The Superheroine Liberal

Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Supergirl, Black Cat, Sue Storm, and Jean Grey.  Your typical female superheroes, right?  Not so much.  I did a quick search of my library and on the internet and learned a very interesting fact; there are only three superheroines in the legends and myths – Atalanta, Caenis, and a warrior from the Mahabharata.  Atalanta and the Mahabharata heroine refused to marry, and when they were finally forced to both women lost their martial abilities.  Caenis was raped by a god and asked in return to be made a man.  Caenis, or Caeneus, is a good symbol for all three women.  To be considered a superhero, a woman traditionally had to give up being a woman altogether.

Not so with the comic book genre.  Wonder Woman was created in 1942, and in that very same issue she fell in love with Steve Trevor.  The feelings were returned, and the couple have carried on a romantic relationship.  In the 1960s and 1970s the Invisible Woman and Jean Grey were similarly able to have marriages, with both women eventually marrying.  Interestingly, in all three cases the women were more powerful than their mates.

Batgirl, Supergirl, and Black Cat have all had more complicated romances, but they have had relationships.  And in no case have they lost their powers because of the fact that they were allowing themselves to love.  With these women, too, they have been more powerful than most of their romantic interests.

In this regard, the development of the superheroine has been a tremendous step forward for women.  That a woman could have both her full abilities and a romantic partner would have been unthinkable before the twentieth century.  The functional fixedness of women’s perception; as either intelligent and forceful or a wife and mother was ingrained not just into the public’s thoughts of their heroines but of society’s thinking toward women in general.

That a woman could be more powerful than her man would have been unthinkable up until the last few decades.  In our society, the thought that a woman could be better, at anything, than a man continues to be an issue.  I just watched Hancock again, and there is a scene where Charlize Theron asks her husband to open a bottle she is having trouble with.  It’s silly, and I laughed at the irony.  But the scene is so honest it’s also frightening.

With all the advances being made, there is still one point in which women are well behind the men – intelligence.  Mr. Fantastic’s powers are no match for his wife, but he is a powerful mutant in his own right.  On the other hand, he is possibly the smartest human in the Marvel universe while the Invisible Woman was a model before she became part of the Fantastic Four.  His brains are why he is the team leader.  Similarly Cyclops is generally portrayed as more intelligent than the more powerful Jean Grey and he is the field leader of the X-Men.  Wonder Woman defers to Steve, despite the fact that she is supposed to be more intelligent than him.  Supergirl is the immature cousin of Superman.  Black Cat is the ethically challenged sometime partner of Spider-Man.  Batgirl only became intelligent when she was crippled.  Comic heroines have moved perceptions of women well beyond their mythological role models but they still have some distance to go.

About Cian Beirdd

I live with my kitty, and encourage his tuna and catnip addictions. I have a website as well;
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3 Responses to The Superheroine Liberal

  1. Garry is a Wonder Woman fan. I think she would be smart if she didn’t have a deranged attachment to Steve Whatsisname. I have never figured out what she sees in him. But everyone said that about my second husband. Even me.

    • Cian Beirdd says:

      I can’t believe I missed this for so long. Yeah, DC is always behind Marvel, but at least it is moving forward. Did you take a look at my heroine? That should be even better.

  2. Loki says:

    The point about the huge roster of genious level — don’t even mention the super-clever-but-not-quite-geniouses-by-the-insane-comics-standards like Spider-Man — comic book characters hardly including a single woman is very, very true. I mean, off the top of my head, I can list super-genious good guys by the bucketload: Mr Fantastic, Iron Man, Beast, Batman, Ant-Man — all more or less human, and all male. Same goes for bad guys (though the Evil Scientist stereotype does have something to do with their inflated numbers) — without even dipping into Superman’s villains (who, if human, all seem to be some kind of insane genious or other) there is Doctor Doom, Doctor Octopus, Green Goblin, the Riddler, Mr Freeze, etc, etc, ad infinitum. And they’re all male, too. The only known-mostly-for-her-brains female Marvel/DC characters I can think of are Oracle (post-injury, as you point out) and Waller — but Waller is Flash or Spider-Man levels of super-smart, she’s not really quite on the level of a hypergenious like Doom, Luthor or Batman. Oracle’s really the only one I can think of. And that’s WEIRD. I’d say I hope they’ll get around to introducing more genious females down the line, but considering how attached people are to the existing characters and the ever-increasing inflation of super geniouses (if every teenage genious they introduce is Tony Stark-smart, then in the end no-one really is), the odds of them finding a slot for a type of character that is different enough from the existing stable to become popular is tiny enough as it is. For the character also to be female AND a primarily known for her incredible intelligence — I won’t hold my breath.

    There are plenty of regularly clever women, though. Just none that are famous for being The Smartest In Every Room the way Mr Fantastic or Luthor are.

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