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The Problem with Female Superheroes

 

With the recent failure of Sony’s “Madame Web” film, there is a truth becoming abundantly clear. Female-led superhero stories are doomed to fail. From comic book stories to television and film, female superheroes have statistically made less money in sales than their male counterparts. The biggest question is why? The answer might be a combination of many problems. 

Viewers' perceptions of female superheroes may be flawed due to a male-centric fanbase and an absence of female characters. It only seems fair to investigate what causes the women to fail financially. The answer might be more obvious than we think. 

Let’s define our problem first. Female superheroes in comic books and media don’t get the same attention that male characters get. There are many reasons for this fact. For example, the number of female heroes in comic books is low. El Umansky wrote an opinion article for The San Diego Union-Tribune about female superheroes. Umansky wrote, “According to Amanda Shendruk’s 2017 study of 34,476 comic book heroes, only 26.7 percent of the Marvel and DC comic superheroes are female, creating a major disparity in terms of representation” (Umansky). 

The problem is that female characters are in short supply for comic books. The lack of female superheroes lends itself to even more problems. The next problem goes into the stereotypes of female superheroes.Besides the lack of female superheroes, they come with their stereotypes.  Monica Miller, Jessica Rauch, and Tatyana Kaplan wrote a study in 2021 titled , “Gender Differences in Movie Superheroes’ Roles, Violence, and Violence.” The study found, “At the same time, females were more likely to work in groups and were often supplemental characters. 

These portrayals might signify to viewers that females are of a lower status and less capable of fending for themselves than males. Females wore more revealing clothing than men, which comports with other studies that find women objectified in media” (Miller, Rauch, and Kaplan). The study brings up the main problems with female superhero portrayals in film. 

First, female superheroes rarely have their own stories. Before 2020, only one female character had a lead role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Films from DC Comics have only had one female superhero lead character to this day. The problem seems clear if female superheroes are not given as many chances to lead a film than their male counterparts. This causes a problem in the amount of female superheroes that we see on camera. With a lack of female superheroes on camera, there comes stereotypes of female characters and a lack of variety. The lack of variety in female characters leads to viewers who feel indifferent about their stories. 

What doesn’t help is the way that some female superheroes are not only side characters but are used as trophies for the whole story. One example comes from Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame”. One scene has all of Marvel’s female characters standing together in one image. Without context, the scene would be a nice addition to a male dominated film series.

     What doesn’t make sense is that none of the female characters had stories that connected them to “Avengers: Endgame.” Their male counterparts (or partners) had stories that connected them to the series and directly involved them in the final battle. In that context, the image of the female characters seems like a way for Marvel to not look sexist. 

The problem is how Marvel would use the female characters for social awareness rather than to service the stories. DC Comics’ films don’t do any better. DC Comics’ films only have one female superhero lead a movie. They have also released a vigilante team film called “Birds of Prey,” but that is a group rather than a single character.     

The next problem is the culture that female superheroes are in. Career website “Zippia '' keeps  statistics of many job markets. Zippia’s latest statistics on comic books says that as of 2021, 30.2% of comic book artists are women. Zippia also reported that in 2021, 67% of comic book artists were white. Zippia reported in a separate article that 39.4 % of comic book writers are women. What we’re seeing from the statistics is a job market that is historically male dominated. 

So, not only are we seeing a lack of female superheroes, but a lack of women anywhere working in comic books. It opens up an entire other problem with female superheroes. It is possible that with few women working on comic books, there are few people who are willing or able to write a female superhero lead character. 

What becomes a bigger problem is the culture that this sets up. With few female characters and few women in the industry, the culture is created and surrounded by mostly men. The lack of female representation pushes women away who would otherwise be interested in comic books. The fact that the female characters portrayed are either made to appear inferior to their male counterparts or are team players doesn't help the issue The fact that the female characters portrayed are either made to appear inferior to their male counterpart doesn’t help.

The action shows to little girls that even in their imagination, they are not as strong as the men around them. The male domination of the industry on multiple levels hurts readers. The male-dominated readership cannot fathom a female superhero on her own. 

Statistical review site “Statista '' The data reveals that 43 percent of men said that they were fans of comic books. This is compared to 24 percent of women” (Statista). The statistic paints a troubling picture of comic book fans. The fanbase of comic books is predominantly men. The male-dominated fanbase drives away women who are turned away by the over passionate male readers. It is these same male fans who argue that the industry is not sexist while complaining about a female-led superhero movie or show. 

 A part of this problem is how female superheroes are treated differently than male superheroes. Not only do comic book readers see female characters in revealing outfits, but the character are treated https://cah.ucf.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/27/2019/10/KWS17_Turberville.pdfwith less strength and ability than male superheroes. Taylor Turberville wrote an article titled, “The Female Justice League: The Misrepresentations of Women in Comic Books” for the University of Central Florida. Turberville reported, “Despite the growing numbers of fangirls, comic books seem dedicated to entertaining their audience of fanboys. 

 

They argue that, even though superheroines look feminine by their physical features, they do not act as females and they do not share life experiences or behave as real women do” (Turberville).The article explains how the male readers of comic books cannot connect with female characters. It’s easy to see why female superheroes simply don’t succeed. The industry created by men and for men does not leave a lot of room for female lead characters. Female superheroes have not been too sexualized for the respect of male superheroes, but their stories are not as important. One easy response to the problem is that more women are needed to work in comic books. It is easy to say that more women are needed. What might be more necessary is more variety in female characters. One can only hope that seeing more women can lead to an end to the misogyny problem in the comic book industry.

Article edited by Soumya Parija


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1 comment

1 month, 1 week ago by Khushboo_Singh

This is a wonderfully written piece!



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