Why is it so hard to find female superhero merchandise? In this passionate, sparkling talk, media studies scholar (and father of a Star Wars-obsessed daughter) Christopher Bell addresses the alarming lack of female superheroes in the toys and products marketed to kids — and what it means for how we teach them about the world. (Official Ted Web site)

Who is he?:

Dr. Christopher Bell is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado –  Colorado Springs (UCCS).

At UCCS, Bell teaches both theory and methodology courses in critical analysis of popular culture, rhetorical theory, representation theory and mass media. His academic books include American Idolatry: Celebrity, Commodity and Reality Television (McFarland 2010), Hermione Granger Saves the World! (McFarland 2012), Legilimens! Perspectives in Harry Potter Studies (Cambridge Scholars 2013), From Here to Hogwarts (McFarland 2015) and Wizards vs. Muggles (McFarland 2016). (Op. cite)

Why you should watch:

For more than ten years, Bell has been a featured professional speaker on a variety of college campuses, both large and small, nationally touring on issues of race, class and gender in the media. In what little spare time is left over, Bell is the author of the children’s books Do Not Open the Door! and Do Not Look Under the Rug!, a competitive gamer (competing on regional and international circuits), and he travels with his wife and daughter. (op cite)

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are the independent variables that Bell sites and how do they affect the dependent variables?
  2. What does Bell mean public pedagogy
  3. Explain your understanding of mass media and the term “agenda setting”.
  4. What connections do you see between race, gender and the Disney construct.
  5. If you were to design a superheroine, what qualities would she have?

Making Connections:

Here is a report of a study that concludes that the Disney Princess stereotype has an adverse impact for girls, but positive outcomes for boys:

Here is some media that Dr. Bell recommends:

  The Disneyization of Society

Alan Bryman
Sage Publishers, 2004

This is a definitive work on Disney, public pedagogy, and the ways in which media influence how we live our daily lives. Really just a master work.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1: Squirrel Power

Ryan North, Erica Henderson
Marvel Entertainment, 2015

If you know a tween or teen that is just getting into comic book heroes, it is pretty widely agreed that Squirrel Girl in one of the best female superhero titles around right now. Funny, engaging, and friendly to both girls and boys. Pick this title up.

Ms. Marvel Vol. 1: No Normal

  1. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona
    Marvel Entertainment, 2014

Older teenage kids (and adults) should definitely give Ms. Marvel a try. It is a complicated and gripping comic that should be relatable for teenagers everywhere. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous as well, which is a bonus.

Rowan Blanchard

As celebrity icons go, your daughters (and sons) couldn’t find a better one to follow than Rowan Blanchard. This star of Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World is whip-smart, well-read and engages the word in the kind of feminist understanding that is completely unexpected from the average 14-year-old. Your child is going to look up to some celebrity; it’s natural in our kind of society. Rowan’s one of the good ones.

Dad’s Blog

Dads of daughters who want to share superhero culture with their girls should check out this blog full of resources. Let’s stick together to give our girls a foundation to be heroes of their own!

An Open Letter to Marvel Studios

Travis Gruber
Whiskey for Breakfast

If you happen to be a studio executive wondering how to successfully build a franchise around a female lead, this blog has a masterful blueprint for you to follow. Follow these steps and watch what happens.

Bring on the Female Superheroes with Christopher Bell


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