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Being Superheroes for Halloween May Help Empower Girls, But A New Study Finds More Options Are Needed

Oct 09, 2018

Being Superheroes for Halloween May Help Empower Girls, But A New Study Finds More Options Are Needed

Credit: iStock. A new Women's Media Center and BBC America study found that female superheroes help with empowering girls.

On Halloween, girl trick-or-treaters will don everything from Wonder Woman and Supergirl costumes to princess outfits. A new study from the Women’s Media Center and BBC America suggests that the superhero costumes may have a positive impact that lasts long after Halloween. The study found that seeing women represented in the superhero genre is empowering for young girls. The study also found that girls want to see more female superhero characters. 

In the study, 90 percent of girls said that female superheroes and sci/fi characters are positive role models for them. In the same survey, 85 percent of girls ages 10 to 19 and 88 percent of parents of girls ages 5 to 9 said that they want to see more female superheroes and sci/fi characters represented. Girls used words like “confident,” “brave,” “strong,” “inspired,” and “motivated” to describe how their favorite female sci/fi characters and superheroes made them feel. 

Dr. Jessica McCall, an associate professor of English at Delaware Valley University, feels strongly about the need for better representation of women in sci/fi and superhero characters. Dr. McCall completed her Ph.D. with a specialization in early modern studies and graphic novels. Her research interests focus specifically on representations of women in the genre. She feels the types of characters that are included are just as important as the number of female characters. 

When she watched the “Wonder Woman” movie Dr. McCall felt the genre was finally getting it right when it came to representing empowering female characters. 

“When Diana crossed that battlefield she was a superhero,” said Dr. McCall. “She wasn’t a ‘female superhero’ or a ‘strong female character.’ She was the dream, the ideal, and the aspiration that every superhero must be.”

Dr. McCall said the hero quest is “ultimately about humanity and what it means to be human—to exist first and foremost as an individual who understands their own complexity.”

“Up until that moment hero quests about female characters, with a few exceptions, had been about romance,” said Dr. McCall. “Being a hero isn’t about another character’s approval or being desirable. Being a hero is about learning who you are so you can be a better person to those around you, and you cannot know yourself if your identity is defined by someone else. That’s the whole point of the hero quest, and it felt good to see someone finally get it right.”

Dr. McCall said that increased representation can go a long way toward empowering girls.

"Representation of girls and women as heroes in and of themselves reminds viewers of the strength, empathy, and possibility in all of us,” said Dr. McCall.