Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: I’m Holding Out for a (Female) Superhero!

The Tween read each & every comic book yesterday

Yesterday was Free Comic Book Day and I celebrated – with my Tween daughter – by handing out free comic books at my library. The night before I took her little sister to see the new Spider-Man movie. We’re pretty big superhero fans in this house. In fact, we watch The Avengers movie a couple of times a month. Which is why I can’t help but wish that someone would remember that girls can be a superhero too.

Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Superman, Spider-man . . . they all get their own superhero movies. But female superheroes, they get to be part of a team. Yes, there are female superheroes (ish) in The Avengers movie (my husband argues though that Black Widow is not an Avenger but an agent of Shield). And yes, there are superheroes in the X-men movies. But there are no female led superhero movies. Where is Wonder Woman? Well, it was previously in development but it is now dead, dead, dead and they say it is never going to happen. There is talk that there may be a Black Widow movie, but there is nothing in development right now.


For a brief moment I, the superhero fan, was excited when my friend and fellow librarian Maria Selke tweeted me a picture of an ALA reading incentive campaign with a variety of posters.  And then Robin tweeted me, “Psssst, where is Black Widow?”  Where IS Black Widow? Or any female superhero.  ALA is an organization that prides itself on diversity; it is one of the library’s fundamental rallying cries. And yet here is an entire read campaign that utilized nothing except for white men to promote reading. I mean, I guess there is diversity if you consider the fact that the Hulk does turn green and Thor is quite literally from another planet. That part was sarcasm, for the record.  But they could have included Black Widow and The Falcon. And with the new X-men movie coming out, there are a variety of women to choose from there as well.

ALA Catalog Image Tweeted by Maria Selke @mselke01


At the same time, Maria brought a Scholastic reading campaign to my attention. Yep, same problem. In fact, basically the same superheroes.


I will say in their defense that after we started Tweeting at Scholastic about our concern about this campaign, they did inform us that they were only given a select few superheroes to choose from and that they would take our concerns to the marketing team.  Imagine though what a statement it would have made when given those choices from either Marvel or Disney, who holds the copyright to the Marvel universe, if they had said I’m sorry we can’t work with you under these terms because it is direct contradiction with our core value and commitment to diversity. If more and more of us start making those kinds of statements, perhaps then we can see greater change in the ways women, people of color and other marginalized people groups are represented in the media.

And make no mistake about it, representation does matter. I watched Wonder Woman on TV as a young girl (not that young!) and it is empowering to see a female superhero. It is empowering for little girls to see themselves represented in these positive ways. And yes, I’m totally going to ignore the incredibly sexualized and impractical costume for the moment. Just as it is empowering for children of color to see Falcon in the new Captain America movie.


The 5-year-old dressed up as Spider-Man

More importantly, seeing a broader scope of people in the media encourages empathy to those that are different than us. When we continually focus on men as superheroes, white men, it communicates that all others have less worth. This becomes the standard, the ideal. Anything that doesn’t fit into this standard is seen as less than worthy. That’s the message that is communicated to our young, impressionable generation when they continually see such a strong emphasis on one type of person. Representation is one of the most significant tools we can use to help promote kindness, equality, and mutual respect.

I want in my lifetime to take my girls to see a movie that features a female superhero. I want them to walk out of that theater inspired, empowered, and hopeful. And I want fathers to take their sons to a female superhero movie so that their sons will grow up respecting and valuing woman as equal members of the human race. And I want people who are in the position to put together these reading incentive campaigns to remember ALL little kids, every single one of them, and to demand better representation.

It’s easy to look at the success of the Marvel universe and think, we need to tap into that. But true change comes when we take the harder road sometimes and demand more from those who are still failing to understand what the world we live in today looks like. If we care about our future, we need to work on the messages we are sending today. And this is why diversity matters.

The title for this post was inspired by the Bonnie Tyler song Holding Out for a Hero.

In the meantime, I guess we’ll keep watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Although I can’t help but think we’ve gone backwards since that revolutionary show reminded us all that girls could kick butt too.

For more on these topics, see these posts:
“If she can’t see it, she can’t be it”
Beth Revis: I See You, Representation Matters (great post, read it)
Ramp Your Voice: Why Representation Matters in Children’s Books and Media
Actually, just Google “representation matters” for lots of great posts

More Diversity at TLT:
Racial Stereotyping in YA Literature
Race Reflections, Take II
Building Bridges to Literacy for African American Male Youth Summit recap, part 1
Friday Reflections: Talking with Hispanic/Latino Teens about YA Lit
See also the Diversity in YA Tumblr by Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo

More on Gender and Sexuality at TLT:
I’m Just a Girl? Gender issues in YA Lit
Girls Against Girls
Teach Me How to Live: talking with guys about ya lit with Eric Devine
Let’s Hear It for the Boys: Boys and body image
Who Will Save You? Boundaries, Rescue and the Role of Adults in the Lives of Teens
The Curious Case of the Gender Based Assignment 

You want to put WHAT in my YA?
Taking a Stand for What You Believe In
Annie on My Mind and Banned Books Week on My Calendar
Queer (a book review)
Top 10: For Annie and Liza (Annie on My Mind)