As far as we’ve come with female superheroes in films, their portrayal continues to disappoint.  Hillary Pennell and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz at the University of Missouri conducted a study recently that shows how even the new super-empowered heroes may lower women’s self esteem. 

Pennell and Behm-Morawitz showed undergraduate women scenes from two popular superhero film series, Spider-Man and X-Men. The female characters shown from Spider-Man were all victims. The female characters shown from X-Men were heroines. However, females from both series were highly sexualized. 

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Women of X-Men

Cindy May of Scientific American reports that women’s responses to these scenes were measured using a variety of methods such as the Attitudes Towards Women Scale and the Body Esteem Scale. May says women who viewed scenes from Spider-Man “were less likely to agree with statements such as, “Men and women should share household work equally,” and more likely to agree with statements such as, “Men are better at taking on mental challenges than women.”’ However, they did not “experience drops in body esteem or rate the importance of body appearance more highly.”

Seeing the empowered heroines of X-Men surprisingly had the opposite effect. While there was no significant change in their views of gender roles, women “who watched the X-Men montage reported lower body esteem. They also ranked the importance of physical competence more highly.” May says, “Because these sexualized superheroines have unattainable body dimensions and engage in unrealistic physical feats (e.g., saving the world in spiked heels), it’s not surprising that female viewers are left feeling dissatisfied with their own physical appearance and prowess.”

“Because these sexualized superheroines have unattainable body dimensions and engage in unrealistic physical feats... it’s not surprising that female viewers are left feeling dissatisfied with their own physical appearance and prowess.”

 

It’s disappointing to think that the only way to include strong, butt-kicking women in movies is to highly sexualize them. It’s not that it is wrong for a strong woman to be a sexual being. In fact, I find it just as backwards that the only other option there seems to be in media is completely removing any sexuality from an empowered woman. A strong woman either has to be thought of as a “sex goddess” or someone a man would never think of sleeping with.

You’d hope these new superhero movies would start taking more cues from the comics on which they are based. As the portrayal of female superheroes in film has stayed fairly stagnate, the female superheroes of comics have developed significantly. 

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Just take a look at Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel or Barbara Gordon as Batgirl. They both wear fully functional outfits, no extra cutouts, and flat shoes. Carol Danvers actual wears nearly the same outfit as the old Captain Marvel who was a man—the costume simply has a change of colors. One of my favorite comics, Rat Queens, has a cast of women of all shapes and sizes, races, and sexualities. They are sexual without being sexualized and just straight-up cool. 

The most awesome of all, though, is Kamala Khan or Ms. Marvel. Kamala Khan sticks out for a sort-of horrible reason—being a young girl (she’s fifteen!) who is not sexualized. It’s disappointing that we still have to deal with the sexualization of teenagers, and that someone would stand out for going against that, but it’s just the way it is for now. Kamala Khan is also cool for a number of other reasons. She is a Muslim Pakistani-American and super relatable—she’s obsessed with The Avengers and writes fan-fiction online!

Kamala Khan

Hopefully Hollywood will start taking cues from comics and step up its game with female superheroes!

Read May's full article here.

Read More At Bust.com:

The First All-Female Avengers Is In The Making For Marvel Comics

The Evolution Of Supergirl | From Sidekick And Sex Object To Leading Lady

Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

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