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You Don’t Need to Change Super Heroes “for Girls”

So I’ve mulled over how to address Teen Titans GO!- I mean, Super Hero Girls. My feelings on it range from an initial knee jerk “Aww!” to the twitch upon further review of “THE FUCK IS THIS?!”

At first, I couldn’t figure out what about this infuriated me so much. Then I remembered… The loss of Young Justice and Green Lantern the Animated Series still burns deep within me. In case you missed it, both shows gained a large female audience, and were subsequently cancelled for it.

So, let’s confirm the elements of these shows, shows little girls enjoyed:

  • Complex storylines
  • Dark moments
  • Canon character behavior
  • Art fairly close to comic canon
  • Quirky humor

Do you follow me? They were great shows, and had a lot of potential to go even further. They were very akin to Batman the Animated Series and Justice League. No fuss, No frills.

Speaking of frills. As cited in numerous interviews and articles, both of those shows were cancelled for having a chiefly female audience. Girls weren’t allowed to be the majority audience because execs had no clue how to market these shows to them. They claimed girls do not buy toys. One look at my niece’s room would tell you that’s bullshit. However, lately, it seems like TV executives genuinely don’t understand what girls buy, despite literal mountains of data. They’re simply choosing not to read it.

So let me spell this out for you. Girls buy toys. However, parents also buy toys, and parents, while loving, are also flawed in their gender biases. If a mom is only buying her daughter Barbie, when she actually wants Power Rangers, your data will only show “Girls don’t buy Power Rangers, girls buy Barbies”. This is just lazy. You’re looking at the biased buying trends of parents who, even with the best intentions, are forcing these stereotypes to persist.

So we have to listen to the kids themselves in the ways they tell us what they want. Girls wanted Young Justice. But it wasn’t “for” them, so it was taken away. And what it was replaced with? Generic cute vomit.

Quick aside, before my editor adds a note: Cute is ok. Pink is ok. Liking things that are adorable and cute is totally fine. If your daughter naturally gravitates to the cutesy things there is nothing wrong with that, and she’s not enforcing stereotypes. The problem isn’t with the consumer. It’s with the content producer.

As I said, there’s nothing wrong with liking cute. But when you’re given only cute because of your gender? That is wrong.

Before I get into DC Super Hero Girls (Monty Python crowd: “GET ON WITH IT!”), I wanna talk about LEGO Friends. I feel like people have too much attachment to comic book characters, so first let me address LEGO Friends to give some backstory on why things like this make me mad…

So, for a while, LEGO was primarily a boys market, it did not have a big female demographic and the company was actually on the brink of collapse. LEGO then decided to introduce LEGO Friends, which opened to wild success. They proposed that while boys like playing with the outside of the sets, girls preferred the interiors and details. So the LEGO Friends sets have interiors with details. It’s pretty awesome. They each have a character who has a name and a backstory because “girls like stories”. (I can’t argue that point very well because my toys had full long drawn out soap operas I made up) But… Then we saw the figures…

LEGOGirlMinifig

The hell is this monstrosity?? The plus of it is that you can interchange the hair with other minifigs, because you know… Ladies and their hair! But in comparison with other minifigs?

leftminifig

Me too, left minifig… Me too.

Minifigs can articulate in eight places; head, both shoulders, both hands, waist, and each leg. Friends can articulate in four places; head, shoulders, and waist. Literally half the articulation. They are not interchangeable in sets, and all around can only exist reasonably within their own franchise. It sends a stark message, even if unintentional, that “we will make you girl things, but you still have to stay over there away from our main titles”. Why not just make regular LEGO sets of female historical figures, female heroes, just female characters with cool lives? This could be a great inspirational opportunity to have a set of a classic, historical house with an Emily Dickenson-esque minifig character. Who knows, boys might get that too and be excited. Or perhaps a proper set focused on Black Widow? Instead “girl” LEGOs are relegated to their own corner where they may exist but not interact.

This may sound brash, but this is the message being sent.

Now, to the piece de resistance. DC Super Hero Girls. This sexist piece of trash.

There’s going to be some emotional charge to this, but I’ll do my best to keep as level of a head as I can about this. (You know how we women are about our emotions, right DC?)

What does it say to the girls of today when we take a show away from them and replace it with cutesy, big anime eyes, frills, and colors so bright it hurts? In short, they Teen Titans GO!-ed it. They nerfed it, and all in the name of “but girls like this!” Fun fact, girls liked the first thing you made. You had proof of that.

Let’s spell that out to show just how ridiculous it is. “Girls like this boy show? No no that won’t do. Silly girls, you like cute things. I know you said you like this, but I, a male exec 40/50 years older than you, know your interests better than you do. So don’t watch that thing and like it. You don’t like it.”

Anyone follow that logic? Me neither. Yes, some girls are going to like this show. Some boys are too, newsflash. Kids like cartoons. The problem comes when you create something to force stereotypes and with absolute zero care for your consumer.

This isn’t a problem with DC Super Hero Girls (though as a fan of canon, I’ve got some issues with it in that regard), this is a problem with the entire team that created and pushed this to be made and marketed. The problem is with the sexist notion that to create a show for girls it must look and sound like this.

And I’m not the only one to catch the very blatant copy of an original Monster High promo that circulated around long ago. The difference? Monster High, even in promo, didn’t convey “this is for girls because it’s cute.” Neither did Ever After High. Neither shoot you in the face with sexist notions of what girls want, both shows promoted complex issues from the beginning. Monster High’s first tag line was “Freaky just got fabulous!” You’d be surprised how inspirational that can be to young girls. And this was even before it got big. The catch phrase that followed is “Be Yourself, Be Unique, Be A Monster!” Again, inspirational. I could honestly write an entire article concerning the positive impact Monster High and Ever After High have on youth. (And I can already hear Fearless Leader putting in an order to write that.) (Yes, you can. -Ed)

DCSHG’s tag line is “Get your cape on!” Alright? I’ll work with it. They’re new. They’re marketing themselves absolutely identical to Monster High, but without any substance. “Girls like Monster High? Eh slap some comic book people on it and send it out.” And call me biased (BIASED!) but there’s not much insulting about MH or EAH artwork. There’s so much about this that sits wrong solely from a looks perspective. Perhaps it’s the bright colors assaulting my eyes. Perhaps it’s the comparison to previous animated incarnations of the same characters. Perhaps it’s that girls obviously proved they liked the other thing that wasn’t this. Perhaps it’s that it’s such a blatant rip off. Perhaps it’s the fact these had previous incarnations and references where MH and EAH are original characters. Perhaps this wouldn’t bother me if these were all children of the heroes and not the heroes themselves (well hey that’d be nice actually!). Perhaps I’m just a mean old feminist and miss the point. Perhaps it’s because it looks like some weird Winx/DC crossover.

       weirdgirlsindressessuperherogirls

 

Or the more obvious answer: perhaps it’s because it blatantly carries the message that girls are only allowed to consume comic material when it’s cutesy and has little to do with actual characters’ stories. Sorry ladies, you can’t watch Grey’s Anatomy. You can only watch Doc McStuffins. (Though, that’s an unfair comparison because Doc McStuffins is hella inspirational to kids.)

Imagine if every time you ordered steak you were given cake because of who you are. Someone else knows what you want more than you, and even when they’re wrong, it’s actually you who’s wrong for not wanting what they told you that you wanted.

This is what we’re telling girls. We tell them this every time things like DC Super Hero Girls happen. We tell them this every time “boy” shows are cancelled for having a female audience.

Little girls are being punished for not liking what fits their stereotype. And this needs to stop immediately.

We have to stop telling children they’re only allowed to like something that fits in their gender list. Toys, cartoons, comics, these things don’t have a gender, and kids don’t know they shouldn’t enjoy it until we, the adults, tell them they can’t.

DC Super Hero Girls isn’t the problem. The problem is us. The problem is the motivation behind why this was made. The problem is the people who will just turn it on for their daughters because “girls will like this”. The problem will persist and hurt our children until we can stop punishing them for liking something “not meant for them”.

And we need to start now.

Ellie Collins
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Ellie, a.k.a. FangireQueen, is one of those creative types, and doctors say it’s terminal. A Jill of All Trades, Ellie is an actress, cosplayer, podcaster, writer, and director. She spent time on the first season of The CW’s “The Originals” and has numerous upcoming projects both as an actress and a director. A cosplayer for over 15 years, she now works professionally in film and television as a seamstress. She spent years as a podcast host and still makes appearances on numerous other podcasts form topics raging to girl geekiness to her various projects. Her most recent project is the launch of the first book in her book series Empire Valley, an urban fantasy series. Geekiness has been involved in every inch of her life in all aspects, and continues to do so. She’s big into the three C’s; Comics, Collectibles, and Cosplay. However, she’s recently developed a deep obsession with FPS gaming.

2 thoughts on “You Don’t Need to Change Super Heroes “for Girls”

  1. This was a great article! It covered almost all points and I like the not – so- subtle or flattering mentions of TTG I would appreciate though if you put some blame on Warner Brothers.

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