona’s.

So, as hard as it is for me to picture Hal saying “strong women are hawt!” in the manner of your average comic-babe loving fanboy, I do think he’s got a sort of natural inclination towards that particular “strong women” type.  Then comes the question I’ve always found difficult to answer– is Hal threatened by strong women, as well?

Indeed, the run-of-the-mill interpretation of the Star Sapphire concept is that Hal feels threatened by the presence of strong women.  “Oh hey!  My girlfriend’s suddenly manifested kooky outer space powers, kinda like mine!  I’d better do something about the situation before it gets out of hand!” is a storyline that, in the hands of many writers, could rapidly fall into misogyny territory.  On the other hand… it’s still more complicated than that, because in her civilian life, Carol is Hal’s boss– his occupational superior.  And, for the most part, Hal seems to be okay with that– his frustration stems mainly from the fact that he is unable to pursue Carol romantically.  Translated into the English of the oughts, his thought bubbles would run more along the lines of “Oh shit, cockblocked!”* than “WOMAN!  Why are you attempting to run an aircraft company?  Get back to crocheting lace doilies!”

The difference, then, lies in figuring out just what makes Star Sapphire stand apart from Carol Ferris.  Eventually, it occurred to me that the answer was quite simple.  Carol Ferris is the CEO of a company that manufactures military aircraft; Star Sapphire is the queen of a society that deems women to be inherently superior to men.  In patriarchal America, Carol has to assume a role that is traditionally deemed a very masculine one in order to hold a place of power and influence.  She’s strong in spite of her femininity.  On Zamaron, however, femininity is strength.

This, then, must be what poses a threat to Hal– not strong (for patriarchal definitions of the word “strong”) women, but the idea of strong femininity.  Before people get up in arms about this, it’s not really Hal’s fault.  Hal’s one of three boys, raised in a military family that, if we believe JSA, was probably also Catholic.  His hero growing up with his father.  Though comics time makes things a little sketchy, as well, this was also probably pre-Women’s Liberation.  Basically, Hal has been socialized in an environment where masculinity and strength are equated, and tacitly accepted as the status quo.  He’s the walking embodiment of unearned male privilege.

Another thing to consider in this equation is the fact that Hal is perhaps a bit narcissistic.**  Said narcissism doesn’t damn him completely, and I’d even say it’s at the root of his arrogance, which is what allows him to be a good Green Lantern.  However, what problems it does cause him usually tend to play out in his relationships with others.

First of all, Hal’s going to be attracted to traits, in others, that he himself possesses.  And what could be more characteristic of a Green Lantern than a strong will?  Women who break into traditionally masculine spheres need to possess a strong will in order to do so, so it makes sense that Hal might be attracted to these types.  (Even if he is not completely conscious of this fact.)

Secondly, it seems that Hal can’t resist anyone who can’t resist him.  Perhaps the most obvious example of this is his relationship with Arisia, but it’s also evident in the difficulty he has in turning Dorine down (when they’re having adventures in space but Carol’s waiting back on Earth), and in the way he gets thrown completely through a loop when Carol ends up engaged to another man.  Basically, Hal strikes me as the type who doesn’t know how to deal with not being needed.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say he’s got a full-blown white knight complex, but he does like to be relied on.  Ultimately, this ends up creating a vicious cycle of sorts– Hal goes for the strong-willed types, but has a hard time dealing when a person is strong-willed enough to be completely independent of him.

Just to recap a bit, we can likely attribute Hal’s relationship patterns with women to both the external factors (socialization and male privilege) and the internal (Hal’s own particular personality quirks).  What’s interesting, then, is how broader versions of this play out in comics as a whole.  I’ll bring up these ideas in brief, just because I’ve gone on long enough.

1. The External: Superhero Comics Frequently Reinforce Male Privilege.  Just about every feminist comics blogger on the internet has something to say about this fact, so I shan’t dwell on it too much.  Basically, though, in a world that revolves so thoroughly around the masculine sphere of kicking, punching, and who’d win against who in a fight, it’s hard to squeeze in a place for more feminine spheres and make them seem legitimate.  It doesn’t mean that it can’t be done– simply that it requires the overriding of many of a writer’s assumptions.  Even, indeed, if the writer in question is female.

2. The Internal: Superhero Comics Are, Like Hal, A Bit Narcissistic.  Not necessarily team books, but the solo stories, really, because an overwhelming percentage of heroes operating solo are male.  With a male in the “main character” position, female characters again become supporting cast.  In order to make the main character look heroic, it helps to have the supporting cast rely on that main character.  It also helps to keep the supporting cast “relevant.”  With civilian characters especially, it’s tough.  Once again, not at all impossible.  But a balancing act, nonetheless.

One of the reasons Hal appeals to me is the balancing act.  Since Green Lantern/Green Arrow (and, perhaps, even before then) Hal is a character who over and over again is forced to question his assumptions.  This act of questioning is especially fascinating when one considers that Hal’s superheroic abilities are so faith-based.  Also, feminist that I am, watching Hal having to confront his male privilege is always a fun prospect.  I know I can’t be the only one, right?


*More sensitive critics than I should note that Hal actually does love Carol for her personality, really, and is frustrated that he can’t take their relationship to a deeper and more meaningful level.  I just phrased this the way I did because Silver Age Hal thinking “oh shit, cockblocked!” cracks me up, and I can be totally tasteless at times.

**The problem with the fact that I love Hal for his all his gloriously fucked up flaws is that it always seems like I’m bashing him in my analysis posts, which just isn’t true.


Ragnell says:

No, you’re not the only one.

Actually, this leads into why I love Star Sapphire. It enables Carol to go from sometimes superior/generally lesser (because she’s a civilian love interest with no powers and no knowledge of his secret identity) to an equal playing field with Hal, and he can’t deal with it. That is why she has to be an antagonist, because Hal has conflicts with Strong Feminity. Its thematic necessity.

Ununnilium says:

I completely agree, but can’t think of any interesting comments along that line, so I’ll just mention that my 7-year-old sister thinks the girl in the upper-right corner is pretty.

SallyP says:

Very nicely explained. I love Guy the best, but I have a love/hate
relationship with Hal that goes waaaay back. Oddly enough, your analysis
of Hal as being unable to resist women who find him attractive, makes me
think of Othello He loved Desdemona BECAUSE she loved him. Not quite sure why I’m bringing in Shakespeare, except for the fact that it makes it
all seem so much more profound.

It is also interesting that you point out that Hal’s arrogance is as much
an asset as it is a flaw. It seems to be such a defining characteristic
of him.

soyoerika says:

Ragnell: Totally with you there. This also reminds me how much I love that Star Sapphire wears bright pink, even when she’s the scariest of supervillains. What better way to say “I have estrogen; FEAR ME!”?

If it’s Hal’s conflicts with strong femininity that make Star Sapphire into an antagonist, I’d love to see that played with a bit in canon. For instance, it’d be neat to see her team up with another DC hero who has no or fewer issues with strong femininity, to achieve some sort of heroic objective. (Perhaps stalling an invasion of Zamaron?) Naturally, Hal would assume that Star Sapphire was Up To No Good, and try and stop her. Then of course he could have a rude awakening.

Now, granted, I’d like it best if it were written in a fashion other than “THEY FIGHT FOR OPPOSING SIDES AND ZOMG SEXUAL TENSION” because frankly, if I wanted that, I’d just read Batman and Catwoman. (Who, under most writers, bore me to tears.) There has to be effort put behind the concept that Hal and Star Sapphire are equally wrong– that reverence for masculinity over femininity is just as bad as the opposite. It’d make for a damn good sci-fi tale, methinks.

soyoerika says:

Ununnilium: Thanks for reading! And I hope you’re working on getting that seven-year-old sister of yours into Green Lantern. 😉

SallyP: I love Guy best too, but Hal is second by about a millimeter, if that. Fact is, they’re the peanut butter and nutella of my Green Lantern fangirlism. I love ’em both individually, but together they’re even more fun to analyze. 🙂 (Granted, I am also overly fond of the phrase “queer reading”, so uh… that could explain some of my biases in the way I analyze them. Yes.)

I can’t fault you for thinking of Shakespeare, because uh… I’ve pondered writing an essay comparing Hal to Oedipus. So.

Hal’s arrogance as both asset and flaw is one of those things that makes him seem a particularly well-rounded and realistic character to me. After all, I don’t tend to categorize the real people I know as having “perks” and “flaws” in their personalities, just traits that can go either way. So when Hal’s written in such a fashion, I can really believe in him as a character.

On the other hand, it also makes Hal harder to write, and even the best writers can slip-up and make him seem over-the-top sometimes, which is where I think a lot of fannish misconceptions regarding Hal originate. Yeah, Hal can be a dick. But if someone calls him on it (though, they have to genuinely call him on it with lots of shouting– Ollie’s good at that) he’ll feel sincerely guilty and try his damnedest to make amends. He doesn’t get it right away, of course, but he genuinely tries, and is willing to stretch beyond his privileged comfort zone. And that makes him kinda cool, in my book.

[…] When I was working on my Hal post, I started thinking about the concept of strong femininity, and flashed back to Guy before he was brain damaged or a Lantern. This Guy is the one who managed to overcome a fucked up, broken family life and establish himself as a healthy, productive member of his community. Compared to the troubled teenager he once was, this adult Guy is in a position of strength, but– fascinatingly enough– not one based in Manly Masculinity. […]

SallyP says:

Speaking of Hal’s problems with women…go back and read GL #20, where
Hal is recruiting new members. He’s put together a team with mostly
males, and John and Kilowog comment that there arent’ enough women.
Hal basically starts to brag that they all fall in love with him, and it
isnt’ worth the trouble, ie: Arisia, Brik and Katma…Oops! The steely
eyed glare that John gives him is wonderful.

Ragnell says:

Sally — He mentioned Katma too? Waaaaitaminute. HAL talked Kat out of marrying a civilian to stay in. Hal AND Ollie came on to Katma to get turned down. And it was JOHN who was the pursuer in the John-Kat relationship.

Hal’s not only an idiot, he can’t remember things straight. I blame Parallax.

SallyP says:

Oh, it is definitely a Hal influenced by Parallax at this point. He’s
just so OBNOXIOUS in this particular issue! He summons Guy to join with
the others, right in the middle of a fight with Despero, and gets miffed
when Guy tells him to stuff it. And Kilowog, bless his heart actually
stands up for Guy when Hal starts to whine about it. But the thing with
Katma is just kind of weird…Hal/Parallax is definitely putting his own
spin on things.

Leigh Silver says:

Do you think they should marry off the 2

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