I am a twenty-one year old college senior and I have recently adopted the life motto to live like Squirrel Girl: badass, confident, and adorable! This philosophy stems from the female fronted comics that have been prevalent in the comics industry lately. These awesome lady comics are so important and the type of literature I wish I had growing up. For the past couple of days I have been catching up on the Kamala Khan run of Ms. Marvel and I have not been this excited about a comic in a long time. Let me tell you why The Unbeatable Squirrel by Ryan North and Erica Henderson and Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, and Sara Pichelli have changed my outlook on life and why I want to give them to every woman in the world.
Growing up, my main female role models were Hermione Granger and Nancy Drew. While both of them are amazing, strong, and wonderful, there are a lot of aspects of their portrayal that made me a little unsure about things as a child. Nancy Drew is smart, yes, but she’s also a strawberry blonde bombshell with the perfect boyfriend, perfect father, and perfect car. Nancy Drew’s appearance made a huge impact on me when I was an elementary school girl. I wanted to be blonde. I had my mom curl the ends of my hair up to look like hers, but felt more like Velma from Scooby Doo than Nancy Drew. (I eventually embraced this and dressed as Velma instead, but it took some time getting to that point.) I didn’t have a Ned in my life and I felt like I was too blundering and klutzy to ever pull off Nancy Drew’s cool, sophisticated, crime-solving persona.
Hermione was a little more my style. She had frizzy hair, buck teeth, and she spent most of her time in the library. Her focus and passion annoyed the heck out of her friends, but did she care? Of course not! She was pursuing what she found important. This was the Hermione of the first three books, but then things started to change. When Hermione made her hair less frizzy with a potion, I was fine with that. There’s nothing wrong with a good hair product, am I right? But what really got me was in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when Hermione shrunk her front teeth. I’m not a witch! I don’t have magic! I can’t shrink my teeth! So now my female role model was beginning to look less and less like me and it was a change praised by all the characters in the book. More importantly, Hermione saved every character in that book many times, but always took a backseat while everyone else took credit. Not only was Hermione saving the day with her intelligence and her commitment to research, but these were the exact traits that led her to be made fun of constantly by her two best friends.
It is so incredibly important to me that both Doreen Green a.k.a Squirrel Girl and Kamala Khan a.k.a. Ms. Marvel do their thing and don’t feel guilty about the fact that they’ve helped people. Neither of them make a big deal about their accomplishments, but they also don’t hide from them. They save the day and then go on to hang out with their friends or go to a school club or read a book. Doreen and Kamala embrace the powers that were given to them without feeling unworthy or apologetic. I’m not quite sure how to put this into words, but this is something I’ve never encountered in literature before with such a resonance. I’ve spent most of my life doing things like working off the clock because I felt bad being paid for overtime or giving someone an idea for an entire project and letting them run with it, even if I would have liked to have been involved, because that’s what good people do, right? It never occurred to me that a woman could do something really great and accept that she had done it without it being portrayed as bragging or selfishness. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t still do good things even without a benefit to oneself, but no one should ever feel guilty for being strong and helpful.
Also, Doreen and Kamala are so completely comfortable in who they are. Yeah, they both have questions and confusion when trying to balance super heroism and regular life, but they always remain 100% unapologetically them. While there are several strong female leading ladies being published right now (Lumberjanes, Spider-Gwen, Rat Queens, etc.), Doreen and Kamala are a unique combination of similarities and differences that make their stories stand out. Initially, Kamala struggles to reconcile herself with the idea that she is a superhero. When she first starts saving people, she transforms into Captain Marvel because she believes that a tall, blonde superhero with big “boots” is what people want and expect. It isn’t until issue five that Kamala realizes that her strength and her effectiveness come from being unashamedly herself. As her confidence in herself grows, she is able to save more and more people and concentrate on the important things rather than putting her energy into maintaining the shape of Captain Marvel. Doreen, on the other hand, exudes oodles of confidence right off the bat. In the very first issue, we see Doreen tuck her tail into her pants, look into the mirror, and comment on her “conspicuously large and conspicuously awesome butt.” While Kamala’s difficulties lie in getting used to her new powers, Doreen’s difficulties have more to do with acting like an everyday college student to not give her identity away. She is constantly having to remind herself that most freshman at university cannot carry stacks of extremely heavy boxes by themselves or talk to their pet squirrels.
Although there are many differences between Doreen and Kamala, the ways in which they learn to live each day with confidence are wonderfully similar. When Ms. Marvel teams up with Wolverine to fight the inventor in issue six, she is not afraid to let Wolverine know how much she admires him. She fangirls all over the place and it is fantastic. She is also a total nerd, but this nerdism isn’t fetishized or made fun of in any way. Her friends embrace it, she embraces it, and she’s able to live without having to hide her passions. I’m so tired of seeing the manic pixie dream girl-esque female geek who likes all the things guys want her to like, but has no personality or story of her own. Kamala is exactly not that and it is glorious. Doreen constantly talks to herself and everything she says is positive. This is a huge step forward and something that has been a big reminder to myself. It’s okay to love the things that make you you. It’s okay to think you’re beautiful and funny. It’s okay to think your butt looks great. Doreen is a klutz and she says embarrassing things sometimes, but you know what? It’s okay! Everything she does is a part of who she is and she rolls with it.
Speaking of things that are okay, or more than okay in this case, let’s talk about the art in these comics. Here are two female superheroes that do not have large breasts or tiny waists, but do end up in a lot of silly looking poses with hilarious expressions on their faces, because guess what, fighting is not always pretty. Between Kamala’s embiggening random parts of her body and Doreen’s spastic jumping about, these girls are not the epitome of our modern perception of beauty, but they are gorgeous in a very real, very human way. It sounds weird to say real and human in the same sentence as embiggening, but that’s the amazing thing about Ms. Marvel and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. Their super powers do not make them any less relatable or any less the teenage girls that they are. Doreen’s buck toothed grin and Kamala’s pointy nose add to the sense that these could be girls in your classes or that you work with or even you yourself. Oh and guess what else, their costumes are actually practical and actually cover their bodies (I’m as shocked as you, believe me). While Doreen seems to have an interesting sort of bustier going on, it is never sexualized in any way. Kamala’s outfit is built to allow for the greatest functionality in conjunction with her powers and the fact that her outfit is adorable is just a happy bonus.
I just am honestly so amazed that we are at a point in which comics with girls making ridiculous faces and not constantly looking sexy and desirable are so well received. Doreen and Kamala are loved for something so much deeper than their appearances and that absolutely warms my heart. They never feel the need to bend or dampen themselves to fit into the ‘ideal woman’ image because they are lovely and amazing, living boldly and openly as themselves. Ms. Marvel and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl have opened my eyes to a whole new level of self-respect that I think many women are never exposed to. I’ve never before felt so powerful and strong simply from reading something so please give The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and Ms. Marvel to everyone you know.