Sexist Portrayals of Female Superheroes



This article quotes Scarlett Johansson as praising her character Black Widow in The Avengers, because she, unlike previous female superheroes is not “fighting in a bra”. It is true that female superheroes are usually either highly sexualized, emotionally unstable or both. I agree with this statement, but the marketing of The Avengers definitely used Johannson’s sex appeal to sell the movie.

The fact that female superheroes are pretty much always sexualized is a form of patriarchy, since it portrays even the most physically capable women as sex objects, and marginalizes them into a very specific role (below men). When the media shows female “heroes” as things to be ogled over, this sends the message that all women are nothing more than eye candy, because even the most powerful women are shown as sex objects. Male heroes are rarely (if ever) sexualized, and are judged by audiences based on their abilities. Female superheroes are almost always judged based on physical attractiveness.

The article goes on the argue that the difference between male and female superheroes “should be a means of articulating that there are multiple kinds of power that are equally effective, not that being a woman with powers means you can never be equal to a man”. In other words, female superheroes don’t have to act like their male counterparts, but there are many ways of portraying them that does not place them below male heroes. The article then says that there is nothing wrong with having attractive female superheroes, and argues that “Their bodies can be admirable, but they should be framed so we admire what these heroes are capable of accomplishing with those bodies, not solely as objects of consumption”. In a way, by doing this society has commodified female power. For the most part, people do not buy comic books or see movies of female superheroes simply for the story, but instead to see a highly sexualized woman fighting crime.

The picture above shows Halloween costumes of popular female superheroes. They all show a lot of skin and are intended to be “sexy”. There are no “sexy Superman” costumes for men, but there are plenty of “sexy Supergirl” costumes. This way of thinking values physical attractiveness in females over their abilities. Johansson’s Black Widow is a step in the right direction, but she is not completely desexualized. In the future, there may be female superheroes who are valued solely for their abilities, but as of right now that is simply not the case.


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