Where Are The Female Superheroes In Our Books?

Posted: July 17, 2018

There is a real shortage of female superheroes in our books, of women who play a ‘dominant’ role and not only the traditional role of lover, wife, or mothers, says this author. 

Be it the Tales of Noddy or The Inkheart or the widely popular Harry Potter series or the modern day novels of Agatha Christie or the classic novels set in the 19th century, we largely come across male protagonists only. It is not that women are missing or not present as lead characters but they are too ‘feminine’ to be liked, to put it in simple words. From Jane Eyre of Charlotte Bronte to the Bennet sisters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and from the Anna Karenina of Leo Tolstoy to the modern day Nicholas Sparks and others, women are only portrayed as seeking love in the arms of men blinded by ambitious careers.

In a way, you could find Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina very progressive, breaking the shackles of a marriage to be with her lover, but the end does not justify her brave decision. Every female protagonist, if she plays a doting mother and wife or love interest is shown in glowing terms but when the same turns bad, she is dropped down in every way. This portrayal of women in the most read literature of the world throws a very valid question out in the open: ‘Where are the women heroes?’

Throughout my childhood, I wanted to be Harry Potter, because I had no female characters to look up to. All the women in the books I came across were either too soft or too weak. Why would anyone want to be weak and fragile?

This question may not have seemed very pertinent back then but now it is. Why is heroism connected only to males? Why can only males fight the giant villains and take care of the family in times of problems? Why do women need to look up to men for security and a good life? Why are men always ambitious while women shown as good mothers and wives? Why are ambitious women, with good careers usually unhappy and unsatisfied in the books?

Novels and movies are the mirrors of society and people follow them blindly. They could have reengineered society to better understand sensitive issues like gender equality. But they chose not to and continue to dump these patriarchal ideas on us. When Gal Gadot’s first women superhero movie, Wonder Woman came out, people questioned her about her faith in Zionism. They never bothered to ask such questions from their dear Captain America, Superman or Batman. It is too hard to digest that women could also play the same brave, ruthless part.

If we go a little deeper, we will find that not just male writers, but even female writers usually come up with male protagonists. This background of being subordinated to men has been so deeply ingrained in society that it fails to recognize these acts of humiliation forced upon women in their everyday lives. These writers, rather than providing an alternative view, have found comfort in the prevalent ideas. When I think of picking out a woman I would like to be like, usually, there are very few options. But there are a wide number of options amongst the male role models. This gender inequality, which degrades women every hour, is unfair and satanic.

If this is not humiliating, then what else is? While one gender is treated with utter respect and the other is shown as weak; while one is subordinated to other and to the family life and another is free to lead an independent life; while infidelity is an asset for one, it is a matter of shame to the other. When these kinds of inequalities exist, how could you ignore it in the name of society? This society has to be dealt with by women in the vanguard.

Women who are writers, actors, directors, activists and those who have the power to be heard by millions, need to come up and take this fight for equality further. But sadly, even after so many years, women find very less dominant representation in modern day literature and cinema. Women are portrayed only as good enough to be in love with a man and everything else is for men. It is a failure on the part of modern-day writers, actors, and directors that they do not actively participate in fighting this injustice. This humiliation is accepted, and even voiced at times but never fought for with the strength it needs.

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