Genevieve Valentine (glvalentine) wrote,
Genevieve Valentine

Two Pictures of the Disney Store

I took two pictures of the Marvel section of the Disney Store in Times Square, a year or so ago. They've been on my phone since, for reasons.

The boys' section:


In an interview with Kevin Smith, TV producer and writer Paul Dini mentioned things that DC types and network execs had told him about representation of girls:

DINI: "They're all for boys 'we do not want the girls', I mean, I've heard executives say this, you know, not [where I am] but at other places, saying like, 'We do not want girls watching this show."

DINI: "...I'll just lay it on the line: that's the thing that got us cancelled on Tower Prep, honest-to-God was, like, 'we need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys'—this is the network talking—'one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there.' And then we began writing stories that got into the two girls' back stories, and they were really interesting. And suddenly we had families and girls watching, and girls really became a big part of our audience...But, the Cartoon Network was saying, 'F***, no, we want the boys' action, it's boys' action, this goofy boy humor we've gotta get that in there. And we can't—' and I'd say, but look at the numbers, we've got parents watching, with the families, and then when you break it down—'Yeah, but the—so many—we've got too many girls. We need more boys.'"


(There isn't a realm of entertainment that doesn't need more diverse representation. However, behind-the-scenes stories out of SF culture seem to be toe-curlingly terrible an enormous percentage of the time, the sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that encourages stagnation, because keeping the status quo means dealing with fewer fanboys squealing in comments that it was harder to sympathize with a black Rue and the new X-Men book is "reverse sexism".)

Let's be honest: Kevin Smith reacting with outrage about these attitudes comes off a little rich given the choice bullshit about gender he has laid down in his time. Let's also be honest that we all know the network executives are adding an invisible "white" to every mention of boys or girls.

And let's be honest: It's a relief.

If you're someone concerned about representation, you spend so, so much time trying to explain the invisible evil of endless white and male narratives. When something has no women or characters of color in it, you're still expected to find it universally compelling; when a woman is merely a romantic object or a character of color is a stereotype, you're expected to be happy the character is even present. It's a difficult argument to even sustain for long: you have to explain that well-done and inclusive are not the same, and you have to eternally make a case for change at all, because the people who most need to reassess their perceptions are the ones least likely to. (What should we do, they ask when criticized for shortcomings in their creations, write nothing but white men? Nope; we have plenty, thanks.)

But even among people who mean well, it can be hard to explain when something is being done on purpose. Carelessness is easy to believe, and thoughtlessness makes sense; it's a bigger step to believe that things are being consciously directed to be exclusionary. If anything, they're businesspeople; to deliberately deny such huge audiences is juvenile and counterproductive, surely.

Surely, it is. But it's also deliberate. It is very clear; it's a mandate; it's a condition of sale. "We do not want girls."

If there are girls, they're a lesser audience; they need to be "one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys." This isn't new enough to be appalling. It's not vicious enough to rate in the top ten. It's just the invisible evil made visible. This has the relief of the house of mirrors falling and the monster stepping forward. You're still dealing with a monster, but now at least everyone knows it's there.

Companies do end up wanting women's money, eventually. They're well aware women are interested in geek culture: women made up more than 35% of NYCC attendees in 2013, and 40% the year before. They just don't care about engaging them outside of taking their money ("of the 274 listed guests, only 25 were female"). Marvel has no plans for a Black Widow movie; she'll be in Captain America, and the next Avengers movie, where she'll be joined by the Scarlet Witch, doubling the number of female Avengers. People have been asking for a Wonder Woman movie for a decade; we'll see her in two years, as a supporting character in Batman vs. Superman.

In a demographic that thinks "fake geek girls" are a threat to the integrity of Seven of Nine posters the world over, women who want to quite literally buy into nerd culture still have to work at it; they have to buy enough and ask for enough and make enough dollar noise to be acknowledged as a marketable demographic for that franchise. They have to earn the right to spend money on things meant for them. (Often, those things are limited, or sexualized, or gendered, or pink; you're expected to be happy the character is even present.)


A Black Widow action figure and these two shirts made up the entire girls' section in that Disney Store. The one on the left says, "I Fight in Heels." On the right, "I Only Date Super Heroes."

Good luck, girls.
Tags: comics, movies, no seriously, tv
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