Men with capes, bold silhouettes and strong muscles – these are all images that are generated when one types the word "hero" into a search engine.
While some may see the the lack of representation for female heroes as a small problem, one ASU student said it can limit or discourage young women from pursuing male-dominated careers and wants to change that.
Chloe Burbank, a senior majoring in film and a coach in the First-Year Success Center, is working on a documentary called "Shero" for her senior project. The documentary aims to shift preconceptions about heroes to become more inclusive, while also highlighting the actions of women heroes.
Burbank said she wants people to hear "shero" and think of the women heroes they encounter in life such as doctors, policewomen and teachers.
“I want it to be diverse,” Burbank said. “I want to show (that) you don’t have to be a certain age or ethnicity, you could see it in anyone any day.”
The documentary, she said, features interviews with women and girls of all ages to show the different ways in which women can be heroes. The youngest interviewee is 11 years old, Burbank said, and started a nonprofit to help the homeless population living on Skid Row in Los Angeles.
Burbank said the documentary idea came to her as she began searching for post-graduation jobs in her field.
“I’m a film major, which is a male-dominated industry, and (I) was having trouble finding people like me that I could look up to and see their path,” she said. “I started thinking about other jobs that are very male-dominated and started reaching out to women in those fields.”
The documentary, which Burbank started working on in the summer 2018, is still in the works with plans to come out later this year.
Burbank put together a team made up of only women, similar to the female-led production company founded by Reese Witherspoon, who Burbank called a role model.
Burbank said she feels that it is the perfect time to discuss the underrepresentation of women heroes and the use of language to shift the conversation.
“There’s no better time than the present with the 'Me Too' movement and the Women’s March,” Burbank said. “I feel like sometimes feminism and women empowerment can get a negative connotation, which makes me really sad because feminism at its root is just equality.”
Courtney Borge, a junior majoring in film, assisted with sound operation and recording of the documentary and said she is proud to be a part of this conversation.
“It means a lot, especially with the film industry, to be a part of a project that is pushing towards that movement,” Borge said.
Ian Moulton, a professor in ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, said the word 'hero' can be traced back to its use in Greek poetry and often reinforce problematic perceptions of gender roles.
He said women could often be seen as heroes in tragedies, which are usually characterized by unfortunate endings for the protagonist. He gave the story of Medea in Greek mythology as an example.
“Medea kills and she's not what anyone would call a good person,” Moulton said. “She's a scary figure for the male audience, a nightmare woman.”
Moulton said feminists must reevaluate the culture that defines women.
“Redefining it is a challenge because if you look at superheroes, they’re usually still defined as good at fighting,” he said. “Is aggression masculine? Is that a definition you want to accept?”
Borge said she feels the documentary will reflect that women are taking over, and she is ready for people to view the documentary and see hardworking women redefining multiple industries.
“This project is really exciting and different,” she said, pointing to its goal of advancing progress for women's rights. “There's still a struggle (for women), but we're covering a majority and building a presence."