Emma Frost, Paragon of Women in the X-men

One night while braving the wilds of the internet forums I happened upon a familiar battleground. There, amid the hordes of vs. matchups, goddess-postings of Storm, Cyclops’s daddy issues, and Wolverine’s red-head obsessions stood a topic thread, far too familiar to me: “How many people has Emma Frost slept with anyway?

So researcher that I am, I went looking for the answer. And what I found really surprised me, though it probably shouldn’t have. For one I began to realize, Emma Frost is an amazing character. She’d never been one of my favorites, but now I was really looking at her. Now I appreciate her inherent complexity. And perhaps relating some of what I found to my experiences as I’ve made my way in the world, I now have a real appreciation for the authentic quality of Emma and the sheer endurance of her character.

Here we have a successful, strong, professional woman that is capable of holding her own on the battlefields of mutant kind and the business world. She has crafted an image meant to allure some and intimidate others. She uses her intellect to maneuver around he enemies. She uses the art of seduction to take power from others without surrendering any of her own. And what are the comments most commonly seen about her? “Emma Frost is a bitch.” “Emma Frost is a slut.” “Look at how she dresses.” “She’s just a sexed up Jean Grey.” “How many people has she slept with anyway?” Even among those that count themselves her fans these comments are bandied about. I hear arguments of “She’s sexually liberated, she’s a slut but she owns it.” And quite honestly while it’s meant to be complimentary, it makes my blood boil even more when she’s lauded for an illusion instead of who she actually is.

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Who is Emma Frost?

Remember that question I went looking for the answer to? “How many people has Emma Frost slept with anyway?”  The answer, as near as I can tell is about seven (7). And it’s just that — a number. But let’s go ahead an put that number into context. It’s within a couple of most of the characters in Marvel. Notably — Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America, Cyclops to name a few have had as many if not more romantic partners. And if you’ve never asked how many people those characters have slept with, you should be asking yourself why you wonder about Emma Frost.

So I decided to look at what seem to be considered two of  Emma’s “defining” characteristics— being a bitch and being a slut. 

Emma Frost isn’t gentle or kind.  I don’t think she would argue the point at all. She’s not particularly warm or comforting. Stop and ask yourself — why should she be? Emma Frost is a character who is guarded, who controls her emotions and who has never been particularly interested in making people feel better. Not because she doesn’t care but because she knows that the only way to actually improve a situation is to do it yourself, moping is pointless wallowing. She relies on her internal strength to sustain her, her confidence in herself. And she instills this in her students with a firm hand. She is to an extent nurturing, but what she nurtures is belief in your own self, drawing on your inner strength. Relying on others without making yourself vulnerable. She knows that doesn’t come easy and no one can give it to you, but she adeptly acts as a guide. She makes mistakes, and she knows it. But she owns them and moves on. This is probably the quality I most admire in her and that I appreciate as a very difficult skill to master.

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Emma making up her own mind in during Schism.

Straight to the point — women are expected to be nice, nurturing, and diplomatic. The only out in the comic book world for a heroine is to be a “firebrand” then you’re seen as some wild thing in need of taming. If you are in control of yourself and not motherly — you’re a bitch. It’s pretty hard to find any in-between on this point. And it’s almost never a quality that is judged in the male characters.  Emma’s constant comparison to the more nurturing but fiery (sometimes literally) Jean Grey is a symptom of that. Jean Grey is a fine character, and a paragon of excellence in many respects herself, but flat out I’ve seen too many times Emma directly compared to Jean and the conclusion is “Jean is a better person because she’s warm and caring. Emma’s just a bitch”. So in the X-world much like the real world, if you ain’t hugging it out, you’re just cold-hearted.

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Emma spelling out to Scott that she is her own person.

Take a look at how Emma Frost dresses. This seems to be the most common ‘justification’ that I read for Emma’s status as a “slut”. Okay, do let’s do it. Let’s look at her costumes. The most revealing outfits on this suite are her original (which in reality was drawn with much more fabric for the most part  than the depiction here, and as an homage to the Avengers TV show. See John Byrne and Chris Claremont for details) and Morrison’s run, which was a sarcastic statement about the need to wear “X” emblems on their uniforms. But really look at this sample of her outfits. How are these outfits any more or less revealing than the standard super-hero costumes of the X-men? Most of these contain far more material than some of Storm’s or Psylocke’s most “classic” looks. So, okay I’m “looking at what she’s wearing” and I don’t see the problem. Most of the “spilling out all over her uniform” outfits are from fan art depictions and a scare handful of canon artists.

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The many styles of Emma Frost

And getting straight to the punchline — it doesn’t matter how she dresses because how you dress doesn’t correlate to your level of sexual activity. In the first place you can’t tell how many sexual partners someone has had by how they dress. In the second place there is no “magic” number demarking some imaginary “slut” line, it’s all judgement. And a judgement by a different standard simply because of a perceived mode of dress (which doesn’t match the claims) and a perceived number of liaisons (which doesn’t seem to be that much different than most other Marvel characters). Examining the evidence, there is really just no other conclusion than Emma Frost is being subjected to good old-fashioned slut shaming

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Emma Frost has long since proven herself smart, resourceful, and capable. It’s time to stop trying to shove her into skimpy outfits and stop treating her like a convenient target. Emma Frost is an X-man.

But you know what, if Emma were real, I think she would smile at all of the shame and bile thrown her way (though she’d be appalled at some of the ill-fitting outfits). Because Emma isn’t some brainless dress up doll or a pincushion for the daggers hurled at her. She’s is smart, quick of wit and sharp of tongue. She’s a survivor. And what Emma’s carefully crafted look and image are about is power. She knows some people are busy drooling over her and turning her into their sexual fantasy. And some people are busy worrying about what she’s wearing, who she’s sleeping with and why she can’t be nicer. And amid all of that confusion and conflict, she quietly positions herself as one of the most powerful characters in the X-men, always surviving, usually ending up in charge. And when she’s on top and everyone’s trying to figure out what happened, she’d laugh and tell you that you got what you deserved for underestimating her. And that kinda makes her my hero.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. Ry-Guy says:

    I don’t think she’s a bitch because she’s strong and semi-independent. I think she’s a bitch because VERY shortly after Cyclops’ wife dies, and she’s shacking up with him already (Scott’s just as much to blame there, even if Jean “encouraged” him to move on), when he and Logan go at it, she says, and I quote, “Superpowers, a scintillating wit and the best body money can buy… and I still rate below a corpse.”

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    1. chamlet5127 says:

      Thanks for reading! I certainly don’t mean to excuse any of the questionable choices that Emma has made in her career, though I will as food for thought mention that Jean Grey literally and physically threw herself at Logan a full year before anything happened between Cyclops and Emma and it didn’t go anywhere because Logan was the one to turn it down. But that never gets mentioned to the point that most people don’t know it happened. I left out a lot of my feelings on Whedon’s choice to use “slut shaming” to banter between Kitty and Emma, and that he seemed to think he needed to give Emma an “insecure” aspect presumably to make her more relatable or to “explain” her sarcasm. Which to me is a symptom of the same problem as those I addressed here in a different form. But I do freely admit that Emma took advantage of that situation, and I think she would also admit that. I was addressing specific comments I see most often, but certainly not all. And your point is a very fair one.

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    2. Shakil Dossa says:

      Jean is also to blame there, as she tried to cheat on Scott with Logan before Scott cheated on her. However, Logan turned Jean down

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  2. JP Prisco says:

    Braving those same internet forums you mentioned (lol) someone used the wonderful word “dichotomy” regarding Emma. Almost all good comics heroes are dichotomies, flawed altruists & deeply scarred beings, & it seems like pretty much all mutants are right up there with Batman in the childhood trauma department – but many ‘powerful’ female comic characters in particular have been written with a troubling kind of inner-conflict that usually gets them stuck into a ‘seduced by the dark side’/corrupted-by-power arc. Basically Jean (back before we knew it wasn’t Jean) was written as being corrupted by ‘passion’ (& a mild corsetry fetish) & became a monster; Scarlet Witch became similarly unhinged & dangerous while being written as bereft at her failures as a mother & a wife – that’s not moral or character complexity, that’s a dismissal of a woman’s interior emotional life as ‘hysteria’ from straight outta the 1800’s. Emma hasn’t been as easy to shoe-horn into that role because she’d already started out as a straight-up villain & writers/artists had already toyed with her as role-playing at being debauched, all of which actually played-out as her being more mature & self-aware & less easy to throw-under-the-bus in that way. Her duality isn’t from inner-conflict it’s that she’s fully self-realized & capable of actual complexity, reacting on multiple emotional levels yet consciously acting according to her interests. Certain types of fan, I think, seeing her as ‘unassailable’ in that way beat-up on her as a bitch & a slut because she doesn’t allow them their dose of schadenfreude

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    1. chamlet5127 says:

      Nice insights! There is an entire body of literature on the association of sexuality and sensuality being linked to corruption of women in literature in general and I think comics are no exception. I think in general, writers have a hard time with women that crossover from villain to hero. With people like magneto they seem to have an easier time. The only longstanding exception in the xmen is rogue, who was quickly changed from her initial narrative to a frightened and traumatized teenager. But when it comes to a fully mature woman, the seem a bit stymied….

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  3. Tam Browning says:

    Just my two cents, when I call Emma a “bitch” or a “slut,” it’s out of idolization, not to drag her down. I LIKE the fact that she’s a bitch and a slut. I LIKE the fact she’s sexually promiscuous. I LIKE how she dominates and acts the way she does. Being a slut is a GOOD thing in my view. I don’t slut shame, I slut idolize. I think sluts are the best people on Earth. My favorite characters are those that are constantly considered “slutty.” Vampirella and Emma Frost are two who I consider “positive sex queens,” who have great personality and characters, and I think the fans recognize this. Several fans use the phrases “slut,” and “bitch,” as terms of idolization, not to demean her.

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    1. chamlet5127 says:

      Thanks for the comment and for reading, but I think you’ve missed one of the major points of the article. Which is that when examining the evidence Emma Frost ISN’T any more promiscuous than other major characters in Marvel, particularly many of the men. So it makes no sense to single her out as such. I mean, I counted up Steve Rogers’s lovers and it’s about the same number as Emma’s lovers, but I really don’t remember Captain America being called a ‘slut’ recently. Nor does she dress any more “provocatively” than most other female characters on average. The judgment seems to be made purely that because she wields sensuality as a power weapon that she’s sleeping with tons of people. Which isn’t the case. And in general this “glorified” or “shamed” ‘slut’ status seems to often be reserved almost exclusively for women, certainly when it comes to describing it as a primary characteristic. That goes for the real world and the comic book world. And that ignores that deciding how many people it takes to make a “slut” is itself charged with all kinds of judgments.

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  4. I honestly anyways get confused on whether or not these characters ( women who ware skimpy outfits) are good or not. Really for the most part i get really annoyed when women in comics where skimpy clothing (Starfire, Black Cat, Catwoman sometimes, Wonder Woman, etc) but usually ( usually) they have done type of good quality that balances things out. Emma Frost is cunning, resourceful, no nonsense, and strong; Starfire’s a strong warrior, enjoys attention, and is confident in herself; Wonder Woman’s strong, its a warrior, and is one of DC’s best characters, etc.

    I kinda find these good qualities to just be excuses for artists to draw woman in this way because sex sells which i sways found really lazy and ridiculous ( not to mentiona bit sexist).

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