Friday, November 8, 2013

Revision 2: Female Objectification in Jimmy Corrigan


Female Objectification and Sexual Frustration in Jimmy Corrigan

            When we first open Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth we are confronted with a set of instructions. These instructions cover everything from the design and layout of the graphic novel to the history of pictographic media. However in one section of these instructions there is a simple question that foreshadows and relates to many of Jimmy’s upcoming interactions; exam question number one asks “You are: a. male b. female.” It goes on “If b, you may stop. Put down your booklet. All others continue.” It would appear that that the author does not intend for the fairer sex to read this book; this is most likely due to the stereotypical, and all too often realistic, way that men, and society, in this book portray women as objects. Throughout the graphic novel we are shown signs, both literal and symbolic, of the objectification of women; this objectification by both, Jimmy’s environment, and the male figures in Jimmy’s life as along with his overbearing mother cause Jimmy a great deal of anxiety and sexual frustration throughout the story.
            When we first meet little Jimmy he is in the process of going to the classic car show. Once inside the car show Jimmy is inundated with sexualized advertising that would make the producers of a Super-bowl beer commercial proud. The classic cars he sees bare names like “sweet thing” or “pussy…” and are indicative of the way the men at the shows group objects such as cars into the same classification as women. Another sign Jimmy passes has a picture of a sultry lady holding a very phallic shaped wrench under which says tools.  In addition to the symbolism of woman grasping the phallic wrench, the word tools combined with the image of a woman illustrates another way these men view women as tools for their sexual enjoyment, whether physically or, usually in Jimmy’s case as a fantasy. At this age Jimmy would be especially impressionable to the stimuli in his environment, especially associating this as the place where his idol (Superman) resides (Phillipchalk & McConnell 421).
            In one of the next scenes when we see Jimmy he is an adult, however he is no less overrun by sexual advertisement and female objectification. While at work in what seems to be the office lunchroom we see a vending machine with the image of a woman from breast to knees with the words “cold” and “tasty” emblazoned above her. The word tasty is an obvious sexual innuendo meant to tie another of the five senses to the already stimulated visual sense that the image of the woman arouses. However, the other word on this sign may prove to foreshadow how Jimmy envisions his relationship with the women he encounters…”cold”, as most of his experiences with women are not what one would call warm and pleasurable.  Even at the doctors office Jimmy cannot escape the subtle sexual allusions of the world around him; the image of the female reproductive system serves as a constant reminder, along with his fathers incessant questioning about his girlfriend, of the thing he has yet to attain, a partner to reproduce with. One last image that helps contribute to the notion of how men think about women is that of the jazz poster in Pam’s Wagon Wheel restaurant; this image depicts what looks to be a rose on a piano. This immediately reminds me of a joke I’ve heard many times while working construction: What’s better than roses on your piano? --Tulips on your organ. This illustrates the real life similarities to how the men in Jimmy Corrigan can even make the subtlest nuances be about sex.
            While environmental stimuli are a factor in how women are objectified to Jimmy, yet another factor manifests itself in the male figures he encounters throughout the story. Lets remember that the reason that Jimmy wanted to go to the car show in the first place was to meet his idol Superman. This role model figure in Jimmy’s life ultimately uses his fame to win over Jimmy’s mother, as I’m sure he has done in the past with plenty of other single mothers. Again what Jimmy sees at an impressionable young age is the objectification of his mother by the man who he looks up to as an idol; the hero status is further solidified in Jimmy’s mind when Superman gives him his mask before he leaves in the morning, quite possibly saying that he did what he came to do and there is no reason to hide his identity, or intentions, behind a mask anymore.  
            Even strangers that Jimmy has no personal relationship with seem to find a way to come across as male chauvinists. For example Jack, one of Jimmy’s coworkers goes on a small rant about how “chicks don’t dig nice guys.” He says: “If you want that pussy you gotta take charge man” and “you can’t ever let a chick know you like her until you fuck her anyway (Ware).” Even the random old man at the air port seems to find a way to compare buying a newspaper to paying for sex: “Thirty-five cents and you can get the goddamn story of the world, but where can you go for a goddamn decent piece of ass anymore (Ware).” Even though they are not main characters, Ware uses these characters to represent just how the men in Jimmy Corrigan’s world think when it comes to women.

            We’ve examined the theme of women as objects in Jimmy’s environment, now it is also possible to examine how it runs in his genes. The first example we see is with Jimmy’s great great-grandfather.  We see his great-grandfather, in a scene reminiscent of Superman’s encounter with Jimmy’s mom, basically paying for sex with the widow, then sneaking out in the morning as to not be discovered. This kind of blatant sexual conquest seems to skip generations in the Corrigan family; we also see the same kind of treatment of women by Jimmy’s father. We first see this with the waitress at Burger Kuntry. Our first description of this young lady is that of Jimmy’s father: “I hate that little teenage bitch.” He then goes on to say “she’s got a great pair of tits on her, though doesn’t she (Ware).” This is another representation of how women are portrayed as lesser and only as objects of male sexual desire; he pays no attention to the fact that she is obviously a struggling mother who has to take her baby to work and would only view that as her willingness to procreate.  A little later in the story Jimmy’s father displays this feature again when he is talking to Jimmy about the ethnicity of women he “did.” While not only slightly racist his father labels the women as specific types; flavors if you will, as if he were selecting a different flavor soda from the vending machine mentioned earlier, or purchasing a different model of car from the car show. Finally one of the last examples is when Jimmy and his father are leaving the doctors office and his father is complaining about the color of the walls and upon exiting the building he says: “Does everything seem pink to you?” This is yet another innuendo illustrating that all he does is think about sex and in particular the pink that is a prevailing color associated with females and certain female body parts.
            Now we must examine how Jimmy’s relationship with his mother contributes to the way he views the women around him both as objects of sexual attraction as well as sexual frustration. Jimmy’s mother is the prototypical overbearing controlling parent. When we first meet her she is yelling at young Jimmy on the way to the car show; then we see her constantly calling him at work for trivial things. It has been shown that children of overprotective parents often have anxiety disorders or trouble dealing with social situations later in life (Hewitt), which we certainly see with Jimmy all throughout the book. While she is very controlling of Jimmy there is one thing that is evident in both the beginning and end of the book; when she is receiving attention from a man she pays little to no attention to Jimmy. Whether it is Superman at the beginning or Mr. Johnson (really, Chris Ware, how obvious of a phallic reference?) at the end Jimmy’s mother sets the table for the rejection Jimmy feels is associated with all women.  It should also be noted that at the beginning of the book Jimmy’s mothers words appear outside the frame of the comic as if coming from some all knowing, or supreme source; however as Jimmy’s experience with females grows her words fall back into the panel with the rest of the conversations. This can be seen as, Jimmy no longer viewing his mother as that safety net for rejection especially once she begins dating Mr. Johnson in the nursing home.
            Aside from Jimmy’s mom one of the first females we encounter is Peggy, Jimmy’s crush from work. We are first introduced through Jimmy’s fantasy; in which, Jimmy and Peggy sit fireside discussing planting a peach grove. Fantasies like these are important aspects of human sexuality, as they are typically mental images that one finds exciting however does not intend to act on (Phillipchalk & McConnell). While Jimmy obviously views Peggy as a sexual object and wants to “plant her peach grove.” He, as is prevalent in the story, does not act on this fantasy and is forced to accept rejection both at work and when he calls her at a later time. It must be noted that throughout this, and most other interactions, the reader cannot see the females face; this indicates that both Jimmy is focusing on other particular body parts and is too socially awkward to make eye contact with the females he encounters.
            Jimmy’s next female interaction is the stranger he meets on the plane. In one of the first frames when we are introduced to this woman, only breasts and a pair of legs represent her. It is not until a few frames in that we eventually see the back of her head. Again, Jimmy focuses on the body parts with a distinct sexual connotation all the while avoiding eye contact, due to his overwhelming anxiety. This woman goes on to even question whether Jimmy is staring at her breasts. And to top it all off, Jimmy’s sense of rejection is represented by the banana, a very phallic symbol, which this woman does not touch when she receives her fruit basket and bran muffin. 

As mentioned earlier Jimmy’s father sees the female in the Burger Kuntry Diner as an object; this again will result in Jimmy viewing her in a sexually objective nature. When Jimmy first approaches her he is illustrated with little hearts around his head; again she is only shown either bending down or with a speech bubble blocking her face. He also agrees to pay for another burger even though she is the one that made the initial error. I’m sure Jimmy feels that she may be attracted to him if he shows that he has some sort of monetary worth, albeit only a dollar fifty-four. This leads into Jimmy’s next fantasy where it looks like he has been rejected, yet again, by the burger girl. However in this fantasy he shows some similarity to the other men in the story when he calls her a “cocktease whore.”
            Another female interaction for Jimmy follows being hit by the postal truck when he is in the doctor’s office. Keep in mind that the female reproductive poster is consistently represented on the wall to symbolize the constant thought by Jimmy of reproduction especially with the nurse he encounters. We initially see her pink and blue bracelets, which symbolize male and female together, most likely in Jimmy’s mind, sexually. Also we see Jimmy’s first person view of her bra from the top of her shirt. Finally the one facial feature we do see is her puffy pink lips, which also serve to epitomize certain features of the female genitalia. Jimmy then goes on to fantasize of them running off to have a sexual encounter together; another bit of symbolism is prevalent when she cooks him eggs as a symbol of her fertility towards him. They then they ultimately grow old together in a cabin in the mountains, a remarkable contrast to the story of his parents as well as to his previous fantasies which ultimately end in rejection.
            One of Jimmy’s final encounters with women is that of he and his sister Amy; this is one of the few encounters where Jimmy and the reader can see the females face. This is most probably attributed to Jimmy’s success in progressing past the imagined rejection of his previous fantasies. While it is possible that Jimmy looks at Amy’s face because she is his sister, it is definitely not because he doesn’t view her as a sexual object. Mainly, because Jimmy does indeed have a vision where he and Amy are responsible for repopulating the world.  In this delusion he pictures Amy holding a baby signifying her ability and willingness to procreate also.
            Throughout Jimmy Corrigan Smartest Kid on Earth we see the male figures and environments in the story objectify women and female images; we also see that Jimmy definitely objectifies the same women in a sexual but entirely more awkward way. While they were initially told not to read it, the female readers of this book may indeed find the objectification of women by the men in this book disturbing. If that it indeed the case I would suggest they probably should have followed the instructions in the first place.


Hewitt, D. (2009). Side Effects of Overprotective Parenting. Retrieved 2013, from

Philipchalk, R. P., & McConnel, J. V. (1994). Understanding Human Behavior (8th ed.). (T. Bucholz, Ed.) Fort Worth , TX, USA: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Ware, C. (2003). Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Kid on Earth. Pantheon.


Carl Santavicca said...

I apologize for the formatting of the images, however i have spent the last 2+ hours trying to get them right; I am throwing in the towel and posting it as is; if you would like an email copy I would be glad to send one as I am too frustrated to continue my futile attempts to get it correct on here.

Adam said...

The topic is certainly interesting, but the introduction doesn't really orient us to your topic in a clear way - there isn't (yet) a real argument. The second paragraph, while still not presenting a developed argument, does a good job with some of the complexities of the book. We see the process of how and from whom Jimmy learns to objectify women - this is good.

Question (rooted in the 3rd paragraph) - do you think that this series of crude, objectifying men is meant, more or less seriously, as a kind of harsh feminist reading of our world?

Your reading of how Jimmy's mother's words appear is clever and dense. I'm not quite convinced, but it sure is interesting - good work.

Re: plant the peach grove, I like how that line is both frankly sexual and nurturing (and oriented toward the long rather than the short haul) at once.

Re: the fantasy involving the "cocktease whore" - I've always read that as a fantasy that Jimmy has of how his father and mother met. I think you're off base, but I'm not fully confident of my own ready, to tell the truth.

Good details with the nurse. Excellent attention to detail. I would have liked even more attention to an important part which, to your credit, you do note: that the fantasy involves lifetime partnership as opposed to a single encounter (or series of encounters).

Your discussion of Amy is really abbreviated. You do an excellent job with details up to this point; it's a shame that you stumble and just touch on a few highlights when you deal with the most important (or 2nd most important, maybe) woman in the book.

Overall: Your usage of research is solid. Your readings of both words and images are extremely detailed, thoughtful, and even innovative. Much of your work here is outstanding, despite your much weaker work with the character of Amy.

As outstanding as the parts are, though, the whole is less than the sum of the parts. The central argument, to the extend that it exists, is nothing special. It's not hard to get the point that women are objectified through the book, but you don't even really focus on the question of whether the book is misogynistic or whether it is concerned with representing misogyny. For my part, I think the missing link here is Amy (or even Tammy) - the fact that his orientation toward women does progress (at least a little) I think is what leads us to a better understanding, ideally, of what objectification *means* in this book.

You may have other things in mind, but if you don't, this essay is a perfectly reasonable candidate for a final project - a stronger central argument and detailed attention to the end of the book are lacking, and a final project could let you fill in those gaps.