In a society that’s becoming more open to the idea of treating women as equals (finally!) and with sexism being slowly eradicated, it is interesting to see the binary opposites in representation of women within the superhero genre compared to men.
Marie Claire states that female superheroes wield their sexuality as a power and it’s a type of female empowerment that seems to adhere to the views of a male audience. This Male Gaze vision of a female superhero suggests that no matter how powerful they are, the female superhero will only ever be defined by how attractive she is to the male viewer. An example of this is 2005’s Elektra. The young girls who have read the comics and watched the said film are forced to identify with this unnatural representation of a woman and are forced to believe that they will only be powerful if their bodies look similar to that. However, the other female representation gives the female demographic a more passive identity to adopt. The other female stereotype in the superhero genre is the ‘damsel in distress’ character, including Superman’s Lois Lane or Spiderman’s Mary Jane. Scientific America states that this female victim has to have the identity of a delicate, defenseless girl but also carry the traits of a sexy and beautiful woman. These two identities for the female demographic influence young girls to grow up and try to alter their identities in a way that disrespects the ideology of feminism.
Conversely, a positive representation of women that would help the female demographic construct a powerful identity is Marvel’s Black Widow. She represents an interesting take on conventional gender roles by embodying masculine traits, physically and psychologically. She also challenges the expectation of female superheroes as she is one of the only women in her profession of being a spy who seems equal to, or perhaps better, than most men in the field. She also adopts the masculine version of her last name (Romanoff), which symbolizes her strength and independence as a woman in a man’s world. This is still an important topic in today’s society and therefore helps the female audience to understand that they can also be powerful. Black Widow offers the female demographic a strong female individual to base their own identity upon. This positive representation of women which suggests women can also be powerful gives the female demographic self-confidence.
So, why is the representations of women so split? It is down to the common conventions of the superhero genre and the new, more female empowering society that we live in today. Traditionally, the superhero is male, and he’s classed as heroic when he saves the poor, distressed female character. In recent years, superheroes have had the perfect mix between female and male. For example, in franchises such as Marvel’s Avengers, there is growing positive representations of women through characters such as Okoye, Scarlet Witch and Gamora. Not to mention the new introduction to Captain Marvel. All of these female superheroes have inspired women and girls of today that women are just as strong and powerful as men.
The superhero genre is trying its hardest to create positive representations of women that reflect the feminist and female empowering ideologies of the society that we live in today, but no matter what the traditional “men are stronger than women” maxim still lives on. Just remember when you see a female superhero in a skimpy outfit revealing all of her, think of what it would be like if it were a male hero…