The Buffy Effect: Research on Superheroines for Children

Posted by Dorothy Lander

The list of superheroines from comics, television, film and other media — I expect that means action figures — can be found on Wikipedia:

I mention action figures in response to the blog question “Where are the superheroines for kids?”  I have been on the lookout for superheroines among action figures,. Rosie the Rivetter is the only real life action figure that I have found in among the fictional superheroines of Batwoman, Wonderwoman, and Buffy, and the array of nameless hypersexualized women warriors,  including one eco-woman warrior, complete with masks, swords, guns, and shields.  It seems that BOOTS are de rigeur for women warriors.   Joan of Arc’s influence here (boots, sword, and horse) so where is the action figure of Joan of Arc.  See Wikipedia on historical women warriors from diverse cultures:,_literature_and_popular_culture

Excerpted from 04 Sep 2012 Feminist Philosophers Blog:

I’m not expert in comics and/or superheroes and I know there ARE female superheroes, or better, superheroines, such as Firestar, Black Widow, Aquagirl, and Batwoman.  (A wiki list can be found here.) Where are the mainstream superheroines geared towards kids lately?  It’s not that they never existed, but they have been written out of the newest iterations of the mainstream kid shows.  My son and daughter are into the superhero scene, which has led to my 7 year old daughter being mocked for liking Spiderman.  (She seemed bemused and dismissed the mocking and the mocker pretty quickly.)  We went with a Marvel comic theme in my son’s room and it wasn’t difficult to find many superheroines in posters and such for his room.  But when it comes to current kids TV shows, kids movies, and most kids merchandise today, the superhero seen is virtually all male. For girls, as we know the toy market is virtually all pink and princesses.

This predicament did lead to a fun activity with my kids.  They made up their own superheroines, including No Weakness, Scary Girl, Tool Girl, Hide Girl, and Loud Woman.

Where have all the mainstream superheroines for kids gone and how can we bring them back?

Excerpted from Feminist Philosophers’ Blog  August 30, 2012  (

According to some interesting new research, the portrayal of strong female characters may be more important than plot content (including sex, violence, and even sexual violence) when it comes to shaping viewer attitudes to women.

Science codex reports:

Past research has been inconsistent regarding the effects of sexually violent media on viewer’s hostile attitudes toward women. Much of the previous literature has conflated possible variables such as sexually violent content with depictions of women as subservient

The submissive characters often reflect a negative gender bias that women and men find distasteful. This outweighed the sexual violence itself, giving credence to what Ferguson calls the “Buffy Effect”—named after the popular television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its strong lead female character.

“Although sexual and violent content tends to get a lot of attention, I was surprised by how little impact such content had on attitudes toward women. Instead it seems to be portrayals of women themselves, positive or negative that have the most impact, irrespective of objectionable content. In focusing so much on violence and sex, we may have been focusing on the wrong things,” Ferguson said.

“While it is commonly assumed that viewing sexually violent TV involving women causes men to think negatively of women, the results of this carefully designed study demonstrate that they do so only when women are portrayed as weak or submissive,” added Journal of Communication editor and University of Washington Professor Malcolm Parks. “Positive depictions of women challenge negative stereotypes even when the content includes sexuality and violence. In this way Ferguson reminds us that viewers often process popular media portrayals in more subtle ways than critics of all political stripes give them credit for.

Proving once again what we all (or at least all of us of a certain age) already knew: Buffy is so much more awesome than Twilight ever could be.

[Author’s note: It’s possible that the entire point of this post was just an excuse to put up Jo Chen’s Buffy Illustration. I’m okay with that.]

~ by artpoped on September 17, 2012.

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