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"DID YOU HAVE TO GET IN SHAPE FOR YOUR ROLE": PLIGHT OF FEMALE SUPERHERO REPRESENTATION

Growing up I have always watched Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and Iron Man, it has always been a MAN and never a WOMAN. I'm sure we have always been accustomed to this stereotypical binary of media characters to our gender where every birthday you would get gifts of dolls whilst you'd see brothers or cousins getting these superheroes. It was not until I watched the first 'Avengers' movie that I realized female superheroes exist to be an actual phenomenon in this fantasized version of the Marvel & DC universe.


Women in powerful roles of a superhero remained an unknown concept in the film industry for a long time despite being a part of the universe of several comic publications for years with the first female superhero release of Supergirl in 1984. They seize to exist in productions but are just drawn on paper-back versions for the liberty of the wider audience to adore them in their overtly sexualized outfits in comparison to the male superheroes.

Wonder Woman, Scarlett Witch, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, Cat Woman and many others have one thing in common and that's not that they are women or have superpowers.


*Drum roll please*


you probably guessed it, it's their leather-tight fit body hugging superhero suits or outfits that have been adorned with their respective signature colour palette as well as details including Wonder Women's W at her abdomen, Captain Marvel Golden star on her chest and Scarlett Witch and Cat Wome's headgear. The outfits are made as such to accentuate the breasts as well as the hips to achieve the exact imagery in the comic books of curvaceous yet slim body types formed under the male gaze.


Hyper-sexualization of these female superheroes brings forth disruption in the women empowerment initiative that young female audiences hope to see in these female heroines as it shows them to be perfect always with the slimmest and most "perfect" body type. Such representations also cause problems for actresses as in the case of Scarlett Johanssen who on multiple occasions has had to respond to the most inappropriate sexist remarks and interview questions made by none other than male interviewers. The fact that they have to deal with her being a symbol for a sexualized character & address comments on her body type and personal questions about her undergarments just goes to show that female superhero representation is not conducive to women's empowerment not even for the actresses playing them.

Even villains as in the case of Suicide Squad's Harley Quinn not just presented as overtly provocative but also bring to light larger issues of women superheroes always needing a man or a romantic fling in the movie to establish her as inherently feminine. To humanize those with supernatural powers filmmakers often take on tragic backstories or an on-going romance narrative to achieve that and for female superheroes, it has always been the latter as they have often been projected as love interests of the male superheroes rather than an individual character.


The guise for heroines to be independent yet require a man to support them in their missions as in the case of Wonder Woman who has Steve as her trusted friend that later develops into her lover. Even the most recent Ms Marvel show garnered much attention among the Pakistan community with Kamala Khan representing a desi expat who has her best friend and sidekick Bruno who later is shown as being attracted to her. A heroine should not always have to have a man by her side to protect her in case of her not able to manage her battles on her own.


To have women in superhero roles still be expressed as merely depicting more feminine versions of strength with supernatural powers and body types that are limited to model-like images ultimately impacts the self-esteem of the younger audience. Inclusivity should be one tool to shift the narrative from women being presented as consistently strong and put-together as in the films rather than presenting them as more relatable forms which Ms. Marvel has achieved in its representation but there needs to be more diversity not just in terms of race, ethnicity but in terms of physical appearances with no specific body type being promoted throughout.



Women in the audience should be able to look at the film and see a glimpse of themselves in the hero rather than a fantasized image of what a true superhero is. Female superheroes should formulate storylines that act as counters and positively motivate substitutes to the traditional princess fairytales that are fed to young girls and teenagers.

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11 Kommentare


Mahnoor Zafar
Mahnoor Zafar
01. Dez. 2023

Exactly! Female representation as superheroes relies heavily on their physique and how tall, slim and slender they look. Media's obsession with objectifying female superheroes reminds me of how female characters in Anime are presented as overly sexual, promiscuous beings. This is a tactic media producers utilise to attract and appease audience, particularly male audience. Such a representation of women is highly problematic and draws parallel to the representation of female super heroes. Do you ever wonder whether media producers will be able to move past such demeaning representations for women or not?

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Antwort an

Honestly, I believe it is definitely a possibility with newer superheroes being created such as Ms.Marvel that in both its comic book as well as film representation does not have much skin showing however that can be countered with the argument of the cultural and religious background attached to her character being Pakistani and Muslim. Yet if they are able to create a show with such a progressive female imagery they can make it more mainstream in other characters as well. I do feel like one of their major reasonings for such overtly provocative representations as you mention to fulfil the appeal for male audiences so if media producers are able to choose much more empowering images of female superheroes…

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The fact that superhero comins were meant for a younger audience makes this even more problematic by placing certain gender roles in specific contexts and even sets up the ground for viewing women as sexual objects.

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This incisive analysis of the portrayal of female superheroes draws attention to the widespread problems with hypersexualization and stereotyping. The commentary raises concerns about the industry's propensity to place more emphasis on appearance than on character development, using examples such as Scarlett Johansson's. It emphasises how important it is to have varied body types and ethnicity representations in order to advance inclusivity. The crucial query that comes to mind is this: How can the movie business reimagine female superheroes, going beyond traditional clichés, and provide strong, relatable role models that speak to the range of experiences that women have?

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Mariam
Mariam
01. Dez. 2023

I've always thought this! Female superheroes are either purely meant to be viewed through a sexualized lens or as a counterpart to male superheroes as their hot partners. If you asked the general public what superpowers Hulk, Thor or Captain America have, I'm sure they could list plenty, but when it comes to women, most people don't know them beyond their costumes and sex appeals.

The reason I liked Ms. Marvel was that it offers a promising example of how to represent female superheroes effectively. I can finally see myself, a Desi woman, in Kamala Khan's portrayal as a relatable young woman with flaws and aspirations, alongside her diverse background and family dynamics, which is such a refreshing break from…

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Antwort an

YESS! the one thing I did really like about Ms. Marvel was that she successfully broke the wider stereotype of firstly a white female superhero and also showed her as completely normal, there was no glamorisation of her hair to be perfectly in waves or her outfits to be completely feminine. Also seeing this clip I did immediately let out a laugh but was able to note that only when they saw the accentuated hips on what is a male and the way Batman walks including the lower body angles as you mention they immediately see it as hilarious. Thank you for sharing this as it really helped further my analysis that it is soo deep-rooted that once you see…

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A great read! The analysis of female superhero representation highlights significant issues in the portrayal of women in the superhero genre. It's disheartening how these powerful characters are often confined within a narrow stereotype of hyper-sexualization, emphasizing body type over their strength and complexity as individuals. The way these heroines are presented, from their form-fitting costumes to their romantic narratives, perpetuates a limiting image that doesn't truly empower women. I'm curious, in your view, what specific changes or approaches could filmmakers and storytellers adopt to break away from these stereotypes and provide more inclusive, empowering representations of female superheroes? How can they navigate the balance between showcasing strength and vulnerability without reinforcing outdated gender norms and expectations?


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