As a writer, I love sharing bits of my family life with my followers. So the other day, I posted a picture of my daughter’s arms, crossed Wakanda style, followed by the question, “Any guesses what she wants to be for Halloween this year?”
“Shuri!” replied one follower, referring to T’challa’s witty younger sister.
You see, since my daughter was young, she has loved all things companies designate for boys: sharks, the colors black and red, basketball t-shirts, and yes, muscular superheroes.
Her first love was Spiderman, spending many late afternoons running around the house in a costume, complete with a mask. We’re currently on our third Spiderman costume, as she’s outgrown the previous ones or they’ve been torn to shreds from so many play sessions.
I remember this feeling well. At just three years old, I was completely infatuated with Superman. I had pjs, complete with a stick-on cape. I would leap from our piano bench onto cushions below, certain that at some point, I would fly. I had a Superman action figure where if you squeezed his legs together, his arms will flail about, ready to save the world from evil.
Superheroes are magical. Their secret identities, their adventures, and even their weaknesses were intriguing, sending my childhood imagination into overdrive.
There was only one sort-of main female superhero, Wonder Woman. Of course, there’s Black Widow and Cat Woman (where has she been?), but the main thing super heroes have in common? They are men.
Men who are sheer muscle. Men with deep, commanding-attention voices. Men with capes, weapons, and abilities. They are leave us hopeful and awestruck.
For decades, these larger than life heroes have been male, commanding our attention in television shows, movies, on book covers, as action figures, even depicted on cereal and fruit snack boxes. They are everywhere, their piercing eyes captivating us.
My daughter doesn’t want to be a volumptuous, sexy sidekick who peaks over the shoulder of the protagonist. And I totally get it.
Even as grown women, the Halloween costume options for superhereos are limited to a single category: sexy. Sexy Batgirl, Cat Woman, or Wonder Woman. (Is that a whip or a lasso?) Excuse me if I don’t want to go to trick-or-treating with my ass-cheeks hanging below my skirt or my breasts spilling over the S on my chest. Oh, and yeah, aching feet from thigh-high stiletto boots doesn’t appeal to me.
Maybe I just want to be super. And maybe my daughter does, too.
Total props to Black Panther. The female characters are strong, beautiful, and smart. And in many scenarios, it is they who “save the day.” But they are still the sidekicks, the cheerleaders, the support to the dude. The movie isn’t entitled Shuri. (Though there are rumors that Okoye and Black Widow may get their own feature films. Let us pray!) And the epic battle at the end? It’s between man and man.
So every year, when my daughter has proclaimed what she wants to be for Halloween, it’s a yes from me. Yes, you can play the most powerful character. She’s been a dragon, a Lego Ninjago, Spiderman, and this year, Black Panther.
Badassery verses a portrayed piece of ass.
Society has tried to change my daughter. I remember when she was four, we were shopping for swimwear. She found a shark swimshirt and trunks and brought them to me, her face beaming with excitement. An employee walked up and said, “Oh, you don’t want that! Let me show you where the girls’ swimsuits are.” Another time, my daughter had her allowance and was browsing the action figures when an employee asked her if she wanted to know where the Barbies were.
Barbies and bikinis are everything my daughter isn’t. And that is OK.
As a mom, I just want my kids to be proud of who they are. I want them to know that there is nothing wrong with being unapologetically themselves. They don’t need to accept the second-best option or stay in the background in order to make other people comfortable. That is a miserable life, one that leads to a lot of self-loathing. Pretending is exhausting.
In a sea of pink and princesses, my daughter stands firm in her love of deeper colors and male superhero characters. She doesn’t want to settle for being Wonder Woman when the King of Wakanda is up for grabs.
I’m cool with it. And now we wait for the rest of the world to catch up.