DC have apologised about two recently released T-shirts which have caused controversy for their overtones of sexism.
The items - officially licensed DC merchandise, thus approved by the company - have been widely criticised on blogs and social media for being demeaning to women.
The first of these is a men’s T-shirt showing Superman and Wonder Woman kissing, with the words, “Score! Superman does it again!”, whilst the second - intended for young girls - bears the slogan ‘Training to be Batman’s wife.’
On the Superman/Wonder Woman T-shirt, fan culture site The Mary Sue objected to the suggestion that “mackin’ on Amazon warriors is one of America’s national past times and we are required to assign the practice a points system just like we do in baseball,”-Cusack: Hollywood Brutal To Women
However, The Mary Sue also point out that the image used is a reworking of a ‘Justice League’ cover - and in the original artwork, Wonder Woman is holding onto her lasso, in which Superman is ensnared.
We cannot fail to note that, by removing the lasso, the reworked T-shirt image clearly places Wonder Woman in a more submissive position.
Perhaps the cause of greater outrage, however, was the child-oriented ‘Training to be Batman’s wife.’
Not only do The Mary Sue feel this is a bad message to send to children - the implication that a women needs a man to define herself - they also speculate, not unreasonably, that “being married to the caped crusader sounds like the worst idea ever... You would probably have a much deeper emotional connection to the man if you were actually training to become his sidekick instead.”
Instead of these, The Mary Sue suggest DC produce “T-shirts for little girls that depict Supergirl or Batgirl being a badass, or maybe a Justice League shirt for boys that doesn’t ignore the fact that Wonder Woman is a member.”
Nor were The Mary Sue the only ones to critical of the T-shirts. Comic Book Resources also blasted them, decrying “The former (‘Superman Scores’) positions the most prominent female superhero as a prize to be won, stripping away the character’s 75 years of nuance and feminist themes.
"The latter (‘Training To Be Batman’s Wife’) would be perfectly acceptable if it had only stopped before that final word; the assumption that the goal of any woman’s training would be to become someone’s wife is antiquated at best."
DC have issued the following official response: “DC Comics is home to many of the greatest male and female Super Heroes in the world. All our fans are incredibly important to us, and we understand that the messages on certain t-shirts are offensive. We agree.
"Our company is committed to empowering boys and girls, men and women, through our characters and stories. Accordingly, we are taking a look at our licensing and product design process to ensure that all our consumer products reflect our core values and philosophy."
No doubt some will complain that this criticism is unwarranted and these things shouldn’t be taken so seriously.
Even so, these shirts do reflect an imbalance in comic book culture which is of course felt in the movies too, given the absence of any female-centred superhero films in recent years.
Plenty of fans remain unhappy that DC have chosen to introduce Wonder Woman as a supporting character in ‘Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice,’ the character not even warranting mention in the title.
Marvel has faced some criticism in this area too, regarding both the movies and the merchandise: Gamora and Black Widow are notable by their absence on many official ‘Avengers’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ T-shirts, and other such items.
The kneejerk response that comic books and superheroes are ‘just for boys’ really doesn’t hold up anymore (if it ever did). According to market research cited in February 2014 by Comics Beat, today’s comic readership is 46.67% female.
As for the movies, statistics published by the MPAA in March showed that 52% of American cinemagoers in 2013 were women. Nor is the UK too far behind there, as the BFI record the British cinema audience as 47% female.
With superhero movies being among the most popular films out there (‘Iron Man 3’ was the biggest hit that year), clearly it isn’t just the men going.
Still, not everyone sees the offending DC T-shirts as sexist. The Stir counter-argues that the outrage over the ‘Batman’s Wife’ T-shirt is an over-reaction.
The Stir concede, “girls should want to be awesome themselves, not just find their identity in a man,” but “fail to see how this shirt advocates for that. It doesn’t say, “I’m training to be some fictional superhero’s doormat,” after all. One has to wonder if the moms complaining about the slogan equate wifery with that.
"…why can’t it mean training to be a female so fierce that she’s the only one who can capture Batman’s heart and keep it?”
Still, this oppositional view does conclude that all this might be settled by “a companion for the boys’ department that reads, “I’m training to be Wonder Woman’s husband.”“
I’m sure we can all agree it’s hard to envisage such an item on the aisles of a boy’s clothing section - and we have to ask why that is, if we’re happy to see a similar message sent to young girls.
Picture Credit: DC, Marvel