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An 11-Year-Old Girl’s Letter To DC Comics

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In case you missed it, I want to tell you about this post from January 28 over at a blog titled, “How Did We Get Into This Mess?”

Read this:    Girls Read Comics Too! An Awesome Letter from Rowan, Age 11, to DC Comics.

It is in fact just what the title says, a copy of a letter from an 11-year-old girl to DC Comics, wherein she says:

I love superheroes and have been reading comics and watching superhero cartoons and movies since I was very young. I’m a girl, and I’m upset because there aren’t very many girl superheroes or movies and comics from DC.

She’s right. There definitely are NOT a lot of female superheroes, especially ones appropriate for younger girls.

There have been a couple of response posts on the Panels blog here and here that are both good reads. The second one makes some good recommendations on comics that are great for girls of all ages.

I’m not going to take up a lot of your time, because I want you to use it to read those three posts. I think the ‘preamble’ to the original post by David Perry encapsulates what so many of us think:

Marvel comics made a movie about a talking tree and a raccoon awesome, but you haven’t made a movie with Wonder Woman.

“Ant Man” is getting a movie before “Wonder Woman.” And then there’s the fact that “Wonder Woman” is one of just a handful of female superheroes that we can immediately summon when talking about the issue.

This quote from Jessica Plummer’s Panels post sums up the context around the frustration experienced by so many:

I can’t think of a single all-ages Wonder Woman comic – Wonder Woman, not the Justice League – published in the past few decades. That’s actively ridiculous. 

At this point, I think we need to put a lot of focus and emphasis on the “all ages” part. Because that’s when a love for comics begins, when one is a kid. As anyone who’s ever been in a comic book store will tell you, it’s not a place I would EVER take my small kids.

I don’t see the point in trying to give today’s comic book store a makeover. I think we need to work from outside the existing framework and create new comics and new ways to get comics for little kids and especially young girls.

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Let Me Just Stab My Eyes Out With A Fork Now. Announcing Superhero Barbie.

Why am I surprised? Or even annoyed? Or want to STAB MY EYES OUT?

Mattel is rolling out a superhero version of Barbie, complete with animated series to drive demand. Can you guess what it’s called? “Princess Power.” The irony is giving me a cramp.

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And apparently her superhero identity is “Super Sparkle.” So it’s safe to assume, from the looks of it, that her mom both came up with the name AND quilted her cape for her.

I know that my distaste for Barbie probably goes further than is reasonable. I’ll grant that. But I absolutely positively hate Barbie Princess Power Super Sparkle. I just… can’t. I keep waiting for the producers of “Saturday Night Live” to come out and reveal the whole thing’s a satire.

To make her cool, Mattel has given Super Sparkle pink streaks in her hair and, oh!, friends with blue and purple hair… who look like they’re trying out for the local production of “Grease.”

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I think I just broke a tooth, clenching my jaw.

But I take solace in the impression I get from the “sneak peek” video that, much like Computer Engineer Barbie, she completely sucks at her job.

That’s right. Barbie Princess Power Super Sparkle is a klutzy superhero. Isn’t that cute???? I just broke the blood vessels in my nostrils.

Now, where’s my fork?

Why Female Superheroes Matter, Dammit

Scrolling through my Twitter feed today, looking for inspiration for today’s post, I got what I asked for.

The full post can be found here at The Mary Sue.

Here is the bit from the post that really hits me

Sophia’s mom explains, “When she was taking the medicine, we would tell her she was going to get Super Woman or Wonder Woman powers.” 

Any doctor will tell you, psychology and attitude are massively important when facing down disease and working for healing. I can’t think of a better outlook on taking chemo than believing it’s going to give you super powers.

I’m just SO grateful that Wonder Woman exists for this girl.

Her story is a powerful demonstration of something I believe:  superheroes are the myths of modern society. And myths tell us how to be brave, to overcome adversity, to be honorable, to strive harder for more, to look out for our fellow humans, and on and on.

Sophia started chemo at the age of three years. The ideas and values that are communicated through a story like Wonder Woman cannot be communicated through a pep talk from anyone, especially if you’re three years old. Art communicates what cannot be said with words, especially if you haven’t mastered words yet.

This little girl is doing battle with a real life super villain, and I believe only Wonder Woman can truly understand her fight.

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I can tell my kids “be brave,” or I can invoke their most beloved superheroes. “What would Batgirl do?” “Just imagine yourself as Batman.” Which do you suppose is more powerful for them? I can tell you without question that superheroes inspire exponentially more and present behavior that can be modeled.

This is why we must weave incredible superhero stories for our kids, giving them the myths they need and deserve. And we shouldn’t be desecrating the female myths by emphasizing their body parts as objects of desire. Our kids deserve better than that.

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What’s Wrong With Princesses?

“What’s wrong with princesses? Who wouldn’t want to be a princess?”

Quite often, when I express my passion for better superheroes and other aspirational images for girls, that’s the response I get. And it’s soooo easy for me to start bashing princesses, because, really, I’m not into them, myself. But you know what? My daughter loves them. Of course she loves them!

It’s important not to get sucked into the either/or narrative. I’m not taking a “you’re either with us or you’re with the princesses” stance here. My daughter has seen “Frozen” countlesstimes and can recite it by heart. I’m not a “princess nazi.”

 

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There is room in this world for princesses, supermodels, engineers, rockstars and superheroes.

The problem, as I see it, is when the options are limited. When princesses are dominating everything, heavily. Just go to Toys R Us and check out the “girls” section and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

I know that people will say that the toys manufacturers are just catering to the market. But those toys manufacturers have deep ties to the entertainment industry. And the entertainment industry *creates* the market. Entertainment companies, toy marketers, retailers all have a bottom line that must be satisfied. They do not have time (so they believe) to contribute positively to society. They do not take risks. They do what works.

But you can just imagine how this spirals, right? One princess is a huge hit. So more princesses are pumped out. Those princesses sell well, because princesses are fun, and well, nothing else is really for sale. Confirmed: princesses sell. Nothing else gets tried. The lowest common denominator rules.

There’s a story that goes around that when a pink train was marketed, it failed. The conclusion was then made that girls don’t like trains. Not even making them pink will sell them!!!This is the kind of thinking that drives kids products marketing. Could it have been that it isn’t about the color? Perhaps girls desire a different kind of train that does different things or goes different places.

Of course princesses are fine and even fun. But they shouldn’t be the dominant option.

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The Seemingly Impossible Evolution Of Ms. Marvel

Would you believe me if I told you there’s a smash hit superhero who’s a female teenaged Muslim? Not only does she exist, but she’s selling like hotcakes.

As part of Comics, Human Rights and Representation Week, the London School of Economics website has published an interview with G. Willow Wilson, the award-winning writer of the new “Ms. Marvel.” It’s a fascinating and inspiring read, check it out.

To think that Ms. Marvel has gone from this

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to this

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is a marvel in and of itself (see what I did there?). She has inspired a campaign of sorts in San Francisco, where a mystery person(s) is ‘defacing’ anti-Islam ads on the sides of Muni buses with messages of “Stop the hate.

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Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel is an amazing accomplishment that could likely only happen at this point in history.

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It’s Comics, Human Rights and Representation Week

Feminism is intrinsically linked to other human rights movements. They are all connected like the fingers of a hand. And, while I’ve focused a great deal on talking about better comics and superheroes for girls, over on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the London School for Economics has been organizing this week’s Comics, Human Rights and Representation event. The week is dedicated to asking the question:

Why do super-powered genetic mutations select white people almost exclusively? Why, if super-soldier serum and weaponized armor allows for heroics regardless of natural strength, are there no super-strong women?

It aims to promote the discussion around bringing comics into the 21st century. Or, as BOOM! comics publisher CEO recently said,

Let’s talk about how we can all Push #ComicsForward. Because comic books should be for everyone.

The week is co-sponsored by TalkingComicBooks.com, a web site dedicated to covering the latest and greatest in comic book releases. Their podcast, The Missfits, is run entirely by women, by the way. Head on over and read the week’s brief and exciting introduction here:

Comics, Human Rights, and Representation: An Introduction

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Then sit down with a nice hot cup of whatever pleases you and give this amazing longer piece a read, Taking the Long Way: The Super-Heroine’s Struggle for Respect. I learned so much about the ‘hidden’ history of female superheroes from this!

I can hardly wait for tomorrow’s posts. They’re publishing two a day all week. Please read and share them and help make the event a splash.

In Case You Were Wondering If You’re Part Of A Revolution

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You are.

Now, I’m a little reluctant to equate the success of a Super Bowl television commercial with a revolution, but I’m gonna. Yes, I’m talking about the #likeagirl ad by Always.

It’s a pretty amazing piece of work for a television commercial, AND it stole the show at the defacto People’s Choice Awards of Advertising, The Super Bowl. During a football game, where beer ads featuring bikini clad babes and football widows rule. And not just any football game – THE football game of the year.

It’s a moment that’s going to reverberate for a while. But it’s also a postcard from the revolution.

This ad is actually months old, and I find it pretty interesting that they ran it pretty much as it was the first same I saw it online months ago. While that fascinates me from a marketing and research perspective, that’s not my the point here today.

I’m not sure if it’s insidious or not that the Always marketing team has put their finger on a revolution in the making and co-opted it. But I do know that the commercial gave me feels the first time I saw it and still does, many viewings later.

If you’re reading this because you are deeply concerned that the girl in your life gets to grow up with a powerful image of herself and big dreams, you’re part of the revolution. There are storms building in the various channels of feminism, and they are steadily converging. I have absolutely no doubt about this.

If you haven’t seen the ad that RULED the Super Bowl commercials, here it is. This might be the equivalent of Coca Cola’s Hippy-Era “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke” commercial. I don’t know. But if it moves you, maybe it doesn’t matter.

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Battling The Bodisaurus

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We call her the “bodisaurus” in my house. You know who I mean. The female creature of comicsville whose exaggerated and over-emphasized sexually-relevant parts are so in-your-face that HER face is a nearly an afterthought.

Whether she’s a superhero or villain, her “attire” is completely impractical for her job. Every frame has us wondering if a wardrobe malfunction is in the offing. Is that a nipple we see? How does she avoid permawedgey in that getup? Is that Spandex or paint?

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You’re going to encounter her, no matter how hard you try to avoid her or avoid her territory. While reading through a recent issue of the extremely girl-power-positive “Batgirl,” my daughter and I were rudely interrupted by an ad for the bodisaurus, “Harley Quinn.” I couldn’t bring myself to include a picture of her here. Just Google her, if you’re curious (not at work, in public, or in front of your kids – that’s my advice, anyway).

The practical thing to do is be prepared. But being prepared for the bodisaurus is tricky at best. I haven’t mastered it, but I can pass along advice I’ve picked up here and there that seems to work as well as anything else.

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1) Talk about it. And question it. Ponder aloud, “I wonder why Wonder Woman’s legs are so bare? Wouldn’t it be better to be covered up and protected?” “Geez, I’m afraid her top is going to fall off. I wonder why they don’t give her a better top.” “I bet she wishes she had Batgirl’s costume!” “Gosh, I bet Superman wouldn’t like his costume falling off like that. I wonder if she doesn’t like it.” Saddle the elephant in the room.

Be careful about being too judgmental or disparaging of the image. This can create an unintended mystique. Remember, the bodisaurus is still a member of the sisterhood, and we should be on her side. If your daughter is a little older than mine (who is currently five), you can even discuss whether you think the image is meant to appeal to males or females.

2) Do try to avoid it. As best you can, pre-screen your kids’ entertainment. You can then find a way to dodge any bodisauri (?) or at least be prepared with how you’re going to handle it when your kid(s) sees it.

3) Find strength in numbers. Fight fun with fun (like the author of “Cinderella Ate My Daughter” says). Make sure the girl-power-positive images in your home outnumber the bodisaurus in the comics, toys and action figures, books, television and film.

This is something that I continue to explore and research. These three tactics are what I’ve got working right now. But there are probably more and better approaches out there. Let’s find them together.

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A Wonder Woman For Your Young Girl

I have a love hate relationship with Wonder Woman. You probably understand what I mean without my having to explain it.

She’s the original. I feel like she deserves our respect. Yet, the time-honored over-sexualization of her character makes me uncomfortable. I hesitate to present her to my five year old daughter (who has seen her, but has yet to become enchanted by her, interestingly).

Why can’t Wonder Woman be brought into the 21st century the way Batgirl has? Maybe she will be in the near future, as a result of the new Batgirl’s popularity.

So, when I saw the latest Wonder Woman cover my reaction was, “Making progress but still a lot of room for improvement.”

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But then I happened to stumble across another image of Wonder Woman on the Internet and it intrigued me. It seemed, while still not what I have in mind for her, a much more girl-friendly, all-ages Diana.

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The ‘toonier look and feel appealed to me. The emphasis seemed much more on the story and the action than on what the female body looks like from extreme angles during the story and the action.

So, I picked up a digital copy at Comixology and gave it a spin before deciding whether or not to read it to my kids. I was pleasantly surprised. There’s an unexpected subplot introduced which is kind of cool. And the lack of expository dialogue is A++. (Man, do my kids start checking out during the expository dialogue sections of comics.) It’s short, and sweet and tells a satisfying story.

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It was kind of funny when I read it to the kids. They kept asking if Wonder Woman was a teenager now, presumably because of the more cartoonish style of the book.

I recommend this one. It’s a great WW title that you can feel good about adding to your kid’s collection.

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Body Language Magic And Your Girl’s Self Esteem

The other day when I was defending having better superheroes for girls (this needs defending? apparently) over at a favorite blog of mine, avc.com, someone there linked me to this amazing Ted Talk. He sent it to me because of the speaker’s references to the “Wonder Woman pose.” Here’s the description from the Ted website:

Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

I wasn’t too surprised to learn that my body language can change how I feel inside, because as a former actress I know that changing the expression on my face can literally trigger an emotion (yes, a lot of acting really is just ‘making faces’). What really nailed me though was the revelation that changing your body language actually changes the amounts of testosterone (good) and cortisol (bad – stress!) in your system. Wow.

Now, I don’t think it’s news to you that our media does not frequently reflect power postures back to females. Those slouchy underfed Calvin Klein ad models are like poster-children for everything I don’t want my daughter to feel. If Cuddy is right, getting our girls to strike power postures, instead, by instinct may be one of the most important things we can do for them.

What a fabulous opportunity!

1970s-lynda-carterThis is one of those things where we get to help someone by helping ourselves. If you’re a woman, stand proud, stand tall, put your hands on your hips and take up space (if you’re a man, it’s likely you already do that). Plant yourself solidly with your feet apart. You’ll feel more confident and powerful, less stressed. Our kids do nothing if mirror us, so it follows that they’ll do likewise.

Practice striking the “Wonder Woman pose” with the girl in your life before she’s about to do something challenging, intimidating or daunting. If it worked for Cuddy (spoiler alert – there’s a real grab-the-tissues moment in this about her personal experience with feeling no-enough), it most certainly will work for our girls – and us.