It all started with She-Ra. I was strolling through Target and I saw The Princess of Power on DVD. I thought my daughter might get a kick out of the ’80s cartoon I grew up on. So I grabbed the story of He-Man’s twin sister and introduced my daughter to a whole world of girls who save the day and fight the forces of evil.
So began my four-year-old daughter Brenna‘s love affair with superheroes and my education about a whole world of storylines and characters that I would soon become intimately familiar with.
We moved on to Justice League cartoons and movies, some of which seemed a little too adult for my pre-schooler. But she just wanted a show with as many girls as possible. Sure, she loved The Flash and Martian Manhunter, but she needed more Hawk Girls. Younger shows, like the Super Hero Squad, were exciting but left her a little frustrated.
My husband and I supported her newfound interest in saving the day and defending the world. I researched the characters online, so that I would be able to answer the myriad questions about this new form of justice my daughter was discovering. We created or bought superhero costumes so that our little girl could stage elaborate rescues in the living room. We bought comic books to mix in to our pre-bedtime reading routine. And of course, we sat together and watched Superman save the day or Batman outsmart ’em all.
When Brenna started school this year, she began to realize that most girls in her class weren’t particularly concerned with superheroes or bad guys. She started asking, “Am I playing with boys toys?” I tried to reassure her that there was no such thing. Toys weren’t made for boys or girls; they were made for every child to play with. I got out my gender-neutral parenting guides and I attempted to make her feel secure in her interests.
She reacted by looking even harder for girl superheroes to cling to. Any trip to the toy store included a walk down the action figure aisle, digging under Captain America and Thor, trying to find a buried Star Sapphire in the mix. My little girl convulsed with joy the day we found Cheetah.
For her birthday, she decided on a Batman theme. See, she’d been Wonder Woman for Halloween and Bat Girl was the only other girl superhero costume we could find. As we bought the napkins and party favors, the teenage boy working check-out asked, “Is it your brother’s birthday?” My pre-schooler pulled off a highly offended glare that any mean girl would be proud of. “No, they’re mine,” she informed him.
When the big day rolled around, girls from Brenna’s daycare and dance class seemed a little confused with the unfamiliar decorations. I received raised eyebrows from more than a couple parents who thought that the black, gray and blue balloons were “a little dark” for a young girl’s birthday. It was one of those moments when I questioned whether we should have suggested a fairy birthday instead. It was a moment when I wished that there were more little girl superheroes for my daughter and her friends to get involved in.
Suddenly, I heard my daughter rallying her troops to do battle with imaginary dinosaurs. One of her friends admitted, “I have bad dreams where dinosaurs are coming to get me.” The girl look terrified at the prospect of playing with dinosaurs, even if they were pretend. Then, I felt the pride swell in my chest when my daughter looked at her friend and said, “Make it a good dream. Fight the dinosaur and win! Then the dream is good.”
Male or female, superheroes have taught my daughter that she can face down evil and take care of bad guys on her own. It’s the perfect type of imaginative play for a strong little girl like mine. But it still makes me wish that superheroes weren’t only available in the “boy aisles” of the toy store. I wish we didn’t have to search for weeks to find a Super Girl tee-shirt. I wish more girls got to experience the confidence that comes with putting Lex Luther in jail and saving the city from Venom.