I’ll admit, I rolled my eyes when I got the press release. The release of a new DC Superhero Girls graphic novel aimed at girls ages 6–12, called “Date with Disaster,” felt like another microaggression in a month punctuated by the surfacing of sexual harassment and assault. But I assured myself, like all women do sometimes, we can’t fight every battle.
I decided to take the high road and simply let it go. Until today.
Today I arrived at a staff meeting to find an oversized heart-shaped box that I hoped was filled with chocolate. Unfortunately for me, it was instead a (clever) marketing ploy to get a media copy of “Date with Disaster” in my hands. Inside the box was a synopsis of the book, the book itself, some Valentines and stickers, and a box of conversation hearts. And as I flipped through the box, I changed my mind. I’m not going to let this go. I’m going to talk about this because we need to talk about the messages we send our daughters.
I assured myself, like all women do sometimes, we can’t fight every battle.
The book’s storyline is simple: While investigating an explosion at a lab, the superheroes see Batgirl’s dad out on a date. Batgirl is appropriately grossed out by this turn of events, but her superhero buddies convince her that dads get lonely too. So the girls set out to find Batgirl’s dad a date in time for Valentine’s Day.
This isn’t the first book in the DC Superhero Girls series. The rest appear to be pretty standard superhero fare, albeit with a hearty dose of school drama and navigating relationships that is noticeably absent from similar books aimed at boys.
I’ll admit I haven’t pored over the book. Maybe they find a way to make a quest for love empowering to young girls but I doubt it. One of my 10-year-old twin girls read part of the book on the car ride home, and wasn’t a fan. Superheroes, she tells me, are supposed be out saving people. In fact, I had to pressure her to read it to begin with, since her initial interest wavered as soon as she saw the title of the book.
More importantly, I asked my daughters whether they’d ever seen a superhero story like this with male superheroes. And of course they were quick to say no. My other twin daughter immediately told me that when she compares this book to the ones with boy superheroes, it makes her think that girls aren’t strong enough to save people, too. Rather, they have to go find dates.
It makes my daughter think that girls aren’t strong enough to save people, too.
And that’s why I’m taking the time to object to a rather silly book. There’s silly of the harmless variety and then there’s silly that undermines the confidence of our daughters and sends them the message that they aren’t good enough. Or that, in the midst of investigating explosions and doing legit superhero work, they still need to be managing the emotional lives of others. Even their parents.
We often talk about how boys are at a disadvantage where emotional intelligence is concerned, and this is one example of why. Relationships and love don’t feature prominently in toys and media aimed at little boys. Instead, they’re fed a steady stream of tough guy characters leaping tall buildings and shooting bad guys, and then we wonder why they’re slower to grok the nuances of interpersonal relationships.
The opposite is true of little girls. They’re reminded time and again that, no matter what else they’re doing, they need to be focusing on relationships. They need to solve crimes, maybe even save lives, while also ensuring their friendships are strong and even their dads find love. Is it any wonder that women consistently shoulder the emotional labor as adults?
So yes, this book is ridiculous. But it isn’t harmless. And even if we don’t buy these types of books, they’re still growing up in a culture that sends them the same messages.
Rather than pretending they don’t exist, we need to counteract these messages for our kids: We need to help them grow into the strong, emotionally intelligent people they’re meant to be, and they won’t do that unless we cut through as much of the bullshit for them as we can.