Summertime is superhero season. The blockbusters hit the theaters, themed birthday parties are thrown, and merchandise is everywhere. If you happen to be a girl, your superhero-themed merchandise is limited to female characters. If you’re lucky, you get access to all characters, but they’re covered in pink or glitter or shiny and come in a cute, babydoll fit. Unless you’re at Target. Then you get PINK Wonder Woman and Damsel in Distress Avengers underwear. I’ll wait a minute for you to finish rage-flailing.
On a recent trip to Tarjay, my favorite low-cost money pit, I happened to stumble across not one but two disasters. As a comics nerd, I usually jump at the chance to buy cool, comic-themed stuff. A few months ago I even bought some classic Batgirl undies from Target that have become treasured favorites. If I happen to be near the lingerie section, I always check for new finds in order to fulfill my desire to get the Batfamily in my pants. I saw Batgirl again, but I also saw this:
Gross. The implication, of course, is that I need a hero sexually. A big, strong, manly hero (note the exclusion of Black Widow) to I don’t know, give me orgasms? Please. I don’t want underwear that advertises that I am a Damsel in Distress, especially when the classic reward for rescue is sex. It’s also worth noting that these are technically juniors’ underwear. As in, for teenagers. As if teenage girls weren’t getting enough patriarchy already. You might recognize the slogan from a T-shirt that was taken off the shelves at the Disney Store earlier this year. Why the infinitely more problematic underwear was allowed to stay is beyond me.
Later, as I was walking through a different part of the store, another superhero-themed container display caught my eye. My first thought? Adorable. My second thought? What happened to poor Wonder Woman? Did she lose a battle with a color-leeching alien? And why didn’t the rest of the Justice League do anything?
Batman is one of his normal color combinations. Superman is his classic red and blue. Wonder Woman is pink, purple, and a hideous shade of yellow that suddenly makes me sympathize with the Green Lanterns’ aversion to the color. Obviously, she has to be pink and purple because she’s a girl and girls have to like her! Yup, just girls, because Batman and Superman are boys and so they’re forâ€¦ you guessed it, boys. This, despite the fact that she’s called Wonder WOMAN, she’s an Amazon, and she’s one of the most famous and powerful superheroes ever. Yet here she is, reduced to her gender because Hera forbid we put her in the oh-so-manly colors of red and blue.
Now that superhero movies are once again incredibly popular and geek culture is beginning to seep into the mainstream, it’s clear that patriarchy has to do something to keep little girls and teens in check. Strong female role models like Wonder Woman are only acceptable if they are suitably feminine, and girls can only like the Avengers if they like them because they’re hot and sexy rather than what they stand for. Boys have to know that girls are somehow less than boys, even when they’re superheroes, and that they need to be rescued or tokenized. While I’m happy to see superheroes marketed towards girls at all, this is not even remotely the way to do it. We want our heroes, but we don’t need them to rescue us.