The Conversation We Need to Stop Having About Female Superheroes

Jessica Jones Netflix

With the release of Jessica Jones on Netflix this past weekend, one of my least favorite topics has crept back into the conversation. It was there when Gal Gadot was cast as Wonder Woman. People were indirectly saying it when they were championing Ronda Rousey for Captain Marvel. It’s been right there as Supergirl has made its way onto television. It’s the most useless criticism that can be leveled against a female-led superhero property.

“She’s too scrawny.”

There are variations. “She’s too skinny,” or “she doesn’t look very strong.” All of these really miss the mark on a number of levels, mostly because they come from a masculine point of view. Yes, it always seems to be my fellow white dudes who are usually leveling these criticisms against today’s female heroes. It’s shameful for what it represents. What the people making statements like this are doing is taking traditional, masculine standards of strength and applying it to women. By its very definition, misogyny is an ingrained prejudice against women. The prejudice here is thinking that physically strong female characters have to adhere to the same kinds of standards that we look for in male heroes. But we’re talking about superheroes here, physical size does not always equal strength.

Let’s take a look at some very classic Wonder Woman. This is the cover of issue #8, published in DC in 1944 (just in case anyone wants to play the traditionalist):

Wonder Woman 8

I’ve never looked at a picture of the tall, lean Amazonian Wonder Woman and thought her less strong because she doesn’t look like Chris Hemsworth with his shirt off. I also didn’t look at Gal Gadot in the Fast and Furious movies and think, “Yeah, she’s not so tough. Why is she so skinny?” It’s always been a foreign notion to me to look at a woman and think that because she looks slender, she can’t be strong.

The even greater problem here is that this isn’t something we’d say about a male superhero. We don’t look at The Flash star Grant Gustin and say, “He’s too thin to be The Flash.” Even though there are brawny versions of Barry Allen from the comics. No, we looked at Gustin and allowed him to inhabit the role, to give us a very strong, nuanced version of The Flash. We don’t always do that with female heroes. In fact, we almost never do it.

Is Krysten Ritter, the actress who plays Jessica Jones, a petite woman? Yes. Does that make her any less capable of giving us a wonderfully fleshed out, strong heroine? Absolutely not. If you are trying to level this criticism against a female lead in a superhero property, you’re missing the point (and you’re being a misogynist dick). Every time I see this pop up in comment sections, forums, or even worse, reviews from legitimate outlets, I cringe. This is taking the idea that someone’s physical appearance is more important than their character (something with which our society already struggles) and applying it to a world where we should be celebrating strong, intelligent, heroic and complex female characters.

So if you’re out there, just having finished typing your comment about how Krysten Ritter’s arms are too thin to be a believable badass, just stop. Delete the comment and walk away. Because sentiments like that are not only incorrect, they are also deeply inappropriate.