Written byNoelany Pelc
Halloween is around the corner, and seeing as how graduate school devours the majority of my time, I revel in the times of year where scholarly articles take a backseat to special events. I visited a Halloween store over the weekend, skimming the inventory for popular costume ideas. It was rapidly apparent that there were numerous character costumes for boys, particularly superheroes and well-known male characters from which boys could choose, while the scarcity for girls was noticeable. As I searched through the girl’s section, the majority of costumes, particularly in the teen girl section, consisted of generic “hippies,” animals, dolls, “flappers,” decade costumes, and Disney princesses. I was astonished at how few dress-up options there were for girls. According to various search engines and online articles (Syracuse.com; Yahoo.com), the most popular costume searched by women/teens this year was the infamous Miley Cyrus VMA onesie. Who can girls imagine themselves as, while they play imaginary games? Who do they aspire to be, as they imagine themselves in the future? Boys have superheroes and action stars, what have we given girls?
I thought back to the latest installment of superhero movies, particularly as the battle between DC and Marvel characters take over the latest blockbusters, and was not surprised to find that the majority of the feminine characters are noticeably absent, have morphed into hyper-sexualized versions of their original comic persona, or have strongly been rejected as movie “failures.” With new versions of Superman, the Ironman trilogy, the Spiderman trilogy, Avengers, Green Lantern, Captain America, and the recently re-vamped Batman series, very few have created strong feminine characters that are recognizable out-of-context from a male counterpart. Aside from The Black Widow in Avengers, who clearly demonstrates agency, strength, and intelligence, the movie itself failed the Bechdel test and produced only one leading woman superhero. Superman introduced us to Lois Lane, who besides doing strong investigative work in the first part of the movie, was later shown doing little beyond helping Superman discover his identity. Spiderman gave us Mary Jane, who was mostly villain bait, Captain America gave us Peggy Carter, whose general mission was to advocate for Captain American even at the risk of damaging her own career in the military, and Green Lantern gave us Carol Ferris, who was a businesswoman with a weak spot for the fearless Hal Jordan. Batman gave us Catwoman, who sported the well-known black leather outfit, and struggled with her loyalty to Batman. Even the new Thor, which has been lauded for passing the Bechdel test within the first few minutes, has not lended itself to creating a feminine character that is well-known and recognizable as a stand-alone costume.
Overall, Elektra and Catwoman (both of whom were costumed in tight-fitting leather), were rejected at the box office and downgraded as comical heroes. Wonderwoman continues to exist in limbo, as producers tip-toe around her character and postpone her debut as a leading superlady. As kids imagine, daydream, and play, they look to relevant characters in the media to embody. Halloween stores provide us an annual mirror, reflecting what our culture glorifies, mocks, and overlooks. What messages are we sending to girls, other than the message that we do not exist or deserve to be named, to have strong adult women missing from their media? So now I can ask, give us prolific characters for girls to imagine themselves as and for which to strive, give us characters so badass, that boys will be wearing girls’ costumes-not because it’s funny, but because it’s so cool.