Licensed DC Comics tees draw accusations of sexism

Two licensed T-shirts featuring DC Comics' Trinity have sparked accusations of sexism among online fans.

The first shirt, as reported at DC Women Kicking Ass and spotted by CBR contributor Tamara Brooks this past weekend at Long Beach Comic Con, depicts Superman and Wonder Woman in a passionate embrace with the caption, "Score! Superman Does It Again!" As takedowns of that shirt began to circulate on social media, another one, bearing the phrase "I'm Training to Be Batman's Wife," was brought into the discussion.

Both shirts present undeniably sexist messages: The former positions the most prominent female superhero as a prize to be won, stripping away the character's 75 years of nuance and feminist themes. The latter would be perfectly acceptable if it had only stopped before that final word; the assumption that the goal of any woman's training would be to become someone's wife is antiquated at best.

It's the same problem many fans had in April 2013 with a girls' shirt depicting Marvel's male heroes leaping into action in between the words of the phrase, "I Need a Hero." These shirts are problematic because they presume that women need men -- either to save them or to marry them -- in order to get them interested in superheroes. The controversial Marvel tees from last year also proved that point; the shirt's male counterpart simply said "Be a Hero."

As officially licensed DC products, the content of both shirts presumably had to have been given the go-ahead by someone at DC or, more likely, Warner Bros. Consumer Products. However, licensing rights can differ from one contract to the next, and it's possible the final design did not need to be vetted by either DC or WB so long as it worked within agreed upon guidelines and used pre-approved art. The "Score!" shirt comes courtesy of Superhero Den, but Google Shopping lists the manufacturer as Changes. DC has not responded to an email inquiry about the origin of the shirt or whether it was involved in its design.

The existence of these shirts also works against the message comics publishers want to send to the modern audience. With the relaunch of the new Thor series with a female protagonist and the redesign/redirection of Batgirl, Marvel and DC have made very public strides in reaching out to female readers and to improve the visibility of female characters. The existence of licensed shirts like these only undermines the attempts to change the "Boys Only" image that superhero comics have long had.

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