Sony recently confirmed that they’re going ahead with a female-led superhero movie, the first since Elektra flopped back in 2005. It will hit the big screen in 2017, fully 12 years after the last one. When asked about Marvel’s plans, studio president Kevin Feige simply couldn’t say when, if ever, Marvel will respond by producing its own superhero film with a woman in the leading role.
Obviously this is bad news for our daughters, who would surely gain from seeing a woman save the world for a change, but I want to make the often-overlooked point that this is also bad news for our sons.
My son is just getting to the age where he’s starting to sort things into categories in his mind: these things are blue, these are animals, these are for eating, these make loud sounds. I am hyper aware of the messages he’s being sent about girls and boys. In his Sesame Street book, the girls go to dance class and the boys rollerblade. His singing pink teapot has a woman’s voice; his blue motorcycle, a man’s. I have to keep myself from defaulting to “he” when referring to his stuffed puppy with the brown stripes.
For now he’s fairly insulated from popular culture, but that time is nearing its end. Soon he’ll be interested in TV shows and action figures. He’ll want t-shirts and lunchboxes with licensed characters screen-printed onto them. He’ll want to watch the same movies over and over and over again.
And what will those movies teach him? That the job of a man is to be physically strong, fight aggressively, save the world? Will he notice that when there are women in these movies, it’s usually their job to look pretty, get into trouble and then reward the hero with a passionate kiss? I certainly don’t believe these things, and I don’t want him to either.
I’m afraid he’ll bring these false expectations with him into the real world, where so many of the heroes I know are women. I sometimes worry that he won’t look to them for help or advice. He might not know that heroes don’t always look the way they do in the movies. I don’t want him to push the girls and women in his life aside and miss out on their brilliance, their gifts, their friendship.
Of course, I’m going to try to be a superhero for my son, to show him that women can be brave, strong and clever. I’ll also try to make sure he sees girls playing basketball and boys baking cookies. But it would help if I could take him to the movies, where the characters on the screen are ten feet tall, and watch him watch her, a female superhero, as she rescues our planet from certain doom.
I want him to know that women, too, can be heroes. They can be amazing. They can be honest and powerful and good. They can save themselves. And, someday, they might be saving him, too.
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