The family went to geek girl con over the weekend - up in Seattle. I stayed home and was sick the whole weekend - but that's another story.
On the way back, I had to rescue the girls after the VW Bus broke down and may or may not be drivable as G tried to fix it. (He did which was awesome given he rescued himself.) On the way back, two tweens babbled my ears off - constantly - for a full hour - making even Indigo ask if they had an off button (a great irony if you know Indigo). And what I discovered as they were talking was I needed to find balance between girl power and deciding to be a girl.
Let me explain.
Being a good Feminist Moe, I taught my daughters that they can be whoever they want to be. Their sex is no limit. I have taught them they do not have to dress a certain way or act a certain way to get recognized. It is what is in their head - and their actions - that matter more. All great lessons. Until you hear this:
"When a girl character dresses all girly, I can't take the character seriously - even if she can kick butt."
"I like this character because she is saving everyone else and no one has to save her."
On the surface, great observations. Yay, feminism.
But as they continued to talk, I realized they were both saying two things: girls can only be taken seriously if they don't dress like girls and a girl should never need saving even from a friend.
I explained a few characters that I loved - Buffy, for example - who can dress feminine and sexy, who can act girlie, who can want to date, who can cry "like a girl", but you would never want to meet her in a dark alley if you were a vampire or other bad person. So I asked, does her dressing like a girl diminish her ability to kick ass? Or is her inner strength and her determination over evil make that more important?
While I understand their frustration in the comic book world about women being dressed in impossible costumes with the boobs hanging out (tween description not mine), I worry that they are overlooking amazing characters simply because they aren't dressed right. The fact they are being drawn overly sexualized in one problem. If they are always the victim, that's another problem. But if they kick ass and take names, then we need to address the costume issue - not toss them aside because they are too feminine and thereby not worthy.
DJ explained why she like one Bat Girl over another by saying the one she likes never has had to be saved. Her friend piped up and agreed. I asked "why is it a bad thing if her friend Robin helped her out if she was in a bad situation? Doesn't she help him when the situation is reversed?" They both concurred that she helps him, and even said without any reflection on Robin. He isn't an idiot for needing help - he simply needed help. Girls can kick ass. You will get no argument from me there. But to be considered a strong woman does not mean you never need help. It doesn't mean you are strong 100% of the time. To me, it means you persevere. You do not quit. You know when you need help, and you accept it not a sign of weakness but as a sign you are human. Needing help if you are a woman is not a bad thing. Being a victim 100% of the time in expecting people to act accordingly all of the time is another problem.
We ended up having a great discussion around all of these topics and a few others including dating being interpreted as a negative against the strength of a female character. It opened my eyes a a Feminist Moe, that I have some work to do.
The girls both like to cosplay, so I extended to them the following challenge. Find a character - a female character you like but hate her costume - and come up with a costume that fits her personality and her strength as a superhero. And make that character into the person - on the outside - that you see on the inside.
DJ's friend, after thinking about it, said, "You know, you're right. As long as the costume doesn't define the way the person acts - dressed like a slut, act like a slut - they shouldn't be ignored. This could be interesting."
I hope it is. I hope it is.