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My daughter wants to be Spiderman. Who's to say she can't be?

my daughter wants to be spiderman, girl spiderman, spider girl, spider woman, girl superhero, strong girl characters, strong characters for girls

Right now, my daughter wants to be a superhero, more specifically, my daughter wants to be Spiderman. Who’s to say she can’t? And where are all the female superheroes who are strong without being sexualized? Just what female characters is she supposed to look to as examples??  I am so tired of all the strong and interesting characters always being male. My four year old shouldn’t even have to think about how she’d rather “be a boy” so she can be cool like Diego and Spiderman. We simply NEED more strong and multi-faceted female characters for young girls and teens, that aren’t relegated to only “girl” interests.

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Disney’s Doc McStuffins has been praised by many for its portrayal of a young black female character as a doctor…and that’s exciting and encouraging.  But it’s sad too, that there are still so few female characters for young girls, outside of the Barbie and princess storylines, that we fear that if we don’t push and rally for the few that exist, they will somehow disappear.

I applaud creators who are building strong and dynamic female characters for girls, like Disney’s Mulan and Brave, for example…but shouldn’t these characters just be a given?  I mean really, shouldn’t they?  When will these characters become the new normal?

When I was a little girl, strong female characters like Curly Sue, Vada from My Girl and the young ladies of Now and Then showed girls as being more than just “pretty” or “nice”.  They were smart, tough, imperfect, unique.  I have a list and I remember all the strong female characters that influenced my childhood because there weren’t many…not nearly enough.  I waited for them, as I’m sure many girls have done and continue to do.  Why are these characters still so hard to find? Why aren’t there more dynamic girls of all colors and cultures on television?  When will girls truly be represented, so that our daughters can see beyond the borders of what society dictates as being “for girls”?

When I was a little girl, I bought in to the stereotype that there were only certain things that girls could be good at and I never felt like I fit into that mold. I didn’t know how to explain myself to other people.  I didn’t feel like myself when I tried to fit in and be “feminine”.  I just never felt that people accepted me, for me.  In fact, they told me so…in the same way that many have felt the inclination to tell my daughter that she “can’t be Spiderman” or ask her if she would “rather wear pink” instead of blue or green or brown.  Why is it such a big deal?  Really?  Do we have to dictate what girls and boys should watch or wear, simply because they are girls and boys?

Avatar: The Last Airbender

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One show we love in our house is Avatar: The Last Airbender…not the movie (total miss!)…the animated series.  You can find the show available on Netflix Live Stream and it’s produced by Nickelodeon, one of few mainstream networks that does make significant efforts to show diversity in their programming.

Both Katara and Toph are inspiring, strong, complex characters, each with their own strengths and flaws (and there are more strong female roles besides theirs).  Each of the characters in the series, both male and female, are painted with a level of realism that is refreshing.  The creators fearlessly approach discussions on gender roles and as the series evolves, they move further and further toward shattering them.

The Legend of Korra, an extension of the original series, was launched recently as well.  I have yet to see it, but I’m sure it is both progressive and entertaining.  The new series focuses on a young water tribe girl, much like Katara, who will become the new Avatar.

Other female television characters of note:

  • Detective Elisa Maza in Gargoyles
  • Clarissa in Clarissa Explains It All
  • Sabrina in Sabrina the Teenage Witch
  • Alex in The Secret World of Alex Mack
  • Max in Dark Angel (early episodes)
  • Laura in Family Matters (early episodes)
  • Lilo in Lilo & Stitch
  • Topanga in Boy Meets World (early episodes)
  • Eliza in The Wild Thornberries
  • Daria and Jane in Daria

What shows or movies do you watch with your daughter(s)?  Do you talk to your kids (girls or boys) about gender roles?  Scroll down to leave a comment.

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  • Roxana Cobbs
    April 22, 2013 at 8:51 am

    Playing Superhero is a part of being a child for many children. As a child development major, we had a heated discussion on the subject last semester… It was debated whether it is healthy for children to play Superhero or whether it should be discouraged. We all agreed in the end that it is a good thing as long as it is clear to them that SuperPowers are not exactly that. However, they can come up with their own super powers: rescuing others, being nice, doing good things, putting villains on time out until they become good, making the villain do a good deed so he or she “Changes into a good superhero from a Villain. Many life lessons can be taught.
    On the gender role models, you didn’t mention the powerpuff girls, my kids watched them In Spanish for years… They show them at least once per day… Though they use violence against the villains, they are girls, and they are little. Not to mention, they deal with normal sibling issues.
    I however agree, there should be more female superheroes on tv from all parts of the world.

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      April 24, 2013 at 9:43 pm

      Roxana, I totally agree. It's debatable whether it's the best thing to for children to idolize superheroes. I think ultimately, it is about what you said…children need to see what it means to be an everyday 'hero'. I try to point out to my daughter the importance of helping others. That's what superheroes really do. ;)

      I'm not super fond of the Powerpuff girls, but I completely get you and it's great to see shows that are attempting to showcase strong female leads…especially young girls. Our little ones need positive role models and they really need more to choose from. I really hope that more shows will be developed with girls and young women in mind as we progress as leaders and producers.

      Even for our boys, it would be great to see more dynamic male characters that enjoy creative activities like singing, dancing, cooking, art and writing. Obviously, many men do these things and are successful at them, but so many people question boys who take part in these activities and their masculinity.

      Hopefully both our boys and girls can see kids like them on tv and in film more in the future.