Can we just take this moment to give a huge shout-out to all the parents who are raising their children to be kind, smart, open-minded, ambitious and passionate. When we look around the world today, there is so much systemic oppression and bias that if not challenged now, it could damage yet another generation from achieving everything they want to.
We’re talking mainly about gender bias and the subtle messages and social cues in the world which teach girls to be and think a certain way, and the same with boys. It may not always be apparent to some, but to get an idea of what some parents realize once they have their children, read this insightful blog post by Dena Ogden on Romper about how becoming a mom to a young boy made her realize the need for feminism.
One father who is well aware of the gender bias directed at kids from a young age is John Marcotte, a dad of two daughters who love superheroes. John is also the founder of the Heroic Girls website, an online community dedicated to inspiring young girls with female comic book heroes.
“Heroic Girls is an organization dedicated to empowering girls by advocating for strong role models in alternative media — particularly comics. We want to get more girls and women involved in the creation and consumption of comic books as a tool to increase assertiveness and self-esteem, and to help them to dream big,” says a description on the site.
His desire to encourage girls through the medium of comic books came after they all went to see ‘Guardians of the Galay’ at the movies. John’s daughters left the theater buzzing about Zoe Saldana’s character Gamora, and wanted to find an action figure to play with (which you can watch a super cute re-enactment of in this video).
But when they got to Target, they couldn’t find a Gamora doll for sale anywhere. There was a Marvel Legends line but it was far too expensive. The girls were disappointed and went home empty handed. If that sounds familiar, you’d be right. There have been a number of viral campaigns to have more female superheroes included in merchandise lines, but the one that takes the cake is the news that Rey was excluded from all Star Wars/Hasbro toy sets. The internet went crazy, as did ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ director J.J.Abrams, claiming it was an outrage this was happening again.
The toy manufacturer came up with some bogus response saying she was excluded so as not to give away any plot spoilers (like the fact that she is a main character in the movie? We think the movie poster already did that…) but then an industry insider told the media it was a deliberate exclusion, which you can read more about here.
After not being able to find a Gamora doll for his daughters Anya and Stella Grace, John started to realize just how pervasive and exclusive the gender norms were in society. The fact that is starts at a young age and easily finds a dominant space in our adult lives was something he wanted to change.
“My oldest daughter, when she was in first grade, came back from school one day and she was crying. She had worn a Spiderman T-shirt and the kids at school, both the boys and girls, made fun of her because superheroes were for boys. Even at that early age, we are shaping what our kids are allowed to like and dislike through societal pressures,” John told NJbiz.com. Sadly, she never wore the shirt to school again.
An interaction with a man at a comic book store also made him realize how hard it is to change adult mindsets about gender barriers in the comic book industry.
“I was my local comic book shop and we were talking about how Marvel was doing a push to come out with several female-led titles and there was a guy standing there, in the vein of the Comic Book Guy from ‘The Simpsons,’ who went on this rant about how political correctness is ruining the comic book industry and they’re not written for him. I brought up how 53 percent of the comics market is female and he wanted to argue that,” said John.
Ironically, John goes on to talk about how after that interaction, when the naysayer found out there were women who come to the comic book store regularly, he asked the owner to organize a mixer. Good luck meeting women with those types of ideals buddy!
But the whole experience made John realize the way women are often made to feel in the comic book world.
“I think that’s a lot of these guys out there, who are socially nervous around women and get uncomfortable and shy so, when women come into space they had traditionally held for themselves, they get angry. That’s where it comes from, I think,” he said.
His Heroic Girls community contains images, articles, news and think-pieces to challenge fans and parents about the images portrayed in comic books. If women and girls really are half of the readership these days, where are all the female-driven stories and characters being created at the same rate as men?
We recently featured a badass comic book company based out of Los Angeles called Emet Comics, started by a woman, and featuring only female writers, illustrators and female-driven stories. The comics are as diverse as they are captivating, and it makes you wonder why there is so much push back on this type of content.
Thankfully we can see an army of parents and creatives working to challenge the status quo. John Marcotte is certainly one of those people, and in a TEDx Talk he gave in 2015, he very clearly lays out the problem, as well as the solution.
“My wife and I love the fact that our girls love superheroes, because we compare it to what we find at the toy aisle at the store which is princess culture. Princesses wait to be rescued, superheroes rescue themselves and other people. Princesses project unattainable beauty, superheroes teach girls that it’s ok to be different. Princesses reinforce a very narrow version of femininity, superheroes tell girls they can be more,” said John in the video below.
If you are a parent who is looking for affirmative, diverse and inclusive content for your daughters, we highly recommend joining the Heroic Girls community and seek the break the mold that traps both girls and boys into gender norms that will only limit their potential in the future.
John Marcotte, you are our superhero!