My daughters, like many kids, are really into superheroes right now. Our dress-up closet is stuffed with Captain America, Batman, Robin, Superman, and Wonder Woman garb. An Aquaman action figure often brandishes his trident at dinosaurs when they play. I love superheroes and the concept of coming into one’s powers and abilities and using them for good.
During the past few months, I’ve noticed that when my daughters pretend-play superheroes, there’s always a bit of a scuffle because they both want to be Wonder Woman, the primary female superhero (is that a superheroine? I’m not sure. My husband says that sounds like a drug. Anyway, I’m going with it.) The losing party usually takes Mera, Aquaman’s wife, who can control ocean currents. “But,” you may argue, “what about Batgirl and Supergirl?” Batgirl and Supergirl are not featured in most of the superhero books out there–at least not in the popular I Can Read set of books. Nor are they in the All New Super Friends series, which my girls love. I’ve read that the newer Justice League TV series also includes Hawk Girl, but I haven’t seen it, so I tend to stick to All New Super Friends because I know it is very little-kid friendly, doesn’t overemphasize violence or insults (why must modern cartoons be so snarky and rude?), and promotes using your brain to get out of trouble. Even so, simply because Justice League has one extra female on the team–that’s still only 2 out of 7! It’s not like there are less little girls than little boys. I’m not trying to turn this into a feminist discussion–anyone with eyes can see that the selection of superheroines and female action figures in stores is sorely lacking.
One of my favorite Facebook pages and websites is A Mighty Girl, which markets itself as “the world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls.” Their “Superhero” collection consists of Batgirl, Supergirl, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wonder Woman, Catwoman, Mary Marvel, Sif, Black Widow, Jean Grey, Violet from Incredibles, and Xena. Many of the action figures (yikes, Jean Grey) look plain scary, not fun for little girls to play with.
A new, promising female action figure is on the horizon.
I have pre-ordered the IAmElemental female action figures and am eagerly awaiting their delivery. I will absolutely write a review when they arrive; I love the look and premise of these figures. I am grateful two savvy entrepreneurs are filling the gaping hole in the action figure industry, which, as they point out, designs female figures targeting adult male collectors, not little girls. So I am looking forward to the well-designed figures. BUT…I already know that my girls would play with them more if they had books or a show that went along with them and gave some back story.
So…what have I done to fill this void? I have gone back to my 80s-tastic cartoon roots to find the ultimate superheroine. I love 80s cartoons. Voltron, Thundercats, He-Man, Bravestarr, SilverHawks, Jem, Thundarr…I know it’s cliche’, but they just don’t make em like they used to. My girls are now avid She-Ra, Princess of Power fans. Things I love about the series–1) Tons of diverse female characters, each with her own special ability 2) The didactic quality, also present in the classic He-Man cartoons and 3) The women are attractive but usually not overly sexualized in the way they are drawn and dressed. Now don’t get me wrong–there are still a few episodes where the women act like helpless twits, but I always loved how, in She-Ra’s introduction, she was the one who captured and rescued He-Man. And as my husband has sulkily pointed out, She-Ra has way more superpowers than He-Man. He-Man is super-strong and fast and has a Battle Cat. That’s it. She-Ra is super-strong and fast, can communicate telepathically with animals, has healing powers, has a flying horse, and her sword can transform into any number of objects (like rope) with a voice command. That’s pretty darn powerful! What a change from modern-day Dora and Diego, where Dora’s backpack contains mittens and an apple and Diego’s backpack has a hang glider and a kayak.
So I pulled out my old She-Ra dolls. I cannot express how grateful I am I kept these ladies! These original 80s action figures are clearly designed for children with their pretty outfits and brushable hair, and not for adult male collectors. Examining the figures, many of the problems identified by Dawn Nadeau and Julie Kerwin in their IAmElemental campaign–like disproportionate breasts and sexualized posing–are absent. Instead, the figures have modest breasts and are able to sit without splaying their legs. And the dolls don’t all have the same body type. Glimmer, for example, has more muscular thighs than Peek-A-Blue. They don’t have as many points of articulation as the forthcoming IAmElemental dolls, though.
In addition to She-Ra, I’m also introducing my girls to the fabulously campy, mildly cheesy Wonder Woman TV show from the 70s, featuring Lynda Carter. They love it! Lynda Carter really was perfect for the role and she comes across as feminine, strong, and moral. And that theme song! You just can’t beat it. That’s kind of what I’m talking about–how many male superhero songs do you know? I know quite a few. Now, how many female superhero theme songs can you sing? >shakes head despondently< Why is that?
After all I’ve said, I’m still not sure I’ve really gotten my point across: As a mother of little girls, I am frustrated by the lack of female superheroes (superheroines) and female action figures. I think it’s sad that I am having to go back 30-40 years to find material that I’m comfortable giving them. It seems like all the superhero material out there now is designed with tweens, teens, and adults in mind. If you know of a more recent TV show, set of books, or set of action figures that are appropriate for the younger set, please share them in the comments.