How are Female Superheros Portrayed in Popular Television

(WARNING: The following content may contain spoilers for the television shows Supergirl and Jessica Jones)

Nowadays superhero movies and TV shows have been more popular than ever, though these new movies and shows for the most part still lack in diversity. Though, there are two shows currently on that are starting to push the diversity a little bit by having leads who are female superheroes. Those shows are Supergirl and Jessica Jones.

I chose to look into this topic because I find the issue of positive representation in the media to be vital, especially when it comes to marginalized groups. Everyone (especially children) needs to see characters that look like them and have lives like theirs get portrayed in the media, so that they can see people like them and stories like theirs are just as important as anyone else’s, and that they don’t need to conform to any sort of narrow idea of what a person like them should be like. Also so people outside of the underrepresented groups don’t have a misconception about them.

Supergirl is a CW show that came out in 2015, starring Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers, aka Supergirl. In the show, we see her come into her own and learn how to use her powers to become Supergirl while still trying to live a normal life as Kara. Our lead Supergirl, aka Kara, is strong both in body and will, we see her have a strong moral compass as she just wants to help people even if it puts herself in harm’s way, like when she goes to save the airplane that her sister is on when it’s crashing, and at this point in the show she is unsure on how her powers will work since she hasn’t used them in a while.

She’s also allowed to show her emotions which is something I often think gets considered a negative though I think emotions shouldn’t be seen as a weakness but where strength comes from. In the episode ‘Red Faced’ this is even touched on quite a bit throughout the episode, such as in this one scene where Kara yells at her boss, because the anger had been building up in her throughout the episode and what her boss says is just the straw that broke the camel’s back, and instead of getting angry with her, Kara’s boss explains to her about how she can’t get angry at work especially as a woman, because it would reflect much worse on them then it ever would on a man. The character of Supergirl, as well as the overall tone of the show is also very supportive of the feminist ideology. Such as when Kara gets annoyed about Supergirl getting called Supergirl because she worries that calling her a girl will downplay her, though her boss, a woman in a position of power mind you, explains to her that there is nothing wrong with being called a girl because being a girl is nothing to be ashamed of.

Jessica Jones, a Netflix show which also came out in 2015, starring Krysten Ritter as Jessica Jones, is about private detective, Jessica Jones, who uses her superhero abilities to do her job, while she is dealing with her PTSD, from previously being mined controlled, and dealing with the effects of that. On the surface Jessica Jones seems like such a different show to Supergirl, it has a much darker tone and it has more ‘mature’ content than Supergirl, though the characters of Jessica Jones and Kara Davers do have a lot in common. Jessica Jones is also very head strong, and even though she doesn’t try to act like it she does have a strong moral compass, we see her act on this on many occasions, one in particular, when Kilgrave, the villain of the show, forces a man to jump off a building, and even though Jessica could have let it happen and then she could have attacked Kilgrave in the meantime, but instead she saved the man from unknowingly killing himself while Kilgrave got away.

The topic of emotions also comes up a lot in Jessica Jones, as she and a number of other characters in the show suffer with PTSD after getting away from the emotionally manipulative Kilgrave. Throughout the show there are scenes such as when one of Kilgrave’s most recent victim ends up in jail after she kills her parents because he made her do that, many people just think she is crazy though Jessica is one of the few people who see that she was just under the effects of Kilgrave because in the past she was also forced to kill someone while under Kilgrave’s control, and now she has to deal with the flashbacks and constant reminders of the person she killed along with being under Kilgraves control in general.

When you compare Supergirl and Jessica Jones with the analysis of Wonder Women in the book Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation, you start seeing the similarities in the superhero format, the want to do good, the importance of strength in all of its forms. I think these new superhero TV shows bring to light a perspective on superhero that have been lacking in the media for a while. Female superheroes are also becoming empowered again, when you look back at Wonder Woman, and how she started as an empowering character, and then had become a means to push the gender roles in the 50s; it’s good to see that female Superheroes, such as Supergirl and Jessica Jones are around and popular now to empower women again.

Sources:

Jessica Jones. Netflix. 20 Nov. 2015. Television

Supergirl. The CW. 26 Oct. 2015. Television

Cocca, Carolyn. Superwomen: Gender, Power, and Representation. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016. Print.