Batman and Superman will go on and on, but it’s the women who keep losing out

Is the comic world’s apathy towards female superheroes changing, or is it merely false hope?

My text application refuses to recognise the word ‘Superheroine’ – such is the impermeability of the gender status quo in the comic universe. In three months, the world has witnessed two epic battles between former superhero friends – Batman vs Superman in DC Comics’ Dawn of Justice and Captain America vs Iron Man in Marvel’s Civil War. Meanwhile, Wonder Woman in the former and Black Widow in the latter remain blips in the backdrop. But with a solo Wonder Woman release in the near future and chatter about a possible Black Widow film, are the superhero films ready to shed their bias? Perhaps not.

With the gross commercialisation of the superhero genre, the world of comic books stopped being a geek haven a long time ago. After a massive creative lull with some horrible Superman, Batman and Fantastic Four movies, the introduction of Christopher Nolan to the Batman universe and the revival of Marvel’s ambitions have resulted in brilliantly crafted superhero adventures. But the resurgence of the genre has done little for the powerful superheroine. She remains a temptress with limited visibility and poor storylines.

Black Widow in ‘Avengers Assemble.’

When the comic book genre peaked in the early 1940s, women remained relegated to specified character outlines. They were supporting characters in male-led superhero books. The first heroine to break the module somewhat was Fantomah, created by Fletcher Hanks – a forever-young ancient Egyptian princess who could turn into a skull-faced creature to fight evil and protect the jungle.


Then came Sheena, the first female character to have a comic book named after her. Never mind that Sheena’s personality was accentuated by overt sexiness.

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.

But it was Wonder Woman’s appearance in 1941 that gave the comic world its first mainstream superheroine.

Wonder Woman.
Wonder Woman.

Sure, Wonder Woman was known for her beauty and her bust. But during WWII, the Wonder Woman comics managed to reverse the gender roles somewhat. The plot: the Amazonian princess Diana falls in love with an injured officer from the United States Army, Colonel Trevor. She fights the Nazis in Trevor’s place as part of the American army.

Wonder Woman was a superheroine with powers rivalling Superman’s God-like strength, and Trevor was the male Lois Lane. Despite that, she remained at heart a nurturing woman. The message was loud and clear. Women could be vigilantes but they had to fit their feminine stereotypes first. William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, defended this anomaly by saying that, “give [men] an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they’ll be proud to become her willing slaves”.

Over the years, several powerful women have been part of the superhero canon, but each has had her femininity intact. If Supergirl had strengths like her cousin Superman, she was still a teenager. Black Widow finally found a cinematic representation, but her character was not only slut-shamed by the male actors of the movie, but she also spent the majority of her part in Age of Ultron dealing with her sterilisation and her inability to be a mother. In addition to the unnecessary feminine baggage, there was the absence of Black Widow from Age of Ultron merchandising, a fact called out by cast member Mark Ruffalo who plays Hulk.

And then, there are the posters.

As pointed out by graphic designer Jermaine Dickerson on Twitter, some of the DVD and Blu-ray covers of Age of Ultron featured neither of the two female superheroes in the movie, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch, choosing instead to concentrate on the four male heroes and Ultron. pointed out last year that the posters of movies featuring female heroes have them turned towards the camera in sexy, inviting poses as opposed to the men who seem ready to take on some action. Rewind to the poster of Captain America The Winter Soldier, featuring the men Chris Evans and Samuel Jackson in believable postures, while Scarlett Johansson’s Black Witch has her hair flying and her curves doubly emphasised.

And we haven’t even come to the absence of women of colour in superhero movies. The two instantly recognisable such superheroines are Storm from the X-Men movies and Catwoman, both played by the biracial actress Halle Berry. Frank Miller, the comic book writer credited with having revitalised the Batman stories with the darkness we associate with the hero today (and a lot of sexism too, if we’re being honest), wrote Catwoman as an African-American prostitute-turned vigilante. While the prostitute arc stuck, the colour of her skin was done away with.

The trailer of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’.

Apologists will argue that Wonder Woman, an Amazonian princess, is not technically a white superheroine. Yet, a character that fits male fantasies – voluptuous, long and black hair, and jutting curves – is hardly a breakthrough. While the new Aquaman movies took a leap by casting the brown-skinned Jason Momoa as the blonde underwater superhero, his heroine, Mera, will be played by the blond and white actress Amber Heard.

With the critical appreciation for television shows about superheroines, such as Agent Carter, Supergirl and Jessica Jones, and with the new Wonder Woman movie in production, it appears as though filmmakers and comic book creators are finally willing to do away with their prejudice. Jessica Jones, especially, featuring a complex, irreverent and emotionally detached central heroine created by Melissa Rosenberg, took brave strides by trashing common superheroine tropes. But the changes are still being seen mostly on television.

The reluctance among Hollywood studios to greenlight projects led by women has been extended to the female vigilante universe. During the Sony email leaks, Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter cited the failure of comic book movies featuring the characters of Elektra, Catwoman and Supergirl as a good reason to avoid superheroine productions all together. But these were poorly written and directed movies. The success of Jessica Jones and Agent Carter, and the positive reception to Wonder Woman’s scenes in Dawn of Justice and Black Widow in the Captain America films, are proof that well-written female superheroines will be accepted just as gladly. It isn’t up to an audience to determine how the creators can repair the skewed gender status. But for the vast hordes of female fans, it’s time the studios pushed women to the forefront of the action, rather than relegate them to the sidelines.

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Harvard Business School’s HBX brings the future of business education to India with online programs

HBX is not only offering courses online, but also connecting students to the power of its network.

The classic design of the physical Harvard Business School (HBS) classroom was once a big innovation – precisely designed teaching amphitheaters laid out for every student to participate from his or her seat with a “pit” in the center of the room from which professors orchestrate discussions analyzing business cases like a symphony lead. When it came to designing the online experience of HBX—the school’s digital learning initiative—HBS faculty worked tirelessly to blend these tenets of the HBS classroom pedagogy with the power of new technology. With real-world problem solving, active learning, and social learning as its foundation, HBX offers immersive and challenging self-paced learning experiences through its interactive online learning platform.

Reimagining digital education, breaking the virtual learning mold

Typically, online courses follow a one-way broadcast mode – lectures are video recorded and reading material is shared – and students learn alone and are individually tested. Moving away from the passive learning model, HBX has developed an online platform that leverages the HBS ‘case-based pedagogy’ and audio-visual and interaction tools to make learning engaging.

HBX courses are rarely taught through theory. Instead, students learn through real-world problem-solving. Students start by grappling with a business problem – with real world data and the complexity in which a business leader would have to make a decision – and learn the theory inductively. Thus even as mathematical theories are applied to business situations, students come away with a greater sense of clarity and perspective, whether it is reading a financial report, understanding why a brand’s approach to a random sample population study may or may not work, or how pricing works.

HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program
HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program

“Learning about concepts through real-life cases was my favorite part of the program. The cases really helped transform abstract concepts into observable situations one could learn from. Furthermore, it really helped me understand how to identify situations in which I could use the tools that HBX equipped me with,” says Anindita Ravikumar, a past HBX participant. India’s premier B-school IIM-Ahmedabad has borrowed the very same pedagogy from Harvard. Learning in this manner is far more engaging, relatable, and memorable.

Most lessons start with a short 2-3 minute video of a manager talking about the business problem at hand. Students are then asked to respond on how they would handle the issue. Questions can be in the form of either a poll or reflections. Everyone’s answers are then visible to the ‘classroom’. In the words of Professor Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX, “This turns out to be a really important distinction. The answers are being updated in real-time. You can see the distribution of answers, but you can also see what any other individual has answered, which means that you’re not anonymous.” Students have real profiles and get to know their ‘classmates’ and learn from each other.

HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort
HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort

Professor Anand also says, “We have what we call the three-minute rule. Roughly every three minutes, you are doing something different on the platform. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Anyone could be called on to participate at any time. It’s a very lean forward mode of learning”. Students get ‘cold-called’ – a concept borrowed from the classroom – where every now and then individuals will be unexpectedly prompted to answer a question on the platform and their response will be shared with other members of the cohort. It keeps students engaged and encourages preparedness. While HBX courses are self-paced, participants are encouraged to get through a certain amount of content each week, which helps keep the cohort together and enables the social elements of the learning experience.

More than digital learning

The HBS campus experience is valued by alumni not just for the academic experience but also for the diverse network of peers they meet. HBX programs similarly encourage student interactions and opportunities for in-person networking. All HBXers who successfully complete their programs and are awarded a credential or certificate from HBX and Harvard Business School are invited to the annual on-campus HBX ConneXt event to meet peers from around the world, hear from faculty and business executives, and also experience the HBS campus near Cambridge.

HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand
HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand

Programs offered today

HBX offers a range of programs that appeal to different audiences.

To help college students and recent graduates prepare for the business world, HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) integrates business essentials such as analytics, economics, and financial accounting. HBX CORe is also great for those interested in an MBA looking to strengthen their application and brush up their skills to be prepared for day one. For working professionals, HBX CORe and additional courses like Disruptive Strategy, Leading with Finance, and Negotiation Mastery, can help deepen understanding of essential business concepts in order to add value to their organizations and advance their careers.

Course durations range from 6 to 17 weeks depending on the program. All interested candidates must submit a free, 10-15 minute application that is reviewed by the HBX admissions team by the deadlines noted on the HBX website.

For more information, please review the HBX website.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HBX and not by the Scroll editorial team.