Words by Meg Ayscue
Before you get your spandex in a twist, let me say this: I don’t hate female superheroes on the premise that they’re female superheroes— I dislike how they’re generally portrayed and written. And while I know there are exceptions to what I’m going to talk about, I’m talking about the vast majority here.
There are so many female superheroes who exist just as a female counterpart to an already existing male superhero. We have very obvious ones such as Hulk and She-Hulk, Spider-Man and Spider-Woman, Punisher and Lady Punisher or Batman and Batwoman. Even taking out the obvious pronoun change, we still have characters who share the same name and powers/abilities but are now women, or change the name slightly such as Ardina and Silver Surfer or Bluestreak and Quicksilver. There are a lot more examples than just those few, but I don’t want to delve too deep into the multiverse, reboots and minor characters.
This is a problem because instead of taking the time to create a new character with any interest or depth, writers just slap a tinier costume on an already existing character, add “she,” “lady” or “girl” to the name and call it a day. Because that’s what readers want when they pick up a comic! Who cares about plot, character development or story when there can be more drawings of girls with gravity-defying boobs?
If those female superheroes aren’t created based on a pre-existing male hero, they’re usually a love interest instead. One character who incorporates both the female counterpart to a male superhero point and is a love interest is Carol Ferris, love interest to Hal Jordan and a Star Sapphire. Now, Green Lantern is my favorite superhero. Ever. Blackest Night is my favorite story arc. But the Star Sapphires almost ruin the whole thing for me. It doesn’t help that Ferris’ whole personality is based around being an adversary to Jordan and a love interest.
Almost every female superhero is paired with an arguably stronger or more well-known male superhero, while the male superheroes date a variety of powered and “normal” gals. In the older eras, a lot of female superheroes were also first introduced as weak to enforce the damsel-in-distress stereotype and make the romantic bonds with other characters stronger. While this is not drawn upon as much today, there are still a lot of female superheroes that can’t have their own stories without also being another character’s romantic interest. Even Wonder Woman, a feminist icon, still dated Aquaman, Batman, Nemesis and Superman.
I’m not saying female superheroes and male superheroes (and non-binary superheroes) can’t date, but more female superheroes need to be written as either the stronger part of the couple, or even as having non-powered significant others. Male superheroes have them, female superheroes should too.
If the writers decide to take the time to actually make a good, unique female superhero that isn’t a love interest, there are still problems. They’re still either underutilized, over sexualized or killed off.
Female superheroes, and female characters in general, are so over-sexualized in comics that it has become an actual running joke. As a way to almost combat this, there is The Hawkeye Initiative in which people have taken female comic book characters and redrawn them in a similar way to Hawkeye (or other male superheroes). It’s a commentary because these male superheroes look so ridiculous in these scantily-clad uniforms and in awkward-looking poses, right? Why isn’t it for the female superheroes then?
There are a few examples of ridiculous female superhero costumes and poses that come to mind. There is the infamous Power Girl, female-Superman and clone of Supergirl, who literally has a boob-window in her costume. This has tried to be explained away in the past as a place for a symbol if she ever thinks of one, to simply finding it in Supergirl’s closet. And while the costume has been “fixed” before, it almost always ends up torn in the same place or reverts back to its original boob-window status. Power Girl isn’t the only character who faces costumes like this. Back to Carol Ferris—her costume as a Star Sapphire is possibly worse. She essentially has no front to her costume and her power comes from a tiara. Must I go on? I mean really, how often do you get this angle of perspective for male superhero fights?
Now let’s try to think of a female superhero. Take away any where half of their personality is in their relationship. Take away any that were created based on a male character who already existed. Take away any that wear skin tight or barely-there costumes drawn in very obviously sexual poses. Of the superheroes that are left, how many of them are “mainstream?” How many at least are alive or have their own story? There are some, and more coming out, but not nearly as many as the male superheroes that fit into similar criteria.
And as for the superheroines that do fit into the honestly basic criteria, that’s fantastic. But because there are so few, however, that’s why I turn to male superheroes so often. I don’t read comics for the love stories or boob windows. I read for the character growth, for the action. I want to see more female characters who are tough and unique, not made as a plotpoint for another character.
Also, I don’t feel bad about any of the images I linked to. That’s how they were drawn in the comics. If you have a problem with them, that’s the point.
Did I miss anything? Don’t like my opinions? Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org