Where Are The SuperWomen?

A week or so ago, I was puttering about Twitter on a break at work and saw this:

Good question.

When I was a kid, I used to love the Ninja Turtles. At the time, I had all their headband colours memorised as well as the specific weapons they used. I saw all the live-action movies as they came out, and giggled at my friend’s baby brother Isaiah as he pretended to be Shredder.

The Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation logo.

The Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But one memory sticks out in particular. I have a lot of clear memories of pre-school. From a teacher telling me not to pick my nose (hey, I was four) to naptime with Kenny Sours and holding hands for the first time. This one has stuck:

You can’t be a Ninja Turtle. You’re a GIRL.

And a tiny feminist was born.

I didn’t want to be April (which, of course, the source of the above quote went on to assert). I wanted to be Donatello, with his smarts and his bo staff. April was stupid and boring and spent the majority of her time getting deep into trouble so the Turtles would have to rescue her. Even as a four-year-old, I knew that was lame.

The TMNT as they appeared at Disney-MGM Studios.

NO GIRLS ALLOWED. Even if you like pizza and can say “Cowabunga.” The TMNT as they appeared at Disney-MGM Studios. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I grew up, I fixated on shows like X-Men and the Power Rangers. I loved Rogue and Storm and wanted more. I wanted to be the Yellow Ranger and thought it was annoying that they made the Pink Ranger pink because she was a girl. I remember the flash of epiphany when I realised Blue Ranger was a dude and Pink Ranger was a chick. And and worse that the Yellow Ranger was Asian and the Black Ranger was Black — the 90s were a lot of things, but racial cogency was apparently not one of them. Hello, awkward.

Power Rangers

Taking stereotypes to that awkward level since 1990-something. Power Rangers (Photo credit: Álvaro Felipe)

Then 1992 rolled around, and with it the camp-tastic Kristy Swanson film: Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I was eight. I didn’t care that the film was cheesy. Luke Perry was THE 90s dude, and he was in it — and he got his butt saved by Buffy. I fell in love, unknowingly, with Joss Whedon. Years later, I of course discovered how much that project got mutilated between Joss’s brain and the silver screen, but at the time it was more than I could dream of. There was a SuperWoman. And I loved her.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (film)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wanted to be her. I looked for more, and I found little to none. I still had my X-Men and my Power Rangers, but it wasn’t enough.

When we moved to Montana, we went without television for eight years. In that time, Buffy the Show came and went (we arrived in Montana in 1996 and I moved to Denver for university in 2003), and I missed the inception of the female character who would become my own personal hero.

I won’t go over my introduction to the new and improved Buffy, but what I noted in the early 2000s was that no one seemed to really take this idea and run. Buffy was iconic — a true hero. She didn’t need the -ine suffix. She was a hero. Period.

And yet where she shoved her foot through the door, Hollywood still decided to push back against it. The phenomenal Veronica Mars got canceled abruptly after three seasons. And when it came to the big screen, female heroes were difficult to find.

There was an article in TIME about this very issue, which was tweeted by Whedonesque. You can read it here.

In the article, they assert (rightly, I believe) that women don’t fancy superhero movies because they’re sick of seeing skimpily-dressed damsels getting rescued or making stupid decisions. Anne Hathaway was a phenomenal Catwoman, and I loved Scarlett Johanssen in Avengers, but they were only two in still very male-dominated films. And it shows in the critic reactions to their performances — where they tout the nobility of the conflicted male hero in tight pants, they spend more time discussing what was on the women than in their heads. Brave was another good poke at the status quo, but I’ve heard more arguments against it than for it.

Remember when Joss got chosen to make Wonder Woman? Oh, you don’t? Well, it happened. But the project never got off the ground.

I want female superheroes. I know my readership enough to know that a lot of you want that too. I want them so bad that I wrote a novel with a female superhero — and right now my inbox looks like a sea of NO.

Do you want female superheroes? Raise your voice. Be heard. Mobilise social media — and not just so that my book will see a shelf.

Think back to when you were a kid. What difference would it have made to you to see women being powerful? What difference can it make to little boys to see strong women? What shifts could this make in the dynamics of how women are perceived?

Last night I watched Silent House. I spent the first two and a half acts hoping the damn protagonist would magically grow a spine. Then when she did, it was a weird, deus ex machina sort of moment that was poorly set up and even more poorly executed. Instead of cheering for her, I was ready to turn it off. (Though props to Elizabeth Olsen, because her acting was spot-on. Pity she didn’t have a better plot to work with.)

I’m still searching for SuperWomen. If you are too, make some noise. While Cobie Smulders and Scarlett Johanssen and Emma Stone and Anne Hathaway are all making strides, they’re still running to catch up.

What difference would it have made for you as a child if you didn’t have some little boy say you couldn’t be Donatello? What if that exchange had gone like this instead?

I want to be Donatello. You can be SuperWoman.

Every child needs to want to be someone. In playing make-believe, in going to sleep each night to dream. Even though I would have still wanted to be Donatello, if there had been a SuperWoman for me to be, I might have chosen her first. But in 1988, my world was full of Aprils.

Tell Hollywood you want SuperWomen.

I’ll keep writing them. And so will Joss.


About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on September 14, 2012, in Buffy, Superheroes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I totally agree with you. I’m lucky in that my brother didn’t much care that I wanted to be Raphael whenever we played Ninja Turtles. Although, I always thought that Kimberly being the Pink Ranger suited her. She was terribly perky and male or female pink reads as a perky color for me.

    I’m beyond bummed that the X-Men Origins series tanked, because Storm was on the list for one. (Fox originally commissioned a trilogy, Wolverine, Magneto and Storm.) But we definitely need more female Superheroes. I’m hoping the success of The Hunger Games proves helpful in this regard.

    • Yeah, I am bummed about the lack of Storm Origins as well. First Class sort of morphed out of the Magneto Origin, which is fine, but I hate that they slated Storm last.

      What I want to see is new superheroes who happen to be women, not just the revamping of the old. I would love to see the formation of a vibrant new mythology for young girls.

  2. Love this. Unfortunately, I agree that we need to create new mythologies with kick butt women. The old comic standards weren’t great even when they did have women (with rogue and storm and similars being exceptions of course). But I’m kind of sick of the traditional comic book plot, anyway – i’d love it if they’d take the concept and do totally new things with it. With WOMEN.

    Like the Hunger Games – you can easily see that as a girl super hero story for a new age.

    She-ra, Supergirl, Wonderwoman – when I was a kid, I’d get so excited when these guys showed up on screen – I wasn’t even conscious of it being a gender bias, but as an adult, I can see why it mattered.

    The really annoying thing is that because there are so few women superheroes, there is ridiculous pressure on any of these movies that will get made. No one thinks that comic book movies are dead just because the Green Lantern flopped, but if Wonder Woman flopped (assuming they EVER made it), well, people would decide that no one is interested in female super heroes and it would be a huge blow to the whole genre.

    Come on JOSS WHEDON! MAKE ME MY WONDER WOMAN MOVIE! Do whatever it takes!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Oh, so agreed.

      I want Wonder Woman. Specifically, I want JOSS’S take on Wonder Woman. I think him doing it would give it the (sadly needed) credibility with the comic book loving dudes out there as well as score major points with the wimminz. 🙂 I also agree with what you said — if it flopped, people would shrug and assume the world didn’t want female superheroes. Which I think is false-y, false, false, false.

      I am totally nursing this pipe dream of him directing/co-writing/producing a screenplay adaptation of my superhero novel. I can dream, I can dream.

      Hunger Games was a BRILLIANT start. I could not put those books down. The strength the women showed throughout — tremendous. I need to read them again, sometime after I weasel through the 30 new books I have on my shelves. Gah.

      Women really need a new mythology, one that doesn’t focus on sleazy costumes and how much boobage we show. One that shows women can be heroes. And from a pure, unbridled business standpoint, those movies are missing out on a huge market. If they’d tap into it, they could make more of the moniez. Don’t know why that’s such a difficult concept.

  3. Oddly enough, I’m working on a novella series featuring a female super hero. So, yeah, totally agree, female supes need to show up a lot more often, and not as Fridge Girls.

    • Love it. 🙂

      I had a whole reply typed out, but it deleted itself. Blah.

      I love the idea of a series of novellas — have you read Third Class Superhero by Charles Yu? It’s a great collection of short stories, and it has a sort of self-deprecating tone that I like with my superheroes. 🙂

      This whole idea is what inspired my newest novel.

  4. I wanted to be Raphael! I don’t remember anyone ever saying that I couldn’t be because I was a girl. When I was a kid, I also wanted to be Nancy Drew! She taught me that girls could be good at anything and have adventures just like boys. When I was a teenager along came Buffy, who taught me that girls could be Superheroes. But you’re right there isn’t nearly enough women superheroes out there.

    • Granted, this was a five-year-old kid telling me I couldn’t be a Ninja Turtle, but it still stuck. 🙂

      Some of my early heroes from books were Princess Cimorene in Patricia Wrede’s spectacularly quirky Enchanted Forest Chronicles, the various young women in L.J. Smith’s Night World series (as well as the Forbidden Game/Dark Visions/Secret Circle trilogies), etc.

  5. I’m not crazy about the superhero genre, even with women. I think it’s another sign of aging. sigh.

    Nevertheless, the gender problem is huge and you’re right – we need to just write more of these stories with a woman as the hero. If publishers won’t take them, we can publish them ourselves. Once the stories are out there, people will come.

    And yeah. Nancy Drew knew her stuff. No super powers, just intelligence, logic, leadership, and a strong sense of Right. And the ability to kick butt when she needed to.

  6. A well-made movie focused on a superwoman would be awesome. It’s definitely something I’ve wanted to see ever since superhero movies started coming out regularly. I’m more of a Marvel than a DC fan, but I think a Batwoman movie could be cool.

  7. I have always loved Huntress, and if Paul Levitz’s recent mini-series revolving around her in Italy is any indication they could make a phenomenal movie surrounding her. What’s more is that just because some of them, if not most, are scantily clad in the comics doesn’t necessarily mean that they can do some adjustments if the costumes are too much, no pun intended. They took liberties with Batman’s costume, in Earth-2 Power Girl and Huntress got new ones, etc. Either way, Wonder Woman would be a great movie as well.

    • I agree — although with the qualifier that she needs a really strong, well-rounded antagonist to make it really work.

      • Well, if it were a Huntress movie it’s the Batman Family so you have room, but I would keep it simple, stick with her original story growing up as a member of an Italian crime family in Gotham whose family was murdered, and have it work from there doing something that mixes a bit of Cry for Blood with Year One, while recasting The Question or at least making him a better character. As for Wonder Woman, whether you go Perez or Azzarello you have so much you can work with, so much mythology and so many good villains that it’s just a matter of writing them well.

  8. It’s funny that Joss Whedon’s focus (female superhero as you point out) spawned a whe new genre of vampires and paranormal, rather than female superheroes. Actually it’s sad.

  9. I think the history of comics is replete with great female superheroes, but I don’t think the female fan base has reached critical mass…yet. I think the tides are shifting, but slowly. You can see it in the MC’s of the two best selling series in the past couple years: Twilight and Fifty Shades. Millions upon millions of women who still want to be the beautiful kidnapped damsel in distress, rather than the ass kicking heroine. Go take a poll of your women friends…would they rather tie up a bad guy with a lasso of truth, or be tied up and spanked by a gorgeous dominant. And I’ll bet you’ll have your answer.

    I love Wonder Woman in the comics. She’s a complete badass on par with any of the boys in the Justice League, but as a character she’s lacking overall. She needs a really kick-ass arch-nemesis to bring her to the next level. Batman has the Joker, Superman has Lex Luthor, and Wonder Woman has…???

    • Absolutely. Wonder Woman wasn’t thoroughly fleshed out. You need a strong antagonist for that to happen, and she never really had it.

      As for the former assertion, I’m not sure how I feel about that. Maybe it’s just the women I know, but I don’t know many (if any) who would prefer getting tied up and abused to being strong and conquering. A lot of the women I know are leery of superhero movies only because women are usually poorly portrayed in them — though Avengers won a lot of them over.

  10. I remember reading about Wonder Woman. It would have been great. I think Charisma Carpenter was up for the main role. And yes, I want more SuperWomen.

  11. Trish Loye Elliott

    What a great post!! I so agree with you. I’m about a decade older but I had Ripley as my one and only action hero to follow. I hated the Disney princesses. And I hated being told that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl.
    I think you’re totally right and we need more female heros who aren’t in a movie just to be a romantic subplot or give the guys some legs to look at. I write female heros too. And Joss is my hero for his writing and his characters. Great post and I can’t wait until your superhero story becomes a movie so my little girls have a female superhero to pretend to be.
    Thanks for the post.

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