Wonder Woman will finally headline her own movie in 2017, the new Robin might be a girl, and Thor is now a woman in comic book canon. Is it the golden age for female superheroes?

Not exactly. I struggled to come up with those examples. The women who do appear in today's superhero movies as more than merely a romantic foil remain overtly sexualized in comparison to the male heroes, and the Wonder Woman movie — which has been attempted many times in the past — still hinges on the success of this year’s male-driven Batman vs. Superman.

Comics, particularly superhero comics, have long struggled to incorporate female superheroes in a way that doesn’t offend real women. Superheroes are the stuff of fantasy; male superheroes are aspirational to both their creators and readers, whereas female superheroes typically end up as eye candy—flat characters with inoffensive personalities. (In fairness, there are some standouts in the extended comic book universe that have yet to become familiar in wider popular culture, and as a medium, comic books are more female-friendly than ever.)

As Wonder Woman’s creator, William Moulton Marston, once wrote of the need for a strong female superhero: “Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weak ones. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

I relate more to the aspirational but grounded nature of a superhero like Superman, a lonely alien raised by a supportive family with dreams bigger than Kansas, than Superman’s cousin, Supergirl, a character created as a “female Superman” in an attempt to draw ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Posted: