The XX Factor

We Need a Hero(ine)

Peggy Orenstein had an essay in the New York Times Magazine this weekend on the lack of female superheroes, and what that means for little girls . Orenstein’s 6-year-old daughter has called feh on Disney princesses (“All Sleeping Beauty ever does is sleep,” says the wise little one), and surprises her mother by asking for a Wonder Woman lunchbox for her birthday. Wonder Woman-who recently starred in a pretty awesome-sounding animated feature -has always been there for little girls who like capes and duels and spectacle-laden mythologies. But who else have we got in that super sorority?

A quick Facebook poll yielded some great options-not only our ever-beloved Buffy, but also She-Ra , Elektra , Sailor Moon , the very cool-sounding Zatanna Zatara , and of course, the fierce women of the X-Men: Storm , Rogue , Jean Grey , et al. One friend pointed me toward Birds of Prey , a female crime-fighting crew founded by Oracle, a paraplegic code-breaker/martial arts expert. (In her younger days, Oracle was Batgirl, who earns some gentle derision from Orenstein in the piece.)

I’d argue that many of these characters exhibit “the true drama of the superhero,” as Orenstein describes it:

[The superhero is] the ordinary Joe who discovers that he has a marvelous gift, something that sets him apart from everyone else, simultaneously elevating and at least potentially isolating him, forcing a series of moral choices about the nature of might and goodness. It’s a story writ large about coming to grips with power: accepting it, demanding it, wielding it wisely. Those themes are rarely explored in the fantasy culture of little girls, yet given how problematic power remains for adult women - in both fact and fiction - perhaps they should be.

Fantasy and comic-book fans, what laser-wieding, ass-kicking, spell-casting women do you want on your daughters’ lunch boxes?

Photograph of a woman reading a Wonder Woman book by Amy Sussman/Getty Images.