DC turns female fan into superheroine, but there is still more work to do

A girl wrote to DC Comics and asked why they don't include more female superheroes in their comics. The company replied with an image of her turned into a superhero, but is that enough?

Denis Poroy/Invision/AP/FILE
In this July 20, 2013 file photo, Joy Donaldson, left, dressed as Wonder Woman, and Everleigh Reed, right, dressed as Supergirl, take a break on Day 4 of the 2013 Comic-Con International Convention, in San Diego. Despite the stereotypes surrounding comic book fans, many women do read comics and attend comic book conventions.

An 11-year-old girl stuck a blow for female superheroes by writing a letter to DC Comics to ask them to increase and better promote their female heroes. She also became a hero herself when she refused to settle for the platitudes and pat on the head she got in reply.

It was lovely to see DC Comics respond to Rowan Hansen’s letter requesting both more female superheroes and more female hero merchandise for girls to own and thus feel empowered.

The fifth grader from Champagne, Illinois wrote a letter to DC saying, “I love your comics, but I would love them a lot more if there were more girls.”

Kudos to her dad, Jim, who backed his daughter by posting her letter online where it quickly went viral.

Helping your child learn the ropes of the powers inherent in social media for getting deeds done and campaigns won is an important parenting move.

Rowan told TODAY, “I have never really understood why they've had more male superheroes. It's not like the male superheroes are better than the female superheroes. But there are just more of them.”

"There are Superman and Batman movies, but not a Wonder Woman one," she wrote. "You have a Flash TV show but not a Wonder Woman one. Marvel comics made a movie about a talking tree and raccoon awesome, but you haven't made a movie with Wonder Woman."

This perceptive and persistent girl pointed out that not only are there a scant number of female heroes – the ones that exist are scantily clad.

The merchandise of those characters such as action figures girls and boys could use for role play are scarce, as are shirts and films celebrating them.

The comic book publisher sent Rowan a portrait of herself as a super hero which, while a terrific keepsake, did little to placate or assure this determined child that her request had truly been taken to heart.

The comic company did the P.C. (Publicity Correct, in this case) thing by sending the artwork and responding with a very chipper tweet.

As a mom who has had her kids write to companies before, what this response tells me is that DC has a savvy social media team, but it doesn’t necessarily illustrate that any real change is coming as the result of Rowan’s letter. 

The thing that’s interesting to me is that Rowan didn’t seem to be fooled either.

“I was just, like, ‘Oh, my God, I can't believe this,’” she told the Today show. "It was really, really cool, ’cause they're so big and important people. But I thought 'I don't want people to think, "Oh, yeah, okay, they responded to her. Now it's over.’ I want people to keep trying to make this happen, ’cause it's really important to me.”

Perhaps she wasn’t taken in because almost immediately after responding to her father posting her letter, the tweets from DC reverted back to being about 95 percent focused on male characters, with the majority of tweets about female characters including super sexy depictions of the women in barely-there costumes.

In the majority of the DC artwork on display in their tweets, the female heroes are wither in the background and minority or sexy window dressing to the male characters.

One rare exception was this tweet:

My son, Quin, who is also age 11, and an avid comic and superhero fan says, “This girl also needs to tell them that almost all the female characters are just a remake of the males, only with less clothes and powers and stuff.” 

“You can’t just re-skin a character to look different or female and not make anything unique,” he says. “She’s right to keep pushing DC to do something more than send her a picture of herself.”

He points out that DC rival, Marvel Comics, has its own share of stereotypical sexy hero girls such as She-Hulk and is guilty of “reskinning” Thor into a girl for the current series.

However, as a mom, I lean more toward the unique Muslim character Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel, Jean Grey from X-Men, and Black Widow as resourceful, unique, clothed, and empowered women who are problem-solvers. The Ms. Marvel series, launched in early 2014, is still going strong and we own every issue to Date.

The web site Ranker has several different lists from which to choose a favorite female super hero, all of which had a Number One from Marvel Comics.

Unfortunately, two of the three voting lists are: “Hottest” (Emma Frost of X-Men) and “Sexiest” (Emma Frost of X-Men) with the third being “Best” (the fully clothed, Rogue from X-Men with Marvel’s Storm and D.C.’s Wonder Woman in second and third places).

My son also warned that if girls like Rowan, whom he considers “rare” do not remain vocal and vigilant then comic makers are doomed to not only repeat past gender typing mistakes but get even worse.

“I want to see them make a hero like Monica [his older brother’s 19-year-old girlfriend] who’s a martial arts master, speaks Japanese and can melt villains with her mind powers,” Quin says. “If you leave it up to DC the best you’ll ever see is something like ‘Texting Girl’ who walks around in a bikini with LOL on her cape and her power is lightning fast pink thumbs.”

The fact that one of my sons can even think up that super nightmare of a character makes me want to encourage him and his friends to follow Rowan’s lead and write their own letters to DC to let them know their young audiences want to see how they plan to change the heroes, instead of being momentarily turned into one. 

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.