Feminism, Pop-Culture | Posted by Katie Mattie on 07/15/2013

Superhero Sexism

Ever since I was little I’ve loved superheroes and action adventure stories. Whether it was a story about fighting the world’s darkest wizard in Harry Potter, teaming with The Avengers to save New York City, or becoming a master Pokémon trainer like Ash, I wanted to be the main character with the power to save the day. While aspiring to be a hero from stories like Harry Potter, The Avengers and Pokémon is a great way to build heroic qualities, my issue is that I’ve always found myself wanting to be a guy. I wanted to be Iron Man in the suit, not Pepper Potts. Why would you want to be the over protective girlfriend when you could be a daring, charming, genius in a nearly indestructible flying suit?

My frustration with male-dominated stories, whether it’s in novels, on TV or in movies, is not only are the vast majority of superheroes men, but when we finally get a heroine, she has to be dressed in a suit that exploits her figure and sexuality. Think about it. As much as audiences love Wonder Woman, Catwoman and Black Widow, these fabulous ladies are all dressed in skin-tight or conveniently missing clothing. While it’s great to show heroines who are obviously secure with their bodies, I would rather have a metal suit of armor to protect myself rather than be running around half naked. Why can’t Black Widow get a cool flying suit of armor? Why can’t Wonder Woman turn into a “giant green rage monster” like the Hulk? More importantly, I don’t like how even female superheroes reinforce the stereotype that in today’s society, in order to be liked and successful, women have to fit the mold of malnourished supermodels.

When I was fifteen after the Harry Potter series ended, I started writing my own young adult/Fantasy novel called, M.A.J.I.C. and the Oracle at Delphi. M.A.J.I.C. follows five teenage girls who are endowed with the powers of the Greek gods to defeat the ancient Titans. In the story, there’s a little bit of romance, but Melanie, Alice, Jenn, Izzy and Colleen are much more focused on defeating Cronus’ army of Titans than how much they weigh, which guys they think are cute, or wearing the right amount of make-up.

M.A.J.I.C. is targeted for girls 10-17, and anyone of any age who enjoys Fantasy novels. When I began shopping the book to major publishers in New York, one well-known publishing house told me that, even though the story showed tremendous promise, they were going to pass on the project because the story wasn’t ‘edgy’ enough. I took the feedback as that if my 15/16 year-old characters were in steamy relationships, promiscuous and dressed sexier, then I’d have a better chance at getting published. I’m appalled by this thought because of the message this would send to the impressionable young girls who are my target audience. The book is about the characters finding their inner courage to fight the biggest challenge in their lives; to become strong, confident young women along with their best friends. That’s the message I think young girls today should be exposed to and these are the superheroes I would want a 12 year-old to aspire to be like.

We absolutely need characters like Harry Potter, Captain America and Batman to continue to be an inspiration. But we also need more stories of self-reliant, confident young heroines like the Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen. Growing up is hard enough, especially magnified by the insecurities of every teenage girl who worries about being pretty enough, popular and having their crush like them back. It’s time to promote characters, stories and role models who can spread the message to young women that they are strong, capable, empowered and beautiful as is, and all they need to do is find their inner courage to be who they are.

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  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 10:07 pm, July 15th, 2013

    I couldn’t agree more. We need Hermiones as the main characters, not just as sidekicks.

  • TheBoxingCannabyte @ at 1:06 pm, July 16th, 2013

    As a HUGE fan of comicbooks I can say there are a TON of superheroines out there.

    Unless you are a lifelong fan and collector and also look into the indie stuff you have no business saying that sexism is still prevelant in 21st century comicdom. It’s not. More writers who are MALE adhere to feminists standards (often contradictory to the extreme “Oh they can be sexual if they want! Why can’t a woman be sexual without being called a slut?!”…..”You are SEXUALIZING THOSE WOMEN!” etc. etc.)

    Anyway, look at the new Lara Croft comics and video game, it’s incredible! Look at Gina Carrano’s movie Haywire. Amazing! Both take a realistic look at how a woman would HAVE to fight a man who knew how to fight as well, or who is simply 2-3x stronger, as if often the case.

    Gina pulled it off brilliantly by showing us how a true expert takes badass after badass and shows us that a skinny Milla Jovovich CANNOT hit like a fuckin’ heavyweight boxer or even a Welterweight (male) boxer or female boxer, for the matter. Unless she has other tools in her kit she is screwed, possibly literally, against her will (Again, I’m rape victim, don’t snap at me! Yes, I can make light-hearted jokes, yes, I have a pass, and so does everyone else, but I am given even more slack, I went through hell and would happily take it back to not have it, lol. I only bring this up because i’ve had this argument one-too-many-times)

    Elektra, the comic version, is currently in a team called “The Thunderbolts” headed by General Ross (Who is now the Red Hulk), she is considered an equal to everyone below Rhulk, who is only topped by a few people, Green/Gray Hulk (same Hulk), Skaar (Hulk’s son), Lyria (Hulk’s daughter from the future), Red She-Hulk (Ross’s daughter) can stalemate Red Hulk which is damn impressive. Old school Jen Walters She-Hulk varies on her power a lot.

    Then you got Thundra (the mother of one of the hulk-daughters), you got celestial gods, male and female, etc.

    There are A LOT of powerful women in the comics. Anyway, Elektra is paired up with the only man to kill the entire Marvel Universe, twice, (not counting Galactus-level types, but Hulk-leve and Thor-level types and anyone on Earth)

    Frank Castle, the Batman of Marvel Comics, but with guns and even scarier.

    Elektra scares Frank. No one scares Frank. Elektra’s idea of playing with Frank is to beat him to his targts, WHICH SHE ALWAYS DOES. At the end Frank had this awesome narration “I’m about to take my life into my hands. Then again, I do it every day”

    He looks to Elektra and says “Would you like to go out sometime?”

    And of COURSE the psychotic-ninja is attracted to the giant man-meat that is the 6’3 220 60-year old carved-from-stone uber-BAMF that is Frank Castle. Hell, I’m attracted to him, and I’m not gay! :P

    Also, men are still the biggest readers of comics and players of video games, though this is changing rapidly. Thank Thor!

  • Book Shizzle | Adventures of a College Author @ at 9:57 am, July 19th, 2013

    […] share. […]

  • Erin @ at 9:09 am, July 30th, 2013

    This is absolutely true, although I feel there are other great female heroes for girls besides say Katniss. An example would be Thursday Next, of the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. She is an average woman, not a supermodel, is independent, intelligent, wears and does what she wants, is caring, and can kick ass! Thursday is a force to be reckoned with, much like Katniss. However, there do need to be more examples like them for girls to look up to.

  • Emma E @ at 3:14 pm, July 30th, 2013

    I agree with the article and with the above commenter: there ARE a ton of badass female superheroes (and just general badass female heroines), my main problem with them is that theyre (mostly) fit into a certain character type. When you see a female hero, they generally fit into a certain mold: tough, rarely cries, not interesting in makeup or fashion. This is great and I wouldn’t trade them for a thousand personality-less love interests that used to be the standard for women in pop culture, but it implies that women who are not like that are somehow ‘less’ if they like makeup, fashion, etc, and show weaknesses or have flaws. But with that said, I love the current badass women in geek culture trend (and pop culture in general).

    Oh, um, also, on the subject of the black widow’s costume: I agree that some scifi heroines are oversexualized, but her costume is actually very practical and done similarly to hawkeye’s costume. I can’t remember where, but I saw someone with experience in fighting talking about how it was actually the perfect costume for someone doing Black Widow’s job, and it was her particular body type that made it be interpreted as ‘oversexual’, which, obviously, isn’t a very feminist thing to say. Just wanted to let everyone know, because I’ve seen a lot of criticism of her costume, but it’s actually exactly what an assassin who needs to fight and move quickly would want to wear.

  • Emma E @ at 3:15 pm, July 30th, 2013

    sorry if that comment made no sense, I’m typing quickly :)

  • pokemon game @ at 10:59 pm, January 16th, 2014

    Hey! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

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