by Cindy Cooper
I should start off by admitting that I’m not a very good feminist. I love comics, and not just Sandman and Indy comics. No, some of my very favorite comics are the male power fantasy superhero ones, like Batman or Daredevil. Often in this type of comic, women are either absent, peripheral or physically mal-proportioned at best. I enjoy superhero comics so much that I recently sat watching Iron Man with a ridiculous grin stretched from ear to ear, experiencing what I can only define as a fangasm. I am such a bad feminist that it didn’t occur to me until days later that there aren’t any decent female superhero movies. Since then, how women are viewed, by the comic book and movie industries has been on my mind quite a bit.
It’s no secret that most women do not read superhero comics. We aren’t their target audience? Therefore, the marketing towards women and girls is largely non-existent. But, I don’t think it’s because we aren’t interested in the subject matter. If you’re between the ages of say 30 and 40 you might remember a show called Wonder Woman. I know for a fact that my sister and I weren’t the only little girls spinning until we were nauseous in the hopes that we’d spontaneously combust into an Amazon princess. We followed her adventures breathlessly every week, between November 1975 and September 1979 when the TV series, starring Lynda Carter ended.
She was strong and fierce, but decent, honest and graceful in spirit. She was something to aspire to, even if we’d never be able to bend bars with our bare hands. We could still aspire to her courage and complete fabulousness. She affected us in a way that would stick with many of us for years to come.
Wonder Woman the TV series occurred during a time of burgeoning girl power in popular culture. The same time period would give us The Bionic Woman, starring Lindsay Wagner and arguably even Charlie’s Angels. These growing from shows like Mary Tyler Moore and That Girl. Shows where female characters were the protagonist and making their own way, often, gasp! without the aid of a man to pay her rent. It was a good time to be a little girl watching TV.
So why didn’t those little girls watching superheroes grow to be a generation of women reading about superheroes? Part of it is socialization. Little girls have historically been steered away from superhero comics, in the same way they are steered away from toy trucks and those little plastic army guys and towards pink Barbie and baby doll type toys and books. Also, comic book stores can be daunting for a woman sometimes. The staff sometimes stares at you as if you’re an alien and scores of giant chested women stare down from the walls of these stores. Look, we have fashion magazines made specifically for us that make us feel bad about ourselves. We don’t need to go to a special store for that treat. And like I stated earlier, the stories themselves often write women more as props than well-developed characters. I believe this last is the real issue.
Women don’t just like a story because it is about women. We like stories that are well-written and well-developed, just like anyone else. There’s no need for Lifetime comics. As comic story lines become more grounded in the real world, the fact that often their female characters are mere sketches becomes more apparent. That is not to say that there aren’t more developed depictions of women in super hero comics. One example is the push to make Ms. Marvel a major player in the Marvel U, a heroine with some authority. I appreciate moves like that. However, it’s a small step and since the marketing is not there how are girls and women to know that there might be a story they'd enjoy coming from the Big 2?
So, what is the next generation of girls to do for heroes? I suppose there’s Dora and Hannah Montana but what about women of courage and power little girls can hope to emulate? What character is filling that bill for this generation? I have a 10 year old niece who, until recently, looked up to Brittany Spears, a fact that I find terrifying. My other niece is 7 and like her aunt has a thing for the superheroes. However, when you ask her who her favorites are she will tell you Superman and Spider-Man. And they are fine role models, but where have all the heroines gone?
If you ask around, the word is that stories about women don’t sell. It’s a fabulous atmosphere for maturing girls. Get your Hannah while you can, girls, because by the time you hit your late twenties, the only place you’ll see anyone you can identify with on the big screen are romantic comedies, with the exception of the occasional indy movie. You’d like to read stories featuring women in lead roles? Hit the chick lit. It’s the best you’re going to get. I don’t even want to tell you about what happens once you hit your 30s and 40s, girls.
What are we telling them about their place in life? Go find yourself a nice man. Be sexy. Be desirable. Learn to be the arm candy. Don’t be too strong. Don’t be too funny. The best you can hope for is side kick, kid, unless you get some really big boobs. No one wants to hear your story. It’s just not profitable.
It’s true that, movies about super heroines haven’t delivered financially. The reason being is that the efforts, for example Elektra and Catwoman, have been abysmal. It seems movies featuring super heroines as the title characters haven’t been given the same amount of respect as movies featuring their male counterparts. Just look at the recent Catwoman costume. You can’t look at that costume and tell me there was respect involved. It goes beyond sexy and into the realm of the costume bargain bin at Party City. It’s as if they weren’t even trying to get anyone to care about these characters.
This summer, two movies are hitting the theater, based on very popular serialized stories with female leads. Sex and the City was one of HBO’s most successful series of all time. This past weekend the movie opened in theaters. According to Bloomberg.com, the movie brought in $55 million this weekend, in US and Canadian theaters, knocking Indiana Jones out of the top spot. The success of a movie about 4 women in their 40s says a lot about the power of women in movies.
At the other end of the girl power spectrum, Kit Kittredge: An America Girl will open in theaters on July 2nd. For those of you who haven’t been near a 10 year old girl at all in the past 10 years, American Girl is a doll company that created a line of historical dolls from different periods in American history. Kit is a little girl growing up during the Depression. Incidentally, all of the historical dolls in the American Girl line are represented in a line of serialized books that detail their experiences. These books have been very popular with little girls over the past decade.
Will these movies finally prove that stories about women and girls sell? Dare we hope that the success of these movies could finally lead to seeing our beloved Diana Prince on screen? Is it possible that more super heroines and even regular powered women will be written with the same respect as Tony Stark? My sister and I are poised to buy tickets for our entire families when the day comes.
by Cindy Cooper