Women In A Super-Powered World

So I've been thinking about superheroines.

Sure, a good part of this is because Caitlin and I wrote Black and White, and we've begun work on the next in the series, Shades of Gray, and when you're writing about superheroes in a dystopian world, it's a bit difficult not to think about superheroines.

But part of it also is because I have two Precious Little Tax Deductions who are very into superheroes. I've been sitting through episodes of Super Friends and Justice League Unlimited and Ben 10 and Batman and The Batman (really--two completely different shows) and Superman and Voltron ("...and I'll form the head!"). And seeing all this spantastic action has made me think about the role of women in a super-powered world.

[Note: This is specifically about television versions of superheroines; comic books and novels are another topic. I believe that the medium in which a story is presented makes a difference in terms of impact--reading a book or a comic book about a superheroine is a different experience than watching the adventures of that superheroine on television. As Marshall McLuhan said, print is an active medium; television is a passive one. (Holy cats, grad school is coming back to haunt me!) Experiencing a medium actively is different than doing so passively. But the battle of the media is another topic completely. Anyway, my point here is that this blog post is about T.V. superheroines.]

Before anything else, I want to make it clear that I'm talking specifically about television heroines who have some sort of power or ability that sets them apart from other television girls and women (and heck, men). Wendy Harris from the original Super Friends (1973 - 1975) doesn't qualify. But Jayna from the later version of the Super Friends (1977 - 1984) does ("shape of...an eagle!"). Catwoman does because she dresses up in a costume, has spiffy gadgets, and goes toe-to-toe with Batman.

Watching shows from the 1970s and early 1980s with super-powered women (or, in the case of Cheetara, females) is a real trip. Look at Wonder Woman in the Super Friends * -- she is super strong and has a fantabulous magic lasso, and yet again and again, she is captured and wooed by the bad guy of all bad guys, Darkseid. Ditto Princess Allura on Voltron (1984 - 1986), who for the first season is constantly pursued by the villainous Lotor. Allura is a princess, same as Diana (Wonder Woman, of course) of Paradise Island. Even without their super strength or Blue Lions, these ladies wouldn't be helpless. And yet, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it seemed to be en vogue for these super damsels to continue to be in distress and get saved by the superheroes.

Not so in more recent cartoons. Look at Diana in Justice League Unlimited. This princess is no porcelain doll to be protected. She's a warrior as well as a woman. And she loves to flirt with Batman, apparatenly just to annoy him. Even by the mid 1980s, female super-abled heroines were becoming less dependent on their male counterparts to save them, as Princess Allura makes way for Princess Adora, also known as She-Ra: Princess of Power (1985 - 1987). Yeah, she gets knocked around and captured and whatnot, but she's also the one doing the knocking around as well as the saving.

And then there are the super-powered television heroines of today, like Gewn Tennison in Ben 10 and Ben 10: Alien Force. She's smart, confident, easily annoyed by her cousin (the titular hero), and wields phenomenal magical power (or alien ability to manipulate energy, but whatever). Gwen doesn't put up with Ben's crap, and she gives as good as she gets, whether she's 10 years old (in Ben 10) or fifteen years old (in Alien Force).

Superheroines on television: evolving to finally be just as self-reliant as their male counterparts...as well as still be team players. HUZZAH!

* Turns out, Super Friends had other heroines during its long run: Rima the Jungle Girl (1977 and 1980; Hawkgirl (1977, 1980 and 1983). I don't remember these characters, but man, I would love to compare Hawkgirl from the Super Friends with Shiara from Justice League Unlimited. I bet that Shiara would bash the SF Hawkgirl with her mace.

OKAY, CONTEST TIME: The winner of last week's contest is...
MarnieCollette! Congratulations, Marnie! Please email me at J A X aht J A C K I E K E S S L E R daht C O M with your postal addy, and I'll send you a signed copy of HELL'S BELLES, plus two all-new BLACK AND WHITE buttons!

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