When Super Heroes Aren’t So Super: Sluts and Whores and Other Lessons

It seems unreasonable to expect super heroes to be super every minute of every day. From Achilles to Superman to Wonder Woman, every hero has their weakness. For Hawkeye and Captain America, that weakness appears to be sexism and misogyny.

For example, during the Avengers: Age of Ultron press tour Hawkeye actor Jeremy Renner made a “joke” during a  Digital Spy interview that Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow was “a slut” (00:15) because she chose to date a man other than his character. Captain America actor Chris Evans begins laughing so hard he can barely breathe. Mostly because he was thinking the exact same witty reply. Evans decides to call Black Widow “a complete whore” instead (00:18).

 

Wait one minute, Friends! Let’s see our heroes in action again!

Chris Evans cannot contain himself over Jeremy Renne's "slut joke".

Chris Evans cannot contain himself over Jeremy Renne’s “slut joke”.

Do you get it, mere mortal? It is funny that she is such a “slut”. A “complete whore”. Because she is dating a different guy than either of these catches. Both these guys were thinking the SAME THING! AT THE SAME TIME! And she’ll always just be the flirtatious sidekick in any super hero film. I mean, that is just grab-your-chest-hilarity.

See how funny it is to call a woman a slut and whore?

See how funny it is to call a woman a slut and whore?

The thing is, you don’t think of the words “slut” or “whore” instantly when asked a question about a woman and her romantic life, even if fictional, because you are overtired from your hard job as a movie actor. Or because you’ve become bored being a grown up sitting in a chair at work. You don’t think those things about a woman because you are behaving in a juvenile manner. You don’t think those things because the woman is just a fictional character.

You think those things because you are misogynist. You laugh at them because you are sexist.

If you didn’t think that way about women you wouldn’t say those things about women. You wouldn’t find them funny. It wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind.

You make comments like that on camera, while doing your job, because it is what the industry permits of you. Maybe even expects of you. It is what you felt is permissible, professionally and culturally.

After all, before this incident the big Avengers: Age of Ultron news was how Black Widow is missing from so much of the merchandise. Of course, having girls disappear is nothing new to the super hero genre. Consumers have to rally to #IncludeTheGirls, even when those female characters are a major part of the original super hero villian-fighting force.

The lessons we take away from this week are that Chris Evans has an effective damage control team he hopefully pays well, Jeremy Renner is the master of sorry-not-sorry apologies, and female super hero fans get the choice between their female characters go completely missing, or be present/sidelined/called gender-based pejoratives.

The second choice of being present but sidelined and denigrated are experiences every girl and woman has nearly every day of her life, which is why Renner’s “well I’m sorry you were offended by my funny joke about a fictional woman, get over it” attempt at an apology is just doubling down on the offensiveness of his original remarks. Do you know a single female who has never been called a slut or whore? I don’t.

The attitudes Renner and Evans – two of the biggest stars in the super hero franchises – display are indicative of the culture that surrounds that type of media and merchandise. It is why I gave my daughter her first comic book this week, Wonder Woman, with great trepidation. Even with the announcement of DC Comics pairing up with a team of licensees including Warner Bros, Mattel, LEGO, and Random House to reboot the super heroines and villains as a cast of teens aimed at girls ages 6-12, the majority of parents I talked to were underwhelmed.

Even if you do not buy into this type of media and merchandising, millions do and millions are impacted and influenced by the messages sent. This was brilliantly outlined by Donna Dickens in her article here:

“Disney has an on-going problem when it comes to lady action figures and swag. With the exception of their Princesses and Tinkerbell, Disney tends to forget their female action stars exist when it comes to merchandising them. It happened with “Guardians of the Galaxy.” It happened with “Star Wars Rebels.” There’s even a Tumblr called But Not Black Widow dedicated to pointing out these disappearing heroines. It’s been an issue since action figures and summer blockbusters made a deal with capitalism devil.
So here are my thoughts to Disney: Between Disney Animated Studios, Pixar Animation, Marvel Studios, and Lucasfilm, you are the world’s greatest commercial influence on childhood. Don’t put up a bar to what kind of toys kids should play with, whether on purpose or due to the outdated idea that women like glitter and men like grit. To use a completely over-the-top paraphrase, “With great power, comes great merchandising responsibility.
Girls don’t want to date superheroes, they want to BE superheroes. And boys don’t need to learn to minimize the impact of women’s accomplishments from a lunchbox.”  

The behavior and words of these two men employed as actors to play super heroes was less than super and far from heroic. It wasn’t a mistake or a slip of the tongue. It was a glimpse at who they are behind the mask. It was a look at the way so many men regard women and girls. And it showcased their greatest weakness.

 

UPDATE 4/24/15: Cosmopolitan flips the script while interviewing Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo, sending Ruffalo the sexist questions and ScarJo the awesome movie actor ones. Take a look, it is great!

Also this post by Emily Sexton for Grounded Parents is worth the read, connecting the dots between how kids view these “heroes” and what messages they learn from sexist and casually misogynist behavior in real life.

“Have you ever watched the hordes of kids at amusement parks who think that they are really meeting their favorite character when they encounter the poor souls in badly ventilated plush suits?Kids don’t always get the distinction. So when the guy who plays Hawkeye says that the one female hero in the group is a slut, the kids who are the intended audience for the franchise don’t necessarily get that a) it’s a joke and b) that it’s Jeremy Renner saying it, not Hawkeye. They see guys they look up to casually calling women who are supposed to be respected and powerful these names like it’s no big deal, and it should be. One of the handful of women who my daughter actually identifies with was just reduced to a sexual object by her peers. Not cool.”

 

MAW Profile Pic

Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

How To Teach A Girl To Take Up Space: Kite Flying Edition

Breezy, sunny spring days beg for picnics in the park and kite flying so that is exactly what we did with my parents this weekend to celebrate my pop’s birthday. Kids were chasing after the kites’ shadows and in general just running around like you would if being chased by bees. Kids were also flying kites, making them dip and twirl in the wind. It was so entertaining to see all different kinds of families flying all colors, shapes, and sizes of kites. People of all ages were out there – my dad is 65 and the youngest kite flyer looked to be about 3 years old.

In fact, she is one of two kite flyers I want to tell you about. She was having great fun with her dad and her little kite. The wind had some good gusts at this point and she had trouble holding onto and steadying her kite. My son and I were playing catch with a baseball nearby and I could hear her dad repeatedly encouraging her to use her muscles and to not give up. What a great message for a girl to hear!

The other flyer I want to tell you about was a girl maybe 9 or 10 years old. She was with her grandmother and what looked to be a younger sister or cousin. She was enjoying watching her kite bob and weave in the wind, and had let it go out as far as her string would allow her. When that wasn’t high enough, she climbed on top of a picnic table to raise her kite even higher towards the sky. She was quite pleased with herself, stomping her feet and whooping into the wind.

At one point, her kite took a nose dive and became snared in a tree. The girl momentarily froze, unsure of what to do. I thought she might drop her string, run to find her grandmother, or call for her sister/cousin for help. Instead I watched as she kept her gaze steady while she sized up the situation, quietly working to solve her own problem. She decided a few good tugs and yanks should free her kite. She pulled once, not very hard, to test if the kite would rip. When it stayed in one piece she gave a really good yank, the kind when you fill your lungs up first and go up on your tippy toes before pulling down with all your might. The third tug had her kite free and flying again, which brought about more foot stomping and louder whooping. Never once did her eyes stray from the problem she had to solve. Never once did she search outside of herself for the answer.

I thought about what a different play experience this was for her than what is typically marketed to girls: stay close to home, clean the home, care for babies in the home, beautify the home, beautify yourself, focus on fashion, acquire things instead of experiences, play at being sexy, be rescued by a man.

But outside, in the sunshine and the wind…..

Kite flyer

No one told her to get down, that she might get hurt. Or dirty. Or unpretty.

No one told her to lower her voice, or to act like a lady.

No one told her to mind her messy hair, her loud voice and stomping feet.

No one told her girls don’t climb on top of tables, act grand with their bodies, holler into the wind.

No one told her to wait for a boy to rescue her when she encountered a problem.

And the girl was just fine as she was, rescuing herself, taking up space on this earth and in the sky.

 

MAW Profile PicMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

TOMS Reacts With Lightning Speed to Consumers Voicing Concern Over Gendered Messages

This morning @morandifan1 tweeted a photo to me of a troubling message from the usually progressive brand TOMS. On their website’s kids landing page was a trio of three photos, one suggesting boys’ “Playtime Approved” shoes and the other suggesting to “Little Ladies: adorn their feet for spring” with a bubble gum pink background.

TOMS original landing page.

TOMS original landing page.

Girls are definitely more than adornment. Thanks @morandifan1 for using your voice to call this out.

On the PPBB Facebook page I posted:

Really, TOMS? Girls are not ornaments we adorn. Girls play, too!

Your website says, “A simple idea can make a big difference.” Here’s a simple idea for you: Please regard girls’ feet as the vehicles for climbing, running, jumping, chasing, twirling, skidding, sliding, and tumbling. Girls are children, active, wild and full of energy. Little girls’ feet do the very same things little boys’ feet do.

See girls for the instruments they are, not the ornaments our culture tells them to be!

TOMS post

 

That was at 1:15pm or thereabouts, you can read the thread here. I also sent out a similar tweet around the same time:

TOMS tweet
In no less than two hours TOMS had responded on the PPBB Facebook page with this statement:

TOMS

 

The update to their website now reflects a more gender inclusive message, inviting customers to check out “new arrivals for kids”. A marked improvement from the earlier suggestion that boys do playtime while girls sit pretty. We know that message doesn’t align with TOMS branding or how they view their customers, and I was so pleased to see how quickly they acted once made aware of the misstep.

Pink shoes, patterned shoes, glitter shoes, ice cream shoes, rhino shoes, stars & stripes shoes…..thank you for making all shoes for all kids and recognizing girls AND boys like dress up shoes and playtime shoes. Thanks TOMS!

The update to the TOMS website this afternoon.

The update to the TOMS website this afternoon.

 

MAW Profile PicMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

Mom Contacts Company Over Missing Girl Characters, Company Responds It Is Because Boys Think Girls Are Gross

*Please be sure to see Update 1 & 2 and the end of the post!

Veronica, a mom of two from Washington State, was shopping recently in search of Big Hero 6-themed fabric in order to make her two young movie fans some throw pillows. For those familiar with children’s media and the secondary product market, you might be able to guess what happens next.

The FULL cast of Big Hero 6.

The FULL cast of Big Hero 6.

Veronica would discover two of the movies heroes, two integral parts of the story and plot, two of the six Big Heroes, were missing from the fabric. As in, not on it anywhere. Which two characters are missing in action? Why, the female characters, but of course! Honey Lemon and GoGo were nowhere to be found.

Veronica and her children decided to pass on the fabric manufactured by Springs Creative and left the store. Her children were not interested in a choice that failed to include all of the heroes they loved.

It would have been easy to just leave it there, tell the kids they’ll find something else, maybe gripe to friends on Facebook. But Veronica felt she needed to speak out, and speak up directly to the decision makers who would have consciously left out the female characters. She was not only personally offended, she saw this as an injustice to her children and all children. Below is her correspondence with Springs Creative.

Hi,

I am the mother of two wonderful children who wanted some super cool pillows made out of their favorite characters in Big Hero 6. They love all of the characters, but their favorites are Baymax and Honey Lemon. Guess what’s missing from the fabric, not just Honey Lemon, but GoGo too. BOTH of the ONLY female characters, both equally as brilliant and smart and capable as Wasabi and Hiro, are missing. It’s not Big Hero 6 without them.

I can’t find a way to contact Disney to right this terrible wrong. As a woman, and an Engineer, I myself find this offensive. Put the Big Hero 6 back together on the same fabric. Even my children do not want the fabric without ALL of the heros on it.

Veronica

Veronica received the following response. It is a revealing look into how brands think about marketing their wares, assumptions made about children and gender, and the self-fulfilling prophecy they create for themselves training boys and girls to regard each other as separate and undesirable species.

Big Hero 6.2PNG

The missing Big Hero 6 heroes Gogo and Honey Lemon.

Hi Veronica

Thanks for your email! Here is a little background on how we develop our designs.  When designing for a new film, we are developing well before the film is released and long before we have seen the movies ourselves.  Thus, we rely on the filmmakers to provide a recommended target audience.  Disney’s target audience for Big Hero 6 is boys 5-12 and secondary are girls 5-12 and teens.  Since this is geared toward boys, we chose to focus either on the main characters (in this case Baymax and Hiro), or on just the boy characters.  We have found boys do not want girl characters on their things (eeeww girls! Yuck! Haha). Should Big Hero 6 continue to resonate in the market place I think you will begin to see more product and even fabric with all the characters including the female characters.

I hope this helps explain why you might see product this way. We enjoy hearing feedback like this. So please, continue to do so.

Best regards,
Emily Robbins Kelly
Licensing Manager
Springs Creative Products Group, LLC

As you may have predicted, Veronica was displeased with this response. The word Veronica used with me when we discussed this was “disgusted”, and my reaction was much the same. Worse, this response came from a woman. Someone who should get it, someone who should be an ally.  Someone who is part of a team who makes decisions that impact what tens of thousands of kids see and learn.

By the description from their website, Springs Creative is a clearly a rather big production: “Our distribution center ships to all states in the U.S., to 21 foreign countries, and to military bases worldwide. The distribution center houses more than 11 million yards of fabric as well as crafts and finished product. The facility is approximately 450,000 square feet with 32 dock doors.”

And those 32 dock doors ship 11 million yards of fabric from a company who tells its customers boys don’t want girls on their stuff because girls are “eeeeww girls! Yuck! Haha”. It is hysterical, if the systematic conditioning of children by marketers to be sexist and devalue girls is your kind of funny. If it isn’t, then you know this is just one more drop in an over-flowing bucket telling our girls they don’t matter, don’t count, don’t get to be present.

Well thank goodness for Veronica. Be not silent.

Emily,

First off, it’s Big Hero 6. Not Big Hero 4 and two others.

Women have just as much of a right to be here, be represented, acknowledged and idolized as men. Women have a place in this world too, and are capable of achieving greatness in math and science as well.

By eliminating the women in your fabric design, you are telling boys that it’s OK to think girls are yucky, unworthy and less than a boy. You are also telling girls they are unworthy, unwanted and that it’s un-cool to be smart and confident.

It’s not just your one design. It’s your design, with all of the other designs in the industry, in our daily lives, that tell girls and women that they are not worth it, they are not as important or capable. And even more dangerously telling boys that girls are worthless and yucky.

Colors, math, science, music and art are for everyone. Not just some for boys, and not just some for girls. For everyone!

But as for this design it’s a total failure, despite your target audience approach. It’s called Big Hero 6, and you are missing two of the hero’s. And I truly don’t think you will find many objections from any boy or girl to having ALL of the hero’s represented.

I will have to make my own designs for now,

Veronica

If you would like to contact Springs Creative to politely request they reconsider their thinking on this, you can find their info here. Use Veronica’s second email as a guide for tone and content, it is excellent. Let them know that kids love all kinds of characters, gender isn’t really a part of that coolness factor despite how convinced grown ups think it is.

Big Hero 6.3PNG.

I took an informal poll on our Facebook page today and the answers were refreshing, representative of what I was expecting from my community, and hopefully eye opening for companies and manufacturers who read it. Tomorrow I’ll put up a more formal poll on the blog for the community, the results of which will be compiled and made into a printable that can be downloaded and sent to companies who continue to insist on gender segregation in childhood.

Of the three questions I asked today, most people (out of 170 or so answers) replied with this pattern:

Question 1: Many popular kids shows and movie casts have a group of male characters (with a male main/title character) and one-two female side-kick characters. In the secondary-market toy and apparel products, the female characters are often left out (think Star Wars, Toy Story, Jake & Never Land Pirates, Paw Patrol, etc). This is because ____________

Top answers were B & C
B) manufacturers operate with the belief boys think girls are gross and don’t want girls on their stuff, even relaying this belief to customers, which influences what they think will sell and the products they make.
C) manufacturers operate with the belief girls are only interested in princesses and fashion and do not watch more action/adventure children’s media, therefore the female characters can get discarded from merchandise.

Question 2: If your child is the fan of a co-ed cast but the secondary market products leave out the female characters, are you less likely to purchase those products?
Top answers were B & C
B) I would not buy the product.
C) I want to burn this place down *

*Pigtail Pals LLC nor Melissa Atkins Wardy does not condone the actual burning down of things. 

Question 3: Think of the boys in your life you know, specifically ages 0-103. Do the majority of them think “girls are gross”, or do they have female friends and family members they enjoy, respect, love, learn from, and cherish?
A) The boys I know think girls are their personal kryptonite.
B) The boys I know think girls are cool and make good friends and role models.

The top answer for Question 3 was B) The boys I know think girls are cool and make good friends and role models.

So why don’t children’s products reflect this?

 

Update 1: The issue of girl characters gone missing from products is not unique to Springs Creative. They are simply one spoke in the wheel. Let’s call attention to and create meaningful change around the entire problem. Use hashtag #IncludeTheGirls to call out other products and media content creators who intentionally leave girl characters out. Need some examples to get your started?

Images from #IncludeTheGirls campaign.

Images from #IncludeTheGirls campaign.

Update 2: I received a call this afternoon from the nice folks at Springs Creative and they requested I post and share the statement below. I VERY pleased with their words and how effective all of you were with your emails. Well done all around today. And a sincere thank you to the team at Springs Creative for listening to consumers and being willing to make meaningful changes for our kids. Thank you!!

The following is the statement from Springs Creative:

Big Hero 6 fans, we at Springs Creative have heard you loud and clear! 

First of all, thank you all for your feedback about our products.  It is sometimes difficult to hear negative feedback but the message was clear and we intend to act upon your message.

Most importantly, Springs Creative does not condone sexism in any shape or form and does not design products to shine a negative light on females OR males. In fact, the majority of our licensed properties highlight strong female figures. We value the contributions of women greatly and are proud to say that over half of our corporate employees are indeed female.  We are well represented by females in our leadership and executive positions. This issue is not something we take lightly and this is not how we operate our business as a good corporate citizen.

Our Licensing Manager is a highly professional, competent and strong woman and we stand behind her as we do all of our associates.

The good news for you is that we will be talking with our valued long term licensing partner Disney immediately about additional designs for Big Hero 6 that in fact incorporate all of the characters you know and love.  We would never intentionally offend any segment of the population.  We are a strong company with positive morals and values and we respect and see both genders equally.

Thank you for your support, time and attention.  We sincerely believe you will be happy with the results coming your way soon.

 Springs Creative Products Group  www.springscreative.com

Now it is time to thank Springs Creative for being willing to make changes, send them a positive note on their Facebook page or send a follow up email of appreciation.

Update 3: Hey BoingBoing, thanks for featuring our post on your page!

MAW Profile PicMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

That’s all he should have to be.

Sad boyBoys have feelings, too. This was the third morning in a row my first grade son has had strong emotions and anxiety about going to school. Each morning it has taken me thirty to sixty minutes to get him into his classroom. He is terrified of his Spring Sing concert next Thursday and for several weeks he has been in tears over this event. His teachers have been wonderful and understanding about it, and he and I are problem solving towards a solution that will help ease much of what he is feeling.

Yet I’m giving him the room he needs to have all the feels.

I’m not rushing him through it nor covering it up. I’m not apologizing to anyone for it. I’m not trying to mask it when we’re in the hallway and he is curled on my lap crying or buried into my chest begging to not have to go to school that day. I’m not asking him to ‘man up’, or telling him ‘boys don’t cry’. I’m not demanding he ‘toughen up’ or ‘act like a big boy’. I’m letting him be Ben. That’s all he can be. That’s all he should have to be.

I’m letting him feel fear.
I’m letting him feel uncertainty and doubt.
I’m letting him ask for help when he feels overwhelmed.
I’m asking him to tell me what he is feeling and experiencing.
I’m letting him cry, and cry in front of others.
I’m letting him set his limits that feel right for him.

I’m doing all this because, one, I’ve been through it with his big sister for years so I’m familiar with the terrain of anxiety. And two, because by giving my boy the space and the right to have feelings I am establishing a truth for him: He is a human being and he will have a range of feelings and emotions in life, and he has every right to them and to work through them.

If only all of our boys were given those same rights.

 

MAW Profile PicMelissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies).