The “Slut” in Superhero

imagesI have been thinking about the Black Widow “slut” naming by Chris Evans and Jeremy Renner, Captain America and Hawk-Eye respectively in the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise. I know it’s a few days past, apologies have been made, and perhaps lost in the cyber void now, but I am still thinking about it.

I have read the comments of many in the community who say we are an “offended generation”, “all superheroes are sluts”, “Black Widow is a slut, get over it”, and to you folks, I wonder if you will consider the following:

The word “slut” has to go.

It has become a staple of slang in our contemporary culture, but at great cost. Youth, especially, use the term loosely and without consideration of the victim they slap the label onto. The number of girls, virgins and sexually active alike, who have been shamed a slut is immeasurable. And it is so painful. It resonates well into adulthood, playing on confidence, choices, and self-esteem. It is the language of bullies. The power of words resonates with youth, and if they hear their cultural icons so carelessly toss these terms around then the work to diminish the verbal bullying has been set back.

Why Black Widow’s love life is on trial is of itself ridiculous. Do we ask the same about Thor and Cap when we wait for a film release? Black Widow is an equal member of the Avengers, and despite her femininity, she is not measured by the worth of her love affairs. I for one hope she doesn’t have any love affairs on screen, but if she does that’s Ok. We need to turn the conversation around so that young girls and women don’t brand themselves as accessories to men. Yes, some of us adults still do this because of what we learned in the media as children. The phenomenon is real, people.

There is a responsibility that comes with being a public figure. There is also a responsibility that comes with representing fictional figures so admired by children, youth, and adults alike. Certain actions and speech need to be reigned in when you are a professional, regardless of the profession you have chosen. For example, I am a teacher, and as such I need to be cognizant of my actions in and out of the classroom. Needless to say, my raucous binge drinking days have long since come to an end. As a representative of Marvel, and the physical representation of a beloved superhero, these men have similar responsibilities during working hours. Press junkets included.

Jeremy Renner’s apology to have insluted a “fictional character” hurts the most, I think. Every time he goes to work he lives in the fictional realm. He makes a living suspending our disbelief. It must be ok for the audience to connect to the character and their struggles and triumphs. That is why we laugh and cry with them. That is why we revisit these characters time and time again. It is almost crass to reduce them to fiction, as though that is the only place they reside. Black Widow is no less real to me, as an avid reader, than is Elizabeth Bennet or Ophelia. Nor is she any less real to the countless cosplayers who devote hours and hours of their lives bringing her to life.

Let’s just remember, as we comment and go through life blissfully avoiding the impact of words on the world, that they do in fact hurt, they do have a lasting effect, and they are a tremendous disappointment when spoken by heroes. Super or not. We are not an “offended generation”, we are just the first with the world at our fingertips and the ability to reach the far corners of the earth. We women are also a little less repressed than before, so I think each of us should take the opportunity to sound our voices to the masses for the few who will listen and respond in kind.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Comic Women Wednesday

On my way to book club tonight I stopped by my favourite comic book store to peruse the single issues shelves. I thought I might check out the latest Spider-Gwen, ask about the release date of the new Fiona Staples’ Archie comic, maybe take a peek at the new Saga cover.

So I picked up Spider-Gwen, the most recent Thor, and to my surprise, I even bought the Jem and the Holograms #1. Then I got in the car, went to book club and largely forgot about my new issues.

And then I got home.

When I took the comics out of the bag and laid them all before me something clicked. it occurred to me that I bought three comics where the protagonists were all women. The titles were the names of women (yes, even Thor!), and the conflicts within the stories were real social and personal conflicts that had NOTHING to do with men. No love story, no damsel in distress, no all encompassing quest towards a male counterpart. Just three women dealing with the struggles of finding success, happiness, and a place in this world. Same as many of us do every day.

I love reading comics. Heck, I love reading anything, so to read from a male protagonist’s perspective has never irked me. I have always been ok with it. I have even been ok with the stories where the girl is the love interest and in need of saving. But when characters like Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Wonder Woman, Kamala Khan (the new Ms. Marvel), Sue Storm, and Jessica Jones show their female readership that they can hold a story on their own, you get used to women being in the spotlight.   A limited spotlight, granted, but there nonetheless. Sure, with the exception of Jones and Khan, they don’t typically look like the rest of us women, and therefore some find it hard to connect with the characters, but at least their stories are being told. But wait! I opened Jem and the Holograms, and to my pleasant surprise, Jerrica, Aja and Shana look normal (makeup aside). Like, short and not-fit, borderline chubby normal. Kinda like me. Holograms_band_bios

So a female protagonist maybe isn’t such a big deal, but that I bought THREE titles, and the only three titles at that, in one outing is. I always go for Batman, Cap, Wolverine, Hawkeye, or Thor (Odinson), without thinking about the social ramifications of constantly choosing male heroes. Maybe that is wrong, maybe not, but for me to unintentionally choose three female centred titles suggests that I am not buying strictly because the characters are female, I am buying because female characters are getting good stories, looking more like the rest of us, and holding a mirror up to the nature of true womanhood. These stories are worthy of anyone’s attention, gender notwithstanding.

Parents and Teachers: Superhero Responsibly

This post is an extension of a radio interview that I participated in addressing the presence of superheroes in the classroom.

superheroThe board and faculty of a private school in my hometown has, with the support of many parents, endeavoured to ban superheroes from its halls. As both a teacher and mother I cannot condone these choices. It goes without saying that as a comic book enthusiast I am deeply disappointed. To the parents and teachers willing to censure superheroes I have this to say: please, superhero responsibly.

With the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) And recent DC films, superheroes are at a cultural peak. Those who do not understand the broad scope of superhero literature, its many facets and depth, choose to select this medium as a scapegoat for undesirable behaviour and disinterest in reading. Superheroes are not the problem; disrespect for the power of comics is the problem.  Arguments against superheroes in the classroom and hallways of schools range from being too violent, addressing only very basic story lines, and stamped with the label “bad” literature. There are many adults in the education system who still devalue the worth of the graphic novel as a medium for teaching literature. It is not only a question of misunderstanding superheroes, but of graphic storytelling and art as a whole. A paradigm shift needs to occur to eradicate this archaic perception.

I do not, under any circumstances, want my six year old son watching violent television, film, or reading violent books. So he doesn’t, but he watches and knows all about superheroes. As the responsible adult in our relationship, I monitor what he reads and watches to ensure its age appropriateness. The popular films from the MCU, along with the Christopher Nolan Batman films and DC’s burgeoning Justice League films are not for children. Nor are the majority of graphic novels and weekly and monthly single issues at your local comic book store. Superhero comics are largely targeted towards young adults and adult audiences. The characters are targeted to children. Books, comics and films for children do not touch on the same themes as the films you watch or hear about in popular culture. The Superhero Squad, for example, treat themes of friendship, teamwork and personal growth. Doctor Doom is always bested, sometimes with Iron Man’s blasters, but more than the fighting are the plot driven discussions about why the problem at hand exists. Often the show ends with a moral. My son can watch this show. He is not violent as a result. He uses his words, not his actions when faced with a disgruntled friend. He wants to be as good a friend as Wolverine and as strong a leader as Iron Man and Captain America are. It is ok that he doesn’t know exactly what Wolverine is best at, but when he does find out later on he will already know that Wolverine is a character that can be counted on- a leader who makes tough choices. Wolverine will become more believable as my son’s world becomes more real. My son lives in a violent world. He doesn’t need comics to teach him that. If anything, they can help him escape it.

Superheroes are only written into simple story lines in the minds of the uneducated people who don’t read comics. I would argue they are full of substance, figurative language, advanced vocabulary and rich plot detail. I have a degree in English Literature, a degree in education, and soon I will have a degree in library sciences. I know good literature when I see it, or read it; and I read A LOT.

As a teacher I would often use superhero story lines in my English and senior history classes. For example, Superman: Red Son is the story of Superman’s crash landing in Russia. In my History 12 Global Studies class, we consider the outcome of the Cold War if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union. The purpose is to encourage students to think outside of the box. To buoy their curiosity as they consider what they take for granted as normal and look at it from another perspective. Our role as teachers is not to indoctrinate our beliefs and ideas, it is to inspire youth to acknowledge their own. If I use Superman as a vehicle to get them to think of the world from a soviet lens, then I have granted them permission to reject, momentarily, what they know for what could have been. Similarly, in an effort to make Hercules more interesting to a disinterested World History 10 student, I suggest All Star Superman, where our protagonist takes on Herculean trials as the student realizes his hero is a flawed being; god-like, but not a god.

Superheroes are flawed. Stripped bare of their powers and technology they are flawed men and women who do not conform and fit into conventional society. The X-men are spokesmodels for the marginalized. Batman is constantly seeking an outlet for dealing with the death of his parents. Captain America struggles in vain to ensure morality, ethics and values in a world saturated in corruption. Readers, every single one of us, are flawed beings. Each of us longing to belong. Why not let our young readers engage with the stories of their cultural icons and heroes who reflect the very struggles they endure?

The role of the parent, the teacher, and the educational system is to provide mentorship for our students. To enlighten a future society to appreciate and concede to the perspectives of others. Teaching them that the literature and the characters they admire and love are not appropriate, unacceptable, or rubbish is teaching them to censure what they do not understand. Censorship is fundamentally backwards in a society where we value free thinking and education.

I will continue to teach with superheroes. When my students walk into my classroom they will be greeted with a poster of Spiderman and a collection of comic figurines lining my desk. I will discuss the movies they watch, the comics they read, and in turn students will continue to ask to be in my homeroom; the space they feel safe to express who they are and where they see their interests proudly positioned on the walls around them. My son will be encouraged to learn more about the superheroes he loves, he will be praised for the comics he himself creates, and when the time comes, with his mom and dad as excited as he is, he will watch superheroes on the big screen.

Banning superheroes is an act akin to the malevolence of super villains.

Don’t be a villain. Superhero responsibly.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke   @ldchiasson17


My Son Likes Frozen and I Will Not “Let it Go”

olafhappyMy son, Thatcher, is six. He likes to get dirty, play superheroes, make fart jokes, and karate chop anyone willing to stand in as his own personal punching bag. He is a renaissance man; all at once an artist, an athlete, and burgeoning intellect. But my son lives by a code that makes me shudder: girls and princesses are gross!

When he was younger and started the ugh, girls! phase we would sit down and watch Barbie movies, read My Little Pony comics and discuss the ways in which boys and girls really weren’t that different from each other, and he liked these “girl” things just fine. In fact, as he became aware of individual interests and passion he saw very little distinction between the sexes. His mother is a superhero fanatic, sporting X-men t-shirts and debating the prowess of Wolverine vs. Sabertooth over the dinner table. His aunt is an avid hockey player who taught him skating basics when he began his foray into sports. His grandfather is the cook in the family. The roles that should be perceived as gender specific were always muddy. Not anymore.Now that he is in grade one, I have very little influence over how he perceives the gender divide in our society. Instead, his six year old comrades know best, and they don’t give girls enough credit.

So for my birthday, I asked my sister to buy me Frozen, and as a birthday request I asked my son to watch it with me. He loved it. Sure, Olaf the snowman and Sven the reindeer certainly helped, but more than the comic relief he took away a lesson that flies in the face of princess movies of the past: the princesses kicked butt and did not need princes to be strong.

This film has the potential to shed light on the power of femininity and the value of womanhood for boys who see girls as weaker and less interesting people. Elsa’s magic is as equally captivating as Dr. Strange’s magic, Anna’s ability to defend herself and save the day is as heroic as Spiderman. Most importantly, family loyalty and love supersedes romance and this is what he takes away from this film. When Anna pleads with Elsa to build a snowman, Thatcher looks up at his father and says, “I would be so sad if Cameron (his older step-brother) didn’t play with me anymore and wouldn’t tell me why”. This moment is the catalyst whereby he is no longer watching a “princess” movie, rather he is watching a captivating story unfold, and hey, there just happens to be princesses in it.

Stories teach us empathy. Whether we read them or watch them unfold on a screen, stories move us, and if they are good they encourage us to examine our lives and create parallels between reality and fantasy. That Thatcher could transport himself into a world where he might feel as equally heartbroken as Anna says he is engaging and contemplating her heartache. We live in a world that so often encourages our boys not to feel. Rather, we command them to act, to take, to be strong and loud. In our home we strive for reflection, introspection, and encourage emotion. We try very hard to eliminate any speech that would diminish the value of girls and women, “that’s so girly”, “you’re acting like a little girl,” and we embrace being ourselves. We embrace and consider sadness as much as we celebrate delight.SVEN2

Thatcher has a little sister. I hope that she will love superheroes like her mom, but whatever her choices, she will be supported. That is why it is so vital that her brother learn to respect the value of femininity. He will not see her as weak, he already celebrates her small daily accomplishments, but he will learn that she is just as capable as anyone else to succeed. He knows that she is worthy of time and energy. That her voice is meant to be heard, and that she can be as strong as he can. He will take this inherent respect for his sister and hopefully someday translate it to the girls who will flow in and out of his life. Each with a story to tell and a lesson in life to share.

In the meantime, I will endeavour to encourage a respect of girls and women in our home with the television we watch, the stories we read, and the way we interact with one another. We will continue to watch My Little Pony before school, and contemplate the changing tides of the Marvel Universe. We will sing the theme song from Pokemon as loudly as we sing Let it Go. He will dance and draw as proudly as he skates or punts a ball. He will learn that being a boy doesn’t confine him and limit him. Just as being a girl will not limit or confine his sister. As he grows in sensitivity and learns not to shy from emotion the doors to communication will open ever wider and consideration and understanding will shine through.

As for Frozen, we will laugh at Olaf and Sven, but we will mourn Anna and Elsa’s lost childhood together, too. And if a princess movie helps my son to laugh and love, then that is something to hold on to. I will not let it go.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke    @ldchiasson17


Fears for a Female Superhero

Before Captain Marvel was slated to join her fellow avengers in the MCU I had secret hopes that she would stay on the pages of her comics and not make the jump to the big screen. Why? Because Carol Danvers is my favourite female superhero, obviously.-b47ba705-84d3-4e68-9a40-58c4b37b6365

That seems like an odd thing to say. Before his solo film debut, I was eager to see Wolverine get his own arc. I couldn’t wait for Cap to lead his Howling Commandos on the silver screen, and well, there was just not enough patience in the world while I waited for Thor to wield his mighty hammer. But Ms. Marvel, I had my reservations. And here is why, I was worried Carol would be less super and more sexy.

It’s not easy being a female comic fan. On the one hand, I feel like I have to qualify my interests for others in the geek community. I have heard some iteration of “Whoa, are you sure you’re a girl?” more than I can count, and all because I can carry a conversation about superheroes with a predominantly male group of friends. Even at my favourite comic book store, (which I love and consider to be one of my favourite places in the world) I did not feel as welcomed, as I know my seven year old son felt, until I was able to assert my geekery to one of the male staff by throwing around artists and writers names, plot details, and, ironically, little known facts about Jem and the Holograms. On the other hand, I feel like I have to qualify my feminist ideals to myself every time I read a comic.

In the comfort of my own reading nook, I don’t care what Emma Frost wears, how Spider-Woman poses, or how ridiculously high Ms. Marvel’s boots are. I see past it, just as I look past Namor and the suspenders he wears over his bare chest, or T’Challa and the way his panther suit is practically painted over his body. Neither male nor female character are safe from sexual innuendos, and most all are presented with a degree of sex appeal. Maybe Emma Frost and Spider-Woman don’t ring true to me the way Danvers does, and in that sense I am not bothered by their attire. But I do identify with Danvers, and knowing that she was to be taken from the pages of a book and portrayed by an actual living person made me uncomfortable. Let’s face it, when a male actor buffs up and starts saving the world, he is usually well covered from head to toe, and I have yet to see one wear ridiculous footwear. How can a woman prove Carol Danvers has the same world saving tenacity in four inch heels and a body suit permanently on the verge of giving her a wedgie? How does a studio give her character credibility without overtly sexualizing her?

The answer: release a Captain Marvel movie instead. 145a5714d278c1e0b35275e6a0092b2e

Captain Marvel is the hero Ms. Marvel subconsciously longs to be (as seen in House of M), and subsequently, the mantel she inherits. With the new title remains her strength, tenacity, leadership qualities, and a kick-ass jumpsuit. Small thing to get so excited about, but now Carol Danvers looks like the soldier we know and admire. Seeing Carol Danvers grace the pages of her own series looking like the woman my younger self would have liked to be affirms that my feminist ideals are, in fact, intact. I want to see a strong woman save the earth, but more importantly I want to see a strong woman who looks (more or less) like a real woman save the earth. I want her intellect and capacity for emotion not to be clouded by skimpy suites, unattainable flowing hair, and boots that would make it awfully hard to round-house kick.

Marvel’s choice to release Captain Marvel has eased my mind and demonstrated a respect for their female fans. So far the MCU has done well promoting both strength and femininity in their female characters: Scarlett Johannson’s Black Widow is significantly less sexualized than her comic counterpart; Gwenyth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts radiates strength beyond measure, both physical and emotional; and Agent Carter and Lady Siff have proven that women have a place in the chaos and forefront of the battleground, and that even women can devastate in times of war.

In the books, Kamala Khan, the new Ms. Marvel, is exactly the kind of superhero I want my daughter to know, to imagine and pretend to be. Same goes for Gwen Stacy in her run in the new Spider-Verse (the thought that a girl could be bitten by a radio active spider is not just a figment of little girl’s imagination anymore!). Browsing the covers of comics women are everywhere, from the characters on the title page to the artists and writers bringing them to life.

The spotlight on women in comics is starting to brighten. They have been standing on the stage for sometime, but waiting for their moment to shine. Now it’s happening. It’s time to lift the curtain and watch women stand tall as comic giants, not just on the shoulders of others.

It’s time for Carol Danvers to shine on the big screen, too.

The world is ready, so am I.

By Leigha Chiasson   @ldchiasson17