Four years ago, I wrote and directed a play about superhero women. Part of my reason for writing a play about superhero women was based on two Bravo Television specials about the top ten superheroes. The first show listed the top ten superheroes and they were all men. They were chosen based on their powers and their strength. The next night the top ten “supervixens” aired. These characters were chosen based on the size of their breasts and their looks. The Bond girls were included in this list. I was appalled.
I went to Toys R Us to shop for presents for the cast, hoping to find each actress an action figure version of her character. As I browsed the action figure department, I saw Batmans, Supermans, Spidermans and many other male superheroes and action figures. Perplexed, I wandered over to the Barbie section or the “pink” aisle as they call it. Seeing nothing but Barbie, I approached a salesperson. I asked her, “Why are there no action figures for girls?” She replied, “Girls like dolls and ponies.” I was aghast. “Well,” I replied, “maybe if girls had the option to buy female action figures, they would.” What girl wouldn’t want a Wonder Woman action figure?
Fortunately, EBay had Barbies designed as Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, and Poison Ivy. I noticed the packaging had several languages listed on it when I received them. I wondered if these Barbies were made or marketed in Europe as I had never seen them in the U.S. All of my nieces got them for Christmas that year.
Toy Stores, especially monopolies like Toys R Us, are great examples of where strict gender lines are still being drawn in our culture. But these gender lines are also drawn in the movies that portray superheroes. Of nine movies about superheroes, only one of them featured a woman: Catwoman. Some might even suggest she is not a role model, but a villain. The work of two progressive movements in our culture: civil and women’s rights has not trickled down into the places where gender lines continue to be drawn.
It matters very much that children have positive role models who look like them. We know that girls and boys have just started saying they want to be president of the United States because girls saw a powerful woman run for that office and boys saw a powerful African American man win that office. From all white superhero men to the lack of powerful women in the media, girls and children of different races and ethnicities have very few to look up to as role models. We need to find a way to start rejecting the white bread heroes that Hollywood and the media continue to push down our throats and demand role models who not only resemble us, but provide powerful examples to strive for.