Bonnie Tyler was right, we do indeed need a hero, and that hero needs to be female!
I want my daughters to grow up knowing how much potential lies within them, that they can achieve and become anything they set their mind to. I want them to become their own hero. Don’t we all?
I spend every hour of my waking day, trying to instil in them this mindset - the understanding that a burning determination combined with willpower, grit and sustained hard work, can and will help them to achieve their dreams and goals.
As my daughters mature however, I am quickly realising that having the right mental attitude is only half of the battle. Especially when the goals and dreams that our children are setting for themselves are so, well empty.
During my time as a primary school teacher, I didn’t once hear a single girl say that she wanted to be a Scientist, A doctor or a successful business woman. Not once.
During one PSHE lesson, I asked my class to discuss and draw the future jobs that they thought they wanted to do. I was shocked to hear 12 of the 16 seven-year-old girls in my class exclaim that when they leave school, they wanted to be Mums. Really good Mums, but nothing else.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with the answers that these 12 young women gave – they clearly have fantastic Mothers who have not only proven to be excellent role models, but who have also succeeded at showing their daughters how happy they are when balancing what I believe to be the most complex job there is. The issue I had with these answers, was that the girls had internalised the belief that they were not capable of doing anything else.
When I heard the answers that the boys gave, I quickly spotted a HUGE difference in aspirations.
The boys in my class had chosen careers such as Scientists - ‘just like Hulk Smash’, Inventors, Race Car Drivers, Stunt Men. One even answered with ‘a very rich suit wearer in a big building up high in London’, Race Car Driver, Stunt Man. Not one child answered with, ‘a really good dad’ or ‘house husband’.
The boys’ aspirations were not only more varied, they were higher paid and seemed to revolve around jobs they had seen popular male super heroes performing.
If we look at the day jobs of main stream super heroes (the characters that our children are exposed to the most via TV, Cinema and toys) there some very evident and somewhat devastating trends:
|Character||Day Job||Other frequently shown responsibilities|
|Batman||Billionaire CEO||None / love interest|
|Superman||Reporter||None / love interest|
|Spiderman||Photographer||Love interest / Aunt May (takes care of herself)|
|Ironman||Billionaire CEO Genius||None / love interest|
|The Hulk||Nuclear Physicist||None / Love interest|
|Thor||Construction Worker/medical student||None / love interest|
|Captain America||Army/Captain America||None / Love interests|
|Mr Incredible||Insurance Negotiator||None / wife takes care of all.|
|Mrs Incredible||House Wife||House, children, husband.|
|Super Girl||Various Temp||Sent to look after Superman!|
|Buffy the Vampire Slayer||Fast Food (gets fired)||Sick mother, little sister, job, house, friends|
It comes as no real surprise that only 4 of the 12 super heroes listed are female. Three of which are not so popular by the standards of today’s children – but who were the only purely ‘good’ female heroes we could find (the others were female villains who had eventually turned good).
Decoding the female 'hero'...
Not only is there a severe shortage of female super heroes, there is also a HUGE inequality in the day jobs they are shown to do, with the men tackling exciting, high-paid high-pressure careers and the women barely holding down even the most ‘normal’ of jobs.
How on earth can we ever expect our daughters to reach a sustained level of professional ambition and equality, when from birth they are shown images of how little is expected of them in comparison to their male counterparts?
The female heroes are also shown to have many more responsibilities outside of the demands of being super. We frequently see Buffy for example, struggling to keep a roof over her and her family’s heads – battling a flooded basement with bills to pay and a sink full of dishes to clean, all while saving the world from vampires, demons and the forces of darkness!
We see Mrs Incredible cooking, cleaning and taking care of the physical and emotional wellbeing of her children, while her Husband goes out to work and spends his evenings with his best friend. Mrs Incredible – a woman who at the beginning of the film states very clearly that she does NOT want marriage or children (favouring her life as a hero) winds up as a housewife, balancing family life, saving the world and supporting a husband who is clearing going through a mid-life-crisis.
The crazy thing about the female super heroes, is that while they are busy saving the world, they are also managing the already overwhelming life of their alter egos. They are frequently shown to be far more super than the men, and yet they are never given high paying jobs or the credit they deserve. Perhaps this is because the male writers are worried that the super boss ladies might well be too powerful and end up taking over the whole show. The few female characters that are written as successful business women/professionals, are often portrayed as women who have chosen to leave behind their other more ‘feminine’ responsibilities. These characters are usually written as villains.
The Male heroes however have few/no extra responsibilities, something which is never represented as a bad thing. Often, they are rich, free and well rested! Spider Man is the only real exception, as he sometimes visit’s Aunt May (also a house wife), but she is rarely shown to ever really need him, and tends to take care of herself. The only other interests or responsibilities these men have, are attractive females and love interests. Females whose careers are also suitably lower down on the pay and power scale. These are men whose mothers are either full time house wives or dead.
Our sons and daughters NEED to see a balance.
They need an influx of strong female super heroes, with powerful and successful career driven alter egos. For our daughters, it’s a case of urging them to have their own high personal aspirations. For our sons, it’s about respect and a change in the ways in which they view and treat women.
In the just the same way though, the portrayal of male super heroes also needs to change. Boys and girls alike need to see Superman doing the dishes, and Batman giving Alfred the day off, while he does some of his own laundry.
We need super hero dads, who spend their days at home while their wives succeed in creative and high paid jobs that support the family.
Our children need to see super heroes that fail. They need to see that the men and women they look up to cry sometimes, that they don’t always have it together but that they strive to be the best version of themselves that they can be. They need to be shown Female and Male Super heroes who respect each other and celebrate each other’s strengths and differences.
Be your own superhero...
In the Manton-Kelly household, we decided long ago that we were done waiting for our perfect super heroes to arrive. We began creating our very own comic book and based the characters on awesome versions of ourselves, each with a unique super power. We collaborate over dinner sometimes to create the adventures that they go on as a family.
Sometimes when you’re raising an army of little boss ladies, you have to take matters into your own hands, get creative and think outside the box. We can’t change the world over night, but we can make changes for our children, and maybe they will grow up to be the heroes that the world needs.
Artwork by Definitely Mary