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Tag: opinion

The sexual politics of The Wicked + The Divine

Contributed by
Feb 10, 2019

The comic book series The Wicked + The Divine from Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie is the story of the gods of myth returning to the human plane of existence. Every 90 years, 12 gods are reincarnated with incredible powers and the adoration of countless humans. After two years, they die. They are sent back to remind us about what is important in the world and to inspire humanity. In the 2010s incarnation, they return to the world as rockstars, and the story gives us an unflinching look at our feelings on and reactions to fame. The hatred and adoration they receive in equal measure with matching fervor speak volumes on our society's attitude toward fame and the perils of celebrity. Even better, the diversity and sexuality in the comics actually comment on the real world and the changing definition of gender and the politics surrounding it.

Okay, that sounds dry as hell, but it’s absolutely not. Let us just tease you with this: Lucifer is a lesbian whose look is influenced by the Thin White Duke phase of David Bowie; Sakhmet the Egyptian cat goddess is the spitting image of Rhianna, has orgies and is cannibalistic; Tara (which goddess she embodies is constantly up for debate) is beautiful, and therefore harassed, sexualized, and abused online, causing her to hide from the world and contemplate suicide; reporter Cassandra (she of the prophecies that were never believed) is a trans woman who becomes a Norn, or goddess of fate.

The real world is debating gender politics right now, from gender fluidity to removing gender assignments from birth certificates. No matter what your thoughts on the subject are, you have to admit that even the debate itself allows the world to examine the politics of gender roles. It’s fascinating to see cultures with a history of oppressing women that have goddesses of war, or pantheons where gender is fluid between the gods and goddesses, when any attempt to do outside described gender roles in real life is often punishable by death. What we see in The Wicked + The Divine is that gender doesn't matter at all. The gods and goddesses return in different genders in different times, from Urdr as a trans woman to the goddess Inanna returning as a man who just happens to resemble Prince. Sexuality is mentioned in the story, but once something is commented on, it disappears.

The story depicts the full spectrum of sex and sexuality in all its wonderful forms. We’re not just talking about the fact that many of the characters are bisexual, or that it really doesn’t matter who’s sleeping with whom. (Well, it matters to the characters, but on a personal basis, and not because of any debate about anyone’s sexuality and/or judgment of it.) We’re also looking at the sexualization of women online. The aforementioned Tara has been beautiful for her entire life, and constantly harassed for it. If she shows up to perform, she’s the subject of awful tweets about what people want to do to her. If she disappears for a while, she gets tweets talking about sexually assaulting her … you know, the usual thing that happens to anyone who dares to be public online. We see the awful side of humanity in her story, as we do in the “real" world of social media.

With Sakhmet, we're privy to the awful side of power. It’s implied that the former Ruth Clarkson has been abused by her father. When she becomes the cat goddess, she eats him in revenge. She’s pure hedonism, and can only be stopped by alcohol. If you read a little bit of the mythology of this goddess, you’ll see how close that is to her origin story. We also witness the ugly side of power and sexuality in the god Woden, who fetishizes Asian women, treating them like property, and justifies it by saying that he’s basically giving them presents and fame. (Woden was a fascist in an earlier incarnation as well.)

On the positive side of things, there's also what is implied to be a closed polyamorous relationship involving consensual S&M. The plot also touches on a group of friends helping the god Baphomet, a young goth man out of a relationship where one of the three forms of the Morrigan (his girlfriend before the transformation, as well as after) is abusing him. The story of Dionysus, who is asexual, contains a discussion about his version of that, and whether or not he is aromantic, who he is in love with, and how he plans to handle the politics.

In the god Baal, a very Kanye West-esque character, we first have the impression that this man is going to be full of toxic masculinity. He’s not. What we later learn is that he’s been in a relationship with Inanna, who slept with someone else, and what we first perceive as toxic is actually hurt and betrayal. Female sexuality and promiscuity are portrayed but not necessarily commented on at length. Laura, who becomes the goddess Persephone, sleeps with a number of the other gods and the only issue is whether it was discussed beforehand and agreed upon with established partners. It’s never that she chooses to sleep with more than one person.

The beautiful thing about The Wicked + The Divine is that, in the end, each character's sexuality doesn’t make them good or bad, or perfect or flawed. It’s just part of who they are. There may be plenty of judgment about the choices each character makes in their lives, as far as goodness, kindness, betrayal, destruction are concerned. But the refreshing part is that it has nothing to do with who they sleep with or how they express their gender. They’re human in their divinity, and it’s lovely.

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