I Searched For Female Superheroes On Boys Clothing And Discovered Something Depressing

When Heather Jones searched for empowering women on merchandise, she uncovered a bigger problem

I thought it would be easy.

How difficult could it possibly be to find a shirt with a positive female message for my young son? An hour of searching later, I resolved myself to the answer being, “pretty darn hard.”

I saw lots of fantastic shirts meant for girls. Empowering ones that said things like “Future CEO,” “I Love Science,” and “This Princess Saves Herself.” Amazing! I am so thrilled these are on the market, but they don't have quite the same message of equality when worn by my son.

I saw a few very blatant ones for kids of any gender, saying things like, “This is what a feminist looks like.” While I love that sentiment, and we are certainly raising our sons to be feminists (like their father), this seemed a little much for grade two gym class.

Finding a shirt for a boy that is female empowering, but not meant specifically for girls and isn’t too obvious, was clearly too tall an order. This was too much to hope for, and admittedly, I was having a hard time thinking of something that would fit this bill even if I designed it myself.

No problem. I would simply find a shirt that has a strong female character on it. This proved nearly as difficult. With the exception of a few Princess Leia designs by indie artists on specialty t-shirt sites and a handful of Rey and Wonder Woman on the same sites, there was just nothing. And forget anything mainstream.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I have seen how Paw Patrol merchandise geared towards boys frequently omits the two female dogs from the group graphics. I’ve noticed Black Widow is conspicuously absent from the boy's section, despite the inclusion of her teammates. Rey was even left out of the Star Wars Monopoly game as well as a Millennium Falcon playset, despite being the main character of the movie (#WheresRey). But I was surprised. Or perhaps, disillusioned.

I wondered if I was alone in my frustration. Then I saw a post by actor and writer Brice Beckham that both frustrated and heartened me. He was venting his own frustrations that the new Wonder Woman movie set to come out shortly was not receiving nearly the marketing afforded to previous superhero movies in the same franchise, despite his belief that it appeared to be a better movie than most in the series. I was angered by yet another female character being brushed aside for being perceived as less marketable to males—but then an awesome thing happened. Out came all these men venting the same frustration. They like the female characters, not as sex objects or love interests, but as interesting characters, with depth and value, and they are annoyed at the lack of respect shown to the characters and the viewers. They want to see more strong female characters, superheroes and otherwise, and they have noticed the female shaped hole in the action film industry. It isn’t just the merchandise, it is the approach and attitude towards female characters on the whole that is lacking.

I appreciated seeing men saying “stop protecting us from women,” highlighting that in addition to it being sexist to attempt to cater only to men, it is sexist to assume they wouldn’t want to see female characters spotlighted. It gave me hope. One man was furious over the exclusion of the female characters from Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy from his son’s pajamas. It's not only women who want female characters on their sons’ clothing.

Thank you, Brice and your followers for fighting for representation of dynamic women on film, in print, and on merchandise. Thank you for teaching your sons why it is important. Thank you for letting the industry know they are doing everyone a disservice.

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