Where the (Super)Girls Are

Happy Labor Day! Here in the U.S., we have the day off. Sounds ironic, huh? For more information on the holiday, click here.


The other day, I listened to a TED Talk by a media studies scholar: Dr. Christopher Bell. Though the talk was given in 2015, it caught my attention, because I’ve discussed on the blog before an aspect of what Bell talked about. Click below for that video. Warning! It’s about fifteen minutes long.

After talking about his athletic young daughter who likes to dress up as her favorite characters, Bell said

Why is it that when my daughter dresses up . . . why is every character she dresses up as a boy? . . . [W]here is all the female superhero stuff? Where are the costumes? Where are the toys?

It’s not that Bell wanted to diss male heroes. On the contrary, his daughter had several favorites among the male heroes. Bell went on a hunt for female superhero costumes and toys, because his daughter also loved characters like Princess Leia, Black Widow from the Avengers, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. But after searching the stores for costumes, he came up empty. He also discovered that these characters were missing in the toy aisles as well.

Guardians of the Galaxy International Character Movie Posters - Zoe Saldana as Gamora    black_widow_natalia_romanova-1920x1080

I know what you’re thinking: there are plenty of female heroes. You can also find female villains who do heroic things. After Bell’s talk, Wonder Woman appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and will have her own movie next year. Harley Quinn and Katana were in Suicide Squad. Supergirl has a show, now on the CW. Jessica Jones has a show on Netflix. There also is an animated show for kids that has become a favorite of mine—Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir, which features a Parisian teen named Marinette Dupain-Cheng, who turns into a superhero called Ladybug. She works with a crime fighting partner—a dude named Cat Noir—to foil the nefarious plans of Hawk Moth, a supervillain.

Miraculous-Ladybug-Wallpaper-miraculous-ladybug-39335186-1920-1080   Tumblr_nualsphVXR1uu5wooo1_1280

And Raven (below right) and Starfire (below left) are on Teen Titans Go.


But, as Bell pointed out, if you look at the lineup of superhero movies in the upcoming years, only two females—Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel—will have a starring role. (If you have heard of others, please comment below.) Kinda sad, but some progress at least. And Gamora and Black Widow will costar in some movies.

As for costumes, after Bell’s talk was given, Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted and provided inspiration for costumes. Like Rey. A little girl I know plans to dress as Rey for Halloween. Online, I saw a Princess Leia costume—the iconic white dress with the bun hairdo—at Target, which also has an adorable Captain Phasma costume. (The one below is from Halloween Costumes.com.) Since Felicity Jones will star in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, perhaps her character will be popular enough to have a costume in stores.

star-wars-the-force-awakens-classic-girls-rey-costume-cx-809217   child-deluxe-star-wars-ep-7-captain-phasma-costume

Also, Mattel developed a line of DC female superhero dolls (see below)—a fact also mentioned by Bell, who cautioned against only marketing these to girls. Boys too could benefit from learning about female heroes. As Bell mentioned,

It’s important that boys play with and as female superheroes just as my daughter plays with and as male superheroes.


Interestingly, though an actress played Captain Phasma in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the costume shown above is marketed for kids, rather than girls only.

Bell’s point is not without its supporters and detractors. I mentioned in a previous post how a little boy I know was criticized for liking the color purple, because, he was told, it was a “girl” color. In his talk, Bell brought up the tragic results after a boy who loved the My Little Pony show was ridiculed for loving it.

Some people are of the mindset that it’s okay for a girl to want to emulate a male hero, but not okay for a boy to emulate a female hero. Note that I said some people, rather than all, so please don’t yell at me if this is not your viewpoint. I think it’s sad that we live in a world where a kid is bullied for any reason.

So to wrap up, I found Bell’s talk interesting. I’m working to produce the kinds of stories that a kid—male or female—will want to read, and characters with whom they can identify. Other authors are too. But I hope we get to the point where no one has to ask where the female superheroes are.

What would you say to a kid who greatly admires a show heavily marketed to the opposite gender?

Labor Day image from wallpaperspoints.com. Ladybug and Cat Noir images from fanpop.com and sidereel.com. Teen Titans Go image from the Teen Titans Go wiki. Rey costume from costumeexpress.com. DC superheroes from TechTimes.

37 thoughts on “Where the (Super)Girls Are

  1. No yelling here…I completely agree with you, L. Marie. 🙂 Growing up, Spider Man was my favorite mainly because he didn’t have a fear of heights. I wasn’t much of a Wonder Woman fan, but all of the boys I knew loved her.

  2. I saw Wonder Woman, the Descendants, Harley Quinn, Batgirl, Supergirl, Rey, female Assassin’s Creed, and several other costumes for girls when we went hunting. Honestly, they looked more interesting and colorful. The boy costumes were the same they were the last year only with Black Panther available. Not sure what this means, but it could be that there is no more focus on giving girls variety. Still, I saw something else. With all of the choices, 4 out of the 5 girls who were there went for a Princess of some kind. The 5th went for Wonder Woman after her mother repeatedly asked. I’m all for giving choices, but if most girls are going for the ‘girly’ stuff then that’s what you’ll get more of.

    As for female lead movies, people REALLY have to let the superhero thing go. That’s not the be all, end all of heroes. I keep seeing people point at Rey, Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel as ‘finally getting a female lead’. This ignores all the ones that came before. Female leads have been around in fantasy and science fiction, but comics were typically geared toward boys and it’s only recently that the landscape changed. Also, most of the big Marvel heroines are in the X-Men and the company isn’t marketing that brand because the movies are done by FOX. I saw nothing aside from Wolverine as far as costumes go when they could have done Mystique, Rogue, Jean Grey, Storm, Jubilee, X-23/Nyx, etc. As far as DC goes, most of their female leads are on the TV shows that little kids won’t watch. They need to do another big cartoon like Justice League (maybe Birds of Prey?) to hit that demographic. That way you can get the costumes for Black Canary, Vixen, Hawkgirl, Fire, Ice, Zatanna, etc. It’s all about exposure for the kids because they’ll pick the costume that connects to something they already know.

    • You are so right, Charles. There are so many female leads out there and strong candidates for shows. I would love a Birds of Prey show. Action figure marketing dollars have traditionally been geared toward little boys (or parents of little boys), while princess stuff and miniature figures like Shopkins have been pushed at little girls. Which means the execs probably wouldn’t greenlight a Birds of Prey show, since they insist that only boys want action figures (the basis for the creation of many animated shows). Which is sad. With Funko Pop figures out there selling away, you’d think they’d realize that females are also looking for figures. I brought up Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir, because I’ve been seeing some figures made for the leads, as well as graphic novels. (I think the graphic novel was the beginning point, and the show adapted from it.)

      Awhile ago the CW had a brief animated show for Vixen, which I loved. I think they were testing it to see if viewers wanted a live action Vixen show. I’m not sure of the results of the test marketing.

      Your mention of Zatanna reminds me of how much I miss Young Justice.

      • To be fair, they did try Birds of Prey way back. It was done badly since it had the daughter of Batman and Catwoman who now had super powers. I disagree that it couldn’t be done because of the figures. People seem to play that, but when the female characters are included in the sets, they tend to be left on the rack. The exceptions are Wonder Woman and Rey right now. It isn’t even the execs and stores doing this because they work with the numbers that customers give them. A parent can always buy a toy for the opposite gender, but time and again I see girls shuffled to the ‘girl toys’. Let them buy Thor, Cap, and Spidey. At least to prove that girls like superheroes.

        This brings me to a point that’s been bugging me all year. I know a lot of people who jump on social media to scream about no female superheroes out there. Yet, they never buy the comics, figures, or any other merchandise when it is available. Cry as much as you want, but businesses will only listen to money. If you petition for it and then it comes out to flop because those who signed didn’t buy then it probably won’t happen again. Keep in mind that I come from the 80’s where we had Cheetara, T’la, Baroness, April O’Neil, and other female action figures that were rare, but available. Companies don’t seem to do that any more.

        One more thing that I thought about after I made the first post. (Yes, I’m in rant mode because I’ve been seeing this for 2 years with no changes.) The guy mentioned girl versions of male heroes. That’s something that’s always been around, but it reminded me of the following. Female Thor, Female Iron Man, Female Wolervine, Lady Deadpool, Spider-Gwen . . . see where I’m going? Marvel specifically has spent the last couple years doing gender and race swaps on their big names. They do this and get praise from people on social media and in the news. Great, but this causes two problems. Established female/minority characters are kept down unless they’re the ones who step up to be the new one like Falcon becoming Captain America. This also makes the company not bother making new heroes for these groups. You’re looking at stagnation and fissuring of the fan-base, which is why you rarely get a heroine costume that isn’t a female version of a male. God help me, I’d love to walk into a store and see an X-23 costume, but now she’s friggin’ Wolverine.

      • i’m probably in the minority on this, I’m not a fan of turning male heroes into female heroes or making an ethnic version of those characters. Why not come up with new characters that better fit the culture? Stagnation is right.

        As for the execs, I was going by a podcast I heard with Kevin Smith and Paul Dini, who complained about animated shows that were canceled due to the high percentage of females in the audience and toys geared toward boys (and shows made to sell toys). Everything comes down to money.

      • I’m in the same boat and I know a lot of people who agree. They want new ones or the existing ones to get more attention. I mean, why make Falcon the new Cap when you could keep him as Falcon and give him his own comic? By the way, did you know that Storm has led the X-Men and Wasp was leading the Avengers at some points? It’s baffling that such leadership changes don’t happen as often or it’s given to a swapped.

        Guessing you mean ‘Young Justice’. I still think kids should be encouraged to buy toys even if they’re ‘for boys’ like action figures. Geared toward a certain gender is more of a guideline, so I don’t know why people follow it so strictly. Though this does boil down to toy sales shouldn’t be connected to TV show survival since you have streaming stuff and DVR that skews things. From what I remember, this wasn’t a problem for Batman, Superman, Justice League, X-Men, and Spider-Man in the 90’s.

      • I had heard that about Storm and Wasp. I also heard that Target had planned to stop dividing the toy sections by gender, and would mix things up. But I haven’t seen that happen. In a non-creepy way, I’ve watched kids and their parents choosing toys. Every time, girls headed to the princess aisle or the “girlier” stuff. Girls I know who like the Turtles aren’t afraid to let their parents they want the figures.

        Yes, Young Justice. I saw the whole series and loved it.

      • Hard thing to do since the toy sections aren’t really by gender. It’s by theme/franchise, which the companies designate by genders. I’ve seen girls in the Star Wars and Superhero sections too. Some stay and get stuff while others just move on to the ‘girly’ stuff.

        Another series that died early was ‘Wolverine & the X-Men’, but that was because Disney bought Marvel and killed off all the cartoons that they couldn’t profit off of.

      • Yeah that was a hard day. They also dropped Clone Wars in favor of developing Rebels. At least I like Rebels.

        It’s funny to go to Target and see aisles that are mostly pink, thanks to Barbie and My Little Pony stuff, and aisles that are red, blue, and yellow, thanks to LEGO, Marvel, Hot Wheels, and other stuff.

      • I thought the Clone Wars to Rebels switch was because C.W. wasn’t by Disney. Since they bought Star Wars, they canned that because it wasn’t giving them money.

        Eh, I never understood the hatred of pink. It’s a color that happened to be chosen as the ‘girl one’. The thing is that a lot of girls like it even when their mothers go to extremes to stop such an attraction. It’s a fairly soothing color too. Maybe instead of having girls hate pink, we should make it more acceptable for boys to like it?

  3. Catwoman, Charlie’s Angels, Jeannie (I Dream of Jeannie), Samantha (Bewitched), Princess Leia, Mary Poppins, Nanny McPhee, Professor McGonagall, Elizabeth Bennett (Pride & Prejudice), Nancy Drew ~ some of my fave female “super heroes.”

  4. Hmm… I’d say to that kid – like what you like, and not what anybody tells you you should like! I’ve never really been a particular fan of superheroes of either (any) gender, always having preferred “real” fictional heroes. But my real fictional heroes were fairly equally divided between male and female when I was a kid – I’m not sure that I really differentiated much until I was a bit older. When playing, I was just as likely to be Allan Quatermain as Anne of Green Gables and it seemed perfectly possible to me that I could grow up to be either. Though mainly I think I wanted to be a cowboy… or girl! I was less fussed about the gender than the colour of the horse (I wanted a white one with brown patches…)

    • You always make me smile. 🙂 I went through periods where I wanted to be a famous general or explorer. Those were usually male. Some relatives would balk at that and suggest something more overtly feminine.

      I also went through my Anne of Green Gables period. I was so much like her, it was scary (except for the hair color).

  5. What I would say to a kid who wants to follow a superhero who is in any way different from them is–go you! Own your fandom and be proud. To quote Taylor Swift, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate.” But there will be other people in the world like you who like the same superhero (or Disney character) you do, so you are not alone.

    On a side note, we have to stop pressuring kids to conform to stereotypes of any sort. As I’ve said in multiple places, growing up, I played tea with my dolls and trucks and cowboys with the boys in the village who were my age–there were no girls in the village my age. The boys didn’t join my tea parties or play with my dolls, but that was about them, not about me. And my daughter was more interested in playing with stuffed animals than with dolls, with the exception of Barbie. Kids like what they like, as adults like what they like.

    • Sooo true! I was the same way. Neither of my brothers joined my tea parties, but they didn’t mind playing baseball in the alley with me. You’re right. That was about them–not me.

      I know some girls who were not fans of Barbie and had a collection of stuffed animals. 🙂

  6. Interesting post.
    What would I say . . . ? I highly doubt that I would say anything. I never let it be an issue with our daughters, and, happy to say, it isn’t an issue with our grandson and granddaughter. Not exactly on topic, but, when one of our daughters wanted Match Box Cars for Christmas, that is what she got- much to the dismay of an aunt. 🙂
    If you ever find “The Thunderbolt Kid”, there is an interesting and funny chapter of action hero comic books of the 1950’s and the introduction of Wonder Women.

    • I wanted Hot Wheels cars and didn’t get those until I was an adult. So I’m glad your daughter received some cars!

      I was surprised that the library didn’t have it. I can check at another library.

  7. Angus is a little young to be into the superheroes yet, but I mentioned to a co-worker that he really likes Peppa Pig and was told, “That’s a girls show!” I was pretty surprised to hear her say that, but I just shrugged it off and replied, “The kid likes what he likes.” Anyway, it’s hard to find clothes for him which aren’t overtly feminine for that show, but we’ve found a couple t-shirts and have bought him several toys. I plan to teach him to keep on “liking what he likes” and do my darnedest to make sure he doesn’t feel bad about it.

  8. The female heros you mention and which seem to serve models for young girls are pure media products: movies, comics, video games.
    I do not know if this is where we find the real female heros. In daily life we can meet real silent heros, male or female but of course they are not top models nowadays !!! 🙂
    In friendship

  9. Pingback: Why This Works | El Space–The Blog of L. Marie

  10. I’ve been waiting for a Black Widow movie. She’s my favorite Avenger besides Iron Man. I’ve only seen the movies, so I don’t know about other female Avengers. I was excited when I saw a trailer with Scarlett Johansson a few years ago, but it turned out to be Lucy. But I’ve read my wish will come true … someday.

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