In recent days, women have made their way into main superhero roles on television series, completely disregarding the conservative and traditional roles they once held. An important event which had a vast impact on the representation of superheroes was 9/11. The “ways in which gendered representation of superheroes we have seen in the years following the attacks of September 11, 2001, with their narratives of protection and secular salvation, richly illustrate the power of sexism in a militarized culture.”
The first television shows to represent female superheroes were “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Heroes”. The attempt at empowering women in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” is contrasted with the male supporters surrounding Claire Bennett on “Heroes”. Claire has the superpower of self-healing, but when it comes to her facing danger, she needs the help of her male co-stars and their more practical powers such as strength and speed. Claire is often objectified as well. In the episode “The Second Coming”, Claire is attacked by one of the male villains, Sylar. He then proceeds to cut the top of her head open and examine her brain, searching for the origin of her power. Since Claire is a self-healer, she feels no pain but is forced to sit through this torture until someone, obviously male, can come save her. This ties in with the idea of the “superhero lore”, that is, the strong, masculinized character rescuing the vulnerable woman in need.
Portrayals on TV can sometimes correlate with issues in society. The superhero lore can be compared to the conception of rape prevention. Just like the “damsel in distress” was told they were helpless and endangered, women are taught not to fight back when sexually assaulted and to accept themselves as victims.
Since the rise of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Heroes”, more female superheroes have been appearing, or even starring, in more TV series than ever. In 2015, Netflix came out with a new series called “Jessica Jones”. Jessica Jones was unlike any female superhero before, putting a stop to the “superhero lore” with her super strength powers and assertive attitude. She is capable of handling her situations on her own, without the help of a “more masculinized” character. The way she looks in the show is also different than the typical DC/Marvel female superhero or damsel in distress. Instead of wearing hypersexualized clothing and drowning her face in makeup, Jones pulls off a natural look while dressed in modest clothing from head to toe.
On the other hand, Jessica Jones’ problems all stem from her past relationship with the villain, Kilgrave. Kilgrave has the power to control people, filling them with the desire to act on his every request. More often than not, he controls the minds of females, such as Jessica Jones herself. It is so stereotypical to have a woman’s life revolve around relationships or men in general. As if the sole purpose of her life is to have a man who can call her “his”. It’s also just another sad representation of how much power men still have over women, how they can take an innocent life and corrupt it just because “women were made to be subordinate.”
Now if you ask me, this doesn’t exactly seem like a shift towards the top of the totem pole. But hey, I’m just a woman, so what do I really know.