She stands atop the building, the wind blowing her cape and long, flowing hair out behind her as she scans the horizon. Her perfectly-toned, eternally twenty-three-year-old body is poised to leap (a position that apparently involves torqueing your body to accentuate both your breasts and your butt at the same time for the viewing pleasure of anyone who might be watching). She only awaits the call…
That could be a description of many a comic book cover or movie poster.
I’ve always found it funny. Why in the world would a woman who can bend iron in her bare hands or melt through walls dress like that? Surely, with all that power comes some self-confidence and self-respect. I mean, sure, breasts can be wielded like a weapon, but when you’ve got other, more effective and direct weapons, it seems like overkill.
There’s also just suspension of disbelief. Yes, I know we’re talking about stories with superheroes in them, so we’re not exactly expecting John Steinbeck style realism. But all that bare flesh is a problem in battle, as are high heels, capes, and long, loosely hanging hair. Did we learn nothing from The Incredibles? “No capes!” It only makes sense to dress for maximum movement, flexibility, and protection of whatever parts of the hero are vulnerable.
Luckily, this is changing. Like any former all boys’ club, the superhero and comics industry is slow to come around, but change is in the air and it’s exciting. There have always been people trying to write well-rounded female characters in the hero business, but now those characters are going mainstream in a big way. Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, Alana from the Saga series, the most recent iterations of Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl. And it’s happening off the comics page on the small and large screen, too.
Sure, Gamora was left off the Guardians of the Galaxy lunchboxes and tee shirts. But she was one of the stars of the movie and held her own on the screen even when she shared it with a giant sentient tree. Black Widow, too, was more than window-dressing in the Avengers movies. Neither of these characters was there in the role of victim, hostage, girlfriend, or comic relief. They were heroes alongside the other heroes. And both of them did it wearing pants and practical shoes more often than not. (Though I still question the hair. I know I pull mine back for things like washing dishes and playing tennis, so I doubt the warrior woman who lets it fall in her face when vision really matters).
It’s an exciting time to be writing in the superhero genre, trying to create characters that speak to grown women. In Going Through the Change and the rest of my Menopausal Superhero series, I’m writing about women with careers, families, and partners. I wanted heroes that I could connect with; and the older I get, the harder it is to connect with angsty underdressed teenagers. Helen, Patricia, Jessica and Linda are adults, with adult problems and situations in their lives. Of course, they can also throw fire or pianos, transform and fly. That’s the fun part.