A while back, a friend of mine asked if women really needed female superheroes. This question both surprised and disturbed me, since he’s usually a pretty sensitive white guy. He had never even considered that women or someone in a minority might want someone who is like them as a role model. We had a long discussion and he saw things in a new light, but the question stayed with me.
The thing is, I hear a lot of women my age lament that they only identified with male characters when they were younger. There were never any female characters that were interesting or worth looking up to. And every time I hear that, a little piece of my heart breaks. A larger part of me is extremely glad I had the parents I did, because I was surrounded by women role models from a young age.
I grew up hearing and reading science fiction and fantasy novels written by both men and women, both of which are genres where female characters are more likely to be interesting. I had young adult novels with female main characters that were interesting and complex. I had Sailor Moon and Clamp and other animes that were written expressly for girls. I had Babylon 5, and Xena: Warrior Princess. While I wasn’t a Buffy fan, I was aware of its existence and could have watched it if I wanted to. And I had all of this because my parents encouraged me to read science fiction and fantasy, because they let me watch anime (and if an anime was questionable in content, my mother would watch it with me to make sure it was appropriate for me, despite the fact she wasn’t really a fan of anime), and who was just as fannish as I am over most of those shows.
It just baffles me when people say women don’t want to watch female super heroes, or wouldn’t be interested in them. Have they not looked at Japan and the multitudes of magical girl animes? Or even how insanely popular Sailor Moon is across the world? Sailor Moon is one of those uniting things of women my age, sort of like Harry Potter was when we got older.
What a lot of people don’t realize is why Sailor Moon was so amazing and brilliant. It wasn’t the plot (though that was good), it wasn’t the dub (Yeah, yeah, but we still love it anyway), and it definitely wasn’t the stock footage (which we also still love, no matter how much we groan every time we see it). It was the fact that Usagi/Serena was a 14 year old girl who was normal. She wasn’t the badass female character who oozes sex appeal, or the princess who needs to be rescued.
What she was was a whiny cry-baby who gets scared by thunder, cries when her boyfriend breaks up with her (and cries for a lot of other things too), worries about her weight, gets terrible grades, dreams of getting married, and gives up when things are too much for her (and gets right back up again when her friends rally around her and make her see she can’t give up). She is a normal teenaged girl who likes things like video games and idols. She falls in love at the drop of a hat, obsesses over new fads, likes to wear pretty dresses and have her hair done, and hangs out with her best friends. She goes shopping and wishes she had more allowance to spend on things. She’s a clutz and she’s constantly late.
She also has the inner strength to become a super hero and save the world. She is the queen/princess that everyone looks to to rule, not Mamoru/Darien. She’s the one who sacrifices herself to save the world, it’s her power that lets them be reborn.
Sailor Moon also has a whole cast of female characters who are different and interesting. Ask five girls who their favorite sailor scout is and you can get five different answers. This isn’t a one girl on a team of guys sort of situation, but an all girl team who occasionally get helped out by a guy who is really kind of useless (he throws roses and pauses the fight for motivational speeches. Seriously, even Sailor Mercury gets real attacks eventually) and one of the more one-dimensional plot devices of the show.
Sailor Venus was one of my role models growing up, and the way she deals with her past by smiling even though it hurt was something that always amazed me. There was one scene between Rei-chan and Minako-chan in the manga where Rei is comforting Minako after she had her heart broken, and one of them says something along the lines of they don’t need men to define them. That’s a powerful thing for a girl to hear.
My four best friends liked Sailor Jupiter, Sailor Moon, Sailor Mars, and Sailor Mercury respectively. We would play at being Sailor Senshi, we’d download and sing along with the Japanese songs. Hell, do you have any idea how I felt when I first got the English cd? I was at a scifi con when I saw it, and it was the one thing I needed that whole weekend, that and the first volume of Mixxzine, the magazine that translated the manga into English. Any girl scout trip we took ended up playing that cd in the car. To this day if I’m riding or driving with any of those friends, I can put on that cd and we still know every single word to all of the songs, and will jam out to them unashamedly with the windows down. Yes, even the wincingly bad ones.
I’ve cosplayed as Sailor V and Sailor Venus. I’ve role played Sailor Venus many times, and Sailor Senshi of my own creation. The first fanfic I ever read was a Shitennou/Senshi epic that cemented my first OTPs. That same author inspired me to write my own first fanfic of Sailor Venus/Kunzite.
To say that Sailor Moon had a profound impact on my life is like saying Mt. Everest is tall. And it’s all because it’s a show about girls.
Don’t get me wrong. I love fighting animes. They’re a weakness of mine that I used to indulge in all the time. But fighting animes don’t focus on girl things or things girls are interested in. They’re fun, and I like them, but they’re strong men with the occasional female character who either kicks ass or is there to be saved. Sailor Moon was a show about girls who could cry when they needed to, fangirl when they wanted to, go shopping and other things that people consider ‘girly’ because it was fun. It wasn’t shameful for them to do these things. It wasn’t the root of a joke. They were just teenaged girls who happened to turn into super heroes. Hollywood points to Super Heroine movies that are poorly written for a male audience and says that they don’t work. I say write a Super Heroine for a female audience and see if something magical happens. If Sailor Moon and other magical girl anime is anything to go by, I’d say you’ll have a pretty strong audience.
I hear all the time this excuse that male writers can’t write good female characters. That’s just lazy writing, if you ask me. Women can write male characters. If you can’t write a female character, then get off your ass and do some research. Write them as you would a male character, who is interesting and has many dimensions. It’s a sad state of the world that we only have ‘rumors’ of a Wonder Woman and Black Widow movie, when we have how many movies about male super heroes that are green lighted? I think at this point even a Black Panther movie is more likely. (Don’t get me wrong, cause a Black Panther movie would be awesome and would be steps in the right direction for another minority group that definitely need to happen as well, but right now I’m focusing on women) Even then, we only have rumors of a Black Widow movie because DC made the move first as a way to one-up the Marvel movie machine, not because Marvel stopped being cowards with no desire to change the status quo that was good enough money. DC is no better, in that they’re just scrambling to find ways to compete on the big screen when Marvel has so many blockbusters and DC is behind in the game.
If you want to see just how much they care about female characters and viewers, go find Paul Dini’s comments about why shows that have high ratings are being canceled. ‘Girls don’t by toys’ is apparently reason enough to axe a show with high ratings from girls, boys, and families to make a show just for little boys where girls aren’t as good or as interesting as male characters are. Excuse me. If I had a son, I sure as hell wouldn’t want him watching something that degrading towards women. All that does is keep the misogyny going.
Women are over fifty percent of the population, and they just can’t be bothered to even try.
So there are still girls out there, growing up with parents who like things that are too main stream and don’t have female role models that they can identify with. There have been some strides (Hunger Games seems to be a pretty good example of this, though I haven’t read the books or seen the second movie, so I can’t say for sure), and people have started to realize that women fans are a force to be reckoned with, but most of them are just looking for the next ‘Twilight’ which is mocked and ridiculed by everyone who isn’t a fan. And don’t get me started on how the portrayal of romance and the main female character legit horrifies me, since I think of the young girls are reading that and idealizing an over-romanticized abusive relationship.
These strides are few and far between, however. They’re still a novelty. You still hear people complain whenever Disney makes a new ‘princess’ movie, because Christ, why would they keep making movies geared towards young girls when they could be making movies for boys. And that breaks my heart, because girls shouldn’t have to search for role models. Girls shouldn’t have to look for things that are geared towards girls and that aren’t hijacked by male viewers.
So yes, girls need female role models. Any minority will tell you how it felt like when they first saw someone like them on TV they could like and admire. Any minority will tell you how one is never enough, how unequal things still are. And any minority will also tell you how much flak they get for bringing that up. It’s disgusting that we still live in a world that marginalizes women and people of color (heaven help those who are both female and of color, because they need a strength that I don’t know if I could have to put up with all the things that get thrown at them), but that’s the world we have, and that’s the world we have to change.
When I grew up, I had Melony, Sara Jane, and Susan Ivanova. I had Aino Minako, and Ryuuzaki Umi. I had parents that taught me how to think and let me develop my own interests, be it Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or My Little Ponies (I had action figures of both). I am incredibly blessed to have that kind of support, when I know so many people my age had more restrictive parents or simply didn’t know where to look to find interesting female characters.
We need to keep going to change that, no matter how those idiots and bigots attack us. And it’s hard. Women get death threats and rape threats for simply enjoying video games. Muslims, African Americans, Mexicans, and other races are still racially profiled, both in real life and in fiction, and have been hurt and killed for it. Homosexual and transgendered kids still get bullied and commit suicide. We’re all told we’re not interesting enough to carry a block buster and that it won’t sell. But I’m telling you we are. And if we fall silent, then no one else will speak up for us.So on this Women’s day, take a moment to consider women, both fictional and in real life, who are role models and speak up about them. Because eventually people might hear, and maybe, it could just touch someone who needs it.