As a child, I had a vague feeling that some of the women in my life were kind of pushy about Wonder Woman. They really liked Wonder Woman. I liked her, too, but I preferred The Greatest American Hero because I related to how normal he is. And I didn’t want to like Wonder Woman if she was my only choice. That didn’t seem fair at all, not when the boys had so many to choose from.
Mike, on the other hand, enjoys a good superhero movie, especially Batman. It was inevitable that he would buy Atticus a Batman shirt or two, and then he added a Superman shirt and some Spider-man shoes. That was the point at which I pitched a fit, because superheroes are fine (and I even bought Atticus a few Batman things myself), but I don’t want my kid thinking that the only superheroes are white dudes. At the very least, we could add a lady.
It will be simple enough, I thought. I will go to the girls’ section at Target and buy him a Wonder Woman shirt.
But it wasn’t simple. There wasn’t anything. The boys’ department was overflowing with superheroes but I finally had to ask an employee if I was just missing the stuff in the girls’ department. She looked right at me and said, “No, all we have for girls is Disney.”
I don’t particularly have a dog in the whole princess fight. I wasn’t too interested in princesses myself, and I don’t have a daughter, and Atticus does not appear to have any princess fantasies (he could be persuaded, I think, if the princesses were driving trucks or farm equipment). But surely this is wrong, for girls to only have princesses (and Hello Kitty) on their shirts and lunchboxes and underwear. Surely there are girls who don’t fit that mold but who still want powerful ladies as their role models. I understand the argument that it’s all about commerce and superheroes for girls don’t sell. But is it that female superheroes are marginalized because they don’t sell or do they not sell because they are marginalized? I don’t think there’s a clear answer, but I do know that we have managed a lot of superhero movies that seem kind of obscure to me (Thor?) without a Wonder Woman movie getting off the ground.
Old Navy had Batman and Superman shirts for girls (which, full disclaimer: they were super cute) but I had to dig and dig and dig to find a Wonder Woman shirt that I still could not buy for my son because it was “slim cut” and I am willing to buy him pink things with Wonder Woman on them but even I have my limits.
I don’t want our boys or our girls thinking that guys are the heroes who save the world. And I don’t want our boys or our girls thinking that ladies are the princesses in the tower who need to be saved. (I know this is simplifying the narrative, but I don’t think I’m wrong that the appeal of princesses is pretty clothes rather than brains or power. Frilly pink things are fine, but isn’t the problem that we tend to stop there?)
I think this is the real reason that God gave me a boy, because the girls’ department would have me burning my bra in the middle of Target. I appreciate a good princess story, but I have started to understand what all those women in my life knew 30 years ago: we are going to have to cling to Wonder Woman whether we like her or not because she is apparently our only choice.
Update: Thank you, Mike.