Do Superhero Movies Actually Encourage Strong Female Characters?

In Claudia Nelson’s chapter, she looks at the keyword “domestic” and why it is important to girlhood.  Claudia says that girls fiction “was expected to facilitate adjustment to home duties and focused primarily on the interior, both of the home and of the individual, rather than on outdoor adventure or imperial conquest.” (Nelson, 2011, Chap 14).  While times have changed and women gain more power there is still push-back to the idea that women offer just as much as men. With the changes, women’s position in media has shifted from being domestic at the home to being domestic as an individual.  This shift still has women taking a back seat to men when it comes to media. A prime example of this would be James Bond, no matter the time he always has women who are seen as conquests. In line with Bond is a lot of media where men are seen as heroes who need to save the day and women are there to support them.  

In the films Man of Steel and Batman V. Superman we follow the titular hero who is practically indestructible and can literally bend steel.  Superman has to face evil villains from galaxies far away that can even survive nuclear explosions. To face enemies like that you would think that those around Superman would have to be superpowered as well.  In this case the women that Superman falls in love with is Lois Lane who is a strong talented reporter, but she is not superpowered. This means that despite her strengths as a person she is always going to need saving from Superman’s enemies because what can a human really do against a 15 ft tall indestructible rock monster?  Literally while Superman is fighting that rock monster he has to fly away to prevent Lois from drowning. She is there to serve as council for Superman but at the end of the day it is Superman that makes the decisions. Granted Wonder Woman is a strong female character in the movie but in other forms of media she is also relegated to Superman’s romantic support rather than this strong character in her own right.

Lois Lane is just like Jo from Little Women who is also a strong female character who ends up being a support character to a man.  Jo ends up literally taking care of the household of an older man with more power than her. She does reject Laurie’s proposal but then turns around and accepts Friedrich Bhaer’s.  Both Lois and Jo show the keyword “Domestic” because they accept the power dynamic where they will always need men to take care of them.  Both characters also accept that the adventures that their spouses go on is not really something for them to participate in. For both women there strengths are wasted by the man they are with (sorry team Friedrich fans).  Jo shows both interior and individual domesticity while Lois shows primarily individual domesticity which is a shame because both characters were great on their own terms.

1 thought on “Do Superhero Movies Actually Encourage Strong Female Characters?”

  1. Your connections here between Superman and Little Women are very interesting! Honestly prior to this I never really saw Jo as a supporter to a man but you make a great point. I did always find it interesting that the woman/love interest of super hero movies always finds herself in trouble. Not only is she then supporting a man but it’s almost portraying that the woman is so “dumb” that she always finds herself in these situations. In response to the title of this post and reading it, I feel like the movies want you to see these women as strong but ultimately fail to do so .

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