Marvel markets sexism with Avengers T-shirts

Just saw Marvel’s sexist T-shirts on the Huffington Post (there’s some link to Reel Girl but I can’t find it?)

Marvel’s T-shirt for boys.

original

Marvel’s T for girls.

girls

Argh!

This sexism, by the way, goes beyond the specific imagery of a superhero. “Be a hero” translates to “act, take risks, make choices. “I need a hero” means “I’m a minor character. I’m passive, and I wait.”

See the difference?

The insidious problem with this stereotyped gender casting is that women are constantly sidelined and marginalized, remarkably, in the roles they play in their own lives. Females are cast in the supporting role, defined by their relationships as girlfriend, wife, mother, or helper. This sexist narrative has been going on for a long, long time, and we keep recycling it. I just saw this Virginia Woolf quote Tweeted by Bitchflicks:

And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends…They are now and then mothers and daughters. But almost without exception they are shown in their relation to men. It was strange to think that all the great women of fiction were, until Jane Austen’s day, not only seen by the other sex, but seen only in relation to the other sex. And how small a part of a woman’s life is that.

 

How small a part! But who would ever guess from looking at how women are depicted in the media– movies, TV, books, advertising– in 2013? Ironically, and this is what is so fucked up and twisted, females get to exist, get to play a part at all when they are sexualized and marginalized.

“Avengers” has the classic Minority Feisty ratio of 5 male superheroes to one female. As artist Kevin Bolk illustrates, the lone female is highlighted by her ass.

avengers

What is the solution to this sexism? Be a hero. Women, write your own stories. Make your own art. No one else can do it for us.

Update Here’s a comment from Nick:

The solution is not only for women to write their own stories, but for men to understand why this is sexist. There is a dearth of great female superheroes, and when they exist, they usually suffer from the Women In Refrigerators trope, where they die or lose their powers not doing something heroic, but assassinated while cooking in their kitchen, sometimes horrifically placed in the refrigerator, where the trope’s namesake comes from.

The solution has to be EVERYWHERE. Men and women alike should write compelling female superheroes. Some men don’t understand why Women in Refrigerators or Damsel in Distress tropes are inherently sexist, so education on this is also key.

For my part, I read up on feminist blogs like ReelGirl and watch Anita Sarkeesian videos (and the reaction videos, because she is very one-sided). I try to avoid making the same mistakes as other writers when dealing with women. I don’t ever assume I can write a compelling female character, I always question myself and I always push myself to do better.

I think that’s another good answer to this problem – each of us individually pushing the status quo.

And my response:

Hi Nick,

Totally agree the solution has to be everywhere. Thanks for this comment and for the thought and research you put into writing female characters.

Margot

 

Obviously, it’s a sexist world out there, and when women make art, it’s often ignored or marginalized. It would help if women were running the major Hollywood studios or had the funds to bankroll those studios, not to mention lead the prestigious organizations and comprise the boards that give awards to “great” artists.

That said, women need to keep writing and creating. Making art is risky and dangerous, engaging in the process is being a hero. Persevering is especially challenging when your work gets dismissed and rejected because stories about women aren’t valued. But, even with all of this against us, women must put our stories and visions out there. I really believe this is the only way we’ll ever achieve full gender equality.

Here are a couple posts I wrote on the issue of women making art: What if Van Gogh took Prozac? and Why aren’t there more women artists?

Update Miss Representation started a petition against these shirts. I signed and hope you do too.

35 thoughts on “Marvel markets sexism with Avengers T-shirts

  1. Pingback: More writing links | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. In response to: “Avengers” has the classic Minority Feisty ratio of 5 male superheroes to one female. As artist Kevin Bolk illustrates, the lone female is highlighted by her ass.

    I just want to say that there is one good message in the minority feisty ratio of the Avengers. If you’re a guy, you need awesome superpowers or ultra-genius to be on a superhero team. If you’re a girl, you don’t need any of that. You can run with the big time heros based entirely on being awesome (and on your hard work and training).

    The highlighted by her ass thing though, yeah, that’s a problem.

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  5. This post is badly written–and poorly argued–on so many levels that you wouldn’t even pass the English section of the California High School Exit Exam. For example:

    This sexism, by the way, goes beyond the specific imagery of a superhero. “Be a hero” translates to “act, take risks, make choices. “I need a hero” means “I’m a minor character. I’m passive, and I wait.”

    See the difference?

    My answer: HELL NO!!!

    First, you went off on a tangent from your original argument

    Second, where is the hard, empirical scientific evidence at? (that is not manipulated by academic feminists and psychologists to secure funds for more shoddy research). The funny thing about your post is that the uproar has NOTHING to do with the Marvel characters on the shirts, but about girls T-shirt having a feminine cut.

    Third, if this was an actual paper, your professor would probably tell you to rewrite it.

    So girls and young women can’t dress according to body shape anymore?!? Because that’s what you are REALLY trying to say. Instead of women making individual choices, you–and other feminists–rather have them one-dimensional to fit your point of view of an ”empowered” woman. If some women doesn’t cosign alongside with the Sisterhood, then they are seen as traitors to their gender.

    Instead of celebrating women’s accomplishments, you rather wail over a T-shirt that has a feminine cut.

    This is what feminism has come down to: complaining about a T-shirt with a feminine silhouette.

    So I’m guessing your want corporations and mass media to be the parents instead of you?!? If your answer is–I’m assuming–yes, then that’s an absolute fail on your part. You have three daughters and they don’t even work. You and your husband have a say on what they buy. You control the money and your daughters don’t. Besides, kids can’t get everything they want in life

    Please, Margot, do yourself a favor and enroll in English 101 class at a community college. Because based on your posts–and formerly on SFGate–you’re a horrible writer. You don’t know how to support your arguments and, additionally, your sentence structure is absolutely terrible. Actually, you are more of a charlatan than an actual expert on gender issues. If you fix your bad writing, then I can take you more seriously. However, you come across as a running joke.

    Additionally, don’t reply to me as a poor-little-rich-girl, immature, condescending 16-year-old. I would like for you to reply to me as an 44-year-old adult who can hold her own, especially someone disagrees with their ideas. Based on your replies, it seems you can’t be bothered writing a long counterargument, especially when your writing is absolutely piss poor.

  6. If you haven’t seen Jim Hines take on “if a guy posed like the women on the covers of scifi/fantasy novels” it’s a great addition to this article.

    http://www.jimchines.com/2012/01/striking-a-pose/

    It walks a fine line between being commentary, being funny, and making you want to lose your lunch :-)

    Linked from there is also a contortionist’s take on attempting some of these poses in which women are drawn, and finds them nigh impossible:

    http://justsayins.tumblr.com/post/14957660366/this-needs-to-stop-and-let-me-tell-you-why

  7. I think you really will be happy to see just how many women artists there are if you just look more for them. Women authors are a majority at children’s literature and young adult novels, in particular. No problem in agreeing to disagree though, as I already mentioned, I agree with your main message. And since it’s been a while since the last time you mentioned “books of the week”, I suggest you look at the works of Astrid Lindgren, Moto Hagio, P.L. Travers (you should especially like her because of her book “What the bee knows”, on mythology;) and Lygia Bojunga. I also would like to suggest the works of Tarsila do Amaral and Anita Malfatti.

  8. But how many women would be enough? There are certain artistic areas that are equally represented by women or actually have way more women than men. Honestly, I think it’s just a matter of looking for women’s artistic works where they are and try to bring them to mainstream.

  9. Pingback: Who approved these ridiculously sexist “Avengers” T-shirts?

  10. Something you have been saying for a while is that women need to tell their own stories, but they do. And they’re not a minority either, I really don’t know where this stuff about female artists being so few came from, they’re just not mainstream, they’re just underappreciated, but they’re there and they’ve been there for so long now. I get your appeal and I get the message, but seriously, “most artists are men” seems totally innacurate to me.

    • Hi Aninha,

      I agree women’s art is not recognized but disagree that enough women are telling their stories. Women are half or more of the students in art school and then they disappear. There are complex reasons why they disappear and the solution to how to stay visible is also complex. One essential part of the solution, however, is resilience, for women to keep making art, and making that a priority in their lives if they can.

      Margot

    • Hi aninha,

      I wish I agreed w u. There is a great piece I read a while ago, I think on Salon, I’ll look it up. Basically, a lot of it has to do w being a mom. How many women who are mothers feel they have the right to shut the door and write a novel? A lot of women don’t feel entitled to take that time and space. A lot of men do. Often those male artists, or aspiring artists, get support from spouses. Of course, I don’t have stats on all the would be artists . There are stats on females in art school vs females in shows, museums and who win prizes. I am typing on my iPhone, but as I write, I don’t wish I agreed w u. Its can be inspiring to motivate to stick w it.

      • I found the quote and link, which I believe to be true. it’s Meghan O’Rourke at Slate:

        “It’s really, really hard to write a book. It takes a lot of time and solitude. In my experience, women are not as good at insisting they need that time and solitude. (I wonder how many female writers have, like me, sometimes wished they were a man so everyone—family, friends, partners—would understand a little better when they go in the room and shut the door for weeks on end.) If the world around you reliably reflects a slight skepticism about, a slight resistance to your talent, it’s easy to begin to internalize that notion and to strive for less, or just be turned off by the whole racket.”

        http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2010/09/can_a_woman_be_a_great_american_novelist.html

  11. ok still don’t know why we are nitpicking over everything? These are the the original avengers, there was no female avengers to start off with. 2nd if women are complaining about sexism, one of the most popular shows on tv is real housewives, super classy. I just don’t really see what the big deal is.

    • Because it’s the small aspect of the culture that lead to the bigger problem. By marketing the Black Widow in a highly sexualized manner, the people at Marvel are saying that she is only worth having on the poster because she is attractive. Not because she is a badass super hero, not because she has powers that are just as awesome as the male characters, but because she has a nice ass.
      Yes, women have made progress in that there are now characters that actually represent us in movies, but there is obviously still a problem when people don’t understand that taking five equally powerful characters and portraying the men in a fighting stance and the woman with her ass out is sexist.
      We criticize these things because women will never truly be equal until people stop believing that the only appeal that women have is sexual. The Black Widow has every right to be in the foreground of the picture demonstrating her fighting abilities, but instead she is put in the back in a sexual pose. Seeing posters like this tell young boys that she is just an add on, a pretty face, and someone who is not to be respected because she is a woman. It may seem like a small detail, but when you add up all of the messages just like this that permeate our culture, it turns the overwhelming culture belief that woman are valuable because of their looks.

    • It’s also a completely invalid to say that because shows like the Real Housewives exist that women must not care how they are portrayed. That’s just completely false. There are plenty of reality TV shows about men acting like idiots that both genders enjoy, like Jack Ass or The Real World.
      That is not to say that these shows don’t edit their footage to turn women into stupid, laughable sex objects. You just can’t say that because they exist women don’t care about sexism. These shows are created by TV Executives and marketed to the general population. Plenty of women are outraged by them and try to fight against the way they portray women, but they can do little against tv studios with millions of dollars.

      Many women are also unaware of the messages that are spread by these shows. That doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be outraged if someone came up to them and said all women are stupid and shallow, but like you, they may not realize how the messages within tv, media, and advertisements add up to say just that. I know that I didn’t realize the negative impacts of these things when I was younger, and it took someone leaving comments like this to finally get me to start thinking.

      As to why it’s a big deal, things like this tell women two very dangerous things: 1) that they are only valuable based on their sexual appeal 2) there bodies do not belong to them and merely objects that can be photographed, sexualized, and commented. This leads to a whole plethora of problems. Girls start to starve themselves because they believe that no matter how wonderful they are, they are worth nothing if they are not sexy or hot. I mean the Black Widow is actually a super hero, and she still has to be portrayed as sexy for men to value her presence. They also start to believe that is okay for men to stare at their bodies, to make rude comments, to touch them inappropriately, or even to rape them. They are told that people commenting on Scarlet Johanson’s ass are just telling her she’s pretty, that it’s a complement, that they are not undervaluing her other contributions to the movie. Then when a man cat calls her from the street or someone makes an inappropriate comment, they think that they are wrong for feeling uncomfortable or threatened and that he was just complimenting her. They also start to think that they can’t say no to sexual advances because the best thing a woman can be is desirable and clearly the person pressuring her is complimenting her by wanting her so badly. And then if raped at party, by a friend, by a stranger, they begin to think well it was my fault, I knew the skirt I was wearing was sexy, and I drew his attention to me.

      Sure it seems like just a poster. But consider the fact that there 1,000′s of posters just like this sold every day. There are advertisements, articles, TV shows that all treat women like this. Girls start to internalize it, and it causes everything that I just mentioned. And to make matters worse, men see the same posters and adds and begin to think that women are only valuable or attractive when they are highly sexualized and that it is okay to be aggressively sexual because they are just complimenting attractive women. It’s a whole vicious cycle, and it starts on the most basic level, with posters, and TV, and movies. The only way it will every change is for people to make a big deal out of the little things because that it is what starts the big changes.

    • Hi Don,

      Nitpicking? Do you have kids? The gender segregation of kidworld is really disturbing in how it promotes, creates, and perpetuates gender stereotypes. It affects kids’ imaginary play, how their brains grow, and what their aspirations are. If the Minority Feisty happened once or twice, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but it is a repetitive pattern and its everywhere.

      As far as the argument, but the original was even more sexist, that doesn’t work in 2013. I got the same comment about Tintin, and Lord of the Rings, that’s just “how it is.” This is the fantasy world. People fly. Unicorns prance around. Why can’t we see gender equality? There used to be racist cartoons– Tom and Jerry, another Tintin, We would never show racial stereotypes to our kids in 2013 and say “that’s just how it is.” We change stories, we adapt.

      I don’t even get your Housewives analogy. Housewives is sexist so its OK for anything to be sexist? That show sucks. What’s your point?

      Margot

      • Sorry, I haven’t been back to respond and I hope this doesn’t come out wrong, which it probably will.My comment about housewives is if women don’t like it then why do they cherish shows like real housewives and desperate housewives so much?
        2nd no I don’t have kids, but honestly as a guy I don’t mind if my kid were to play with barbie as long as he’s playing with a girl. Yes toys are based on the concept that boys like certain things and girls like certain things, but I didn’t realize everyone was the same gender. I like stuff I know my girlfriend doesn’t like, and she likes stuff I don’t, its what makes us different. It doesn’t make it wrong because they are advertised for women over men or visa-versa. I think it is just a little nit-picky the whole way around. If your reasoning for wanting girls clothes to be similar to boys clothes then you shouldn’t mind if they blend men’s and women’s clothing. I mean really why shouldn’t a man be allowed to wear a skirt?
        I like the Band Perry, which is a predominantly female fan based group, but I have no problem that they advertise to young women to women in their mid 20s. It’s the same if you like the Avengers then you like them for what they have in it, not because you want them to change, but are too lazy to go online and buy a different t-shirt. Stores have to sell that which they think will make a profit, they couldn’t stay in business if they didn’t put that stuff out there. Albeit Marvel has an excellent line of female characters, but they are kind of slutty. So I think Marvel is being cautious and trying to change the perception of their female characters before putting out a lot of their products.
        Next, to answer Leah, how do you not know women are objectified in Real Housewives? I detest that show because it shows women like loud mouthed, unintelligent, whores.
        I’m a guy, and I watch porn and it bothers me that women are objectified like that in many TV Shows not just Desperate Housewives. Its to the point where I wish Home Improvement, Family Matters, Amazing Spider-Man the animated 94 series and Power Rangers were back to prove how women should be treated and how valuable they are to society.
        Now objectification. I hate to say it but both genders objectify. If I were fat I would expect women to look at the good looking guy first, is it fair no, but you do use your eyes for more than just seeing in front of you. People are animals, and looks are a way of mating. Sex is a major part of life, and something for a while people haven’t embraced as ok. Now that women finally have a say in sex, it has become a lot less icky and a lot more ok. Yet, I agree the supermodel is not the basis for beauty. The inside is where true beauty lies, but to get there being good looking does help give the perception of your ability to shine as a person. I think it was best stated in Harry Potter by Gilderoy Lockheart, people find things more amazing when you stick a pretty person as the hero. (I’m summing it up, the real quote is in the chapter called the Chamber of Secrets, I believe I don’t have the book near me).
        Once again, I hope I don’t offend having these discussions is a good way to work towards solutions that are needed, but in this case I disagree with this. I think you should be fighting for bettering women’s wages.

      • The t-shirts are reeeaally low-hanging fruit. No, this isn’t like how property crimes lead to violent crimes… this is exhausting the cause in the worst way. How about you focus on a real issue affecting women and gender equality and stop trying to pull resources (other people’s time and, oh yes, patience) for excitingly trivial things.

        I like the angle of celebrating women artists and writers; I’ll happily support that, but deriding a company for a mere whiff of gender-based marketing? Mmm.. no. If you are going to go that route, I’d recommend going after Spencer’s and that ilk; that’s blatant misogyny.

        Gods only know that somedays I DO need a hero. :P

        • Hi Bella,

          I have three young daughters. Gendered marketing is a huge part of their world. Tragically, it even influences their imaginary play and brain development. The last thing it is is trivial.

          Margot

          • I have daughters, too. What if they actually and genuinely DO like pink clothes and disregard the tonka trucks? Not really a crisis in my books… The terror will creep in later whn they discover cameras on my smartohone. Therein the ACTUAL and REAL danger lies.

          • Hi Bella,

            The problem is we have no idea if kids actually like pink because it is so aggressively marketed pre-birth that there is no free choice. Cameras on smartphones would not be an inssue if girls were not objectified and sexualized from day one.

            Margot

  12. So glad your blog exists. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t had daughters so I wouldn’t constantly think about this stuff on their behalf. Those t-shirts are just everything that’s wrong.

    My current letter writing campaign in the UK is with these guys over their socks. My daughters found these brilliant socks in their shop which I can honestly say they love more than any socks they have ever owned before.

    http://www.mandco.com/bright-face-socks/invt/3213900multi?ref=searchresult

    Thank goodness that at 2 1/2 they can’t read yet. The package they come in labels them ‘Boys Socks’. Why? It’s just so sad. I’m sure you can guess what the girls socks look like without me posting a link….

  13. The solution is not only for women to write their own stories, but for men to understand why this is sexist. There is a dearth of great female superheroes, and when they exist, they usually suffer from the Women In Refrigerators trope, where they die or lose their powers not doing something heroic, but assassinated while cooking in their kitchen, sometimes horrifically placed in the refrigerator, where the trope’s namesake comes from.

    The solution has to be EVERYWHERE. Men and women alike should write compelling female superheroes. Some men don’t understand why Women in Refrigerators or Damsel in Distress tropes are inherently sexist, so education on this is also key.

    For my part, I read up on feminist blogs like ReelGirl and watch Anita Sarkeesian videos (and the reaction videos, because she is very one-sided). I try to avoid making the same mistakes as other writers when dealing with women. I don’t ever assume I can write a compelling female character, I always question myself and I always push myself to do better.

    I think that’s another good answer to this problem – each of us individually pushing the status quo.

    • Hi Nick,

      Totally agree the solution has to be everywhere. Thanks for this comment and for the thought and research you put into writing female characters.

      Margot

  14. That annoys me on so many levels. Babydoll tees for women with heroes on them abound, but try to find a tee with a heroine on it and you’re often out of luck. And if you CAN find one, it’s often a fitted (uncomfy) style. It’s not just Marvel licensors, DC is just as bad.

    The Hawkeye Initiative (http://thehawkeyeinitiative.com/) is a great look at more images like Bolk has there – illustrating the ludicrousness of the way female characters are depicted.

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