You can’t spell Hero without HER

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Midnight premieres were a tradition in my family. My mom would pick my sister and me up from school, and we would wait in line for hours to get good seats. I saw lots of movies in the theaters growing up–like Marvel and Harry Potter–but once I became an adult I noticed an overwhelming lack of lead female roles in lots of movies, specifically action films. I love action films. I am always buying tickets days in advance to see the next Marvel film, and each time I enter the theater my eyes are glued to the screen. However, it’s hard not to notice the lack of female roles in these films. 

This led me to the Smurfette principle, which is the practice in TV shows or movies where there is only one female character in an otherwise all-male cast. Katha Pollitt coined this term in 1991 in the New York Times, elaborating by saying  “Boys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central, girls peripheral; boys are individuals, girls types. Boys define the group, its story, and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys”.  There are prime examples of women being overlooked in superhero and action films. Specifically, in reference to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), there wasn’t a female-led film until Captain Marvel in 2019, despite the fact that Natasha Romanoff- otherwise known as the Black Widow- had been in the franchise since 2010. On top of that, Romanoff wouldn’t get her own stand-alone film until 2021, after 11 years of being an active female character in the franchise. 

Marvel has gotten a lot better with the female representation it provides in its films and shows. WandaVision is a Disney+ show that follows Wanda Maximoff–also known as the Scarlet Witch–as she desperately seeks out that normal suburban family life while also balancing the fact that she is one of the (if not the most) powerful people in the MCU. This show creates a great balance of the stereotypical female role women play as mothers/caretakers while also providing a new strength and power to them. Since Captain Marvel, there have been six different Marvel projects where women have taken the reins, and there are more projects confirmed to continue this trend. Having women move to the center of these films or shows allows them to be seen as pivotal characters instead of just sidekicks or background characters. Not only does it validate women’s roles in these movies, but it allows female fans to feel like they have a place to belong by showing them they are seen as an integral and important part of the fanbase, which is otherwise predominately male. 

Girls aren’t confined to the stereotypical roles given to us, and they can do everything they dream of. Seeing women represented in lead roles that fall outside of normal expectations allows them to picture a world where they can be and do anything. Most importantly, it shows young women that there is power in being a woman.

Read more about the Smurfette principal here in Katha Pollitt’s article: