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). 

The Barbie Project: The Super Powers of Being Yourself

A couple of weeks ago Amelia enjoyed decorating her very own super hero cape sent to her by the Barbie Team as part of the new #BeSuper campaign featuring the Super Squad caped crusaders. She never really got into super heroes like some girls do, I think because for her the overall lack of female characters left her disinterested. Amelia was super excited when she discovered all of the new dolls in Barbie’s super hero line were girls – she loved the little girls on the scooters best.

I believe one of the reasons Amelia has taken to playing with Barbie is that her stories and play time are filled with adventurous female characters who travel the globe, explore under sea and outer space, hold interesting jobs, and perhaps the greatest adventure of all – live as a family. Unlike so much of children’s media, when it comes to Barbie the girls are central to the story, adventure, discovery and fun.

This past week our family has enjoyed some gorgeous spring weather in Wisconsin, a couple of days hitting the 70’s! Now, Wisconsin has four seasons – Fall, Winter, Summer, and Mud. It just so happens, my daughter has never met a mud puddle she didn’t love or that she could resist wallowing in. I could hear her whooping and hollering in the back yard as she played with one of our dogs and I decided to see what the commotion was about.

I was greeted by this in the garden…..

Amelia being super!

Amelia being super!

The sign of Amelia and a hose during mud season – or really any time of year – is never a promising discovery. The giant patch of dirt seen here is the result of a massive mud pit she made last spring.

Amelia has a magnetic draw to mud.

Amelia has a magnetic draw to mud.

And where there is mud, there is always MORE mud…..

Ugh. Mud!

Ugh. Mud!

I asked what she was working on and she replied that she was developing an “infinity water source” for our dogs ahead of summer time so that they would never be caught thirsty in the summer heat. She said if it proved successful, she’d patent it and sell it to cities so that stray animals would never die of thirst. (While Amelia was decorating her cape she decided she would be a rescuer of animals who were abused, neglected, or homeless.)

Amelia explaining how the suspension element works on her "infinity water source" system.

Amelia explaining how the suspension element works on her “infinity water source” system.

I asked Amelia what her super hero name would be and her answer left a huge smile on my face.

“Mom, I don’t need an additional name or secret name. I’m Amelia, and I’m a hero just the way I am.”

At our house we believe there are many ways to be a girl, and I’m so pleased my girl has figured out the ways that work just right for her.

 

Pink, muddy boots, and somewhere a girl who believes in herself.

Pink, muddy boots, and somewhere a girl who believes in herself.

 

 

Barbie Project LogoLearn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

 

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 read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

The Barbie Project: Girls To The Rescue!

Two new little members of the Super Squad.

Two new little members of the Super Squad.

There are few things I love more than girls in action and girls being the heroic, smart, resourceful, brave, flawed, funny, compassionate, driven center of the story. So when the Barbie Team sent Amelia the new members of the Super Squad I most certainly geeked out. I loved super heroes when I was a kid; in the 1980’s there were several great female choices to look up to.

But Amelia, not so much. In fact, we were supposed to share our story with you over a week ago, but I couldn’t get her to open the boxes. I asked her why she didn’t want to check out her new dolls and she answered, “I’m just really tired of the super heroes always being the boys and just one token girl. Who is usually dumb. It just isn’t my thing.”

I’m not sure why she would think that equation would hold true over at girl-centric Barbie, but it is the what she sees replicated everywhere. I understand how rarely seeing female characters as the hero could get a girl down.

Amelia had spent many hours on Friday and Saturday out in frigid temperatures selling Girl Scout cookies, so by the time Sunday rolled around I wanted to do something special for her. That morning I said I was going upstairs to put away laundry and wanted her help. I had spread out the new Super Squad on her bedroom floor and I’m going to venture a guess the loud squeal she let out was over the discovery of the new caped crusaders and not the basket of laundry waiting for her.

“Oh SNAP! They are all girls! They are all girls!! Did the bosses at Barbie know about this?! Because these are ALL. GIRLS. That’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it!”

We love the colorful Super Squad, ready for action!

We love the colorful Super Squad, ready for action!

I sat on the floor with her as she did her customary inspection of footwear, arched feet or flat feet, articulated joints, hair, and underwear – in that order – every single time she opens a new Barbie. She loved the capes, the lightening bolts, the super hero masks, the vivid colors, the little scooter girls, the practical super hero boots that Barbie and the little girls wear, and the idea of flying. She loved the concept of Barbie being the hero who rescues the Ken reporter guy (my friend joked maybe he is a Lou Lane?) and the team of girls working together.

Amelia and I talked about what kind of hero she would be if she had super powers, and she told me a story about two of the boys in her class having a playdate and one of the boys becoming angry at the host’s cat because it had knocked a toy off the table. In his anger he punched the cat, and when this story was being told in class one of the girls went into hysterics to which the kids replied, “It’s just a cat.”

Amelia busy at work on her hero cape.

Amelia busy at work on her hero cape.

Amelia said she would protect animals from cruelty, especially from kids who were bullies. She said she would have “freeze power” that would stop everything in place and give her time to talk with the animal. I asked why it was important to freeze time so that she could do this, and Amelia answered that animals love us unconditionally and that maybe the pet wouldn’t say what was wrong out of love for their owner.

Cape.3

Amelia cape says “Stop Animal Abuse! Don’t hate ’em! Love your pets!” The “AR” on her cuffs are for “Animal Rescuer”.

 

Amelia is a kid who draws all the time, literally morning, noon, and night. This afternoon I spotted her drawing this. Never in her life have I seen her draw a super hero before. Not once. I asked who she was drawing.

Amelia sees herself as a super hero now.

Amelia sees herself as a super hero now.

“That’s me, obviously. I’m about to rescue an abused dog and horse.”

Barbie’s new Super Squad comes with some fun online activities, but I love their message most of all: Be Bold. Be Kind. Be Creative. Be SUPER! My hope is with this new line of super hero dolls, little girls who wouldn’t otherwise think of themselves as the hero will now see themselves in a new light. Be super, indeed! 

 

Barbie Project LogoLearn more about The Barbie Project and meet the other bloggers on the project.

On twitter, look for hashtag #BarbieProject and join the conversation.

{Disclosure: This is a compensated campaign as part of The Barbie Project. All thoughts and ideas are my own.}

 

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 read her blog at: www.pigtailpalsblog.com or connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals).

Boys and Body Image

This image was originally shared as a straw man argument against feminism, but if we present it differently I think it actually raises some interesting questions. What are your reactions to this image, questions it raises, and the message it sends?

Source: unknown

Source: unknown

There does seem to be more outrage over (or more coverage of the outrage over) Barbie’s body than He-Man’s, though certainly his has come into question by many people.  Some questions to consider:

~ Is the reason for this because there is far greater pressure from media towards women and their bodies vs pressure on men?
~ Are beauty standards more rigid for women than for men?
~ Is He-Man fantasy but Barbie closer to the reality of expectations and therefore more offensive? He-Man is a dream hero, Barbie is the norm?
~ Do we expect men to be “built” and therefore the He-Man body isn’t alarming?
~ Is there more awareness about body image for girls/women than there is for boys/men?

I am a feminist raising a son and I am concerned about his body image. I feel it is easy to avoid toys and media with body representations like this for him. It is not so easy with my daughter. When Benny was 3-4 years old he had an obsession with Spider Man and the accompanying gang of super heroes. He wore a Spider Man suit every day for four months straight, the kind with the built in muscles. We tried to take out some of the padding because the muscles were so ridiculous, and we discussed that action with him. The toys he plays with now really leave me with zero concern for his body image, I just don’t see Angry Birds and Legos as being a threat. For my daughter, though, it is an entirely different story.

In this photo we see the woman's body as rather realistic, but the men.... It is important for us to consider what our boys and girls are learning from these types of depictions of masculinity and the male body.

In this photo we see the woman’s body as rather realistic, but the men…. It is important for us to consider what our boys and girls are learning from these types of depictions of masculinity and the male body.

As with most things, I don’t think this is a zero-sum game. I think feminists, scholars, activists and parents can focus on body image for both boys AND girls and try to make head way. I don’t want my son or daughter expecting people to look like the images above. We can make smart decisions about the toys and media we allow in, and have thoughtful discussions with our children encouraging them to take a critical look at the messages that do sneak through. It is important for us to consider what our boys and girls are learning from depictions of masculinity and the male body.

Here are two great sources if you are interested in learning more about boys and body image:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-gender-ourselves/201301/the-impact-negative-body-image-boys

and

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/advice-for-parents/boys-and-body-image-tips

 

Hat tip to Lori Day for the image.