Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker

Positive Pick: Female Super Heroes We Can Love

On my Facebook page, one of the members of the community asked for recommendation for non-sexualized female superheroes. If you’re familiar with comic or even movie versions of female superheroes, you are probably aware of the ways that they are incredibly sexualized. Even my childhood favorite, Wonder Woman, is dressed in an outfit that would realistically prohibit any real crime fighting! I mean, let’s be realistic, a bustier and high-heeled boots are not ideal for chasing bad guys and hand to hand combat.

We came up with some great super heroes so far, including Mrs. Incredible/ElastiGirl, Violet Incredible, and Kim Possible all from Disney. My favorite that was mentioned was Word Girl. Do you know her? Word Girl is a fifth grade girl who fights crime with her super strength and super vocabulary! Word Girl is relatable for young girls because she’s an elementary aged girl herself, and her costume says “super hero” not “super sexy.” PBS also has “Super Why” which features Princess Pea and Red, who are super hero girls. Another great girl super hero is Super Tool Lula. Lula isn’t in a television series like the others I mentioned, but in books, which provides parents with another way to expose their kids to strong female models. I love the way all three of these heroes are young girls who kids can relate to.

Another reader recommended brining in historical figures to share with kids, such as Amelia Earhart, Sally Ride, and Billy Jean King. Something that I never would’ve thought of that a reader suggested was sharing some of the stories of female Catholic saints with your kids.  Many of these women stood up for what they believed in and suffered greatly for it, so the stories might be best for older children. Joan of Arc was one tough cookie who lead men in battle as a teenager. Then there are the women scientists and inventors such as Marie Curie and Hedy Lamarr and activists like Rosa Parks.

Do you have suggestions for female super heroes that aren’t sexed up? Girls and boys benefit from seeing women and girls as powerful people who stand up for their beliefs. Kids of both sexes need to see women and girls depicted as valuable for something other than just their looks and ability to attract others. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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14 comments on “Positive Pick: Female Super Heroes We Can Love

  1. michyulo
    February 27, 2012

    All good ones that you’ve listed here. While my Super Tool Lula is not out there in a big way (yet)–she is one of my favorite super heroes! And I know that kids are really enjoying her. :-) There is room for many female super heroes at this point. The sky’s the limit!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      February 27, 2012

      Michele, I meant to add Lula! I’m going in and adding her right now with a link to my post about her. Lula falls into the category of the others i recommend in the way that she’s a little girl who deals with the same problems real kids are facing. I love the way that Lula shows positive, realistic ways of handling bullying too. I Love Lula!

  2. naomi
    February 27, 2012

    Gosh I cannot think of any super heroes who are women and not sexed up. That is awful isnt it?

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      February 27, 2012

      That’s a sad thing, Naomi, and you’re probably not alone! Especially when you read comic books that target adolescents and young adults, the sexualization of women, even the heroes, is ridiculous.

  3. Anea Bogue
    February 27, 2012

    Thanks for the suggestions. Many are very hopeful. We actually introduced our daughter to Super Why about a year ago but I have a huge issue with the ultimate Super Hero of the bunch STILL being the male (Wyatt or Super Why is the one who has the power to READ). He is still the leader of the bunch and one of the many male heroes that dominate even the more balanced PBS options. We have to be really diligent as parents in asking for more ‘SHEROES’ for our daughters if we want them to believe they have the capacity to be such. They can’t BE what they can’t SEE.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      February 27, 2012

      I agree, Anea, we need both boys and girls to see that girls and women can be front and center heroes.

  4. That Unique* Weblog
    February 27, 2012

    Well I adore Word Girl, of course. I used to use Wonder Woman as my avatar, but Word Girl is much more my style in dress and deed.

    Storm and the other women from the X-Men (okay, it’s men…) are pretty awesome. Rogue and Jane Grey… Also, a morning show growing up “The Secrets of Isis” was one of my favorites.

    In addition to Disney’s new red-head hero, a friend of mine has a graphic novel coming soon. Neither of those are “Superheroes” – but they are heroes. Hope it’s okay to share the link to Giants Beware!

  5. Hillary Manaster
    February 27, 2012

    I’m going to have to check out Super Tool Lula. That sounds right up my kids alley!
    Great post!

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      February 27, 2012

      You will love Lula! She banishes bullies and helps kids learn to stand up for themselves and get along with others.

    • Rebecca Hains
      February 28, 2012

      I second (third!) Lula!

  6. Rebecca Hains
    February 28, 2012

    What a good question! My new book, Growing Up With Girl Power, deals precisely with the question of how on-screen girl power superheroes (the ones that were on screen from roughly 1998-2005) were represented and received.

    One thing I liked about the Powerpuff Girls is that they weren’t sexy. They were just kindergarteners! Unlike Kim Possible, whose crime-fighting outfit featured an exposed midriff, there weren’t any sexualizing elements to the PPGs’ dress.

    Similarly, Atomic Betty is pretty unsexualized (or at least she wasn’t the last time I watched). I think she’s supposed to be in 6th grade, but her body proportions are much more akin to the Powerpuff/Word Girl mold than to Kim Possible and other long-limbed teen girl heroes.

    If anthropomorphized animals count for your purposes, then for younger kids, The Wonder Pets are a good choice. Two of the three Wonder Pets are female, but the show really doesn’t make a big deal out of sex or gender roles–and they are definitely superheroes.

    For slightly older kids who enjoy comic strips, how about the classic Little Orphan Annie comics? She’s not a literal superhero, but in her exploits in the late 1920s/early 1930s, she was pretty darn close to one. And she was blissfully free of sexualization, as well.

    The other more historic examples that came up in the research that predated my book were Annie Oakley and Shirley Temple (and as one of your readers suggested, Joan of Arc). They weren’t literally superheroes, but still…

    It IS sad that there aren’t more examples, isn’t it??

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      February 28, 2012

      Rebecca, thanks for all the great ideas! I had forgotten about the Powerpuff Girls.

  7. Rebekah
    May 7, 2012

    She’s not technically a superhero, but has always been one of my fictional heroes–Nancy Drew! HerInteractive has kept Nancy really relevant to today’s teens and even young adults, and Nancy seems to have an endless store of knowledge and tricks, while keeping things modest and classy.

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      May 7, 2012

      Nancy Drew is a great one! I loved her when I was growing up. My daughters like her today, too.

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