My sister would pull her hair out on Christmas day when my son got He-Man (or that year’s trending male action figure) and her daughters got She Ra (female action figure) and all three fought over who would play with He Man, leaving She Ra ignored under the tree.

I understood perfectly. Beth advanced through the ranks of a male dominated government agency, with more hands on her knees or brushing her body [1] than the rabbits that overran Australia. I worked with a well known social justice organization and watched the men, when the female organizers ask how they could help, say, “Get coffee.” Or tell the lesbians who worked with us, “one night with a man and you’ll think differently.” During staff meetings.

I listened to feminists and radicals argue about female superheroes (and their costumes) through the eighties, nineties, and all of this century.

Image for post
Image for post
Images by Corey Doctorow and Speckled Owl

Here’s my take after pondering for forty years:

Superpowered women make great role models so long as the stories show the diminishment of their power when they remove their costumes. “Jesus, Diana, you didn’t bring coffee? Sure you’re our boss. But that’s a formality. We still make the decisions around here.” What can those stories teach young women about empowerment without a costume?

If a woman wants to wear a sexy superhero costume because she believes it makes her look attractive, shut the fuck up. It’s her choice. We want to give women the choice over health care and abortion, but not to wear tights?

If a man comes home with a superhero costume and tells her to wear it, and she doesn’t want to, it’s still her choice. If it pisses him off, it’s time for counseling or to go their separate ways.

[1] I’m sure they were just mentoring gestures. That’s what they told Beth.

Written by

Living metaphor. Follow me @stephens_pt.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store