Why I’m Taking My Sons to See Wonder Woman
After a barrage of male-dominated superhero movies, we finally see the release of Wonder Woman. And you know who I’m taking to see it? My BOYS.
You see, they’ve been dressing up as superheroes from the moment they could point. My thoughtful firstborn prefers Hulk, my feisty middle is Wolverine and my baby gets whatever’s left over (usually Superman). We’ve watched Batman, Thor, Iron Man and countless others dominate the big screen. But they’ve never seen a woman save the universe before.
I can’t help but wonder what they’ll think about Wonder Woman. Will they dismiss the movie as just for girls? Will they be embarrassed as I drag them through the theater? My hope, of course, is that it doesn’t phase them at all (actually, my DREAM is that they’ll say, look, just like mommy!) That they’ll see past her gender and admire her strength and courage just as they admire Batman’s.
But they might not.
Because a GIRL superhero is different.
Are boys more drawn to superheroes because they tend to be powerful male characters? Or is it because superheroes and related products are marketed as “toys for boys?” I don’t know many girls who dress up as superheroes to go to the supermarket. Nor who build Hot Wheels tracks across the dining room table. And I don’t know many boys who play with Barbies, or My Little Ponies.
The choices my boys make are bolstered by toy marketers and retailers. Every time we go to Toys“R”Us (and that’s more than I’d like to admit) my boys say, “this side has the boy toys.” I’ve suggested that they love cooking and that there are some pretty cool kitchen toys over in aisle 10, but they see the pink and know it’s not for them. But guess what boys, as Dads you’ll be doing 42% of the cooking! And there won’t be anything weird about that. Why not start now?
Marketers are reinforcing gender stereotypes with kids while we’re working so hard to remove them in adults. Yes, I applauded Barbie for becoming an astronaut and a computer engineer. But why isn’t there a boy playing with her in that commercial? And why isn’t there a girl in that ad for a remote control car?
A UK organization called Let Toys Be Toys recently reviewed over 30 hours of programming to see how boys and girls were represented in toy commercials. The results won’t shock anyone who’s spent hours in front of Paw Patrol. Most ads showed boys and girls playing separately in very stereotypical ways. Boys were usually active and aggressive. Storylines were about control and power and conflict. Not one ad for a doll featured a boy. Girls were generally passively playing while sitting. Unless they were dancing (BTW, I kinda love that). The language focused on beauty and fantasy and relationships. And guess what. Of 25 ads for toy vehicles, only one included a girl.
So is this REALLY a big deal? Well, yeah, it kind of is. Research has shown that by 10 years old, children already have a clear idea about jobs that are suitable for boys and girls; ideas that are hard to change later in life. Even worse, young women have more stereotyped views about work that’s suitable for men and women than older women do. Yikes. In our fight for gender equality as adults, are we overlooking the place we should be starting? Like in the freaking TOY AISLE?
I plan to do a little social experiment when we get to the theater tonight. I’m going to count the number of girls in the audience and the number of boys. Anyone wanna wager what the breakout will be? I sure hope I don’t have to get crazy and shout “where are YOUR SONS?”
Honestly, I don’t think it’s going to come to that. But marketers, please take a moment to consider what we are communicating to children when we label products for BOYS or GIRLS. Or show stereotypical scenarios when depicting family life. Consider the fact that only 2.6% of pilots are female and that only 3% of kindergarten teachers are male. Take a risk and mix it up! My four-year-old would die of happiness if he saw a boy playing with a My Little Pony in a commercial (yes, we own one).
For my part, I’ll start with taking my sons to see a WOMAN kick some serious ass on the big screen. And then maybe we’ll hit up Toys“R”Us for a pink broom.