Geek Girls Rule! #212 – Why We Love Superheroes.

We want this.

Ok, so I talked about this a little in the Avengers review.  But I think I want to expand on it.  One of the reasons that superheroes resonate with us is that we can relate to them on some level, like my infatuation with Hawkeye using a bow. But female superheroes seem to lack resonating traits for geek girls.  Or at least most of them do.

Let’s start with some well known male heroes.  Both Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and Steve Rogers (Captain America) started out their lives as reedy little geeks, who sucked with women and had lousy physiques.  But with the aid of SCIENCE, accidentally in the first case, on purpose in the second, they overcome their natural shortcomings and become HEROES, and save people, beat up bullies and score with chicks.  Ok, maybe Captain America is a little too much of a boy scout to just “score,” but you get the picture.

So, um, female heroes.

Well, Kitty Pryde does join the X-men in her early teens.  A cute, adorable little minx of a teen-ager everyone loves and tries to protect.  She’s smart, and super computer savvy, but even at her nerdiest, she’s still pretty damned hot.  I can’t think of any current female superheroes in the Big 2 (Marvel and DC) who started out as “kryptonite” to the opposite sex, who underwent some transformation to hotness along with hero-ness.  They all start out pretty conventionally attractive, and either stay the same or get even hotter.  None of them start out as chubby nerd girls with bad skin and braces.  Barbara Gordon, starts out hot.  Huntress, hot.  Jean Grey, hot.  White Queen, hot.

We get this. Seriously, has any of these women ever even had a “bad hair day,” let alone an “I feel fat and I’m not coming out of this muu-muu, so help me God!” day?

Can anyone think of a mainstream superheroine who not only isn’t so grotesquely sexualized that she’s a mockery of the human shape, but that started out of average or below average attractiveness?  Karma spends part of the Asgardian Wars fat, but slims down.  And her fatness was the result of a spell by a villain to punish her, not her natural state.

I mean, hell, there aren’t even any “stocky” superheroines.  Well, I take that back, I think Gert from Runaways started out a little chunky, which is one of the reasons I loved that book, but it didn’t last.  Also, I mean, really think about how many superheroines actually even wear glasses.  Even that small a flaw is rare.  Kitty, although she usually wears contacts, Gert…  I’m running through X-women in my head and Kitty’s the only one I can come up with.

So, while the dudes get Spider-Man, Captain America, Superman with his nerdy alter-ego Clark Kent, Doug Ramsey (who actually stays kind of dorky and is still a hero), and loads of other former geeks to man-crush on, we get hypersexualized male fantasies posed in ways that make contortionists wince, and reasonably healthy, active, athletic women hurt themselves trying to emulate.  Not to mention that the dudes get fully realized backstories that are often part of their initial comics run, but the women don’t.  Kitty’s the closest to that we’ve got, because we see her found and brought into the X-men.  Jean Grey’s family life is explored a bit.  But apart from Kitty’s parents divorcing (which was a much bigger deal in the 70s when that storyline was written), they both have happy, all-American lives until their powers (brought on by adolescence, clumsy analog for burgeoning sexuality anyone?) mess it all up.  The thing is, we see Peter Parker’s struggles in high school.  We see Steve Rogers failing out of the Army.   We see them being skinny dorks.  What do we get with the female characters?  Thin conventionally pretty girls whose lives are pretty damn good, until powers fuck it up.

Wait a minute… I mean, I know that not all of the guys have powers that improve their situation, Cyclops springs readily to mind here.  But Rogue, Mystique (or at least the Mystique of the movies), Jean Grey, Kitty, all of their powers fuck up their lives. What the hell?  I just noticed that.  It’s like becoming “super” is redemptive for dudes, but apparently doesn’t work that way for women.

Ok, that’s a rant for another day.

Look guys, we’re not saying you guys can’t still have your eyecandy.  Hell, fine, have becoming a superhero fix some girl’s bad teeth, acne and weight problem like they fixed Spider-Man and Captain America.  Fine.  But we’d like some female heroes that speak to us, like Spider-Man and the others speak to you. You know, heroes we can relate to.


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10 thoughts on “Geek Girls Rule! #212 – Why We Love Superheroes.

  1. Well one of the first people that comes to mind off the top of my head is Jennifer Walters who was portrayed as a mousy skinny thing in her initial appearances before becoming the She-Hulk. Karma also was no where near conventionally beautiful when introduced (neither was Rahne for that matter) she had very strong Asian features and wasn’t simply a differently colored white girl as she’s drawn today. Megan was also originally “ugly” before finding the confidence to change her appearance for the better. Gert from the Runaways has always retained her more chunky appearance (certain creative licence to the contrary) even when she came from the future as leader of the Avengers she didn’t have the supermodel physique. Finally Jessica Jones was portrayed as a female Peter Parker in HS and it wasn’t until after she got her powers that her appearance changed.

    As for your offhand comment on powers not being redemptive for women I’ll have to strongly disagree. Just off the top of my head men who’ve felt “punished” by their powers; The Thing, The Hulk, Spider-Man, Cyclops, Kid Psycho, Thunderbolt, Velocidad, Flashback, Havok, Beast, Nightcrawler, Jack of Hearts, Nuke, Whither, Mimic, Silver Surfer. I’m sure there are more. Now for the women; Rouge, Tigra (maybe), Rahne/wolvesbane, Cecila Rayes, early Spider-Woman, ummm that’s all I can come up with…

    As to your examples I’ll concede Mystique from the movies but definitely not the comics. As for Kitty I’m not even sure what you’re talking about unless it her problems with intangibility neither of which were a result of her powers but rather through her noble self-sacrifice where upon she became wounded a common theme for both sexes. Jean is more of a grey area, having Annie die right in front of her would have messed her up powers or no although the telepathy made it worse. As for the Phoenix that was an outside influence almost an ‘alternate’ personality. If you consider the Phoenix a “second” set of powers I suppose a case could be made for them ruining her life. Like I said ‘grey area’.

    That said I agree with your point that women should have role models as well instead of just super-models. 🙂 I am merely debating these two points on a technical perspective but do not disagree with the premise.

    my 2 cents

  2. I agree that there should be more ‘zero to hero’ females.

    But I would like to point out that Storm’s backstory was fleshed out, and was not a happy one for a large part of it. She has all kinds of funky real and adopted family issues.

  3. Ok, I didn’t really remember Jennifer being all that mousy/skinny, but that may just be the fact that it’s been a LONG damn time since I read her origins. Karma, for all that she was more Asian in appearance at first, was still drawn very beautiful, and I’ve always found Rahne exceptionally cute.

    I’m glad Gert stayed chunky, because when I looked her up on the Marvel wiki, it didn’t look like she still was. I admit to being a bit behind on comics because of finances.

    As to the redemptive thing, well, that is another post in the making. And you’re right, there are more dudes than I listed. But I suspect this is going to be another round of me spending a weekend reading the Marvel wikis in order to figure out if my gut instinct is right. You’d think I’d have that shit memorized by now.

  4. So: Rogue. Started out as a skinny punk rock teenager with a skunk stripe in her hair, with angular features. She stole Carol Danvers’ figure along with her powers.

  5. This isn’t a “nuh uh! Here’s this example that goes against what you’re saying!” (since by and large you are entirely correct) but one of the reasons I got into DC initially rather than Marvel was because DC had so many women who were superheroes in their own right. They weren’t just female versions of male heroes (She-Hulk) or female members of larger groups (Wasp, Sue Storm/The Invisible Woman, most of the women of the X Men)

    First they have Wonder Woman who is THE iconic comic book heroine. Yeah, Storm and Phoenix are well known but more or less everyone recognizes the WW symbol.

    But even outside of her (and she gets short listed in films and tv all the time) there characters like Black Canary. She has a totally well developed back story and is one of the oldest superheroes around. Her comics got their start as an insert in a male hero’s comic but she was on her own in a lot of them. Then Black Canary 2 (her daughter with the same name and same powers and same costume, all very confusing until post-Crisis) had a magnificently crafted back story that stood on its own even without Green Arrow. (She was on her own before and after him) And she went on to create the only all female hero team with Barbra Gordon.

    There’s characters like Zatanna and post-crisis Huntress (though pre-crisis Huntress is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman) who are both fully formed plus a whole array of back characters that the Birds of Prey drew from. Post-Crisis-pre-52 Huntress even got her own Year 1 arc (written by a woman) that established her back story without Batman (for the most part)

    Then there’s Batwoman who, while a part of the bat family, isn’t exactly a female Batman. Her back story is epic and she, shockingly, wasn’t overly sexualized at all (but that’s a credit to her writer and artist). Then there’s the Question as Rene Montoya. One of the least sexualized woman heroes ever. (If you’re interested in women characters of DC this is an awesome book I totally recommend it. Other than the smarmy intro. Though some of the content that Marvel bought up is just as cool as some DC’s early stuff)

    Of course NONE of those women began life as mousey and geeky or dumpy and geeky and they’re all drop dead gorgeous, most of them are in super revealing costumes but they’re characterization was there. They’re not perfect and there’s still a lot less of them then male heroes. Barbra Gordon is only around because of Batman, Powergirl and Supergirl – while both awesome character wise – are only around because of Superman and both known for super problematic costumes. Huntress has a belly window in her costume AFTER GETTING SHOT IN THE STOMACH and Zatanna wears pretty much a magician outfit for a fetish ball. Black Canary wears nothing but fishnet on her legs (and all attempts to rectify that have turned out hideous which makes no sense to me) Vixen, one of the few WoC in comics, is a model and a princess in her daily life and only got two solo runs (very short) decades ago. And so on and so on.

    Then the new-52 happened and all of my love for DC has been forever tainted by the bullshit of the last year. The way their spokespeople act at conventions, their PR, a good chunk of the new 52. … Yeah, they apparently don’t want women readers so fuck em. I’m done with superheros until the new 52 is eliminated (and it’s doing poorly after an initial bump, worse than their pre-new 52 numbers) and/or an apology for their bullshit behavior toward fans. I’m not holding my breath.

  6. Ok, so every example of a geeky girl coming into her own so far, is a skinny girl who is “movie” awkward. You know, she’s got glasses on and a weird haircut or a ponytail. Or one character who was initially drawn very “not white.”

    Apart from Gert, we have yet to encounter a chubby girl who “makes good.”

    Ya’ll are kind of proving many of my points.

    And let’s face it, yes, some of the female characters have backstories, even well-realized ones, but we still don’t really have a “Spiderman” or “Captain America” moment coming up. Except possibly for She-Hulk.

  7. Two years ago I got this magazine during… some month. It was magazine sized and something Marvel had put out about women in Marvel. It was kind of like that DC Covergirls book but since they didn’t own most of the older properties when they were being made they didn’t have as much stuff to talk about. (And some of it was “Look at these old not-superhero comics for women!”) However there was ONE article in there about how prior to The Code one of the companies that was later incorporated into Marvel had a good number of women working for them and how that wasn’t too strange prior to all of those “moral changes.” It sort of makes you wonder, if comics hadn’t literally booted women out of the creation process all those years ago if this ratio would be different at all. Less about the all-encompassing male fantasy (male power fantasy for the male characters – Hello there, Captain Marvel! male gaze fantasy for female characters – Hello there, Miss Marvel!) Maybe not too terribly much but perhaps a little?

  8. On the ledger of negatives for male heroes, I would point out Hulk doesn’t have it so good, and Banner is the most reluctant of reluctant heroes.

    That’s all I’ve got; I’m not a comics fan, I just like some movies, so I don’t know much about them beyond Wonder Woman.

  9. A minor quibble: The White Queen didn’t start out gorgeous. Mousy, flat-chested, nose you could use for a snowplow. She achieved sexiness through the use of science(!) In her case, enough expensive plastic surgery to keep Greece afloat.

    Of course, she was a villain originally, so I’m not sure what the message is here.

  10. Ok. I did not know that about her backstory. My first exposure to her was the Dark Phoenix saga, and I quit reading about the time she actually joined the X-men. So I don’t know enough about her, really.

    I see more research in my near future.

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