Female superheroes in the spotlight of pop culture
WARNING: This piece discusses sexual assault. If you feel as though you will be affected by this, please do not continue reading.
The piece also contains spoilers for Jessica Jones and Supergirl
Typically, superheroes are boys. In the last few years we’ve had Marvel launch The Avengers. X-Men and Ant- Man. The other major comic book company, DC, have created the television shows Arrow and The Flash, as well as Batman v Superman to be released next year. It isn’t as though there haven’t been kick ass female heroes, like Black Widow, the Scarlett Witch and Wonder Woman, but they haven’t been the main character. Of course, this is different for the original comic book portrayals – but mass media finally seems to be catching up to the idea that women can be super. This year has sent us more female superheroes than ever before.
Marvel launched TV show Jessica Jones in November, which follows main character Jessica (played by Krysten Ritter) taking steps to hunt down the man who held her captive for a year, Killgrave (played by David Tennant), who controlled everything she did, said and ate through his “gift” of mind control.
Jessica screams at Killgrave that not only did he physically rape her, but also he metaphorically raped her every time he took away her decision to choose how she behaved, every day that he kept her against her well. Her attacker doesn’t feel as though he hasn’t done anything wrong. He doesn’t see that he forced her to do anything.
To me, this is very similar to many people’s understanding of a rapist. When they see Person A laughing at a party with Person B, and Person A later accuses Person B of rape, the witness will say “oh, but Person A looked as though they were enjoying themselves.” The shows that anyone can be a victim of a sexual assault – no matter how pretty, how polite, what gender, what age they are, their race and what sexual orientation they identify with. It also shows the aftermath.
Despite adversity, Jessica Jones begins to rebuild her life trying to minimise the mess caused by a man who will do everything in his power to get her back. Jessica uses her super strength, her “flying” and her I-don’t-give-a-shit-about-anything persona to investigate and defend those who have been hurt. Jessica Jones is realistic because that she closes herself off to the world at the beginning of the show, before slowly letting people back in again. Jessica’s main and most important relationship is with her best friend and adopted sister Trish Walker (played by Rachael Taylor), as it is what keeps Jessica functioning through most of the series, and is probably one of the things I loved most about the show. Neither sees the other as weak, both just want to keep the other safe. Fantastic females being fantastic friends is something I will always love.
Jessica Jones isn’t the typical female superhero. She doesn’t wear a cape, instead donning a leather jacket, but she is genuine. She just wants to help people and keep them from getting hurt. She is something that every human being could aspire to be. She is completely imperfect, which is the opposite what so many heroes are portrayed to be, and it is refreshing change of pace.
Another female superhero story was released by DC in the creation of Supergirl, which premiered in Australia over the weekend. Kara Danvers, A.K.A Supergirl, is a much more traditional superhero, but that doesn’t any less important as a feminist icon.
The first episode alone addresses how Kara should carve her own path and that her destiny isn’t attached to her better-known male cousin (Superman). It discusses how the word ‘girl’ doesn’t make Supergirl’s abilities any less important. One of the biggest media tycoons in National City and Kara’s female boss, Cat Grant, says:
“And what do you think is so bad about “girl?” Huh? I’m a girl. And your boss, and powerful, and rich, and hot and smart. So if you perceive “Supergirl” as anything less than excellent, isn’t the real problem you?”
Another unnamed character also comments on how brilliant it is for her own daughter to have such a positive female role model to look up to.
By having Jessica Jones and Supergirl, two strong and very polar opposite female leads, is great because it is realistic in a way which no two heroes are the same. it creates a sense of representation of females in the superhero universe, something many feel have been lacking for a long time. That isn’t to say we have had truly incredible female heroes in the past in pop culture. We’ve had Catwoman, Wonder Woman, Storm, Scarlett Witch and Black Widow. However, this is the first time in a long time women have taken centre stage in mass media superhero tv shows and films. Through this, children can see that both boys and girls can be the hero, creating a very different real world perception that many people do have of the female gender.
Anybody can be a hero – but now women have heroes that look like them to look up to in mass media.