The Elusive Female Superhero

One of my older daughter’s favorite pastimes is movie night. She frequently asks, “Can it be movie night?” Being the semi-conscientious parent that I am (though some tell me I’m mean), I don’t like to let her watch too many movies. There is usually a good reason for it not to be movie night, namely that it’s a school night. But school is not currently in session, so I have no excuse.

So one evening last week, she petitioned me to let it be movie night. I didn’t have any pressing work that needed to be done, and the baby had already gone to sleep. So, I said yes, it could be movie night.

She had already worked out which movie she wanted to watch. In fact, she was halfway to the DVDs before I had answered her question. And before I could argue her choice, we were settled on the couch to watch AstroBoy. 

I’m not really big on boy superheroes, but it was better than the alternative — another princess movie.

We weren’t very far into the movie when my daughter surprised me.

“There should be more girl superheroes.”

I was genuinely caught off guard by this comment from the girl who, despite my protests, can’t get enough pink and regularly begs me to play Pretty Pretty Princess just one more time.

“I agree” was all I could muster.

There was no further conversation on the subject. We finished the movie and both went to bed. 

The next day (as we played Pretty Pretty Princess yet again), I started to think about female superheroes. I can name only two — Wonder Woman and Word Girl. I’m sure there are others, but these seem to be the only two that operate without the direction or support of a male.

Wonder Woman was a bit before my time, but I am willing to bet that most people remember her not for her superhuman abilities but for her outfit. In fact, as my older cohort tells me, the only feats she could accomplish were with her crown and her belt. Thus, even though her accessories were useful, she was and is still little more than a sex symbol.

That’s not the superhero I want for my daughter.

I much prefer Word Girl. She is less familiar than Wonder Woman to many, but in our house, we watch her program almost every day on PBS. She zooms from place to place rescuing the town from its various villains in much the same fashion as any superman. And, with her superior vocabulary, she outsmarts them every time. Both strong and smart, she is the perfect girl superhero in my quasi-feministic English teacher mind.

I realize, of course, that the concept of Word Girl would not work in adult form. So that leaves the question as to why there aren’t more female superheroes.

I would argue that there are. They are called moms. Not supermoms who try to be and do everything. Regular moms who do what they have to do and already are everything to their kids.

We don’t have to boast superhuman strength because we already have it. We rely on it daily. I frequently find myself carrying loads much heavier than I ever thought I would. Not only that, but I can balance multiple objects within that load and still manage to unlock the door without dropping the baby. If the name weren’t already taken, my superhero name would be OctoMom because I can morph myself into a creature with eight arms when needed.

My physical strength, however, is nothing to my ability to dodge bullets. There have been times I have had to let my daughter’s “I hate you”s bounce right off my chest.

As for superhuman speed, I can swoop in to rescue baby or 6-year-old from any hazard in a heartbeat. And it goes without saying that with two little would-be villains in the house, I can match wits with the best.

But the most important quality of a superhero, male or female, is the alter ego. Superabilities are not always needed, so the hero must blend in with normal society. Be it Clark Kent, Diana Prince or Becky Botsford, the hero seemingly leads a normal life until such time that disaster strikes.

So it is that my daughter sees me as just mom. She probably won’t realize that female superheroes live among us until she becomes a mother herself. Then, maybe one day when her daughter asks her why there aren’t more female superheroes, she will be able to articulate a better response than I.

“There are. You just don’t see them because they live among us.”


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