I’m not entirely sure who is making the decisions when it comes to licensing at DC Entertainment, but recently two somewhat controversial shirts have appeared at retail outlets, and it’s safe to say most people aren’t very happy with them. The first shirt was revealed on the DC Women Kicking Ass page, which features an image of Superman and his now-girlfriend Wonder Woman locked in a mid-air kiss from the cover of Justice League #12, with art by Jim Lee.
It’s already an older image, so why all the hubbub now? Well, you can thank a couple of modifications made to the original image just for this t- shirt that take the whole thing to a new, sexist level. Now there’s a caption above the image that says “SCORE!” and another that says “Superman Does It Again!” reducing his relationship with Wonder Woman to a hook up at a frat party. All that’s missing is Superman sporting a propped collar, a backwards baseball cap, and Batman appearing somewhere to the side giving Clark a high five on a job well done.
Maybe the most offensive thing about the shirt isn’t the captions (though they’re bad), it’s the changes made to the original art. In the original Jim Lee cover image, Wonder Woman has Superman tied up in her lasso, the suggestion being that it was she who snagged him, not the other way around. Maybe the shirt manufacturers thought that men wouldn’t wear a shirt that suggested that a woman was the sexually dominant one, and had the lasso removed. But at the end of the day, DC and/or Warner Brothers had to approve it. The whole thing is pretty gross, and the most shocking thing is that DC thought that they could put this out there and that no one would care or notice.
The second shirt, revealed via a blog called PJ Says, is one that was discovered while shopping at WalMart in the juniors section. All in hot pink writing, it features the bat symbol and the words “Training to be Batman’s Wife.” (The word “wife” is in cursive, because reasons.) Why not “Training to Be Batgirl,” or Batwoman? Or even training to be Batman’s partner?? (Which has a double meaning, if you happen to be one of the many women who find Bruce Wayne attractive.) Nope, this shirt instead is telling young women and girls that you shouldn’t fantasize about being a hero yourself, just the hero’s wife.
The author of the original blog post sums it up pretty well: “F–k being Batman’s wife. I want to be Batman. I want to wear a skintight bat suit the color of dark justice. I want a utility belt. I want to drive an impossibly fast car or a tricked out motorcycle. I want to save people. I want to be the biggest badass in Gotham. I want to be talking to someone at a boring party at the mayor’s house, see the bat signal over someone’s shoulder, and say ‘Excuse me. Someone’s calling me.'”
DC has officially responded to the criticism, giving an official response to Comic Book Resources, saying “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.” While it’s nice to see DC admit that these products are offensive, the real question remains: will they really change what products they approve moving forward, or is this all just PR?
Superheroes and superhero images are everywhere, thanks to the huge presence they have in popular culture these days. But outside of movies, it’s clothing and other licensed product that really convey what these characters are supposed to represent to the mainstream, and in particular, young people. (I wish it were comics, but its not.) Walk into any Target for example, and you’ll see tons of items with the Justice League characters on them (they recently signed a licensing deal for Justice League products with DC). But if those clothes/toys/school supplies are aimed at young boys, then the image of Wonder Woman is almost always removed from the team line-up, even if she is more famous as a name brand than either Green Lantern or the Flash.
By doing this, you are instilling the idea in young boys’ minds that female heroes are not to be admired or looked up to, much less have their images displayed on their clothing. And this isn’t a DC issue alone; Marvel got tons of heat for not featuring the character of Gamora on many licensed Guardians of the Galaxy items, and last year had a t-shirt for girls that said “I Need A Hero,” while shirts for boys (albeit young boys) had phrases like “Be A Hero.” Neither DC nor Marvel create the sexism in our culture, it’s already there, and in fact, in the comics themselves female characters are often portrayed as just as (or more) powerful and capable as the men. But these companies need to be sure that is the image they project when being licensed out, otherwise they’re simply not doing their job, and all those strong female characters in the comics and even in the movies will be for nothing.