COMMENTARY

Of course "Cowboy Bebop" is already inciting horny male outrage, and it hasn't even premiered yet

The men of genre fandoms don't want their scantily clad female characters messed with – so what else is new?

By Kylie Cheung
Published August 24, 2021 5:53PM (EDT)
Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine in "Cowboy Bebop" (GEOFFREY SHORT/NETFLIX)
Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine in "Cowboy Bebop" (GEOFFREY SHORT/NETFLIX)

Surprise, surprise! Men of the World Wide Web have mobilized once again — no, not over the rapidly worsening climate catastrophe, stagnant wages, the broken health care system, or endemic rape culture, but rather, over a real issue: the outfit of a female bounty hunter in the live-action adaptation of beloved anime series "Cowboy Bebop."  Netflix released first-look images Monday, and the reaction was quite revealing . . .  about one character's not revealing outfit. 

This male outrage follows a long, ongoing history of pitchfork-wielding men gathering in their town square of choice, be that Twitter or Reddit, and declaring war on any onscreen depiction of a female character that doesn't sexually gratify them.

In any case, the fictional bounty hunter stoking outrage this time around is Faye Valentine, portrayed by Daniella Pineda in the forthcoming Netflix remake of the popular sci-fi anime, which also stars walking thirst trap John Cho as protagonist Spike Spiegel and Mustafa Shakir as fellow bounty hunter Jet Black. "Cowboy Bebop" is set way in the future, at a time when travel across moons and planets is the norm, and, unsurprisingly, crime rates across the universe are quite high. Thus, "space cowboys" or registered bounty hunters like Spike, Jet and Faye emerge to hunt and bring intergalactic offenders to justice.

Thanks to Netflix, the 1990s-era anime space romp is getting a live-action makeover that promises to be a standout, even at a time of arguably way more live-action remakes than we need (looking at you, "Avatar: the Last Airbender" and pretty much every Disney animated film ever). Most fans are feeling the hype, but many male, internet basement dwellers are quite predictably rallying on social media to protest the unthinkable injustice of an onscreen woman existing while not being dressed or designed to titillate. 

Pineda as Faye is adorned in stylish but practical attire for an intergalactic bounty hunter who regularly spars with violent outlaws, and leaps from planet to planet on the regular. Just like her male peers, she's reasonably dressed for her role, and men of the interwebs are losing their minds over this. 

"These outfits look awful. I've seen far better cosplay. That looks NOTHING like Faye Valentine," one Twitter user wrote, expressing shocked dismay that a real-life human woman "looks NOTHING" like an animated, fictional cartoon woman with a DDDD cup size and 12-inch waist.

Another concerned citizen tweeted, "I need my Faye Valentine slutty wit the puppies out, idk what the f**k this is." By "this," the user means an outfit that a human woman can move and do human woman things in, as opposed to the more revealing garb of the inanimate sex dolls he may be more accustomed to spending his nights with. 

As Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a writer on the new "Cowboy Bebop," told Gizmodo as early as last year, the modern, live-action show has long been planning to get with the times. That means toning down Faye's remarkably impractical outfit and replacing it with something more realistic, and less centered around sexual wish fulfillment for male audiences who are aroused by cartoons. Grillo-Marxuach told the outlet last summer that the show "[needs] to have a real human being wearing that," of Faye's outfit.

If the female outfit-related outrage fest of the day feels a little like deja vu to you, that's because it is! Almost two years ago, Twitter was awash with internet men ready to go to war over Margot Robbie's notably unsexualized performance of Harley Quinn in "Birds of Prey," a movie in which Harley's main love interest and object of desire is a greasy breakfast sandwich. 

"They've removed any sex appeal these characters had to appeal to a female 'girl power' audience instead of the core male comic book audience," one disgruntled male wrote of the DC flick at the time. "They literally don't know who they're making this movie for." Here's a thought: mayhaps "Birds of Prey" was made for the decently sizable demographic of non-internet perverts?

Prior to "Birds of Prey," the internet males were in a furor over Brie Larson's performance as Carol Danvers in Marvel Studios' "Captain Marvel," in which Carol dons a super suit that reflects most male heroes' suits, fully covering her body. Carol also isn't the most feminine, happy or smiley character, and in a deleted scene, nearly kills a male street harasser who tells her to smile more

As one could guess, none of this was particularly well received by the usual suspects, whom Larson responded to with a legendary series of Instagram stories featuring Photoshopped movie posters of fellow MCU superheroes Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) smiling. As you might have guessed, these posters looked ridiculous.

However depressing male responses to progressively less and less sexualized female characters and superheroes may be, what's cause for optimism is ultimately what we're seeing on our screens. From the feminist themes and fashion of movies like "Birds of Prey" and "Captain Marvel," to the practical garb of a female bounty hunter like Faye Valentine in Netflix's "Cowboy Bebop," we're starting to see change. This is about more than female characters' outfits — it's about humanizing women, and treating them as more than sexual amusement for male audiences.

Prior to any of these aforementioned projects, Natasha Romanoff's (Scarlett Johansson) era in the Marvel Cinematic Universe presents a case study of an increasingly modern female superhero. She begins her story as a catsuit-clad, hypersexualized femme-fatele in 2010, and ends it as bonafide superhero who's widely beloved not because of her sexuality or appearance, but because she saved the world with her prowess and courage. Her long overdue solo film "Black Widow" is an unapologetic tale of feminist liberation that substitutes seduction with sisterhood

The point of these shifts in portrayals of onscreen women isn't to stigmatize or object to sexual women, but rather, object to male writing of women that suggests female characters' sole purpose is to serve as masturbatory fodder for entitled pervs. The feminist audiences who celebrate this progress in onscreen storytelling are the same audiences who devour the sex-positive likes of "Fleabag," "Sex Education," "Tuca & Bertie," and other shows where sex and sexuality aren't exclusively written for horny male consumption. 

Backlash against these marks of cultural progress, or in this most recent case, a female character wearing pants and having the chest of a real-life human woman on "Cowboy Bebop," remains inevitable. But thankfully, just as inevitable are the feminist, onscreen changes that attract this backlash.


Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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