Superheroes for Girls and Fairy Tales for Boys in the Classroom and Beyond

By: Evan Taylor

When I was a child I played with action figures with my brother after watching cartoons. We would watch the shows to generate the screenplays for what we would reenact with our action figures. After watching our classic shows such as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, X-Men, Spiderman, Batman and many other shows along these lines we would retreat to our bedroom to play with our toys.

One time my sister wanted to play with us, but the issue was that she had mostly Barbie dolls.We had been under the influence that Barbie dolls and action figure were mortal enemies (though Toy Story  would challenge this conception later on in my childhood). We would often go to war with the Barbie dolls and they would often demolish us because they stood at an amazing twelve inches tall while most of our action figures were about six inches on a good day. This warring continued for years.It seemed as if there would never be peace amongst the toys within our household. We held many Toy Councils to acknowledge the issues of the battling and came to many compromises. The Barbies went on to let the action figures stay in their homes and use their cars since most toys had to reside within the crowded toy box every night.

But one day things changed. My sister was given a unique toy for Christmas, one that would reshape how the toys viewed each other and how I viewed the world. One year, my parents bought my sister an Ororo Munroe, a.k.a. Storm from X-Men, toy. When my sister introduced her toy into the toy community there was a lot of controversy. Should she reside with the Barbies since she was girl and, if so, does Ken have to live amongst the action figures since most of them were men?

As you can see, a cultural conundrum had come upon the toys and therefore amongst me and my siblings. Since we were to give the toys characteristics of their comic book or cartoon lives, we had to pay attention to all of the characters. I know when I was first watching cartoons I merely paid attention to the male characters since they received the most screen time and were the heroes. Now that the toy culture had changed I paid attention to all the characters so I could learn how to react to different situations within the toy community.

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Image by Markus Prime (@markusprimelives)

The same change is happening in the world today in that women are breaking barriers and recreating our vision of the world. These changes have occurred more quickly in myself due to the fact that the majority of my coworkers are women. But in my classroom I only have six young women, but I have nine young men. One of the challenges for me this year was coming to sit at the feet of the six young women in my class and to learn from them as they continue to make me into a better teacher, a better man and, ultimately, a better person.

At the beginning of this school year I began to design my classroom so that it would be reflective of myself and would also present a canvas for students to represent themselves. I had many action figures posted on the top of my desk, but not one of the action figures was a woman. Even as I went to the store in search of one there were none to be found, besides small Black Widow action figures. This placed me in my first conundrum and made me acknowledge my privilege, as well as the privilege of most boys in my classroom. For the most part I can go into the store and find an action figure that represents my gender quite easily. But if I were a woman who was a fan of superheroes, I would have to search far and wide or pay large quantitites on Amazon.com in order to find an action figure that is reflective of my gender.

Since I could not find any action figures I searched the store for books that were not only reflective of the plethora of students in my classroom, but would also introduce different cultures and identities. But in most stores these books are hard to find. It was easy for me to find books on male superheroes and characters, but the only books oriented towards the young women in my class were Frozen and other books of the like. There is by no means any issue with this layout because many girls are interested in these books and boys are as well. This is problematic in that our literature provides our students with windows to see the world and also with mirrors to view themselves Both these windows and mirrors need updates. It is hard for a young woman to determine if she likes comics when one has never been presented to her that is reflective of herself and her community. It is hard for a boy as well to determine if he likes fairy tales if the fairy tales presented to him do not reflect him and also if he has been taught to view fairy tales as “girly”.

A month ago I went to a First Aid Comics in downtown Chicago and began to peruse the comic books there. As I searched and searched through the comic books, the store owner came up to me and asked me what it was that I was searching for. I explained to him that I was looking for some comic books that had women as the lead hero in the narrative. He took me around the store showing me Hellcat, Ms. Marvel and many other titles. Needless to say I bought all of those titles as well as some Adventure Time and Steven Universe.

When I brought the comic books back to my students the following week they poured through the texts.

All fifteen of them…you could say they stormed to the comic books.

In that moment, in those texts…a barrier was broken.

And it started with six young women, encouraging ten young men to see the world through their eyes.

——-

EvanEvan Taylor, first year third grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School in Dolton, IL. Teaching is and always will be my passion for it is my creative space and concurrently my therapy. Within the metaphysical classroom space, we transcend space and create alternate realities by which we can begin to make sense of the world while also challenging it. You cannot standardized that, for to standardized one’s transcendence is to clip the wings of a bird and force it to believe that in your hand is where it belongs. We are all angels trapped inside sculpture’s waiting for someone to chip away that which holds us back. May my lessons and teaching be both sculpture and chisel, may my students be my sculptures and chisels.

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