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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.