Women in Comics: why stereotypes still persist!



On Saturday I was reading an article by entrepreneur magazine about the how the comic book world is full of famous entrepreneurs and it listed the top 10 famous comic book entreprenuers. For those who don’t know I am a cartoon diehard. The list was fantastic including my favorite superhero Batman and another favorite Ironman. The sad thing about that list of ten is that there was no woman.

Modesty Blaise
Modesty Blaise

This issue got me thinking. Why is it that there are no back stories for female superheroes? It’s like they don’t have lives and all they do is be superheroes. It’s like in the fairy stories all the females were either peasants or princesses. Nothing inbetween. A couple of months ago I had a post on my blog about superheroes and how women superheroes are viewed its called Of Babes in Capes: what I learnt from female superheros. When I think of superhero women who actually have a back story who are doing things outside of superhero stuff the following below come to mind. The only female superheroes who I can think of who actually do something out of superhero stuff are.

Storm – who is the right hand of Professor Xavier. She teaches the students in X men.
Wonder Woman – who is a princess of the amazons (typical stereotype)
Catman – who is a professional burglar
Atom – who is a scientist in her own right
Hawkgirl – who is in the army
The invisible girl – also a scientist/doctor
Modesty Blaise – female super agent


This got me thinking about a talk that Caroline Mutoko gave at our Rotary Club of Muthaiga. It’s about how the fairy story talks about girls being helpless and having to be saved by men in order to live happily ever after. If you think of any fairy story from Cinderella, to sleeping beauty, to Rapunzel, to well every fairy story you have read then a woman has to be rescued by a prince or a peasant in order to live happily ever after.


Caroline asked what type of message we are selling to our children. She said that the media need to start telling a different story. Caroline was giving this story in the context of what she has learnt or had to relearn since she became a mother. She said that for her, Nduku her child has the privilege of having a working mother with female friends who are doing great things. So she will become somebody great because she has been inspired to be great.

Caroline talked about how women achievers must be in the news. We must groom women into positions of greatness. The disservice that we do in this country is that we don’t do that. She said something profound “you cannot become what you cannot see” the pictures that we paint every day of women are not positive.

In the new fairy tales the soaps women are still defined by their relationship with men. They will kill, steal, and do bad things in order to get the “prince”. And even the nice girls will justify having affairs with the main character because they are in love. What kind of message are we selling to our girls now? That you can only be somebody if you have that man by your side. It doesn’t matter what you have achieved or can do, the only way you can define yourself is if you live happily ever after with that prince.

Caroline said that in every fairytale or for this article superhero, a boy can take away something. He is the hero. He is the one who gets to save the world. And that is how boys grow up, wanting to be a hero that saves the world and get the girl. Even Shrek, the ugliest “superhero” ever got to get the girl in the end. But what happens to the girl, like the princess she waits to be rescued.

We must change the story. We must teach girls that they don’t always have to be the princess or the bimbo always being saved. They can be the superhero in their story. That is why Brave was such a fantastic movie. The girl was a princess who refused to let her story is defined by men. She saved herself in the end and the village as well. We need more back stories about super heroines and normal women. We need to celebrate them. We need to give what they do value. Then we will empower the girls to write their own stories and be their own heroine.

If you like this then you might also like Of Babes in Capes: What I Learnt from Female Superheros

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Potentash Founder. A creative writer and editor at Potentash. Passionate about telling African stories. Find me at [email protected]


  1. I agree that for a long time women havn’t been given strong roles in comics and that men have dominated. But things are changing. For instance, marvel comics is taking roles like Thor and having them filled by women. In the film industry superhero movies with female lead roles have been confirmed starting with captain marvel and wonderwoman. On TV marvel headlined Jessica Jones. So its not all bad and the world has realised the need to change and tell the story differently