ginormicaFor my husband’s Predictive Analytics program, he has been asked to design a survey, and he chose the subject of superheroes.  Questions like: What superhero qualities do you most identify with? Who is your favorite superhero? and others are on his list.  Today we were talking with EmilyCC , her husband, and also ZD blogger Ziff today, about why there aren’t more female superheroes and why the few that I’m familiar with are overly sexualized.  (If you are curious, check out this more complete list of superheroines, which made me realize that I have much to learn in this area).

Ironically, the only one I could think of who was more substantive than sex-object was from a 2009 animated children’s feature, “Monsters v Aliens.”  If you haven’t seen, this film, I highly recommend it.  It’s about a woman who is about to marry a self-centered man, but get’s accidentally turned into a giant (and renamed, “Ginormica.”)  As a big and powerful woman, Ginormica is shunned by society, even her fiance, and taken captive by the government into it’s secret monster division.

While the plot is not remarkable, and nearly all the supporting characters are male, the message behind Ginormica’s metamorphosis is heart-warming.  She is literally too big and too powerful to be appreciated by society and hates herself.  When she embraces her own power, she is able to help save the planet from aliens in a way that she couldn’t have if she was able to be her normal, smaller self.  Even at the end, she chooses to reclaim her big and powerful size, even when she knows she can never go back in an act of true self-expression and heroic sacrifice for humankind.  Finally, during the plot’s resolution, when her egotistical boyfriend returns, she rebuffs him as she has come to value her own worth.

I’d love to see a similar superhero film made for adults. The message is fantastic.  In our patriarchal culture, women fear being too BIG, both literally and figuratively.  It’s the same cultural rule that says women should be shorter, smaller, and weaker than their man.  By making this regular woman into a superhero who is BIG and POWERFUL, we have confronted our culture’s view of women as fragile and valuable only as a man’s arm candy.

As superheroes have been continually reborn in pop culture lately, I keep looking for a strong female lead to step in and fill the much needed role of counterpart to Batman, Superman, and Spiderman.  What causes the apparent lack of superheroines? Does society not like to see strong women? Are women not consider the audience of comics?  Do we not like seeing them beaten up, as all superheroes seem to be, before they prevail? What about the supporting role of men?

Why do you think that there aren’t many superheroines in movies and pop-culture? Does it matter to you to see females represented in the superhero community?


PS. This morning I saw a trailer for a movie about a superheroine called, The Mortal Instruments. It looks intriguing.

PPS. If you’re into comics, check out this Women in Refrigerators Trope that discusses the needless death of many superheroines to advance the storyline of a superhero. (H/T EmilyCC)


Jessawhy is a wife, mother, community volunteer, activist and student. She is currently working towards a Physician Assistant degree.

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11 Responses

  1. Ziff says:

    I love that you blogged an analysis of this, Jess! I had never thought of Monsters vs. Aliens in this light, but I think you make excellent points about how its heroine is a great character/superheroine. Regarding your questions, I guess I hadn’t really thought about the issue much, but it certainly seems like if boys can draw inspiration from superheroes, girls should get to too!

  2. Libby says:

    I adore Ginormica. Great analysis! And there are some female characters from X-Men who are strong, despite the comic’s misogynistic name.

    Am I just old, or does anyone else remember Wonder Woman Underoos? ‘Cause those were awesome.

    • Jessawhy says:

      Ziff, thanks for suggesting I blog about it! I hope that we have more superheroines in the future.

      Libby, I don’t remember the Wonder Women underoos, but I think another one of our permabloggers has a WW bathing suit!

      • TopHat says:

        Yes, I’ve got a WW suit that I bought off etsy. It rocks. 🙂 Also a bonus to etsy: being able to ask a seller to make custom sizes. So everyone can be Wonder Woman!

    • Kirsten says:

      I had the WW Underoos! My hubby bought me WW pajamas for Valentine’s Day a few years ago. (Not the skimpy suit, but rather a fun tee and lounge-type pants)

      I find that it is both super-heroines and female villains who are usually sexualized. I loved “The Avengers” movie, but was disappointed that not only Scarlett Johanson’s Black Widow, but also the various women agents for S.H.I.E.L.D. are wearing skin-tight, sexy outfits, with plenty of cleavage. The X-Men villains, like Mystique, have “costumes” that leave nothing to the imagination. Many of the female villains use their sexuality to entrap/entice the strong superheroes.

      It would be nice for a super-heroine to defeat her foes with brains and brawn, rather than a swish of the hips and big breasts. Just sayin’…

  3. April says:

    I wonder if male superheroes are more marketable because parents are happy to buy merchandise with male cartoons on them for boys and girls but think only girls should have merchandise with female characters on them? I have had random people object when one of my sons wears something with a female character on it.

    • Ziff says:

      Great point, April. Since boys are punished more for deviating from gender norms, male-typed stuff will typically be safer from a marketing perspective. That’s really unfortunate.

  4. NAteCC says:

    No one has ever accused comics of being feminist friendly, but I was shocked at how far down the misogynist hole those companies go. It was enough for me to boycott superhero themed movies tied to Marvel and DC until something changes. I would boycott Disney as well (Disney bought Marvel) but I think EmilyCC would get suspicious since she knows I dread going to Disneyland.

    DC made one of the most horribly misogynistic comics of all time and then gave it away to schools and libraries. (Google: DC Comic World without Women.)

    Marvel printed stuff that was just as bad.

    Given this was all 30+ years ago, but even today, the Church has better gender representation among its employees than either DC or Marvel (less than 14% of either company’s creative teams are women).

  5. EmilyCC says:

    I was surprised how into the X-Men movies I was when they first started coming out. It was then that I realized that I like movies about people with superpowers, but most of the time, they’re so androcentric I have a hard time identifying with them. I think I almost cried when I saw Jean Grey.

  6. Caroline says:

    Love this post, Jessica. I bought Monsters Vs. Aliens at Target a year or two ago. All I knew about it was that it was a superhero movie with a female as the main character fighting aliens. I knew I wanted my 6 year old son to watch it. So much of the media he consumes is heavily androcentric, so when I see things like this, I snatch them up.

    We’ve been trying to find fun chapter books for him (now 7) to read. I was thrilled when it turned out he liked the Junie B Jones books. I’m sure soon he’ll be socialized into thinking anything featuring girls is stupid, so I’m reveling in this while I can.

  1. August 21, 2013

    […] Jessawhy’s post a couple weeks ago made me want to look more closely at how women are treated in comics. Obviously, comics have a serious superhero misogyny is a problem that has been well documented in dozens of articles, blogs and TED talks, but no one has made a decent list of the best and worst of feminist comics.  So in Part 1, I’ll show the comics that seem to be at least marginally feminist, and in Part 2, I’ll list the flat-out misogynist characters, storylines and themes we see in this genre (insider tip: the worst are better than the best): […]

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