"Did you try turning it off and turning it on again?" I often miss having a full IT department down the hall from me. I've been trying to clear thousands of unnecessary files out of my laptop and I came across this alternate cover for The She-Hulk Diaries. I also found a piece I'd written at the request of a big-timey publication. Marvel nixed its publication. Er, maybe because I was biting the hand that signs the check. Anyway, here it is.

Absence (of Girl Superheroes) Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Another summer is here and we’re deluged with big budget action flicks starring men, written by men, directed by men, and intended to entertain those of the male persuasion. I think it’s fantastic that men are creating a male cultural community without hazarding into drum circles—because no one wants that. The recent success of comic book superhero adaptations begets more superhero adaptations that are veritable sausagefests of CGI-generated fight-scenes, explosions, things going really fast, and then the fast things exploding.

That’s something I love about Hollywood: the industry’s dogged commitment to replicate what has been done successfully before. In fact, Hollywood might consider engraving “Did not try to reinvent the wheel!” on its tombstone.

Comic books have always served the underdogs, providing inspiration, drama, and vicarious thrills in epic battles of good vs. evil, rich vs. poor, powerful vs. resourceful. Worldbuilding and shifting dynamics can be as complex as Greek and Roman mythologies, and, indeed, comics carry on this tradition of storytelling.

Which came first, the superhero or the nerd? I suspect that someday archeologists will discover a cave wall with the earliest comic panels and nearby will be the remains of a proto-nerd, clad in a mammoth-skin garment, complete with a pointy stick protector.

What was I saying? Oh, yes, so more of the profitable-same. However, there’s one area where Hollywood does not chase the money: extremely successful movies starring girl heroes, primarily viewed by girls, have not been followed by copycat girl-herocentric flicks. If you look at Hollywood from a purely monetary perspective (how crass!) you see the cognitive dissonance. However, if you look at it from a social perspective, i.e., the incurable contamination by girl cooties, it becomes clear. Girls, born into a male dominant culture, are immunized to boy cooties. They can watch innumerable movies with entirely male casts, and at the very worst, the girls will experience temporary cases of ineffable ennui, which can be helpful when journaling.

Boys --so delicate and lovely!-- are easily contaminated. One day they’re cheerfully telling scatological jokes and smashing things with their buddies, and the next they’re chortling at a rerun of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.  (Cue Sarah McLaughlin’s “In the Arms of an Angel.”)

So, yes, there is gross inequity in films, and studies such as those on gender stereotypes by Dr. Stacey L. Smith at the Annenberg School of Communication merely obfuscate the real issue. The real issue is not that:

 “Examining 5,839 characters, a recent study of 129 top grossing G, PG, and PG-13 films theatrically released between 2006 and 2011 showed that less than 30% of all on screen speaking characters are girls or women.  The ratio of males to females on the silver screen is 2.53 to 1.”

Nor is the real issue the wild imbalance of men:women making movies, and according to Dr. Smith, “Women accounted for 4.1% of directors, 12.2% of writers, and 20% of producers. This calculates to a 2012 ratio of 5 males to every 1 female behind the camera.”

This imbalance is unlikely to change even when women filmmakers are successful because their work is seen as “flukes” and they aren’t asked to helm big-budget actioners. As Monika Bartyzel writes in Girls on Film, “Women [directors] with similar resumes to the men listed above aren't even considered for these high-buzz films—let alone given the opportunity to sign on or refuse.”

Because the real issue is girl cooties. Since women and girls buy half of all movie tickets, Hollywood power brokers are sacrificing enormous potential profits by ignoring this audience. I imagine that when their mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, and girl pals beg them to invest in girl movies, they respond with a heartfelt, “I hear what you’re saying, but we’ve got to protect the most vulnerable members of society, our boys!” I applaud them for their moral integrity and courage.

Nonetheless, girls want superhero role models, too. Like boy nerds, many a girl nerd looks to the media for inspiration on how to deal with the challenges and vicissitudes of life. Writer Margot Magowen, founder of ReelGir1, a blog dedicated to "imagining gender equality in the fantasy world,” says:

“I have three young daughters, and almost every movie I take them to, they see males front and center. Females are sidekicks or not there at all, usually stuck in a role I call the Minority Feisty (which includes characters like Astrid from ‘How to Train Your Dragon,’ Jesse in ‘Toy Story,’ Colette in ‘Ratatouille.’) Reviewers will invariably refer to this ‘strong’ female as ‘feisty,’ a word that doesn't describe real power, but someone who plays at power. Would you ever call Superman feisty? How would he feel if you did?  The Minority Feisty is a modern invention that's supposed to make parents overlook the fact that almost all of the other characters in the film are male, including the star (who the movie is often titled for) and usually his best buddy as well.”

So what can be done? The power brokers in the media already carry a heavy gender-specific load, but that doesn’t mean girls should be deprived of superheroes. After all, it’s not as if women are powerless in society. Some of us are as powerful as Oprah. Okay, only one of us is really as powerful as Oprah and her name happens to be Oprah, but the rest of us don’t have to wait for change. We can make the change by making our own stories with our own superheroes. 

Girl nerds can put their enormous brains together to create, finance, and distribute comics and female superhero movies and shows.  Instead of trying to break the glass ceiling, we can walk down the block and construct our own damn skyscraper.