The Bloodied Vagina: Why the Batgirl Variant Cover is No Joke

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Content Warning: Rape, Sexual Violence, discussion of the meat of bodies.

Barbara Gordon is frozen and terrified to the point of tears by the man touching her. He points at her mouth, and he points a gun at her crotch. The mouth and the vagina have a long history of suggestive parallel; oral sex is called sex, but “manual sex”… isn’t. There is a red “smile” drawn on her face; it has dribbles, it looks like blood.

Batgirl 41 Joker Variant CBR exclusive Dc Comics 2015

I look at this picture and I think, “bloodied vagina.” Not a bloody vagina, or her bloody vagina, or specifically mine, or anyone’s. Just the concept of “vagina with blood in it,” that I have become accustomed and attuned to as a regularly menstrual adult. It is a deep and organic familiarity and it links my body, my embodiment as a living human, with hers, and with her circumstances: held by a hostile man, appalled. He’s pointing at her mouth and her vagina and he’s violent and he’s wiped blood on her.

A lot of people think that menstruation is gross. A lot of those people are men, and most of those are men who have never had a vagina and have never had a period. Set aside the concept of patriarchy because I know some of you out there struggle with it, and let’s just concentrate on the fact that comic book shops as a cultural force tend towards the masculinised. Holding, or looking at, this comic in a comic shop, where the other patrons are all or mostly men, forced aware of bloody vaginas and traumatic masculine trespass…

A girl like me feels a bit ill. She feels raw. She’s hyper-aware of her immediate safety relying on the comfortable graces of the men around her. She does not forget the fact that people who are repulsed often become violent, and that masculinity trains boys to accept violence as a part of their toolkit. Do they realise that this cover speaks of bloodied vaginas? What if they do. What will they do? She feels very, very wrong. She can’t forget she has a vagina, and that other people are inclined to treat vaginas cruelly and devalue her entire personage on the basis of the weakness of pussy, and if she’s currently menstruating she can feel her heart beat, thinking god, god, please don’t let it somehow show. “Please don’t let this be the time that the nightmare turns out to be real and I get visible leakage.”

When you menstruate, there’s increased sensitivity in your lower abdomen. Blood is coming out of your womb and eventually your vagina, and you’re aware of that in a “well, that’s factually happening and I’ve got to keep a handle on it” abstract sense and also sometimes in a very immediate, I just felt something come out of my vagina sense. Maybe it’s the blood itself, as nature takes its course, or maybe it’s a tampon or a menstrual cup that you’re actively removing. During a period there’s increased digital interaction with your genitals; you have to remove whatever’s catching the blood, and/or you have to wash the blood away. Blood gets around. The aim is not to let it show. “Don’t allow yourself to wear your shameful/private/designated disgusting biological status like a target.”

When you’re having your period, hormones are telling your womb, expel, expel, and your womb hears them but so does the rest of you. A lot of people feel sick. A lot of people are sick, they vomit, because of their period. You probably have to defecate more regularly. Your period does not treat you well; your period is not even technically “for you.” Not everybody gets pain, but most people do. A lot of us are lucky enough to have mild aches occasionally but some of us, some of us regularly, get bastard knife stabs and writhing heated hellpains, and these unlucky people vomit too, because of the pain. The vagina may feel more present, it may feel tight or hot and it might be more aroused and sexual than usual. A lot of people really want to have sex, when they have blood coming through their vaginas because of menstruation. They would like their partners to tenderly engage with their vaginas, intimately, while their vaginas are making their presence so known. Does the dominant narrative around menstruation suggest that a sexual, menstruating body is a viable thing to have? Sex is quite relevant to the way menstruation is discussed. Rape imagery is not sex.

A girl like me hasn’t been raped, and — thank everything — she hasn’t known vaginal trauma following forced entry by a penis or a foreign object. She doesn’t have post-traumatic stress disorder. She has no memory of extreme personal invasion to be shoved back into. She just sees a young woman with blood on her face, being held by a man, who’s threatening her holes.

She just looks at a girl who’s looking at her and crying.

She sees her peer, her mirror, her sister, say:

“please help me–“

She can’t do anything. She leaves Barbara, because her own vagina feels present and threatened and there’s nothing she can do. Just a picture, innit? Precious art; more important than you.

That’s a seriously bad trip, DC. That’s not worth retweeting your critics, Rafael Alberquerque. That’s not worth trolling me over when I tweet dissent, pissbabies.

That’s a bad cover. And a cruel decision to print it.

Series NavigationBatgirl, The Killing Joke and Criticism >>
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About Author

The rock that drops on your head. WWAC Chief Comics Ed. Find me at claire.napier@wwacomics.com

20 Comments

  1. Standing O. I saw this cover and immediately thought of my first encounters with “she was a virgin!! tight focus on my dick covered in blood!!!” style hentai.

    Man. I would pay serious dollars for a book of your criticism, Claire.

  2. My first thought on seeing it was ‘Joker rapes Batgirl?!’ I can totally see your interpretation now that you’ve explained it though.

    It looks like a Crossed cover, not a Batgirl cover. DC does torture porn?

    Makes me wonder who the targeted audience is for this title. Not one I’d ever want to pick up.

    I assume the comic itself isn’t torture-porn-ey?

    Very creepy indeed.

      • Hrmm, yeah, if I was buying this title for my daughter, if she was… maybe 13 or below? I’d probably stop buying it. Definitely not age appropriate.

        If I have the time I might do a copy of it, but with Batman in Batgirls place/pose/etc. See how different it looks then.

        • Your drawing was great (as usual) but the impact is lost mainly because of the history between Joker and Babs because of Killing Joke. See Desiree’s comment below for a great explanation and recap.

    • Claire Napier on

      The comic itself is about a young woman living independently and joyously, so

      Naw…

      Thanks for the comment, Simon. It’s good to hear I’ve managed to say what I meant to.

  3. Juliara Vasconcelos on

    You didn’t read The killing Joke. It’s not possible! Why do you have to see sexual connotation on this?

    • Claire Napier on

      OH WHY OH WHY OH WHY! JULIARA!

      You didn’t read The article. It’s not possible! Why do you have to ask weakass questions on this?

    • I don’t see why you would assume she hasn’t read The Killing Joke. There is a heavy sexual aspect to the story lots of Moore’s stories have sexual aspects to them, it’s a keystone in his work. And many of those aspects include rape, or assault. Before this jumps, no I’m not saying he shouldn’t include those aspects, but we as consumers shouldn’t not critique them either.

      In The Killing Joke Babs torture doesn’t end at being shot in the stomach, it continues with her being stripped, bared, and tortured. In the original artwork there’s more nudity emphasizing the sexual nature of her torture. Whether the Joker raped her or not (I choose to believe he didn’t) there is still sexual undertones to her torture.

      This interpretation isn’t anything new, many others have interpreted the same thing. The Killing Joke is a great story. As a fan, and a writer, I do find it narratively fantastic. But as a critique, and a woman, I also find it thoroughly problematic in it’s treatment of Babs. Even more so is the treatment DC gives the story by constantly reducing Babs to this singular moment in her history.

      She stops being Babs, and is reduced to a victim. The woman the Joker shot. She wasn’t shot for herself, she wasn’t shot because he wanted to hurt her, or because she was in a fight against him, she was shot for the sole reason of harming the men in her life (Batman and Gordon). The Joker reduced her to an object to which to mentally torture her father with. She wasn’t a person, but a thing. And these homages aren’t helping, they’re damaging. They’re continuing to reduce her to that one singular aspect of her history — a story where she is an object.

  4. Everyone fails to realize this was supposed to be a variant cover. Not the main one. Noone would have to have it if they didn’t want to. Also, this cover wasn’t meant to be about babas at all really. This was supposed to be for the Joker month. This was a huge part of the Joker with defining his charicter and who he is. By bringing this image up I don’t only see a defenceless Babs, I see a horrible human being who has committed an atrocity to another just to get at two other people that love said person deeply. It’s wrong no matter the gender, but speaks volumes as to how twisted a person the Joker is and a homage as to how far he has gone. It’s somthing to bring on hate, sickness and repulsion of the charicter. I believe that is what the artist truly wanted, and by every one being upset, has achieved sucessfully.

    • Everyone realizes it’s a variant. What people who use this argument fail to realize is that the variants are a marketing tool. They are the ones that will be on display at comic stores and promoted all over the place ensuring that whether or not you want to purchase the variant, you’re damn well going to see it everywhere.

  5. Some great points. However, I think that you’re reading into this a little bit too much, although as a male, I’ll definitely take back a few lessons from this.

  6. On a separate note, The Killing Joke isn’t appropriate reading material for any girl or boy under the age of at least 15-16, depending on their level of maturity. It’s one of my favourite comics for sure, but there is some nasty stuff in it.