Holding out for a Superhero(ine)
25 February 2015
By Julie Crisp
A few years ago I became a Mum – to a fabulous and precocious little girl. As she grows up, I’ve become more and more concerned at the gender stereotyping that occurs from such an early age. Something I don’t ever recall from my own childhood. From the ‘pink and ‘blue’ clothes – which we completely ignored, to her being told by a boy at nursery that she couldn’t jump as well as him because she was ‘a girl’ (you can imagine my reaction to that ‘You tell him you can jump just as well as him if not better!’ She did. They’re now best friends.).
And the toys – the toys. Arggh. Aisles of pink fluff: teddy bears and soft toys, princesses and dolls that talk about how much they like parties and make-up, pastel Lego that seems to concentrate on horses, Disney girls, shopping or juice bars…it’s horrifying! Just type ‘girl’s toys’ into Google and look at the images – it’s a sea of pink!
Thankfully my daughter has developed a love of superheroes and books (can’t think where she got that from). But what superheroes? Superman, Spiderman, the male Marvel & DC characters – and why? Because those are all the toys that are readily available that she sees other kids playing with. I wanted her to have the superheroes that I grew up loving: Wonder Woman, Rogue, Super girl, Bat Girl, Catwoman, and yes, even She-Ra (because at least she had a sword ).
There are specialist stores, thankfully, that stock them. We LOVE you Forbidden Planet! But why aren’t they stocked more widely? Surely there are other Mums out there like me who want their own daughters to have access to a strong, female personality who can be a hero just as well (and let’s face it – sometimes better) than a man? And then you read articles like this where it appears that a female character has been actively removed from merchandising and your heart just sinks: http://www.dailydot.com/geek/guardians-of-the-galaxy-gamora-merchandise/
So – here’s my homage to just five of the heroines (super or otherwise) I loved as a child.
I didn’t just LOVE Wonder Woman – I wanted to BE Wonder Woman. I even made her indestructible bracelets out of two toilet rolls for my role play (they didn’t show that on Blue Peter!). Yes, admittedly as a kid I wondered why she’d run around and kick ass in heels and the equivalent of a swim-suit rather than something more comfortable BUT that didn’t matter. Because she did kick-ass, she was strong, honest, protected the innocent and she was an Amazon (yes, I also loved my Greek mythology). And besides who didn’t want that Lasso of Truth? This was the first action figure I bought for my daughter and she LOVES it. And so do all the boys in her nursery class!
Romana (the Mary Tamm version)
Not sure if Romana qualifies as a ‘superheroine’ but if not, she should. For putting up with an irascible and pompous Doctor Who if nothing else. ;-) I used to watch the re-runs ofDoctor Who and while others may have loved Sarah Jane (as did I) or Ace or Susan, my favourite with her glacial intelligence was Mary Tamm’s Romana. She was the Doctor’s match, if not his superior, intellectually and was fabulous with her icy put-downs – it was just unfortunate that her role started to degenerate towards the end of the series into ‘girl needing to be rescued’. And while I thought Lalla Ward’s Romana was a lot of fun – the whole ‘falling’ for the Doctor (since done to death) was disappointing. I wanted my companion to be the Doctor’s equal – not his girl Friday. Glad to see Jenna Colmen doing such a great job currently with Peter Capaldi‘s Doctor.
Okay, admittedly I’ll probably be leaving this action figure until she’s a bit older!! Unsure how to explain the skin-tight black leather and whip as a form of female emancipation. ;-) But still, despite this, I adored Selina Kyle, probably because she was more villain than super heroine. Her cool, detached manner, her disregard and disrespect of men – as a teenager she became something of a role model (I hasten to add, without the kleptomania). She had an on-off relationship with Batman, true, but it always seemed to be on her terms and she never changed who she was to be with him. I loved that about her – and while her casual disregard of the law is something I probably wouldn’t want to encourage with my own daughter – her strength and independence and ‘do-it-my-way’ attitude is.
The X-Men cartoons were the one thing I HAD to watch. A cartoon where there wasn’t just one superheroine but at least three! While my sister much preferred Storm with her far more showy powers of weather control. And we both thought Jean was interesting but a bit too wrapped up with the Wolverine/Cyclops love triangle, I was intrigued by Rogue, her mutation making her an outsider, someone who couldn’t be touched or touch without rather disastrous results. She was strong, witty, feisty, angry and tried really hard to fit in while always feeling something of a loner. Representative of how every teenage girl feels at one stage or another.
Alanna from The Song of the Lioness series
If you haven’t read these novels by Tamora Pierce, really – you’ve been missing out. I LOVED these books growing up. The story of Alanna who defied every role that she was supposed to follow as a girl, disguised herself as her brother and set off to become a knight. She didn’t do dresses or make-up, she liked swords and horses. And while there were moments of romance – it was so far removed from the Twilight-style love-centric storyline that it didn’t dominate the storyline. Independent, challenging, a rebel – a girl determined to make her own way in life, do what she wanted to do and not conform to social expectations – she was fabulous.
Now of course these weren’t my only heroines, and they change and evolve as you grow up. As I learned to read more widely my heroes changed to Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, Celie from The Colour Purple, Janie Crawford from Their Eyes were Watching God and Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale. All female characters I shall make sure my daughter knows about.
Meanwhile, I shall quietly seethe at the oversexualised girl’s superhero costumes, get frustrated at the profusion of Superman, Iron Man, Marvel & DC male action figures etc. out there – and the lack of their female equivalents. I nurse some hope that with the announcement of the Wonder Woman film beginning filming next year (and directed byMichelle MacLaren – yay!) we’ll see a whole range of Wonder Woman action figures on girl’s shelves. Right?! Well, we can but hope can’t we . . .
In the meantime, thank goodness for books!