‘Females’ vs. ‘Heroes’

The following is an excerpt of Wizard Fan Awards categories and contestants, cut and pasted for your edutainment:
Batman (DC) (Details)
Spider-Man (Marvel) (Details)
Captain America (Marvel) (Details)
Superman (DC) (Details)
Hellboy (Dark Horse) (Details)
Skrull Queen/Spider-Woman (Secret Invasion) (Details)
Dr. Hurt (Batman) (Details)
The Joker (Joker) (Details)
Brainiac (Action Comics) (Details)
Red Hulk (Red Hulk) (Details)
Buffy Summers (Dark Horse) (Details)
Witchblade (Top Cow) (Details)
Emma Frost (Marvel) (Details)
Fallen Angel (IDW) (Details)
Wonder Woman (DC) (Details)
I think Wizard‘s choice of poll categories makes for an interesting lens through which to view a larger argument that’s taking place in the nets: whether, and to what extent, there can and should be ‘female superhero’ movies. I’ve been wading around the trenches Jezebel comment threads, and much (but not all) of the coverage I’ve seen has echoed what I see as a kind of problematic assumptionthe same one Wizard makes in their pollthat there is a fundamental difference between ‘superheroes’ and ‘female superheroes.’
There isn’t. Or, at least, there doesn’t have to be. Female superheroes’ gender doesn’t magically supersede their jobs. They don’t automatically have to have Shoe Shopping and Relationship Drama in every story, any more than every male superhero story requires a rousing football scrimmage. The problem isn’t with the charactersit’s with our own assumptions about the categories into which they’re allowed to fall. For example, Kill Bill, despite its female protagonist, overwhelmingly female supporting cast and villains, and substantial female fanbase, is categorized as an action movie, not a ‘girl’ movieand, despite its protagonist’s colorful costume and iconic code name, certainly not a ‘female superhero’ movie.
More significantly, though, Kill Bill doesn’t get categorized as a ‘female superhero’ movie because it doesn’t fit the stereotypes we’ve come to associate with such movies. It’s not a poorly-produced b-grade write-off. It didn’t fail miserably. It wasn’t a stereotypical ‘chick flick’ with a couple action scenes slapped on. And, incidentally, it starred a woman who had played an enthusiastic role in the creation of her character and story rather than brushing itand the genre it reflectedoff as kid stuff or a shitty dues role.
It’s absolutely true that ‘female superhero’ movies like Elektra and Catwoman don’t succeed. That’s not because they’re about female superheroes, though. It’s because they’re bad movies.
Here’s how you make a good ‘female superhero’ movie: Write a good, involved, interesting action story about an interesting, three-dimensional superhero. Then, lose the penis.
You can discuss this column here.
January 10th, 2009
Categories: characters, fandom, feminist stuff, general comics, invisible women, media, Superheroes . Author: Rachel Edidin