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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Katie Mattie
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