Big Bertha

Dot writes: fat is a feminist issue, right? I’m trying to work out what my feminist perspective is on this character, whom I’ve just encountered through a guide to Avengers characters Ken has bought for the boys. Hugh thinks she’s great, by the way.


From the Wikipedia entry:

Big Bertha (Ashley Crawford) is a fictional character, a mutant superheroine appearing in comic books published by Marvel Comics, notably as a member of the Great Lakes Avengers. She was created by John Byrne and first appeared in West Coast Avengers vol. 2 #46 (July 1989)…. Big Bertha has the ability to make herself superhumanly strong and durable (to the point of being bulletproof) by becoming extraordinarily obese. She can also purge most fat from her body through vomiting to take on a slimmer appearance. In addition to her mutant powers, Ashley is also a skilled pilot of conventional jet aircraft.

The disturbing bulimia detail doesn’t make it into the guide the boys have.

So…the frightening power of female fat. A superpower but also a mutation. The female body at once unstoppable, enveloping, sexy, leaky and disgusting (that vomiting). A curious comment on the way all super heroines look like models (incredibly muscly busty models) in that this lady’s normal form is a supermodel, and her super form is grotesquely enormous. Does this get the feminist thumbs up? Powerful lady bucking the stereotype? Or thumbs down because of the preoccupation with body-size? Or do we see this as something more interesting than a Good or Bad Thing – something playful and weird, a bit of a category bender?

While we’re on gender and bodies, I thought the name Big Bertha sounded familiar and of course it is the nickname of a well-known enormous German WW1 howitzer.



It’s notable that this – ahem – remarkably phallic instrument of destruction should have a female nickname, but it’s not the only feminine gun: Mons Meg springs to mind, the vast fifteenth-century bombard now kept at Edinburgh, and all those army scenes of men being told to think of their rifle as their wife or mistress (it comes up, for example, in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time). Men have often given female names to the difficult tools that they wrestle with, things held close but warily, which is surely why ships are female. And I guess that if we want to go the Freudian route guns are vessels and receptacles, tunnels as well as trains. But, well, aren’t people odd.

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