The Cliffs of Insanity: Where Chuck Wendig Is Wrong

Cliffs of Insanity Featured GeekMom
© DC Comics
The new DC SuperHero Girls line announced this week, image via DC Comics

Hello and welcome to the latest edition of our climb up the cliffs of insanity that is pop culture. The above headline is eye-catching and completely a reflection of the article below but first, a disclaimer:

Mr. Wendig, I enjoy your blogs immensely, love your presence on Facebook that leads to some terrific discussions, and while I don’t love your books yet, they’re on my to-be-read pile, including an ARC of your upcoming novel.

But with all due respect, you’re wrong about something in your column about the new DC Superhero Girls line. Oh, we agree that this is generally a good thing, but we disagree that by gendering this item boys will absorb the message that girly things are only for girls and boy things are only for boys. Before we can mix the marketing and make everything gender-neutral, we first have to solve one large issue: girls still need aspirational role models separate from boys.

They need to learn first that they’re just as valuable as boys, even if they like pink. Especially if they like pink.

I would consider your concern for your son and his view of girls valid if there weren’t already a ton of young reader books that treat girls like people, starting with Harry Potter. I know this because I was careful what I bought for my son (now 19) when he was growing up because I wanted him to read about wonderful boys and girls. He loved the female characters in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, and, more recently, there’s Honey Lemon and Go Go from Big Hero 6, Gru’s three daughters in the Despicable Me series, Sabine from Star Wars Rebels, and, heck, both Avatar series.

I’m not saying that we don’t need more representation in pop culture aimed right now at men but I’m saying that even suggesting gendering this superhero line to girls is possibly contributing to the overall gendering problem is misguided and, well, just plain wrong.

We need DC Superhero Girls. Girls need them. Society, right now, lacks all the tools to teach girls that they matter.

I wish you could have been with me, Mr. Wendig, while manning the GeekMom booth at GeekGirlCon last year. We had board books featuring Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. I was supposed to be giving them away but one little girl, about four years old, saw the Wonder Woman book, grabbed it, literally hugged it, and promptly sat down on the floor to try and read it.

Her joy at seeing a book for her, finally, was the highlight of my con.

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A board book I found in CVS, of all places, photo by Corrina Lawson

Here’s a dirty secret: sometimes girls want and need stories that speak to them and not necessarily to boys.

And that’s okay.

There’s a reason GeekMom is separate from GeekDad. I wrote about why that is in another blog but, in short, we live in an unequal society. It’s all well and good for girls to read about Hermione and the other great female characters in Harry Potter but, in the end, it’s Harry who’s the main character, Harry who is the hero. We can guess at many events with Hermione but they’re not the focus of the book because she’s not the main characters. (Thus, reams of fanfic were born.)

When I was growing up, I devoured my Batman, Captain America, and Iron Man comics, all of which had fascinating female characters like Bethany Cabe, Sharon Carter, or Barbara Gordon. I also read my Black Stallion series starring Alec Ramsey, my Tolkien, and my Mary Stewart Merlin books, all with male lead characters and some with three-dimensional female characters.

I also read Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. When my daughter, soon to be a college graduate, was a young reader, she devoured The Baby-Sitters Club series. I wouldn’t change those books one iota to appeal more to boys. If boys want to pick them up, fine, but they spoke mainly to girls.

That’s good.

I can only imagine my glee as an 8-year-old if someone told me there would be a Lego set of Nancy Drew, with her two best friends, and her awesome blue roadster convertible, and maybe one depicting the secret tunnel. I would have been all over that as a Christmas present, begging and begging.

And Trixie? A Lego set with Trixie and her Bob-White Club?

Sign me the f*** up.

No boys need apply.

I’m sure if there had been a Baby-Sitters Club Lego set, my daughter would have been all over that. I’m sure she’d have devoured action figures and t-shirts like she did the books. These books were about female friendships, helping each other, and surviving.

My daughters are too old now for this new Superhero Girls young reader books series. But I can picture a little girl out there, maybe African-American, wandering down the book or toy aisle and seeing Bumblebee available in a story or as a Lego set and tugging at her parent’s hand, saying the child equivalent of “Sign me the f*** up.”

Girls need their own stories, in way that boys don’t, because boys already own the vast expanse of the pop culture. Your worry that this gendering is going to damage your son and give him the message of “oh, see, these are girl toys” is likely misplaced.

Because I see the message as:  “Girls might have their own way of doing things sometimes but they can be superheroes too!”

Girls and boys already know at an early age that society is gendered. What girls are taught is that means they’re weaker and sillier than boys. This line is directed to showing them that “girly is not weak,” a message that Wonder Woman is uniquely positioned to send. This week on Twitter, Shea Fontana, the writer of the DC Superhero Girls books, told Gail Simone that her Wonder Woman comics were an inspiration. With that basis, I can’t see these books as being anything but positive.

So what if some of them emphasize pink? Some girls love pink.

Mr. Wendig, you should have your son read them,  your son needs to know that girls can be main characters and that being girl or liking pink isn’t weak.

But it’s not your son who needs to internalize that message the most.

It’s young girls.

To girls, it’s going to send a message that, yes, you can be the hero of your own stories, you don’t have to aspire to be the female Tony Stark, you can be Bumblebee, who also created her own costume and powers. You don’t have to aspire to be Superman, you can aspire to be Wonder Woman.

Now all we need is Lois Lane, Girl Reporter, added to the announced line, and I’d be in Nirvana.

Sign me the f*** up.

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2 thoughts on “The Cliffs of Insanity: Where Chuck Wendig Is Wrong

  1. I agree with most of this however I think it’s as important for boys to internalize this message as it is for girls.

    Over 30 years ago when I was an Electrical Engineering student there were so few of us and the attitude was still very much that we were invading a man’s world. What you said here is so so spot on:

    “Girls might have their own way of doing things sometimes but they can be superheroes too!”

    Replace superhero with STEM and I could share experiences from over half my life which support this. The problem though is that so many boys don’t understand this because they’re not getting the message. They don’t understand that girls may approach a problem differently but get to the same place.

    I feel in tandem to the marketing for girls there needs be a concurrent marketing effort to bring in the boys because they need to learn these same lessons. They need to be taught that wearing pink doesn’t make a girl “weak” or “dumb”. They need to learn that a girl can be as powerful or even more so than they are. They need to be able sit in a classroom with a girl who gets the higher math test score and not feel their masculinity has been compromised.

    Unless boys internalize the same messages we are teaching the girls, I don’t think we’re addressing the full scope of the problem and our girls will continue to fight the same battles the generations before them did.

  2. I have a 7 year old girl – when I told her about this new series her eyes lit up the same way they lit up the first time she saw the Lego Friends sets. I’m tired of people thinking that Legos and comics aimed at girls are a sign of some kind of gender defeat. Like it’s some kind of failure to buy these things and I should force her to buy Star Wars or Spiderman Legos to prove a point.

    Kids like what they like, which is why having a large variety of books, toys, etc. available is a great idea.

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