Are Superheroes Good Role Models? Female Superheroes Really Do Inspire Young Girls, Research Says
Who was your favorite superhero as a child? Mine was Wonder Woman: I literally wanted to grow up to be just like her. I was obsessed with the fact that Wonder Woman not only fought evil villains like a total badass, but that she genuinely cared about the good of humanity, too — she made me feel like I could do anything I set my mind to. It's a common belief that superheroes are good role models, but new research confirms that female superheroes in particular influence the self esteems of young girls in huge (and very positive) ways.
According to the new research, which comes from the Women's Media Center (WMC) and BBC America's Study on Female Representation in the Sci-Fi/Superhero Genre, when young girls see women represented in superhero roles on the big screen — and especially girls of color — it helps them “believe they can achieve anything they put their mind to."
And no, it doesn't matter that these superheroes have otherworldly, fantastical powers, or spend their days fighting evil, scary villains — i.e. things that aren't exactly "relatable" to the average young girl. Much like how young boys look up to their favorite male superheroes, WMC's data shows that young girls feel exactly the same way about characters like Wonder Woman. In fact, the research found that "female sci-fi/superheroes are more impactful sources of inspiration for girls than male heroes are for boys."
Quite frankly, though, there aren't nearly enough female superheroes in mainstream media — I mean, how many can you even name besides Wonder Woman or Catwoman?
The WMC study confirmed this lack of female representation in sci-fi and superhero movies, revealing that about two-thirds of girls aged 10 to 19 believe they don't see enough "strong female characters," "female role models," or "relatable female characters" in the media. Julie Burton, president of the Women’s Media Center, said in a statement for the WMC's report,
At this time of enormous, sweeping, social change, it’s important that television and film provide an abundance of roles and role models for diverse girls and young women. We know that representation matters, as evidenced by this report. Our research found that female sci-fi and superhero characters help bridge the confidence gap for girls, making them feel strong, brave, confident, inspired, positive, and motivated.
Specifically, the report found that, when young girls do see themselves reflected in heroines on the big screen, it makes them feel "brave," "strong," "confident," "motivated," and "inspired." Ugh, my heart.
Now, if you think these things are kind of trivial, Dr. Stacia Pierce, an award-winning life coach, motivational speaker, and empowering female entrepreneur, begs to differ. "Young girls look for opportunities to identify with other women to determine who they want to be when they grow up," she tells Elite Daily over email. "The more powerful images we serve them, the more examples of success, leadership, and confidence they will be able to connect with."
In other words, Pierce explains, when a little girl sees a female superhero "save the day," she will subconsciously believe that she can save the day, too — whatever that means for her in her own life. Sure, she may not be saving the entire planet from some evil monster, but according to Dr. Pierce, she will believe she has the confidence to do anything she sets her mind to.
The effects that female superheroes can have on a young girl's self confidence were certainly not lost on Gal Gadot, the talented actress who played Wonder Woman in the 2017 action film. In an interview with Glamour, Gadot spoke of Wonder Woman's most important qualities, and explained that, in her portrayal of the character, she wanted to make these qualities very clear to the audience. "It was important for me that we show how independent she is," Gadot said. "She is not relying on a man, and she's not there because of a love story. She's not there to serve someone else."
Say it louder, Gal — the youngsters are listening!