New BBC America Study Says The World Needs More Female Superheroes

BBC America and Women’s Media Center released a new study revealing the lack of representation in the sci/fi superhero genre.

A new study called ‘Superpowering Girls’ conducted by BBC America and Women’s Media Center describes the representation in the sci/fi superhero genre and it’s affects on young girls. It was released Monday on the heels of New York Comic Con and the debut of Jodie Whittaker as the 13th Doctor. It’s not a secret that this genre is predominantly made up of male characters, even today with Wonder Woman and Doctor Who. The gender gap on screen, according to the study, has a real world affect to even the youngest of audience members.



Better onscreen representation can help close the confidence gap for girls and allow them to see themselves as leaders and heroes. “There’s something sort of elemental to sci-fi [and] fantasy, magic storytelling that just feels really resonant as girls and boys are forming their ideas of who they can be,” 2016 NYWIFT Muse honoree Sarah Barnett, general manager and president of BBC America, told The Hollywood Reporter. “I think ultimately the role of a superhero is an expression of power that is very important in shaping boys’ and girls’ ideas of who gets to inhabit the power situation and how. For us, it felt like the right space to explore for the study.”

The study notes that while majorities of both boys and girls describe themselves as confident and brave, there’s a significant gap between genders. Most significantly, a majority of girls surveyed — 57% — said they’re not listened to (the percentage was even higher among girls of color than their white counterparts), compared to 38% of boys. Just more than a third (34%) of teen girls — and almost as many teen boys, 28% — said girls have fewer chances than boys to be leaders.

The good news is that images of female heroes can be powerful as well. In the study, three-fourths of girls 10-19 said their favorite female superheroes make them feel strong, brave or inspired. And nearly six in 10 say watching female heroes makes them believe they can do anything — with girls of color more likely to strongly agree with that statement.



Not surprisingly, 85% of girls 10-19 want to see more women as superheroes and sci-fi protagonists — but so do a large majority of boys (69%) and more than 80% of parents of kids 5-9, regardless of their children’s gender.”It was really surprising, for me, the fact that boys as well as girls, teenage boys and girls, both recognized there are fewer opportunities for women and girls,” Women’s Media Center president Julie Burton told THR. “That’s at a young age, and that’s setting the track for their whole future of what they choose and what they think they can be. But the fact that boys were recognizing there’s a gender difference in opportunities is extremely powerful. …

The first step is realizing that there’s a problem, so we’re moving in the right direction. Burton and Barnett hope this study and others like it to come, will help spur the industry to be more inclusive, both in front of and behind the camera, in telling sci-fi and superhero stories. “We continue to pay attention and encourage stories that are fresh and are representing the lived experience of all of our audiences,” Barnett said. “It’s exciting. I think there are these moments where people collectively start to see things a little differently. It’s not easy, and it’s not quite as quick as some of us would like, but I do think they’re exciting moments, and I think this is one of them.”

If you’d like to continue reading about this study, here are some links for further reading: