Over the last decade, American Cinema has entered into an Age of Superheroes which has continued to this day. This age creates superheroes that advocate for justice in an unjust world and fight for those who are historically marginalized. One community of people that have not always had the privilege to voice things are women. Although legally women are supposed to have equal rights to men, social inequality is still a prominent issue today.
The summer before my senior year I attended the Nebraska Girls State. Girls State is a program held for women by the American Legion Auxiliary by each state, which is a week-long opportunity to learn more about the government, to gain leadership experience, and to focus on being a responsible citizen.
At the same time as Girls State, Boys State had the same objectives of leadership but had completely different social norms within the program. While Girls State had a strict dress code, including no tank tops with straps smaller than two inches wide, the Boys State had no dress code. Another– even larger–difference was that Girls State could not discuss topics such as abortion or any laws concerning gun control, yet Boys State could. No matter what opinion someone has on those topics, to a 16-to-18-year-old girl, it seems oppressive.
Although I certainly loved my time there, these discrepancies pushed me to change my entire future to go to school for political science and gender studies. This personal experience made me want –instead of just wishing there were more voices for women–to be one of those voices and activists. I wanted to be a hero in my own story.
There are not nearly as many women acting as superheroes or having an important role within this era of superheroes. And this extends to some of our real-life superheroes: those who make changes to fight off more metaphorical “villains” by serving in the government. Representation of women within government is always under 50% in most countries. In the United States it is at 23.6%, ranking us in the 70s of female representation (Inter-Parliamentary Union).
Yet throughout women’s long standing fight for equality there have been enormous accomplishments; things such as having more female superheroes both in and out of the television all play into the continuing fight for equality in gender within America. While characters such as Wonder Woman and Black Widow are popular both on and off the screen, they can make just as big of an impact on women’s equality as those within legislation and programs surrounding women’s rights. The mere representation of women being respected in positions of power aids in challenging or reinforcing people’s perspectives of women.
I believe that having a female within any leadership position, whether it be as small as a school organization or as the Secretary of State of the United States is one of the most impactful ways for the continued fight because that woman is able to make changes but also show that a woman can be that figurehead. It’s important to see women as figureheads and it’s important to express gratitude for and continue the work done by prominent women throughout history like Alice Paul, advocate in the women’s suffrage movement, to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, our fairly recently late former Supreme Court Justice.
These heroes, instead of showing heroism through having heroic acts by fighting off the antagonist that is killing innocent citizens, these female heroes are making changes within social norms and legislation to have equal rights for women both on and off of paper.
There are not many women superheroes but there is never an expectation of women being the hero and/or the main character in situations. Women can both be superheroes in movie environments, but also in daily life. As a society we are slowly coming to not accept the prejudice against women and that takes real life people and fabricated ones. I have started my own journey to fight for equality, no matter what my position is in life.
Gwen is a student from the Omaha, Nebraska, area majoring in Political Science with a minor in Mass Communication and Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies. While at the University of Iowa, she hopes to develop her skills as an aspiring individual in the political world.