It all started with a sleeper. "Just one little sleeper," is, I believe, is how many referred to it on social media.
One little sleeper, proudly declaring "I Only Date Heroes." One little sleeper, to be worn by thousands of baby girls across North America. One little sleeper I spotted in my weekly Target flyer late last week. I had already seen the photos of it online, but there it was, right in front of me, in my home, in my local store just five minutes away. (The boy version, for the record, declared "Future Man of Steel.")
In all fairness, it's probably a piece I would have bought for my infant daughter five years ago, without giving it much thought and barely registering the message.
But now my girl is preparing to celebrate her fifth birthday this week. She is wickedly funny, inherently kind, full of far more energy than my morning triple Americano can compensate for and a fast runner who will one day easily coast past me on a race course (dare I dream).
She also loves superheroes. Not the glammed up girly version either, but the ones in all their original primary-colour glory. It started before she turned three. My husband would occasionally watch the classic 1967 Spiderman, and she would sit with him, mesmerized. Her love for Spiderman has been a fervent one since. He was always her favourite, until she caught sight of a photo of the Avengers a few months ago and asked who "the green guy" was.
When I interviewed her on her first day of kindergarten for the scrapbook that I'll never actually put together, one of the questions I asked was what she wanted to be when she grows up.
"The Hulk," was her swift, immediate reply.
My daughter always wants to crush the bad guys. As she grows, I hope she finds more productive ways to do it than going on anger-fuelled rampages and destroying millions of dollars in property. But the point is, at just five years old, she thinks she can be a hero. I've never told her any differently, and why would I?
Just one little sleeper sends the opposite message. You aren't the hero, but maybe you can grow up to be his arm candy.**
"It's harmless and cute," were some of the other comments I received when I posted a photo from the flyer on my personal Facebook page.
A few years ago, I would have agreed and defended my right to buy something like that. However, in the past few years, I've watched how my daughter transforms herself into her favourite superheroes (The Hulk is my favourite - a weapon of mass destruction with anger management issues. There's a stretch for a preschooler).
I would never, ever have considered calling myself a feminist until recently. Emma Watson nailed it when she asserted in her now-famous U.N. speech that "feminism has become an unpopular word." I always assumed that to be one, I had to be extreme in my views. And I'll be perfectly honest, and tell you that I'm a newbie to this. I haven't done a lot of reading or research and I can't speak eloquently on the topic. I have a lot to learn and consider.
Here's what I do know. Right now, my daughter wants to save the world, and with her drive, determination and fire, I absolutely believe she can. But this message that she will
always be on the sidelines of heroism is one that obviously starts as soon as she's born - retailers like Target have made sure of that. And it's neither cute, nor harmless.
The obstacles to her becoming the hero she dreams of will follow her through her teen years into adulthood, where others will attempt to thwart her efforts by paying her less money for the work she does, possibly passing her over for promotions, because, gasp, what if she decides she wants a baby one day? Not because she lacks tenacity or dedication, but because she happened to be born with two X-chromosomes.
I'm aware that some will dismiss this as an overblown reaction to something so insignificant. Let me tell you what this is not: a rant about girly things existing like princesses and fairies and sparkly nail polish, nor is it offense at the hero logo on a pink background on these onesies. I love pink and will probably be buried in the colour. Had the wording been any different - "Born to save the world" or even blank- this would be a non-issue.
But let me make this clear: It is not just one little sleeper. It is countless versions of these little declarations appearing on t-shirts, cups, purses and other random propaganda, coming together to form one big, persistent message. This message will help shape my daughters view of being a woman as she gets older and it tells girls exactly what society expects of them before they can even walk, or you know, hold up their own heads.
It's not simply a matter of just buying the boy version of the clothes for a girl either. I don't want to always have to cross over to the boys' section of a store to find something that tells my daughter she can be a hero too. But that's not really the point. I'm not simply upset because I want a hero logo on a pretty pink shirt (if that's all I was after, there are many places I could go to find it). It's that this message shouldn't exist, let alone be casually printed on an infant's clothing.
I want my daughter to grow up with the confidence that she can be anything or do anything that makes her happy, no matter what body parts she happened to be born with. We can, and should, expect more of our girls and we can let them know from a young age that if they want to don big green gloves and go on a rampage for justice - even in a pink tutu - they absolutely can have that dream, instead of automatically assuming they should watch the action unfold from a safe distance rather than being in the thick of it themselves.
**Note: If it happens organically and my daughter falls in love with Batman and he treats her well and as his equal, I'm okay with that. In fact, I think he'd make a great son in law and maybe occasionally, he'd let me use the Batcave to finally get the peace and quiet I've been seeking for years. I just hope being his significant other won't be her most notable identifier.
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