As a mother of three boys—and thus completely outnumbered in my house—I’ve become an expert on all things superhero. To be fair, before I had the boys, I think I already had a pretty decent level of knowledge in the area of superheroes, comics, and Star Wars thanks to my brother. Growing up, we played Barbies and Transformers side-by-side until eventually Barbie and Optimus Prime were working together to save the planet from the forces of evil.
So maybe in this way, I was meant to have sons. Or at the very least, perhaps my childhood experiences prepared me for life with my three Jedi-in-training.
It’s no secret that most of the superhero world is dominated by men—Batman, Superman, Spiderman, Iron Man, Aquaman, Antman, the X-Men, among others (and those are just the ones that have the word man in them). Sure, most superhero teams have at least one important female character—a Black Widow among Avengers—but rarely do women get the superhero spotlight all to themselves. And I wonder what this means for my boys, who almost always see male characters as the heroes, the ones worthy of blockbuster movies, television shows, and entire toy aisles at Target.
And so because of my not-so-secret mission to make feminists out of my boys, I’m acutely aware of the way females are portrayed and treated in all media the boys consume. When they get annoyed by a female character on a show, I go out of my way to point out her strengths and—more importantly—her point-of-view. Because so many superhero stories are told from the male perspective, female characters are often relegated to either helping the hero or needing the hero’s help. I want my boys to know that women can do their own rescuing.
Things are changing, thankfully. For example, tonight, as on every Monday night, eight-year-old Toby stops whatever he’s doing between 8 and 9 p.m. to watch one of his favorite new shows—Supergirl. While the show isn’t perfect, it’s a welcome change to see a strong female lead at the center of the story, to be written with an attention that’s usually reserved for a male protagonist. In addition to supergirl Kara Danvers, there’s also Rey, who may very well be one of the most powerful Jedi to ever exist in the Star Wars universe. A few months ago, the boys and I finished the Nickelodeon series The Legend of Korra, whose title character is perhaps the most complex female heroine I’ve seen in any kids television programming. And of course, there’s no shortage of strong female leads in young adult fiction—I’m looking at you, Katniss Everdeen.
Last Friday, we took the boys to see Batman v. Superman. The film was better than I thought it would be, though it had plenty of issues. Wonder Woman played only the smallest of roles in the film, but the moment she appeared on the screen in full costume, with her own theme music playing in the background, I noticed the boys lean forward with interest. Later, as we were leaving the film, Toby turned to me and said, “Did you see how Wonder Woman used her lasso to [spoilers]?”
Matthew, his brother, quickly added, “I can’t believe she was barely in the movie. She should have had a bigger part.”
Of course, I smiled. Just like how I smiled tonight as I watched Toby play with his Legos. He was humming Wonder Woman’s theme song.
This post is part of the “Slice of Life” series, organized by the teachers at Two Writing Teachers, whose goal is to give teachers a place to write and reflect. This March, more than 300 teachers have committed to daily writing. If you’d like to read more “slices” (from other teachers and even some students), visit twowritingteachers.wordpress.com/challenges.