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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SLU chapter.

Growing up, I loved comic books. My dad had an unreturned milk box full of comic books from when he was my age that I would read. I always treated these comic books carefully, especially considering how thin the paper was and how much they meant to my dad. I liked the Batman and Spiderman comics in particular. 

However, I often struggled to find a female character I liked in these comic books. Maybe it was because most of these characters were just female versions of existing male characters to make the comics and merchandise more marketable. Female characters were often “attached” to an already existing male character. Or, the female characters existed because they were dating a male character, such as Black Canary from DC comics, a character I loved, but she was only in episodes with Green Arrow. This suggested that she couldn’t exist independently without him. 

Marvel is also guilty of a poor portrayal of women. In the Avengers film franchise, Black Widow seldom says anything besides a quick, sassy remark. She is flexible and lands in her signature pose which many consider inconvenient and impractical. In merchandising, she has often been left out of Avengers-related merchandise and only recently received her own movie, despite years of appearances on the big screen. 

I have also observed that women superheroes are frequently costumed very differently than men. Whereas male superheroes have their bodies fully covered to hide their secret identities, female superheroes often wear tight bodysuits with dramatic cleavage. 

As I grew older, I accepted that comic books were made by men for men. Comic books were a “boy thing,” not a “girl thing.”

However, even though superhero TV shows, comic books and movies often perpetuate a very sexualized and surface-level view of women, superhero media has still served as a major source of empowerment and inspiration for me.  

While I often wrestle with how women are portrayed in superhero media, as a little girl and to this day, many of these characters have inspired me. While their costumes might be impractical and their writing might be bad, writers and creators have taken steps to make this type of media more inclusive for women. In addition, many characters from the original “old school” comic books were still undeniably strong, powerful women. 

For example, even though Spiderwoman is technically just a female version of Spiderman, Jessica Drew is a completely different character than Peter Parker. She was a character created in the ‘70s. She is a detective who fights against Hydra, a fictional terrorist organization. She jumps through the Spiderverse, the fictional universe that connects all Spiderman characters, to save the multiverse multiple times. 

Wonder Woman was also extremely revolutionary in the ‘40s. She wasn’t based on a male superhero and her backstory detaches itself from the male gaze; rather, she was raised by other powerful female warriors on a remote island. 

Female villains have also made recent efforts to redefine themselves. Chiefly, the character, Harley Quinn, has evolved from being the crazy and borderline obsessive girlfriend of the Joker to being her own Gotham City villain in “Bird of Prey.” Harley, who only ever appeared in episodes and issues with the Joker, now has her show and movie. This is a huge difference from how writers have treated her in the past. 

Ultimately, even though there are many ways comic books and superhero content can improve, they have still had a huge impact on me and my childhood. These comics introduced me to strong female role models. While these characters are not necessarily perfect representations of women in any way, these recent efforts are creating more inclusive characters for a new generation of female superhero fans. 

Camille is a social work student at Saint Louis University. Originally from Memphis, Camille likes to spend her time reading a good book, taking photos, or sipping an iced lavender latte with oat milk. She is an avid lover of pasta and cats.