By Lauren Piskothy
I have always secretly wanted to be a superhero instead of a princess. My first exposure to the idea that someone seemingly ordinary could become extraordinary was the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Percy wasn’t a superhero, but he was an awkward demi-god with water related powers that he got from his father Poseidon, so close enough. I remember my thirteen-year old self feeling liberated from reading about the experiences of this awkward unassuming hero whose shortcomings were what made him special. This was the first time I saw myself in a character- a white, male character. Years later, now in college, I had another epiphany, with the comic book character Ms. Marvel.
Over the years, I became drawn to other superhero stories: Spiderman, Iron Man, Captain America. The only problem was that they were all men. Granted, the women that were a part of these stories were becoming increasingly more independent and strong, but their sole purpose was still to help the men in their journey. These women were a part of the story as secondary characters. And they were not paid more than the male actors. Their name wasn’t in the title. They weren’t the Superheroes. I wondered if a franchise of female Superheroes could ever exist. I refused to believe that people did not want to see movies where women got to fight their own battles. If I could see myself in Spiderman or Iron Man, then others can see themselves in a female superhero.
I wanted to relate to a woman with power and depth the way I could a man. When Wonder Woman finally had her own movie, I appreciated the kindness and strength of her story. It was progress. Yet her story is only a stepping stone. She’s a beautiful graceful demi-god, but I couldn’t relate to any of those things, even though I desperately wanted to. Part of me thought that this could be the only female superhero we get but I didn’t want that to be true.
So I did a Google search for female superhero comics and I found Ms. Marvel. A comic book series that re-boot the character Captain Marvel, but different from the original. Ms. Marvel is awkward, independent, kind, and unapologetic. She doesn’t want to disappoint anyone, but at the same time she isn’t always sure that she won’t. She is everything I would want a superhero to be. She’s human. She feels real.
Kamala Khan is Ms. Marvel, a 16-year-old Pakistani high school girl who lives in Jersey City, and one day after being exposed to terrigen mist, ends up with super powers. She’s a young woman who struggles with her identity. She is funny and she is not always sure of herself. I began reading her story as if it was my own. Seeing yourself in a character, especially a superhero, makes you feel like you’re not alone. I didn’t realize how important that was until I knew. Still, she’s not as popular as the white male superheroes or the white female superheroes. Everyone knows about Wonder Woman, and Captain Marvel is set to have her movie come out by next year. Both are white women. What does mean when we say that the female superheroes we have come to accept are all white?
What about the experiences, the voices, of women who aren’t straight, white, or thin? We shouldn’t have to filter the stories of women who are like this. I relate more to Ms. Marvel than I ever will to Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel, because I relate to her on a deeper level than the color of her skin. I relate to her for her humanity. What makes her different- her race, religion, and identity should be valued for what they are, because the things we don’t have in common further cement the things that we do. There is comfort in knowing that the things I feel are universally felt, like wanting to be good enough and strong enough, as well as all of the awkward moments and missteps that are a part of that journey too.