March 8th was International Women’s Day, but it was also my son’s birthday, so I didn’t get a chance to post my two-cents on the subject. This is something close to my heart, so close that I often find it difficult to express exactly what’s on my mind.
That’s tough for a writer. And weird.
But that is exactly how passionate I am about women’s rights. Before I lose the eye-rollers, let me just say there was a specific reason I decided to attempt to write this post. I had an interesting discussion with my three-year old son a few weeks back. It took me by surprise and I think it is something a lot of us are struggling with right now.
We were in a department store. Clearly I needed something desperately because taking kids shopping is just about the last thing on my list of things to do. A three-year old in a clothing store is about as much fun as a trying to catch a chicken. So I was there against my own better judgement when we wandered into the girls Juniors section and I saw an Avengers t-shirt hanging on a four-way rack.
I excitedly ran over to it and yanked the hanger off the rack, holding it up to my front and grinning at my son. “Look! I can get an Avengers shirt like yours and we can wear them together!” I was so stupidly excited.
But instead of clapping his hands and shouting with excitement, my son frowned. “No, Mommy. That is a boys shirt, you can’t wear that.”
I shook my head, holding the shirt out so I could look at the lovely V-neck collar and decidedly female-shape to the shirt. “No, this is a girls shirt. We could all have superhero shirts,” I tried again.
But he shook his head. “No, mommy. Those are all the boy superheroes. You should pick out a shirt with girl superheroes. The ones you like to be.”
And that was when I froze, completely speechless. When I was his age my mother was lucky to get me out of the house in anything but my Supergirl pajamas and red boots. I was probably wearing my Wonder Woman underwear underneath. I spent my days running around the house playing not only these two characters, but also She-ra and Sheena Queen of the Jungle. I have distinct memories of going to the movies and watching the television shows. They were my superheroes and I knew by the time I had my own kids the world would be so awesome. How could it not? I was hearing every day that women could do anything. I assumed I’d have plenty of cool movies to watch and amazing characters and women to look up to.
Except that never happened. The day before this fated shopping trip, I’d been playing Avengers with both my sons. One had on the Hulk fists and mask, the other was wielding the Captain America shield and mask, and I was, of course, Black Widow. We were having fun running around the house when the boys suddenly dropped everything and changed. One was now Iron Man while the other was Hawkeye (bow and arrow included). “Mommy, you haven’t changed! We’re switching characters!” They yelled at me.
“Who do you want me to be?” I asked. There was Black Widow or…. Black Widow.
“Be another girl!” They exclaimed. When I pointed out there were no other girl Avengers they decided it was time to quit. It wasn’t any fun any more.
And standing across the aisle from my youngest son holding up a t-shirt covered in males superheroes designed for women to wear, I felt an amazingly heavy weight of disappointment. This was not the world I was supposed to grow into and it certainly wasn’t the world I wanted to give my children.
Where are all the female superheroes? While I love going to see the Avengers and other super hero movies with my family, I always leave the theater a little sad. There was no one on that screen for me to relate to. There was no one up there I was secretly hoping to be. No costumes I want to put together or super powers I could run around the house emulating.
No Supergirl or Wonder Woman.
Female superheroes have been in a sad state of affairs for a long time. By one study, we represent only a 31% of the characters in children’s books and the ratio’s aren’t all that different when it comes to television and movies, where female characters are outnumbered 3 to 1. Most of our roles are to serve the male characters and their story arcs. We get killed off so the male hero can have a purpose or a dramatic shift in the story line.
The female characters in the superhero movies out now are far from great. I love these actresses, but Pepper Potts story line took a rather patronizing turn in Iron Man 3, Natalie Portman’s character in the Thor movies has promise, but is always turned into a simpering woman in love (hardly the PhD badass she could be). Captain America has…? While Lois Lane is simply interesting and not much more.
And none of them are superheroes.
None of them kick ass and take names. None of them rise above to save the day. They don’t have super powers and they most certainly do not have cool weapons.
I miss Wonder Woman. Sure, she’s making a comeback (or so they say). But how she will be portrayed remains to be seen. Somehow I doubt she’ll live up to the character I need (and want) to see on the screen. There are no characters on the big screen, or on the merchandising, that reflect 50% of the population. There is something seriously wrong with that. It sucks and I hate it.
So I put the shirt back on the rack and left the store after that. My son pointed out it wasn’t fair that he got so many cool shirts and costumes and I didn’t. I agreed.
It used to be fun to be Princess Leia or Marion Ravenwood (aka Karen Allen’s character in Indiana Jones). I liked seeing women just as fun and interesting on the big screen as the guys. I don’t really see it anymore.
We just went to see the Lego Movie. It was fun. But it was also a largely male cast. Sure Wildstyle is awesome and Unikitty was…there, but it’s not enough. Not nearly enough. Wonder Woman was barely on the screen but Batman (who was hilarious, along with Han Solo, Lando, and Chewy and a whole host of other fun male characters making appearances) was a major player. The excuse that these are “Boy Movies” doesn’t hold up. There should be women in boy movies. There are women in real life. Girls like being superheroes and going to see superhero movies. There should be “Girl Movies” too. Not just princesses and and fairy tales, but Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Black Widow, and Sheena Queen of the Jungle.
We need International Women’s Day. We need both men and women to recognize that there is a problem when it comes to the portrayal of women in television, books, and movies. Women can’t do it alone. We need fathers, brothers, and husbands to stop putting up with mediocrity. We can’t continue to shrug our shoulders and accept the status quo. Nothing changes when you stop caring. There has been a definitive shift away from portraying female characters in all mediums. We need to reverse this trend.
So when a day like International Women’s Day comes along, repost the amazing stories about women you see on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Acknowledge that days like this exist for a reason. We still have a long way to go. Sometimes seeing a super heroine on the big screen is all that gives you hope. Sometimes a single book can mean everything. Let’s bring back the girls so we aren’t forced to read The Hobbit to our children with Bilbo Baggins as a girl because there are no other options for fun adventures involving female characters. Let’s stop saying can’t, won’t, and difficult, and instead start saying now.