My four year old son has started discovering Marvel superheroes. A couple days ago we were using some of his left over birthday money to pick out a few new kid’s oriented Marvel books. I picked out this one at the same time, both because I want my son to know that Superheroes are not all male and for my daughter to have female superheroes as role models. It is important that both my son and my daughter see women as potential superheroes.
I do not often post about the books I read with my kids, but I am both encouraged and a little bit angry about this book. The book itself is great. It has a 2 page introduction to 14 different ‘heroes’. Each introduction has enough to sort of introduce who the character is (some really need more introduction) and something about the value that the character holds. The values focus on selflessness, fighting for the weak and powerless, being innovative (for the greater good), working together, supporting others, etc.
All of these values are good and I want to encourage them. But the combination of stretching really far to get 14 heroes to profile (Pepper Potts, Peggy Carter and Mantis are not really super heroes) and the fact that I have never seen a book oriented toward boys that emphasizes similar values does make me a bit angry. There are a few other heroes that I think could have been chosen instead, but not that many. The under-representation of female and minority heroes that are not comic sidekicks does matter. As my daughter was asking who different people were, in almost every case, my first thoughts were about how they were related to a male in the story. She is Black Panther’s sister, she is Iron Man’s girl friend, she is Captain America’s girl friend, etc. Even when there are cases that some of these have story lines of their own, they were developed as side characters not as independent heroes.
And it isn’t that I am upset at a book like this is focused on good values that place community, responsibility, service toward others, empowering those around you, etc. at the fore, I am upset that both this is the first book I get for my daughter and that I haven’t seen an equivalent for my son. I want my daughter to have these values. But I also want them for my son. And I want my son to have fun with superhero stories, but I want that for my daughter as well.
I know that we are in a time where more effort is being put into diversifying book shelves and giving women and minorities of all sorts more representation. But the fact that we are doing this now does matter. And it also matters that even with the fairly low level of representation that is coming up, there is still backlash.