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.

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.