Will the Female Superheroes Please Step Forward?

By Josué Cardona

Female superheroes have become a theme recently here at Geek Therapy. 

Last week we spoke on the podcast about the documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines  and female superheroes in general. We came to the conclusion that our male clients seem to have many male superheroes and fictional role models to talk about while our female clients barely have any. It was a sad realization.

This week Lara Taylor wrote about the fact that boys need female superheroes just as much as girls do. 

Yesterday at the Image Expo, we got this gem from comic book writer Kelly Sue DeConnick that emphasizes some of the problems we see in the portrayal of female characters in comics:

Finally, last night I’m catching up on Invincible and this happens:

“Are there women out there… powerful women, we just haven’t found yet?” (From Image Comics’ Invincible #105)

Amanda, aka Monster Girl, makes an excellent point! I don’t know why I never thought of it this way before but if in the real world the sex ratio is 1.01 male/female, why would it be any different in fictional worlds based on our own?

There are extreme examples like Y: The Last Man in which the gender disparity is explained and serves as an essential plot device but what is every other story’s excuse? How is it possible that the “whatever gives people powers… the hundreds of different ways it happens…” affects more men than women? It doesn’t make sense!

So apparently only about 10% of comic creators are female. The male writers can create female character. What is the actual sex ratio among superheroes in comics? I don’t know. But it seems like there are way more men and the men get top billing, leadership roles, the credit, better stories, etc. Even the recently relaunched all-female X-Men series is titled X-Men. Are the male creators deliberately excluding women from the narratives? Don’t they see that the world is essentially 50/50? What motivation could there be to create fictional worlds in which the odds of getting super powers are worse than getting equal pay for equal work?

I am a licensed mental health counselor and an educator. A male one. I was usually the only guy in many of my classes and I am one of the few men at professional meetings. Regardless, I am very aware of the fact that most mental health professionals and educators are female. These are people who have decided to dedicate their professional careers to helping other people with all sorts of problems: They are real life superheroes. 

Here are some stats from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is the percentage of women that make up each of these fields:

  • Counselors – 69.3 %
  • Social Workers – 80.6%
  • Psychologists – 72.7%
  • Preschool and kindergarten teachers – 98.1%
  • Elementary and middle school teachers – 81.4%
  • Secondary school teachers – 57.3%
  • Special education teachers – 86.2%
  • Teacher assistants – 91.1%

Not everyone has had to interact directly with a cop or a firefighter or even some sort of mental health professional but we’ve all had teachers. Did writers forget about all of those women in their lives?

Going back to that panel from Invincible #105… it’s a random topic that Amber brings up during dinner. Nothing led up to it and there is no follow-up. It serves no purpose in the comic. So why is it there? I don’t know. But I’m glad it is because it got me thinking about the disparity more than ever. Why isn’t it as obvious to us as it is to her?

“Don’t you think it’s a little odd? We’re fifty-percent of the population… And yet there are so few female superheroes. How does that happen? Whatever gives people powers… The hundreds of different ways it happens… Is it really affecting more men than women? Or are there women out there… Powerful women, we just haven’t found yet?”
– Amber, aka Monster Girl in Invincible #105

What would fictional worlds look like if the women were just as likely to get super powers as men? And what if there really are a lot more women in these fictional worlds but they aren’t speaking up? What if they all stepped forward? 

It wasn’t Amber who wrote the question. It was Robert Kirkman. Whether or not we get more female writers at the big publishers any time soon, why are the writers we have now not creating worlds with equal representation? 

0 thoughts on “Will the Female Superheroes Please Step Forward?”

  1. I stumbled upon this post because I am in the middle of writing a story about superheroes in which the females actually slightly out number the males. I have likened superheroism in the same vein as law enforcement as far as difficulties for females to get jobs, promotions, respect, etc. Law enforcement is having the same difficulties attracting women to a traditionally male dominated field, especially with the poor reputation for treatment of women.
    I too have been wondering why women do not have even close to equal representation in comics. I think one of the reasons is that there are not more posts like this. Very few men are wondering where the men are because they already have someone with which to connect. If no one asks questions, no one will notice the problem.
    Keep asking the much needed questions like this one.

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