Parent, Teacher, Author
Super hero stories are often stories that empower and inspire. They tell of imperfect heroes, flawed but powerfully rooted in moral codes. We cheer heroes on as they fight against the dark forces of the world. Their stories lead us to want to be like them, to make the world a better place. Just like the rest of us, girls and young women want characters that can inspire them.
The power team of DC Entertainment, Warner Bros Animation, Warner Bros. Consumer Products and Mattel are launching DC Super Hero Girls. It is billed as “Super Heroic storytelling that helps build character and confidence, and empowers girls to discover their true potential.” The project focuses on famous female heroes and villains as teenagers. It will be aimed at girls aged six through twelve years. Along with the content from Warner Bros, Random House will create books, Mattel will produce fashion dolls and action figures, and the LEGO Group will develop a new line of building sets.
Super hero franchises have a well-earned bad reputation for excluding girls and women in their target audience. The merchandise for the Avengers franchise from Marvel has consistently excluded Black Widow, the only female Avenger to be featured in their films so far. Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise also leaves off Gamora, the only female guardian. Even Big Hero Six, which features two female leads, has dropped the female heroes from most merchandise. Fans have noticed that female heroes are missing, and have let their displeasure be known. So this move by DC, Warner Bros, and Mattel could give girls a consistent way to connect with hero stories.
There is a lot for parents, girls, and girl empowerment activists to get excited about in this new DC Super Hero Girls line. It sounds like a commitment to creating a positive product and content line focused on girl empowerment. What could go wrong? As the mother of three daughters, a psychology professor and girl advocate, when I heard the announcement about this brand, I was very aware that there was a lot that could go wrong here! I’ve been a big critic of Mattel, especially their Monster High line. Mattel has consistently said that they have good intentions in developing empowering products for girls, but those lines, such as Monster High, have had so many problems that it’s been impossible to support them.
My main thought when I heard about this line was that it was imperative that these characters have a wide range of interests and skills that mirror the diversity found within the real girls that they hope to empower. Sexy stereotypes are not empowering.The sexualization of childhood is a big problem, with girls at ever-younger ages being told that they need to be sexy to stand out in the crowd. Girls don’t need sexy promoted as super.
To make this line truly empowering, DC and friends needed to give the teenaged heroes and villains complex stories that build upon their strengths and challenges. They needed to stay away from focusing heavily on looks, romance, and sexiness. Clothing needed to be appropriate for super hero action, not going to a nightclub. Body types needed to move away from the thin ideal promoted by many of the Mattel lines.
What Does the Line Deliver?
I was invited to be a part of a conversation with Mattel and other girl advocates and bloggers about the line, and got the chance to see prototypes of dolls, action figures, and adventure toys as well as early animation for programming.
I was impressed with the clear effort that Mattel made to change up the body types of these dolls. While they’re still thin, these dolls and the action figures actually have muscles. The team who designed the dolls looked at photos of gymnasts and other female athletes and modeled these dolls upon those body types. When you look at these dolls, you’ll notice that the waists are larger, the busts are smaller, the thighs are fuller and the arms have muscle tone. The dolls also have many articulated joints, and are built to be played with actively. No Barbie feet that can’t stand flat here!
Clothing is a big issue for me, super heroes need to be able to run, fight, be active. High heels, short skirts and low cut tops will not cut it for my ideal supers! I was happily surprised by the overall look of the doll. You’ll notice that the clothing is not sexy. In fact, it leans toward the athletic, with fitted clothing that covers the body but is also fun and trendy. I love that the shoes are shoes that a girl could realistically run in. No being slowed down by high heeled boots with these heroes!
But what about the storyline? Will these heroes be stuck worrying about shopping and boys? Will it feature girl on girl bullying and social aggression?
From what I saw of the animated series and related stories, the story lines will focus on the complexities that we all face as we grow up and try to find our way, with a super twist. The girls will struggle with finding their own strengths and figuring out how to use them well, just as all of our kids do. I hope that I’ll see these characters remaining true to themselves as they work through conflicts and deal with villains, rather than resorting to some of the easy humor of social aggression, especially against boys. I’m very hopeful that this line will give girls good examples of how to handle conflict.
So what about those villains? Much as in Mattle’s Ever After High, the heroes and some future villains come together in the world of DC Super Hero Girls, and are even friends.
Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn have their own personalities, and see a lot of action in the series. With a line of action figures included in the plans for this line, I think Harley Quinn may become a favorite of both girls and boys with her fun personality and active ways.
The Pink Ghetto?
I have been so annoyed by the way that toy companies and retailers have pushed the pink and blue gender divide onto toys for children. That kind of marketing limits both our girls and our boys, so I was wondering what Mattel and DC would do in this case. Well, I am happy to report that from what I saw, these characters are not stuck in the pink ghetto! They wear multiple colors and the packaging is beautifully multicolored.
Overall, I was very impressed by the work that Mattel, DC, and Warner Bros. have done on this line. I honestly believe that they have listened to the critiques that have been made about their other lines, such as Monster High and Barbie, and worked to make DC Super Hero Girls something unique and empowering for girls and interesting to boys as well.
Having grown up with only Wonder Woman as a super hero that I could identify with, seeing these characters almost brought tears to my eyes. I believe that Mattel, DC, and Warner Bros can continue to earn my admiration with this line. They have the opportunity to do something really special here, creating characters that both girls and boys can love and enjoy. I hope that they continue to seize that opportunity.