Women superheroes are stepping out of the shadow of men

Ideas

Women superheroes are stepping out of the shadow of men

Without fanfare, they are defining an entirely new style of leadership to forge a post-Covid future

Saray Khumalo

At a time of crisis, such as the current Covid-19 pandemic, it’s difficult to feel motivated about striving for and achieving one’s goals. But throughout history leaders of many stripes have found their purpose in a time of crisis. Our own Nelson Mandela springs immediately to mind. What’s different now is that, as old structures – and particularly patriarchal structures – come under pressure, women are taking the reins and demonstrating their powerful ability to act and lead in a different way. 

As a child I was fascinated by superheroes, characters who were always there when you needed them and who used their unique superpowers to help those in need. They seemed to express what my grandfather had taught me – that our purpose in life is to help others and to make the world a better place, leading to achievements that have landed me at the top of Mount Everest, on my fourth attempt. Of course, it struck me even then, as a little girl, that most superheroes were men and that women only played supporting roles. As a teen, I realised that one of the earliest female superheroes had been The Invisible Scarlet O’Neil, a woman who acquired the power of invisibility from a ray that her father was experimenting with. 

It struck me how symbolic this was of women’s historic role in society. Even while helping others they were not only invisible but expected to be invisible. And although women slowly became more visible in the post-war decades, they were expected to emulate men in their values and approach to leadership; to be honorary men, so to speak. ..

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