Halloween is rapidly approaching, but we have one question: where are all the costumes, toys and accessories of female superheroes?
In his TedTalk, Bring On the Female Superheroes! (above), Dr. Christopher Bell (Assistant Professor of Media Studies and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs) discusses his struggle to find female superhero merchandise for his daughter and the broader social issues his gift-giving raises.
A large part of the substance of Fashion Focus relies on what Dr. Bell identifies as ‘public pedagogy’ or “how we learn what we know about other people and about the world.” In fact, several of the examples Dr. Bell gives of public pedagogy are actual classes taught at Fashion Focus, including what it means to behave yourself in public and manners (our class Manners and Public Image) and what it means to behave ‘like a girl,’ a topic we discuss after watching the Always #LikeAGirl campaign.
Dress up play, like wearing a costume for Halloween, is a form of learning and exploring and therefore of public pedagogy. Unfortunately for our girls, they have been almost completely limited to dress-up play as male superheroes and more often than not, they don’t have the option of playing and exploring as their female counterparts.
The cause, as identified by Dr. Bell, is that 90% of American media is controlled by only six for-profit companies that determine all of the media we consume (movies, tv, music and books). These six companies have apparently decided that female superheroes and the values and qualities they portray are not as profitable as the men.
“If what we learn, what we know about other people and about the world we learn through media, then these companies are teaching my daughter that even if she is strong and smart and fast and fights like a ninja, all four of which are true of her, it doesn’t matter. She will either be ignored like Gamora or erased and replaced with a boy like Black Widow. And it’s not fair. It’s not fair to her and it’s not fair to your sons and daughters either.”
But is there a problem with girls playing as boys and experimenting as a so-called tomboy? The very term “tomboy” represents a social shortfall to Dr. Bell. Tomboys are generally used to describe girls exhibiting what is generally considered to be male qualities, as if girls can’t be strong, assertive and brave.
“In our society, adding so-called male traits to girls is seen as an upgrade, seen as a bonus.”
What is the ultimate impact of his findings? Well, you could ask the mother of Michael Morones, an 11-year old boy who attempted suicide after being bullied for liking My Little Pony, a predominately female brand.
“We have developed a society in which you would rather be dead as a boy than thought of as liking stuff for girls…We have failed our children. And we have to do better for them. We have to stop making it so that the only female superheroes appear on shirts that are pink and cut for girls. We have to stop.”
Whether your daughter prefers to be Merida, Wonder Woman or Darth Vader, the choice should be hers. Imaginative play is an important part of growing and learning to accept others and their differences. Whatever she decides to be this Halloween, we hope everyone has a safe holiday.
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Fashion Focus is a unique program designed to help girls discover and embrace their beautiful and undeniable potential!