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17 Jan '17

Superheroes Save Us from the World

Superheroes to the Rescue 

Representation matters. 

You might have heard that a time or two. Even if you haven’t, you innately understand it.  

Representation matters especially in the entertainment that we consume, particularly when we’re children; y’know, all impressionable minds and open hearts. The movies we watch, the books we read, all of these stories we consume are the building blocks of who we are. They define our world, building it character by story by stereotype. Who you are is what you understand the world to be.



I grew up with superheroes. Some of my earliest memories are of wanting to be Talia, going on adventures with He-Man… until I discovered She-Ra, and then I understood I could be the center of the adventure. Rainbow Brite also taught me a girl could save the universe from the back of a rainbow-maned horse. Then came the X-Men, and I met Jean Grey, who was intelligent and gifted and then the drowning heart of a god. She taught me the importance of humanity, of the core of self. By the time I found my way to comics, I was lucky enough to discover Generation X - full of complicated girls my age, trying to learn their powers and also better the world. Girls like M, a woman of color, self-possessed and confident. Husk, a down-home country girl with a spine of steel. Jubilee, with all her pluck and dedication, and Penance with her boundless sorrow and inability to communicate (an early avatar for my understanding of depression).  

 I grew up in a world that told me, as a girl, not to be - don’t worry about your brain, you just need to look good. Don’t eat… so much, anyway. Why do you wear pants so often? Why don’t you smile? Girls shouldn’t read so many books. Don’t worry about going to college too much, it’s just to find an up-and-coming professional husband. Keep your legs closed. If you must start a career, just let it occupy you until you get married. It’s a good thing I had superheroes as a counterbalance to all of that - my mom*, She-Ra, Jean Grey and others kept me sane. They gave me the horizon.




I went to college. I smiled only when I felt like it. I explored the world, moved to Tokyo, became a writer, and walled my apartment in books. I only got married when I was good and ready - which turned out to be over halfway to 30 and to my best friend whose only plan for me is to be me. 

Superheroes who are women can be our lifelines in a world that tells us to be less, but they can also betray us: for every character I found to identify with, I found two who alienated me by their mere presentation - a problem created by the minds and hands behind the comics. I never found out if there was a real character inside the pages of titles like Witchblade or Power Girl or Vampirella because the covers confused me. The superheroes were grossly hypersexualized, waving a flag to attract a very different gaze from mine. Their proportions were as unrealistic as their outfits were generally unsuited to their jobs.  

Some of you may be doubting how much these unrealistic depictions of female superheroes can truly impact our way of thinking about ourselves. I can understand where you’re coming from, and you don’t have to take my word for it. I invite you to check out “The Problem with Female Superheroes” over at Scientific American, which discusses one study researching how hypersexualized superheroes may not negatively impact our beliefs on gender parity, but do degrade our opinions of our physical place in the world.

We’re lucky. The world we live in is changing - that change is coming with great pain and terrible turmoil as so many disenfranchised people stand up and demand to be recognized. But the struggle, while hard, is producing genuine results. We’re holding creators accountable. Women, People of Color, people with disabilities, those who are neuroatypical, those who are not heterosexual, they are all demanding a voice and using that voice.



And now? We have Moon Girl, a black girl and supergenius who is saving the world with her partner Devil Dinosaur. We have Faith Herbert, a fat woman who is saving the world and being fabulous because “overweight” doesn’t mean anything. We have Kamala Khan, a modestly dressed Muslim who is Captain Marvel. Riri Williams is now Iron Man (and her ‘fro is amazing), and Thor is an office held by Jane Foster (who is also currently a breast cancer survivor). So many people, previously voiceless or shouted down, are now finding themselves on brightly colored pages as their heroes, saving the day and changing the world. There is still so much farther to go, but we have begun. We’re transforming our stories and saving ourselves.

So now you get it. Representation matters. When we see ourselves in popular stories, in our comic books, we truly understand that we matter. Our stories are worth telling, which means we are worth acknowledging. Recognizing ourselves in the world gives us the confidence to discover what we can accomplish, and the wisdom not to diminish our own horizons. Superheroes don’t just save the world - they save us from the world, and let us create a new one.  

 *My mom has seen things you wouldn’t believe, and saved more souls than you can imagine. She’s a real-life superhero, flaws and strength and all.

19 Aug '16

5 Must-Have Summer Reads

Top 5 Summer Books

     Whether you're doing some traveling, planning to hit the beach, or you just need an excuse to hang out in front of the A/C this summer, you'll need a good book to keep you company. These five new releases will take you to amazing places, no matter what the scenery looks like outside.

Woman Reading Books in Field - ISA Professional

The latest in a proven series of crime novels with a powerful female lead

Hard Light by Elizabeth Hand (2016, Macmillan)

     Hand is an award-winning author whose third novel in the Cass Neary series is just as brilliant as the first two. Neary, a photographer with a knack for seeing the beauty even in the darkest hours, isn't obliviously cheery to the world she lives in. There are real consequences for her kind of luck, and Hand skillfully explores them all. In Hard Light, Neary escapes to London with a stolen passport but changing locations has only put her into new trouble. New dangers, new allies, and a mystery Neary may not be able to unravel await.

     Bonus! If you haven't read the first two in Hand's series, you can pick up all three and once and spend the rest of the summer tearing through them!

Fast-paced superhero fun

Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn (July 2016, DAW Books)

    Kuhn's newest novel tells the story of two Asian American girls who grew up as best friends, allies, and – yes – superheroes. Well, one of them is. The other's her assistant and confidant, who struggles with the role of sidekick until she discovers she has powers of her own. For Kuhn's heroine Evie Tanaka, demons, dangerous cupcakes, and protecting San Francisco from total ruin seem easier than repairing a relationship with someone she's looked up to for years. Heartfelt, oh so fun, and a kickass group of women saving the day? You won't want to miss it.

Sweeping historical novel with lush setting and dysfunctional family drama

Beauty Is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan (translated by Annie Tucker, September 2015, New Directions)

     This epic novel by one of Indonesia's best-known writers spans generations, exploring a telenovela-style history of a country ruled by the Dutch, the Japanese, and finally, Indonesians themselves. Kurniawan's story begins with Dewi Ayu, a teenage girl of Dutch and Indonesian heritage who finds herself imprisoned, alone, and forced into prostitution. Dazzling characters abound, with curses, ghosts, and lots of sex. There's also rape, murder, and the pain of being unwanted, but even with so much going on, Kurniawan brings the disparate threads together in the end. This meaty tome will leave a lasting impression.

Summer Books Stacked by Sunset - ISA Professional

A collection of short, creepy, but beautifully-written horror 

Singing with All My Skin and Bone by Sunny Moraine (May 2016, Undertow Publications)

     Each story is a dark surprise, over and over. As impossible as it seems, Moraine balances gut punch after gut punch with rich prose and deft storycraft in every one. Their writing is like a deadly mushroom in an overgrown forest: those colors should be a warning but how can you resist such beauty, even if it kills you? This isn't the book for happy endings or good things happening to good people, but if you want the lost ones who fall through into the other side of the mirror, this collection will keep you on your toes all the way to the last page.

Sharp, insightful essays on the intersection of feminism, geek culture, and the art of being a struggling writer

The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley (May 2016, Tor Books) 

     Hurley is an essayist, fantasy novelist, and two-time winner of the Hugo Award, whose non-fiction has appeared in The Atlantic and Locus, on Tor.com, and more. The work in this book explores the rift between some hardline “classic science fiction” (and its fans) and those readers and authors who want a more inclusive, modern, and fair environment for all fans to find themselves. Hurley speaks out about her own experiences as well as her take on the genre community and the world at large, providing a much needed voice and giving us all a little more to think about. Good, good stuff here, that shouldn't be missed.  


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