Feminists Shouldn’t Give ‘SheZow’ A Pass

SheZowA kids’ cartoon that premieres Saturday has conservatives in a tizzy. It features 12-year-old, skateboarding every-boy Guy Hammond who fights villains as SheZow, a female superhero. According to conservative commentators, that sort of gender-bending has no place on children’s television.

SheZow” first aired in Australia. It comes to America by way of the Hub, a struggling television network owned by Discovery and Hasbro. The Hub’s programming targets school-age children, and its big shows to date have been in the My Little Pony and Transformers franchises.

I’ll spare you the whole SheZow superhero back-story. Suffice to say, Guy finds power ring, puts it on, says the magic words “You go girl!” and becomes a girl with superpowers. (Warning: Be careful searching for SheZow online. Fan art can be a scary, terrible, inappropriate thing.)

Margaret Loesch, chief executive of the Hub, explained the decision to pick up the show to the Los Angeles Times. “When I first heard about the show, my reaction was ‘Are you out of your minds?'” She said. “Then I looked at it and I thought, ‘This is just funny.’ ”

I watched a couple of episodes, and it is funny at times. Like many of the best children’s shows, enough subtle humor occurs beneath the in-your-face stuff to amuse adults. “SheZow” has geek references galore and a lot of potential.

As the series progresses, no doubt Guy will learn important lessons about identity and gender, and that’s the last thing many social conservatives want. Over at The Washington Times, the comments section of a story about “SheZow” lit up with tired tirades about how this sort of thing destroys families and traditional gender roles. The outcry has been so great that Al Jazeera English has even picked up on the story.

Progressive defenders jumped into the fray, and smart commentaries have explained that this is neither new nor dangerous. Gender-bending has been a literary trope for millennia. Even Huck Finn put on a dress.

Still, I have to wonder whether defenders have actually seen the show. SheZow is hardly a model of modern feminine power. If it were not for reflexive opposition to conservative attacks, they might not jump so quickly on the SheZow wagon.

She wears a purple skirt and cape with pink, leopard print top and tights, and elbow-length gloves. A lock of pink hair falls over one shoulder. Her thigh-high boots are white, high-heeled, Go-Go dancer style. Her arsenal includes a boomerang brush and lipstick laser sword. Her weakness, her Kryptonite if you will, is messed up hair.

Could SheZow be more superficially girly-girl?

Superhero comics and cartoons rarely have treated women well, but times are changing. Activists have worked hard to bring attention to how sexualized female superheroes are, especially compared to men. Under the umbrella of The Hawkeye Initiative, for example, fans depict male superheroes in the ridiculous poses women endure in comics.

They have had some success. Wonder Woman received a new costume during a 2010 reboot. Gone were the short-shorts and impossibly supportive top in favor of pants, tank top and leather jacket. More recently, when Disney named Merida (from “Brave”) their newest official princess and tried to make her more girly, fan outcry was so great that the company backed off.

This trend is a good thing for comics and cartoons. There will always be pubescent boys who want to see a lot of cleavage, but graphic media have matured in recent years. Adults read and watch, and many of them want characters, not stereotypes.

SheZow has a chance to break some stereotypes of its own making. It could start by putting the hero in some sensible, butt-kicking boots and finding a better weakness than messy hair.

Christian Trejbal is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists and chair of the Open Government Committee. Overcoming graduate degrees in philosophy, he worked as an editorial writer at The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times for more than a decade. In 2013, he and his wife moved to Portland, Ore., where he writes freelance, pursues a couple of book projects and provides public policy analysis. Or, as his wife prefers to say, he is a stay-at-home dude. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal.

  • I hadn’t heard about this show – how intriguing. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! I don’t think it airs here in France, but I’m going to do my darndest to try to watch an episode. Really interesting.

  • Caitlin

    It’s important to keep in mind that a lot of the staff on SheZow is female, and according to the creator, they made a lot of the decisions for the SheZow getup, powers, and weaknesses, and much is meant to be parody. It’d also probably be helpful to know that each generation of SheZow basically chooses her (or his, now) own look and weapons. Previous SheZows could be a bit more sensibly dressed, or more time-appropriate (1920s SheZow has a flapper look). They’re products of their time. Guy inherited his look from his (great?) aunt, so he’s kind of stuck in the 70s for now (subsequently, stuck in the 70s of female superhero outfits). His aunt seems to have had a passion for looking good and drew her strength from it, which I don’t think is particularly anti-feminist (I’m not very familiar with the position of this site, but the article seems to suggest ultra-feminine = anti-feminist/sexualized, which disturbs me a bit). The creator has suggested Guy will eventually get to make SheZow his own; we’ll probably get our modern, functional getup at that point.

    If there’s a stance to be found in SheZow, it’s that boys should not be afraid of femininity. The point might not come across so strong if Guy was running around as SheZow in “gender neutral” (typically masculine) clothing.

  • Michelle

    As a 66 year old transgender grandma, I know the pressures of people trying to mold me into some kind of a stereotype. If people notice my masculine traits or know my past, I cannot be accepted by many people as a woman. Many people want be to totally doll myself up to be even accepted as a woman. I am just a plain country girl and really don’t go in for the Marylin Monroe look. I am from Calamity Jane country and grew up around the Rez in small rural Dakota towns.

    Shezow does show some of the struggle transgenders women go threw to shed themselves of the male world and it shows the stereo typically dressed female presentation many of us are expected to present. We transgender women come in all shapes and sizes and a multitude of presentations, but spiritually and emotionally we are women. We just want to be accepted as such and not expected to become the Shezow woman unless that is what we want to be.

    As women none of us want to be window dressed by somebodies expectations for our gender.. Our physical presentation is our choice and none of us should be criticized for the presentation we choose. .

  • anoynamouse

    It’s a terribly written show that has no really value for my daughter. Just another silly and mindless show. The premise is terrible but I really take no offense…I’m sure those with little boys watching could be freaking out in their Reagan-era brains but I don’t care…but I do care it’s just a terrible terrible show. Bad animation, bad stories, bad puns, no real values…and pretty much offense to women too with the stereotypes of famine behavior.

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