[Editor’s note: this is the first in a two-part debut of Anna O’Keefe’s column “Redefining Superheroes.” Come back tomorrow for Part 2.]
Superheros and anti-heroes have exploded off the pages of comics and graphic novels in spectacular fashion in the past several years. Forbes pronounced that, “2017 became the greatest year for superhero movies of all time. . . Even The LEGO Batman Movie showed a whopping $311 million in box office sales worldwide.” No doubt about it: superheroes are in and clearly will be for a while since they rake in major bucks for the studios and publishing companies, not to mention the millions made off licensed merchandise.
This explosion of comic driven movies often has women showing up in the role of kick ass and yet sexy characters in cast ensembles. Some of these roles can be classified along the traditional superhero roles but many more are anti-heroes like Margot Robbie’s power-driven, crazed Harley Quinn in the 2016 Suicide Squad. Robbie brought a new level of scary crazy to Harley, a fan favorite and totally fun character to watch. I would imagine the role was a lot of fun to play. Sadly in the world of superhero leads, women have rare title roles. Graphic novels have done better in gender roles with many female-centric stories coming from the pages of smaller avant-garde publications.
All of this started me to wonder:
Where are the superheroes in my life? In the lives of my female friends? Whom do we think is stronger and more capable than any pretend character? Where do we go to find female role models that are badass, powerful, and blazing a trail for us to follow?
In my own life I do not need to search too deeply to find my own superhero. In fact, in the whole fictional superhero persona, something very different comes to mind. I think in terms of my own life and the superheroes that have been instrumental in shaping who we are; those powerful and often unsung superheroes that molded our thoughts, gave our spirits freedom to fly, and allowed us to build our own opinions of this big world we live in.
These quiet superheroes are women who did not get chosen for the job, never set out to impact another woman’s life in such a manner. They went about being who they were: women of substance making the best of what life offered, often with little means but never letting their situation in life define or constrict them. Some of us have been lucky enough to have more than one in our life. Often one is enough to inspire us. One has been enough for me.
My own superhero has influenced my entire life. Though we share a bloodline, I have never met her. My great-great-grandmother, Anna O’Keefe, came to the US as a teenage girl, leaving Ireland, her family, and her home to travel to a country she knew little about to get married to a man she had never met. It was not an uncommon story in the mid 1800s. Many families had to make the same choice Anna’s family did. The great Potato Famine brought brutal living conditions and caused many families to send children off into the world in hopes they would have a better life.
I cannot image having to make such a heartbreaking decision in life.