Holding Out for a Hero

Superhero movies are oftentimes an overlooked movie genre. The majority of them are, at best, semi-predictable, unrealistic, cheesy films that are basically retellings of the same story over and over again: the underdog triumphs over the villain, learns an important and life-affirming lesson, and makes it back home in time to finish his homework and eat dinner. Yet, the superhero genre continues to flourish and grow today. I believe, as a self-proclaimed superhero fanatic, that there is an ineffable sense of satisfaction when watching a normal, everyday human become super. Within every semi-predictable, unrealistic, cheesy film I consume, I am able to see some part of myself in the hero on screen. Humanity is what keeps superhero movies relevant today.

As with every piece of art, superhero movies have their flaws. There has always been a blatant lack of female superheroes present within every fictional universe and world. More often than not, the female presence in superhero comics, television shows, and movies has been reduced to love interest, damsel in distress, or nerdy sidekick. It is important to note that in the last few years, female superheroes such as Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Black Widow have risen to prominence in the film and television worlds. This emergence of strong, powerful women is not to be downplayed: these are necessary steps forward in breaking the stereotype that only men can be super. However, I feel that there is a lack of humanity to each of these women and how they are portrayed.
Obviously, there has to be a certain lack of human-ness in every superhero: that is what makes them super. However, I question the lack of human-ness present in the fact that these women are wearing high heeled boots and leather cat suits to fight off evil. I question the fact that each of them are tall and leggy with incredible hair, and each of their superhero personas are very scantily clad in spandex or a mini-skirt or both. I question the fact that these women’s costumes seem to show off her body more than assist her in getting her job done. Logistically, chasing a villain would simply be easier in tennis shoes and leggings rather than a skirt and heels. I question the fact that it is socially acceptable to over-sexualize superwomen, because presenting superwomen in an overly-sexual light gives young girls and women the impression that to be powerful, strong, and respected, your body has to be on display. It teaches young boys and men that powerful women can and should look and dress a certain way.
This is not to say that male superheroes are perfectly depicted. An argument could also be made that supermen are often clad in tight, full body outfits like their female counterparts. However, men’s costumes never seem to be compromising a superhero’s ability to do their job in order to show a little more skin. Their legitimacy and place in the world as a superhero is rarely questioned, and their ability to be a superhero is rarely based on how they look. In fact, many male superheroes are masked: Spiderman, Batman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Captain America, among others.
Film and television are arguably the most pervasive forms of art today, especially because of the rise of the screen age. These characters have the power to inspire a wider demographic of people than any other art form. I believe that social change lies within the power of such art and media. I therefore hope to one day see a female superhero that is super simply because of her humanity on the big and silver screens.

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