Superheroes Are for Girls, Too!

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Women and girls have a message for comic book writers everywhere: We like superheroes, too! Across the internet female bloggers are taking aim at DC Comics’ rebooted Catwoman and Starfire, two popular female superheroes. The controversy is over the superheroes’ sexualized costumes and sexualized actions in the new comic books, which has angered many female readers. But whatever you think of the controversy, the message from female readers is clear: Write comic books for us too. (DC Comics posted a blog response to readers in July responding to fans who want more female comic book writers, superheroes, etc.)

Comic books are not a “boy’s toy.” Plenty of women and girls read and love comic books, so of course they want to see ass-kicking female superheroes. (In fact, 40% of the audience at the 2008 Comic-Con in San Diego was female.) Two blogs, DC Women Kicking Ass and Superheroes Are for Girls, Too are working to change perceptions of female comic book readers, and female comic book characters. DC Women Kicking Ass houses “thoughts, pictures, reviews and other stuff about the women of DC Comics, and occasionally Marvel and other places, who kick ass,” including some very cool, and thorough histories of Batwoman and Batgirl. The blog also offers commentary on less appealing storylines for female superheroes, like Catwoman’s supposed stripper scene in Batman: Year One.

On the other hand, Superheroes Are for Girls, Too doesn’t offer any commentary on female superheroes, its concern is with the little girls who grow up loving comic books and superheroes. The blog posts pictures of girls dressed as their favorite superhero characters, like Batman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, and even Green Lantern. The posts are usually accompanied by a sentence or two about the girl or the costume, or whatever the circumstance was for the get-up (One description reads “My 13yr Old daughter Maeve, a complete comic book nerd, just like her pops.”, under a photo of the young woman with a Captain America helmet and shield.) This, some have said, is DC Comics’ and Marvel’s demographic, and looking through the pictures, it’s hard not to smile (the writer of this post was a Batgirl, herself).

This Sounds Familiar

If women and girls speaking up about their love for a male-dominated field seem familiar, well, that’s because it exists in science and entertainment too. Women make up 46.5% of the U.S. workforce, but guess the percentage of women with jobs in science and math? 25%; and the percentage of women with jobs in engineering is even lower—11%. The same small percentages make up jobs in Hollywood—7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female.

What’s interesting is the small number of women in STEM fields is sometimes contributed to not enough female scientist role models in media. Except, how can we expect to get more female scientists in media if the number of women working in Hollywood is small as well? It seems like an endless loop of disappointment for girls who need role models in either field. 

There are bright spots though. Natalie Portman’s character in Thor, Jane Foster, got a career change from nurse to physicist, hopefully inspiring some girls to look into physics or other science fields. Next summer, Pixar will release Brave, the first Pixar film to have a female lead (described as “the courageous Merida”). Plus, in the realm of science, the Google Science Fair awarded its first place awards in each age category to some very smart female students. Small steps, for sure, but with women and girls raising their voices to be heard, a giant leap might not be far away.

Image credits:
Bottom right: American Top

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.