How representation in media taught women to be heroes

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Jan 24, 2017, 4:00 PM EST

image courtesy of Twitter.com/FeministaJones


Genre continues to dominate the mainstream -- not just in film, where 10 of the 15 top-grossing movies of 2016 were sci-fi or fantasy, but in television and other media.

Science fiction and geek culture have long ceased to be part of a small subculture composed of hardcore fans and collectors. The number of comic book conventions -- itself somewhat of a misnomer at this point -- grows each year, as does the attendance, making cons like SDCC and NYCC two of the biggest pop culture events annually.

Popular culture has an enormous influence on society. It allows art to be accessible to a greater audience, serves as a foundation for conversation and connection with others and allows ideas to be expressed and explored that may not normally be considered or confronted in an individual’s daily life. Considering its current dominance of mainstream pop, it’s safe to assume that science fiction and fantasy play a big part in said influence.

Representation in film has been a growing conversation the last couple of years. And while 2016 seemed like an impressive year for women in film, the stark reality is that women only made up 27% of speaking time in the year’s biggest movies, even when they were the leads or played the character most used in the film’s marketing.

Saying we can do better is an understatement, and one that too many people still meet with a proverbial shrug before deciding it really doesn’t matter all that much. The misconception is that none of this really matters or impacts females in any tangible way that makes any difference in their lives. Sure, they may get hired more within the industry, but there's no "real world" impact.

Thanks to this past weekend, there’s more tangible evidence to the contrary.

As images of the Women's March were shared all over social media, certain geek girl icons were often used as both the adopted faces and words of the march. The most prevalent and obvious was Princess Leia, a nod to both the iconic Rebellion leader and the feminist legend that portrayed her. But it wasn't just Leia who popped up all over the world as millions of women, young girls and their allies took to the streets: you could also see Wonder Woman, Hermione Granger, Supergirl, Buffy, Agent Carter, Captain Marvel, Miss Marvel, Storm, words by Margaret Atwood and Roxane Gay from World of Wakanda, and so much more.

These fictional characters helped give a voice to the otherwise voiceless. Their spirit and meaning sparked a flame that, for some, helped ignite action, inspiring people to invoke their heroes while acting as one themselves. And while it's only a matter of time before someone laments on the end of superhero franchises and the like once again, remember that those words, images, characters and their stories are all art that started as an idea plucked from the depths of someone's imagination.

The comic books that are brought to life on the big screen were created to tell stories about heroes who used their powers to fight for and defend civil, human and equal rights. The epic space operas and fantasies are still, at their core, about good rising against evil. We love these stories because they're our stories; because we relate to them, find truth in them and can apply them to describe moments and feelings in real life when our own words have escaped us.

It's also why representation matters: so more young girls can see themselves as heroes and believe they have what it takes to stand up and fight when the time calls.

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