On Twitter this Tuesday I noticed a tweet from an online compatriot, Sarah Kuhn. “There’s *probably* a way to make this product descrip more insulting, but I can’t think of it. http://twurl.cc/25bj” I went to the site and found the Marvel “Girls Rule” t-shirt for sale, with the following marketing copy next to it:
“Made from 50% Cotton, 50% Polyester, this cream colored, woman’s T-Shirt features purposely faded images of your favorite female Marvel comic book characters! Well, they’re your favorite, but your girlfriend (or sister) will actually be wearing the tshirt! HUZZAH! Hmmm…Can’t decide which Marvel Super-heroine I wish to add to my fantasy harem first. Spiderwoman is DEFINITELY in there. Black Widow…maybe; she’s just a little too…used for me. HUZZAH! Hellcat? Absolutely. Scarlet Witch? Maybe not. She could unmake me if I forget to dry the dishes or something. Invisible Woman? YES! It’s the hot mom thing! And….Marvel Girl. NOPE! Too damn whiney, not enough character and she tends to die when things get rough! Now, this Marvel tee is EXTREMELY limited, so buy the shirt, tell your girlfriend which female Marvel character you wish them to emulate, get dumped, go back to the imaginary harem.”
I read this a couple of times, trying to figure out the intentions and assumptions behind the text. As far as I can tell, the intended audience is all men, and these men would rather spend time ogling soft-core porn than getting laid with a living human girlfriend. (It goes without saying that the only purpose of girlfriends in this context is sexual. No conversation, intellectual challenge, humor, or mutual support is conceivable.) In fact, the intended audience is invited to persuade their sisters, should they have any, to wear this shirt so that the intended audience can readily ogle attractive women on the breasts of their sister. Don’t think of your sister sexually, in other words, but use her as a prop to hold up your jerk-off material.
By Tuesday evening I had heard about ten or so remarks of outrage and disgust from various friends and acquaintances. My friend Kelly cc’d me the email she had sent to SuperHeroStuff.com expressing her anger and intention to encourage all her friends to never buy from the site. Around dinner time I sent the following email to SuperHeroStuff.com:
Dear Sir or Madame:
Hello, my name is Sigrid Ellis and I write for the comics blog Fantastic Fangirls. I’ve noticed today on Twitter that a number of people are offended by the copy accompanying this Marvel T-shirt:
[Edit: URL here]
I am writing an article for my website, to be published on this Thursday, regarding my views and the views of others who are offended by this text. Before I do that, I would appreciate it if you could answer a few questions and present your intentions for that copy.
Who are your customers? Who do you hope to attract with the text? What percentage of your customers are women? Have you received any feedback, positive or negative, about the texts you place with images? What sort of joke or humor is this intended to be? Are you concerned at all that women may find this offensive? Are you concerned at all that Disney may be offended by the explicit sexualizing of their property, since Disney bought Marvel?
If you could address any of these issues, or speak further on the subject, sometime tomorrow (February 3, 2010) I can incorporate your views into my article.
Thank you, I appreciate your attention to this.
As of 8:00 Wednesday night, as I’m finishing this essay for tomorrow’s posting, I still haven’t heard from SuperHeroStuff.com. But Kelly did receive a response to her email of protest. The employee who replied apologized. More importantly, the marketing copy has been changed. If you go look at the T-shirt on their site now, you see this:
“Made from 50% Cotton, 50% Polyester, this cream colored, woman’s T-Shirt features purposely faded images of your favorite female Marvel comic book characters! There’s the Black Widow, spying on you! There’s the Invisible Woman, launching invisibility at you! There’s the Scarlet Witch, unmaking your reality, and there’s Hellcat…wait. Hellcat!!? Anyways, this tee is absolutely for you, female comic book fan! “
Well. Look at that. Moreover, much of the rest of the Women’s T-shirt line at SuperHeroStuff.com has been altered in the last twenty-four hours. Nearly every Women’s T-shirt I looked at now has copy marketed to women. To female customers, buying the Batman shirt because they love Batman, buying the Catwoman shirt because they like to feel sexy. In the interests of honesty, I still am not compelled by the marketing text — for instance, I don’t need my boyfriend to buy me my favorite Flash T-shirt. But that’s okay — SuperHerostuff.com is now trying to sell their Women’s T-shirts to women. To women as agents, or at least consumers with money, in their own right.
Thank you, SuperHeroStuff.com, for responding positively to customer feedback. I appreciate it.
Email: sigrid @ fantasticfangirls.org