Thursday 2 October 2014

DC Comics, Sexism and Pyjamas: A Reflection

By Marie Victoria Robertson

As some of you may know, one of my biggest frustrations related to the younger generation is gendered children’s toys. Every time I think that maybe we’ve done some progress, I walk through a toy store and overhear things like, “No son, those are girl toys. The boy section’s over here” and “I can’t like Transformers, I’m a girl”. I’ve nearly had to be physically restrained to keep from speaking up to the parents. I hate the idea of a baby doll somehow damaging a boy’s psyche just like I hate the idea of a Transformer being a sacred, boys-only thing. On the same note, I’m tired of finding little boys’ clothing with trucks and baseballs on them. When I tried to buy my son a pink shirt a while back, all I could find was frilled and bedazzled stuff I wouldn’t even let a hypothetical daughter wear. Enough already.

A few days ago, the now-infamous “Score! Superman does it again!” and “Training to be Batman’s wife” DC T-shirts made the rounds. I saw them, I scoffed, and filed them under “Wow, comics disempowering its female characters and its female fans, big surprise.” And then I saw Target’s DC baby pajamas: a pink “I only date heroes” and a boyish-gray “Future man of steel”. Come on. I mean, come on.

I get that a marketing department somewhere thought it was a cutesy idea for a girl’s outfit, and I’m willing to grant that maybe they weren’t thinking of the larger implications of this message, but that is exactly the problem. The idea that boys will grow up to the superheroes, and girls will grow up to hopefully marry a superhero, is so ingrained in our societal consciousness that no one gave it a second thought until the shirts and pyjamas hit the shelves. Never minding the fact that the grey pyjamas make no mention of boys in terms of relationships and sexuality, while the pink ones are doing nothing but that. Did I mention the baby pyjamas were meant for a three-month-old?

We need change in the comics industry, but take a look at what we’re doing. These pyjamas and shirts and toys are meant for the kids that are going to grow up to be the future creators, writers, artists, performers, etc. of superhero comics. We’re not even giving them the opportunity to make up their own minds about gender and society and how it all related to superheroes. We’re bombarding them, essentially from birth, with the message that girls are welcome in the comic book world, but only if they marry into it. 

Why aren’t we telling our girls that they can totally grow up to be heroes? Why aren’t we telling our boys that power doesn’t equal masculinity, and that it’s okay to not be strong? If my son wants to grow up to marry Wonder Woman instead of being Superman, that’s just fine by me. Can we just let kids decide what they really like, and what they think is really important, instead of forcing them to repeat our mistakes? 

“But for goodness’ sake!” you might exclaim. “It’s just a kid’s outfit. Chill out. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it.” Sure, and I won’t buy it, but the problem isn’t just with the pyjamas, or the T-shirts, or the next piece of clothing or toy or movie or advertisement that comes out with this same tired message—these are all the result of a mindset that still, in this day and age, encourages boys to grow up into men defined by their strength, and encourages girls to grow up into women defined by their relationships with these ever-so-strong men. A mindset that produces children’s clothing telling girls their value lies in their appearance and their ability to please men. A mindset that slaps pink pyjamas on a three-month-old girl that basically tells her, “You can’t be a hero, but at least you can date one.” 

The issue isn’t that the pink pyjamas exist. It’s that they exist as the only choice for girls. If you’re going to market a T-shirt or a pyjama that showcases who kids are going to grow up to date, at least have it go both ways. Give me Wonder Woman “scoring” Superman. Give me a powder-blue “Training to be Batwoman’s Husband” pyjama, ideally next to a pink “Training to be a superheroine” shirt. 

And even better, put them next to “Training to be Batman’s Husband/Batwoman’s Wife.”  

Marie Victoria Robertson is a published speculative fiction writer and playwright, as well as the board president of Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative ( When all the other girls wanted to marry Johnny Depp, she wanted to run away with Worf on the Enterprise. She enjoys giant robots, time-travel paradoxes, and forcing her son to watch Futurama.

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