SuperHeroStuff.com

by Sigrid

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.

Sincerely,

Sigrid Ellis

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
Twitter: sigridellis

  • http://www.valhallahan.co.uk Valhallahan

    That initial copy is pretty shocking.

    Good that they changed it though, Joey Q could learn from that. Accept mistake, rectify it, move on.

  • sigrid

    @Valhallahan Yeah. I would be interested in hearing from the company, still, to find out what their process was. But in the end? That doesn’t really matter. They changed the copy in a positive direction as a response to customer complaint. No argument, no telling anyone they were wrong or stupid, they just changed it.

  • Anika

    I sort of love that you threw Disney in there. And I appreciate that they took us all seriously.

  • Wally East

    Not all women’s shirts:

    http://www.superherostuff.com/flash/t-shirts/the-flash-distressed-symbol-womens-t-shirt.html?itemCd=tsflashjundistsym

    Here we have a Flash T-Shirt for the Ladies. That’s right…..for the ladies! This Flash Juniors T-Shirt features a purposely distressed Flash Symbol on a brilliant red T-Shirt, cut and shaped for more petite women. If that special lady in your life complains at the speed of sound, then this Flash Juniors T-Shirt is just for her!

  • http://savagecritic.com Jeff

    Having been skeeved out and appalled since Sarah linked this back on Tuesday, I’m really impressed you,Kelly, and others made your thoughts known and that the company made immediate moves to change it. I wish things turned out like this more often!

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  • sigrid

    @Wally East True, not every text has been changed. But between yesterday morning and last night, about 60% of the ones I looked at had been altered.

  • xenokattz

    Dang, I always get at these things last but good job to you and everyone else out there who wrote it! Good lord.

  • Jen’s Mom

    You go, Girl! Never doubt the power of the individual to make a difference. Now if they just made the shirts in large sizes.

  • Cash

    Nice work there, Sigrid, Kelly, et al.

  • http://ampersandcomics.blogspot.com/ Matt Ampersand

    Good thing they changed some of them, but look at this one for the “Superman Italian Flag T-shirt”

    http://www.superherostuff.com/superman/t-shirts/superman-italian-flag-t-shirt.html?itemCd=tssuptialshield

    “This is the Italian Superman t-shirt. Yes, Superman is the guardian of all peoples in all countries of all nationalities….and, he like-a meatballs! Italy has the best meatballs! But hairy underarmed weemen is just a little too scary for me.”

  • Monica

    It’s fantastic that they changed the description. I looked through their other superheroine-based shirts, and found that sexualized descriptions seems to be the norm. The description of a ladies’ Wonder Woman shirt goes on about Wondy’s cleavage, for example, implying that the main reason for buying it would be emulation of Wondy’s cup-size, not emulation of Wonder Woman.

    The description of the Girl’s Rule shirt is so mind-boggling insulting, but I keep sticking on the part that describes Black Widow as ‘too used’. First of all, you’d never see Iron Man or any male hero described like that, and second of all – how do you sell a t-shirt by essentially calling a superheroine a slut?

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  • http://www.twitter.com/lesvillainettes Bethany

    Have you guys seen the description to the Batgirl Costume shirt? http://www.superherostuff.com/batgirl/t-shirts/batgirl-juniors-symbol-costume-t-shirt.html?itemCd=tsbatgrljunsymcost

    “Made from 100% Cotton, we have the most awesome Batgirl costume t-shirt complete with her cute little belt Bat symbol, used as a cookie cutter when she’s not fighting crime or doing her hair. So, when you’re tired of kitchen work, doing your hair and nails and yer up fer fait’n crime and kicking in some crack thief’s haid in with yer high heels… then the Batgirl Juniors Symbol Costume T-Shirt shirt’s for you. Be tough! Be Batgirl tough. … just share them cookies with me! The Batgirl Juniors Symbol Costume T-Shirt is a black, Junior Woman’s T-Shirt featuring the Batgirl Symbol amd Batgirl belt (great for carrying mascara) in bright yellow!”

    I’m kind of upset because I’ve been wanting this shirt for a while, and honestly, I’m not sure if I want to purchase it when it’s accompanied with that kind of description :-/

  • http://www.simplysuperheroes.com Derek

    While I know this is kind of late in the game about this issue, I have to thank that website for inspiring me to create a more appropriate superhero e-commerce website that puts women, moms and hard-working grandmothers in the driver’s seat.