Rowan Hansen and Maggie Cole, without knowing each other, may have collaboratively started a major movement in the entertainment and comic book industry that was long overdue.
5th grader and avid comics fan, Rowan Hansen, decided that while she loved DC comics, she wanted to see a change, and so she acted on it. She addressed a letter to DC Comics, writing “I’m a girl, and I’m upset because there aren’t very many girl super heroes or movies and comics from DC.” She adds, “I would really like a Hawkgirl, or Catwoman, or the girls of the Young Justice TV Show action figures please.” She even called attention to the fact that while male superheroes wear armor, Wonder Woman wears a bathing suit.
DC Comics promptly responded to Rowan’s letter on Twitter.
Rowan’s letter, after going viral, sparked a series of photos on social media channels of little girls in superhero costumes, and landed her a spot on the Today Show. Rowan quickly became an inspiration and role model showing us all that when we’re unsatisfied with something, we have the ability to question it and initiate change.
Rowan with this drawing accurately depicting her as a superhero
As of right now DC Comic’s Wonder Woman is slotted to be released in June of 2017, and Captain Marvel (with a female lead) is set to be released in 2018. There is still some work that comic book publishers have to do to create parity, but we are certainly in the midst of a much-needed change. Rowan simply wanted to share her message that “Girls read comics, and they care”, and this message was very well received, not only by DC Comics but the greater community as well.
We see this same fearlessness and desire for change in another little girl with a similar passion for superheroes.
All it took was one angry look from 7-year old Maggie Cole to start another viral discussion about inaccurate gender stereotypes that are plaguing mindsets from an early age. We’ve all likely seen the photo of Maggie (pictured in the beginning of this post), standing next to a sign depicting a Marvel Comic alarm clock that reads “Fun gift for boys”. This was unacceptable to Maggie.
Within two days, the photo of Maggie, shared by her mother Karen, gained over 10,000 retweets. Her mom later wrote in a blog post that Maggie had felt strongly about “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys” for some time, and she often came home from school discouraged by people telling her some toys were for boys and some for girls. Karen wrote, “children believe what they’re told, and if they’re constantly seeing signs telling them something is ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’ they may start to believe it.”
This point made by Maggie’s mother is such an important one to note. Children are the most receptive to learning at a young age, particularly before age 10. When children are regularly told at a young age that there are certain things they can and can not do, should and should not do, toys they can and can not play with because of their gender, it is more difficult to change that mindset as they become young adults and begin to assimilate into society.
Encouraging open-mindedness from a young age is our only hope at breaking down these gender barriers. Maggie’s mother writes, “I do want her to grow up believing people are equal, regardless of their sex, skin color, race or sexuality, and I want her to feel empowered to stand up for her beliefs.” The toy store that displayed the “Gift for Boys” sign responded to the Cole’s photo, promising to take it down, which they promptly did in all of their stores.
While the actions taken by these two young girls may seem relatively small, the issues that they called attention to are much larger. Any social change is going to occur in a series of small steps and movements, and in calling for a change in the world of comics Rowan and Maggie are setting the stage for further discussion and awareness-raising when it comes to gender differences.
Entertainment news source, Vulture, published an article on May 21st about A-Force, a new series from Marvel that debuted in May that features Marvel’s Mightiest Women. This is a huge step forward for the comic book company that has been historically male-centric. The interest level in female super heroes has jumped dramatically in very recent years.
“With female readership hovering at about 47% and women as the fastest-growing comics-reading demographic, Marvell is finally succeeding with a more diverse lineup of superheroes”, writes Vulturejournalist Claire Landsbaum. While female comic books characters existed since the 1930s, for many years the female characters were one-dimensional love interests often in need of rescue by the male superheroes. These characters, such as Superman’s girlfriend Lois Lane, often focused on beauty over brains. These are not the types of characters that Rowan and Maggie are calling for.
We’re beginning to see a shift though. One of Marvel’s current best-sellers is Spider-Gwen, which tells the story of Gwen Stacy who is bitten by a radioactive spider. Ms. Marvel has been a wildly successful book, and the new Thor features a woman in place of the male Thunder God, and she’s outselling him by 30%. A-Force is another new and very welcomed step forward in the world of female superheroes.
While superheroes like Black Widow, Gamora, and Spider-Woman are fighting villains (finally without the help of male superheroes), girls like Rowan and Maggie are just beginning their fight against the forces of gender stereotypes, which is why we are proud to call them “Girls to Watch”.