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.


Marvel’s T for girls.



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.


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.



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.

Kids want to see heroic, female protagonists

Yesterday, I posted about A Mighty Girl’s news that kids’ underwear with female superheroes on it sold out. I also posted about a dad shopping with his 5 year old daughter who complained about the lack of cool female characters on clothing.


He bought his daughter boy underwear. A commenter expressed the same frustration: her daughter is fan of Spider-Man and she started a petition to get girl underwear designs integrated with boy underwear. I signed this and I hope you do too, but I want to recognize the deeper issue here and make sure this info isn’t misconstrued into: See, girls like boy characters, so let’s just keep making them and let girls go missing.

All kids want cool characters. They want to see exciting narratives where heroes take risks, make choices, and act.

Why is there no Spider-Girl movie and 5 movies about Spider-Man? Where is Spider-Woman? Why are there 7 Batman movies while Batgirl, like Supergirl, is practically invisible? And why, for God’s sake, are we still waiting for a major release of a Wonder Woman movie in theaters? Not to mention multiple sequels?

I read this on Pigtail Pals Facebook page, Melissa Wardy’s talk with her daughter, the Original Pigtail Pal.

“Mom? Every time I watch that Spider Man movie I can see there are no girls in it. I get really mad! I just don’t get why there can’t be more girls in it.” -7yo Original Pigtail Pal Amelia, girl and Spider Man fan
“I think it is really important that you noticed that. There should be and easily could be more girls in it. How could we change that?” -Me
“Oh. Oh ho ho. We’ll just show them what girl super heroes look like.” -OPP
“Maybe that could help them have more balance with girls.” -Me
“Yeah, they need more bad ass girls.” -OPP
“Uh no, I said ‘balance’.” -Me
“I know. I said ‘bad ass’.” -OPP

Hollywood and Target, are you listening?


Superhero chicklit? Lipstick covers infiltrate comics

The horrific epidemic in the publishing world of mutating great female writers (like Virgina Woolf and Sylvia Plath) and great heroines (like Anne of Green Gables) into “chick lit” as a desperate attempt to attract female readers is infecting Marvel and DC Comics. reports:

Today, Marvel Entertainment announced a new partnership with Hyperion Books — like Marvel, a Disney subsidiary — to publish The She-Hulk Diaries and Rogue Touch, two novels described as featuring ‘strong, smart heroines seeking happiness and love while battling cosmic evil.’ Yes, it’s time for superhero chick-lit.

Here’s the art Wired used in its post:


When I saw this, I wondered if Wired created the image as a parody. Then I saw the same art on a USA Today post, and the photo is credited to Hyperion/ Marvel. Also, notice any similarity between the She-Hulk art and the new 50th anniversary cover of The Bell Jar?


That’s right, if you want to sell to women, put make-up on the cover. That’s what we girls care about. Looks like a compelling read full of complex characters and exciting drama!

Wired reports:

The move could potentially be part of a response to the realization that Marvel had no female-led comics as of this time last year

Huh? Who “realized” there were no females? How did that great epiphany happen? (I can’t wait for everyone to “realize” that girls have gone missing from children’s movies.) Was it a Marvel insight? They were all in a meeting and one of the artists slapped his hand to his forehead, shouting, “Whoa dudes, we forgot the women!”

Baffled, I went to that link to see if I could find out more. The report is  actually dated Dec 8, 2011:

Both Marvel and DC Comics have been at the center of concerns and controversies recently regarding women in comics, both in terms of the way they are represented on the page and in the offices of the Big Two comics publishers.


While DC Comics has quite a few ongoing titles devoted to female characters (Batgirl, Batwoman, Birds of Prey, Catwoman Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Voodoo), there are very few women actually involved in creating them, an issue that has infused criticism of the company’s relaunch since the beginning, and was recently compounded by the news that writer Gail Simone is leaving Firestorm.


This post made me wonder what it feels like to be a female artist at Marvel or DC and marvel (ha ha) at how challenging it must be for women to get their own narratives out on the page in that kind of environment. It’s already risky for any artist to put her vision out in the world. Can you imagine trying to achieve that there? Talk about the opposite of support.

ComicsAlliance goes on:

Marvel Comics, meanwhile, seems to have the opposite problem; with the recent cancellation of X-23, there are no female-led ongoings in the Marvel Universe (with the possible exception of the 12-issue miniseries The Fearless) but significantly more women working in creative and editorial roles. The two companies illustrate two different but interrelated problems: the lack of women playing major roles in the comics, and the lack of women playing major roles in creating them. While neither situation is ideal, what are the implications of both problems, and which has a bigger impact on the comics that are created or the audience they reach?


I don’t see these as “opposite problems,” or even “different” or “interrelated.”
Here’s the problem in a nutshell. Marvel and DC, are you listening because right now, I’m going to save you millions of dollars in consulting fees and identify the root of your problem for you in just 4 words: NO WOMEN IN POWER. Every time you make a hire, think up a character, or draw an image, ask yourself this simple question: woman in power, yes or no? FYI, this image would be a no.

Thank you to Cynthia Rodgers, AKA Theamat for the link to the Wired story. I’ll leave you with Theamat’s drawing of Reel Girl.





It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…Reel Girl!

Finally, Reel Girl is here! Her mission: to liberate the imaginations of children and grown-ups everywhere.


This blog’s new banner was drawn by the artist, Cynthia Rodgers, AKA Theamat. I first saw her work on the internet when I came across the fabulous “If I don’t get pants, nobody gets pants.”


Theamat created Reel Girl’s face from these images of my daughters. Before taking the pics, I asked them to imagine they were up against something powerful; it was up to them to save the world.

In creating Reel Girl, Theamat used Lucy’s intense eyes,


Alice’s speck of a smile,



and Rose’s wild curls.



Who has courage to gender flip a classic hero: Rolling Stone or Disney?

Yesterday, I posted about the excellent and amazing Disney made for TV movie: “Avalon High.” The story is about the reincarnation of heroes and villains from the King Arthur legend of Medieval times to a contemporary high school in the U.S. The protagonist of the show, Allie– brave, smart, strong, and kind– turns out to be…King Arthur. With that gender flip, this Disney movie shows girls and boys that females can be heroic and at the center of the action.

Then, I got this comment from Lesley:

In the book, the Allie character is NOT King Arthur, but the Lady of the Lake, who gives Arthur the powerful Excalibur. Will is Arthur. The twist is that there are hints she is Elaine (her character is called “Ellie” in the book) the weepy victim of unrequited love dumped by Lancelot. So, she turns out to be a crucial element in Will’s development as king but she doesn’t become king herself.

My daughter Callie and I both loved this movie for the same reasons you did, and we were crowing with delight at the changed ending!

As I wrote back to Leslie, I am totally shocked. I can’t think of another time– tell me if you can– where a kid’s book has been changed by the kid’s film (not grown up film) to be more feminist.

I am amazed Disney did this. Really. And also, Meg Cabot, the writer: WTF? Lady of the Lake? She is not cool, powerful, or that important in the story. If you are seeking remnants of evidence of female power, she will do, but obviously, King Arthur is the central figure in the legend. The best line of the movie is when Mordred says to Allie something like: “You? I thought maybe you could be Lady of the Lake, but Arthur?”

The translation of that quote goes way beyond the specific characters of Arthur and Lady of the Lake: Mordred is saying that a girl can’t be a hero and Allie shows that villain how wrong he is. I love how that is done here, through the characters and action, and not in the usual, boring way where the bad guy says something to the effect of– ew, you’re a girl. That, to me, kind of reinforces sexism: we’re all supposed to get the insult is wrong but too often, we don’t see it in the story beyond a moral/ ethical issue. Here, we get it: Don’t underestimate me. I won’t underestimate myself either.

It’s interesting because right after we saw the movie, I went to Amazon to buy my daughter the book, and I didn’t buy it. I wasn’t sure exactly why I didn’t want to. The cover didn’t grab me. I know, don’t judge a book by its cover, but  Meg Cabot’s other books looked very pink and seemed to be about girls who were mostly interested in boys. Of course, that could easily be the marketing department who designs the cover. Maybe I thought I needed to do more research, and I didn’t have time right then. Whatever the reason, I didn’t click “buy.” Thank goodness Lesley commented because if I got that book, I would have been so pissed and disappointed. Though Lesley is more considerate than me with her spoiler alert, I feel it is my duty to warn you : )

I NEVER thought I would say this but KUDOS TO DISNEY. I am quite curious to know the story behind this adaptation. And also, Hollywood: Are you listening? Here is an example of how to use some imagination and innovation– 2 things you are, after all, supposed to be known for, supposed to encourage– to remake a classic without girls going missing. This gender flip is not about “girls being boys” or “girls acting like boys” or any other ridiculous justification to keep girls on the sidelines because that’s just where they belong as we recycle the same narratives, generation after generation.

After I read Lesley’s comment, I saw something quite incredible posted by Sara on Reel Girl’s FB page. Here is the new Rolling Stone cover, and quoting Vulture: “Why is Tina Fey Lois Lane?”


Why is Tina Fey riding bitch? This same old image of the male driving, the girl along for the ride is ubiquitous in the imaginary world. Why did Rolling Stone put Tina Fey, one of the most successful women in the world, in that position?

Vulture writes:

Tina Fey co-hosted the Golden Globes to universal praise. Her seven-season critical darling 30 Rock — which is still really damn funny — is ending in two weeks. She has seven Emmys, two Golden Globes, three Producers Guild awards, four SAG awards, and a Mark Twain prize. She’s synonymous with contemporary humor. Out of curiosity, Rolling Stone, what would it take for her to be Superman on the cover?
Do you see how fucked up it is for women to continually contort themselves into the sidekick? The distortion is not in the gender flip, in the rare times it is actually made, but in continually keeping women secondary to men. Our cultural imaginary (to borrow a phrase from Lucy Irigaray) is so warped that Tina Fey is cast in the sidekick/ girlfriend role here. If Tina Fey isn’t a superhero, I don’t know who is.
The real world and the imaginary world are endlessly intertwined. What is happening to Tina Fey, on Rolling Stone, happens every day to all women everywhere in the world: Move over lady, a man wants to fly.
Who would have thought that Rolling Stone magazine would be so pathetically conventional and a Disney made for TV movie could be so radical?



Muscle bound superheroes not bad for kids like skinny Barbies

I get a lot of comments on Reel Girl about how muscly superheroes promote idealized, unattainable body types for males in the same way that skinny, big-breasted Barbies do for females.

I’ve written about how rigid gender boxes are bad for everyone. They are limiting and repressive. That said, the toys and narratives around muscle-bound superheroes aren’t anything close to damaging the way the beauty based toys of girlworld are.

Muscles symbolize strength and power. Superman does not spend his time, in toys or narratives, brushing his hair, putting on make up, or gazing at himself in the mirror. Superman doesn’t come with a plastic comb or even plastic a gym set. Superman has muscles because he, like all supeheroes, is known for what he does, not for how he appears.

As a kid– or as an adult– what would you rather be valued for: your actions or your appearance? Which would make you feel inspired and which would make you feel insecure? Would you prefer that your heroic actions, bravery, courage, and your accomplishments helped to make you attractive to the opposite sex, or your weight and your outfit?

The related topic that comes up on Reel Girl is violence. Games marketed to boys are violent and that’s bad.

I don’t like gore; I don’t like how movies and toys marketed to boys predominantly feature war and battles. Toys should be marketed to all kids and have diverse themes and characters. But violence in imaginary play isn’t bad; it’s natural.

Good art evokes emotions in the reader, the observer, or the listener. All kids– and adults– experience intense emotions. Our internal, emotional world is dramatic. Art depicts that internal world, in part, though narratives and dramatic play. A child is ordered to share a toy and she may collapse in tears on the floor. She feels like her world is caving in. A narrative or a game will actually show the world caving in. You may feel like you had “the wind knocked out of you,” or feel like you are “being attacked.” Art shows that. Not only does art make emotional experience visible, but to be effective, it has to do so in a way that is universal. That is why, in art, you’ve got to raise the stakes. For example, for me, cleaning my closet is a monumental task. I approach it with fear and when I’m done, I feel as if I’ve scaled Mount Everest. But if I were to write a story about cleaning my closet, most of my readers would be bored to tears. Art creates a dramatic metaphor around an emotion that everyone can relate to. Instead of cleaning a closet, there is the Greek myth of Psyche sorting seeds.

People feel like the walls are caving in on them for different reasons, but every human experiences that feeling at one time or another.

As far as “boys make sticks into guns, girls make trucks into beds for their dolls,” I just think that’s bullshit. There are so many ways– books, toys, movies, TV, parents, teachers, doctors, and dentists– kidworld encourages and validates “boy” behavior or “girl” behavior. Wouldn’t it be great if all kids were allowed to be human?

The conundrum of Batgirl

My three year old dressed up as Batgirl for Halloween last night. She loves Batgirl. Everytime she puts on the costume, which is often, she acts out complicated stories, usually involving several stuffed animals, about how she is saving the world. Before last night, my daughter had no idea that Batgirl is far less famous or celebrated than Batman.

Here is what happened on Halloween:

Adult after adult, kind adults who wanted to be nice, who gave my daughter candy, called her Batman. At first, my daughter said nothing back to them but asked me: “Why do people keep calling me Batman?” I told her: “That is so silly. What are they thinking? You’re not Batman, you’re Batgirl.” As the man-moniker continued, my daughter quietly corrected them: “I’m Batgirl.” By the end of the night, she was shouting; “I’M BATGIRL!”

Sometimes, we’d run into a Batman, at one point an adult distributing candy. After his wife or girlfriend saw my daughter, called her Batman, and was corrected, she said to her partner: “Look! It’s your sidekick!” My daughter turned to me, confused. “Tell him he’s your sidekick,” I said.

The people who called my daughter Batman were men and women, adults and children, parents and teenagers. She was wearing a dress, by the way.

I know Batgirl doesn’t have five major motion pictures about her, all featuring famous movie stars. There aren’t Batgirl toys or Batgirl clothing or Batgirl comic books everywhere you look. (Today, I will do a Google search and try to find some). One person did say to my daughter: “Are you…Batwoman?” Then she laughed. I wondered why that term sounded so strange. Is there a Batwoman? Is “Batwoman” sexualized somehow? Or would “woman” imply too powerful a superhero, is that why we use “girl?” Or is it the opposite: “girl” and “man” are cool, but “woman” represents a loss of power that even little kids pick up on? Would you ever refer to a kid in the comparable costume as “Batboy?” That sounds diminutive to me.  And what does that say about the sexism of our cultural mythology, that “Batgirl” is empowering but “Batboy” is insulting?

It all kind of makes me understand the monotony of Halloween: If you’re a girl and dress as princess, everything is simple and everyone knows just what to say: “I love the dress. You’re so beautiful!”

(My oldest daughter wanted to dress as a Native American because she’s doing a school paper on the Miwok tribe. Instead of being a “Dream Catcher Cutie” as the package advertised, she asked if I would buy a bow to go with her costume; my middle daughter is a fairy.)

Muscles, muscles, ass, muscles and why poses matter

“Look at the girl, she’s sticking her butt out!” said my daughter. She showed me this photo in a costumes catalog we just received in the mail.

(Sorry about the flash glare.) Technically, its her hip, but the point is the same: emphasis, pelvis.

Imagine the males standing like that. What do these poses communicate?

I’ve blogged quite a bit about sexism in superheroes and ass emphasis. This post on the Avengers has gotten about 700 shares. Check out the great art if you haven’t seen it yet. Why do poses for superheroes matter? Because heroes are heroes!

What are our kids being taught to idolize in females? Weird twitches?

And of course, sexist posing isn’t limited to the fantasy world. Look at this photo in this month’s Vanity Fair, a profile of MSNBC hosts Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough (via Miss Representation/ Salon.)

Did you read that part about hosts on a news channel? Imagine these poses reversed. She’s up front. He’s in back, showing leg. What would your kids think about men and women if they saw this photo?

Salon writes:

the image tells the familiar story of a man who commands the attention of others and a woman who seeks only the attention of that man.

You’d think Catwoman would want to seek something more.