Over the weekend I happened to see a letter to an advice column that nearly made me spit out my Sunday brunch coffee. A 5-year-old girl was invited to a boy's superhero-themed birthday party. And then she was uninvited (unvited?) because of the party's "masculine" theme and invited to a separate party just for girls. The writer was trying to figure out how to explain this to their daughter and also wondering if they should say something to the host because "something about this feels wrong." Yeah, something here feels wrong, but I just can't put my finger on it ... hmm ... oh yes, I've got it: Wow, that's hella sexist.
The social guru responded that the parent shouldn't mention anything to the host. And that's reasonable advice -- I can see how bringing it up would just lead to conflict. But for those of us who are, let's just say, not so afraid of conflict, I give you: An Open Letter to the Parents Who Planned the Boys-Only Superhero Party.
You have the right to plan whatever kind of birthday party you want, even if it's just boys. I don't really think that's a big deal. It is inconsiderate to invite someone (especially a child) to a party and then rescind that invitation. Even if it was your 5-year-old who informed you that he didn't want girls at his party, it's his parents' role to teach him about how kindness and tolerance translates into polite behavior.
But that's not the biggest issue for me. No, what I'm really concerned about is the sad delusion you've been laboring under that superheroes are somehow exclusively "masculine." I just -- really? Did we grow up on the same planet? Here, let me show you this list.
- Wonder Woman
- Black Widow
- Power Girl
- Jean Grey
- Hillary Clinton (Haha, kidding! Sort of.)
- Black Canary
- Bat Girl
And if that list seems a little short, it's only because I don't have all afternoon to type out all these names of female superheroes. I think you get my point.
I mention this because I pity anyone who cannot see any place for women and girls in the superhero world. Know who my son's favorite superhero was when he was 3 or 4 years old? Wonder Woman. He kept a Wonder Woman action figure wrapped in his little fist during every waking hour. He was so obsessed, I would buy three or four action figures at a time lest we lose one on the playground. And I was happy to do it, because I was so grateful for the opportunity it afforded to shape his view of women.
When we recognize female superheroes, we are imagining all kinds of possibilities for girls. We are inviting girls to imagine themselves as powerful, fast, strong, magical, yes. But we're also encouraging our sons to recognize those traits in the females around them. The women and girls in my son's life are fierce -- starting with me, hopefully. It's simply short-sighted to close a boy off from seeing females that way. Your son is going to meet some fierce females in his lifetime, and it'll be his loss if he fails to appreciate or even respect that power.
But hey, there's always the sixth birthday party.
Do your sons know of any female superheroes?
Image via J D Hancock/Flickr