Female Superheroes: Not Just for Girls

Ever get that feeling like, “Aw man, I should’ve said that! It would have sounded so awesome!” once an argument, interview, or important discussion is over?

Yeah…that happens to me a lot.

Luckily, blogging allows me to go back and expand on ideas that come up during or after the conversation. I can clarify things, or bring up new and exciting things that are related. Since my brain is all over the place most of the time, the opportunity to fine tune what I want to say is much appreciated. A perfect example of this struck me in the past couple of days:

Can you name more than 3 of these women?

Recently on the Geek Therapy podcast I was part of a discussion about female superheroes. We discussed who they are, what they mean to us, what they mean to society, and what they mean to our work as mental health professionals. While the under representation of women (and other groups) as superheroes is a topic I’ve discussed before, this was the first time I’ve been able to talk about it with others in the mental health field. I’ve heard “there aren’t enough women in comics” and “the men always take the spotlight” comments hundreds of times before. What struck me about the conversation this time was the commentary on what it means for our work with clients.

When Josué Cardona asked me how the role of female superheroes and strong female roles in geek culture impacts my work with youth… I threw out a short answer about working mostly with teenage boys, so it doesn’t matter as much.

That was a huge mistake.

We all know that girls need strong women (fictional or not) to look up to in order to be able to see themselves in those roles. But the truth is, boys need female superheroes just as much as girls do.

Boys need strong females too!

Boys need to know that women can be strong, intelligent and influential. They need to know that it’s okay for women to be all of those things. That it’s okay for them to be stronger, smarter, and more powerful than men from time to time. They need to be able to picture their mothers in these roles, their sisters in these roles, and their future wives and daughters in these roles.

Many of the teenage boys I work with talk about women as things to be used. They see them as stupid and weak. An object to use for sex, money, drugs, food, laundry, etc. Not all of the boys I work with feel this way, but many of them do. When they see a blockbuster comic book movie in the theaters and the women (even the heroes) need to be saved, they see just some sexy, weak girl who needs a man to take care of the problem. They don’t see their mother, grandmother or sister in front of them.

It is partly for that reason that I believe, more than ever, we need a stand alone movie for a female superhero… now. Something for girls (and boys) to look to when they think of strong women. I think we’re getting close to it, but the studios don’t seem quite there yet. DC is ready for Wonder Woman to be in a movie… but not her own movie. She takes a backseat to Superman/Batman in what everyone has been calling the “Superman vs. Batman movie.”

Wonder Woman is so secondary that her name isn’t even in the working title. The boys I work with have already pegged her as someone who will need to be saved by the “real” heroes (a.k.a. the men). I hope they’re wrong.

Where is Wonder Woman?

(Image via Nerd Bastards)

There’s also some concerning speculation about possible changes to Wonder Woman’s origin story. If you haven’t heard, the basic concept is that in the movie, Wonder Woman might be descended from ancient Kryptonians. As far as continuity and story goes, it makes sense. The Kryptonians went and explored other planets a long time ago, and they have the technology to create an all female society. These powerful beings came to Earth, and because humans had no other explanation for their existence…they adopted them as gods and mythical icons. (This is a lot like what Marvel has done with the Asgardians being aliens/Norse gods).

The problem with this possible change in origin lies in what it means for her as a stand alone hero. Wonder Woman would no longer have her own history. She would just be another part of Superman’s history. Her powers are supposedly going to be weaker, because she’s been living on Earth for so long. That means she would no longer be a hero who could stand up next to Superman as an equal. She would basically become his sidekick. And we have enough images of women as sidekicks.

For girls everywhere, they would lose an icon of strength and hope. They would now be looking up to a woman who is strong, but not as strong as the men who save the world. They would have no one as their champion to show them what women can be.

And boys would no longer have a place to look to see what their mothers, sisters, daughters and wives can be.

Is this the Wonder Woman we’ll see? Or someone else?

I’m going to hold out judgment until the movie comes out, because I know there is SO much hype and criticism about everything having to do with it. I can only hope that they portray women’s greatest comic book role model as precisely that.

A role model.

This article was originally posted on the Geek Therapy Blog.

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