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April 30, 2012

BEAM: I need a She-ro

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — In life, a litmus test exists to see if a gal qualifies as a geek.

Knowing which comic book characters belong to the DC or Marvel franchises strongly indicates you might be a cousin to Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory.” So does identifying the true meaning behind superhero acronyms like STAR labs and SHIELD. Yet, at present, the single most telling factor of geekdom is acknowledging the fact that you’re calculating the days until the movie “The Avengers” opens in theaters.

The answer: three days and counting until its release on Friday, of course! Yes, I admit it. I’m one of those connoisseurs of comic books, also known as a superhero geek.

As a woman, I’m immensely excited about a female superhero being included in the good ’ol boy world of comic book crime fighting. Other than subordinate parts in the X-Men series, we’ve had few strong women as equal leads in these types of films. (If you mention “Catwoman” or “Elektra” as possible alternatives, you have just failed the geek test entirely. For shame.)

Just check out the movie poster. Notice the gal in the strange black garb secondarily positioned behind Iron Man and Thor? That’s Black Widow, one of the six Avengers. Finally, a strong female will help stop evil from invading the planet. Maybe this will change the perception of women in comic book roles as equal protectors rather than gorgeous girlfriends or bystanders in need of saving?

Or maybe not.

Being the super fan that I am, I decided to go to the store and buy my 5-year-old daughter some Black Widow merchandise. Nothing screams childhood fun like a replica of a kick-butt former Russian spy in a tight jumpsuit.

Through the aisle that housed the Avenger toys, we found powerful green Hulk hands, a patriotic Captain America shield and a huge Thor hammer, all worthy toys that my boys could torment each other with through most of the summer. But nothing Black Widow, not even an action figure.

Online, we hardly had any luck as well. Target.com entertained us with a commercial vignette of little boys dressed as four of the Avengers running around trying to stop a villain. But where’s Black Widow? I wondered if the store produced another video of her entertaining the Disney Princesses that day at the Russian Tea Room? Did they relegate her to the Barbie aisle with party dresses, pooches and, do I dare say it, pink princess tiaras? Say no, please. Surely she’s a partner to those boys in the quest for a free and safe world.

A quick Google search of female comic book heroines revealed little, in both information and dress. One of the articles that popped up rated the sexiest female superheroes. Who cares about special powers? Hotness saves the day.

Protecting the known universe is hard enough to do without wearing heels and a latex mask. Luckily, Black Widow wears boots. Women need to rank superhero males, just to even the score. That bad boy Hulk wins hands down for best washboard abs for sure.

In addition, a shopping search showed shapely ladies wearing Batgirl and Supergirl costumes. The only fighting these gals were doing was the struggle to keep their super granny panties hidden underneath those short skirts for the night. Trust me, I’ve worn one. And I thought running around the house as a kid in my Wonder Woman Underoos was risqué. Just hand me the Lasso of Truth so I can tie up the designers before my daughter turns 18.

Finally, in the midst of scantily clad super heroines, I found a kids costume of Black Widow. Supposedly, the movie action figure will be coming out soon, but, all and all, the character had far fewer toys than the male Avengers. How big of a role can Black Widow play in the motion picture — and in removing the stereotype of females in action roles — if they haven’t even marketed her?

Only watching the film will answer that question.

The bigger question is why don’t these franchises reach out to girls? Do they think, as a sex, we’re disinterested? Or is it because comic books and action films continue to be primarily written and directed by men who have a very different version of the feminine perspective?

Until we find the answer, I’ll teach my daughter about real life female heroes like Aung San Suu Kyi and Mother Theresa. Maybe she’ll figure out you don’t need to wear a cape to make a difference in the world. Although those Wonder Woman Underoos sure might make her feel a little more heroic when confronting those monsters under the bed.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at hoosiermandyblog@gmail.com or visit her blog at HoosierMandy.com

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