Sunday, February 1, 2015

Super Rowan - Anatomy of a Viral Tweet

It started when Rowan's father posted her letter to Facebook and encouraged people to share it. I said, "how viral do you want to go? Like, I know an editor at The Mary Sue, and other places." He replied, "Do it." So I posted it to the blog and made this tweet below. Then I tagged various high-profile people using the "link to the tweet" feature, so that they would RT the original if possible, and let the awesome content of the letter do the work.
This tweet has received well over 1000 re-tweets (RTs are the vehicle by which tweets spread from user to user). Related tweets (especially from @chriswarcraft on Twitter) have gotten dozens. The piece, which of course people have to click through to find, is the third-most read in the history of my blog, with thousands of views. It's been covered on HeroicGirls.comThe Mary Sue, Slashfilm.com, Comic Book Resources, Nerdspan (with the fun title - how DC Comics can make Rowan happy), Cinema Blend, and surely others.

DC Comics responded with the following two tweets (to their over a million followers):

The best piece of journalism on Rowan's letter came from The Daily Dot's Lisa Granshaw. I put Lisa in touch with Rowan's family, and Granshaw did a great job putting the letter in context, as well as answering some of the questions about how Rowan wrote it. Granshaw writes:
The lack of women heroes in a collectible set of Justice League chibi action figures inspired Rowan to write her letter. She told her parents one day that she spent her bus ride home from school “thinking about a letter she wanted to write to DC about these chibis.”
“She sat down right away and started to write," Renée said. "She stopped from time to time to ask her dad if a particular sentence sounded ok, but apart from that it was entirely her own work. In fact, she was a little worried that people wouldn't believe it was written by a kid, so we made sure not to interfere. But we were extremely proud of her for taking the time to write about something that was important to her, instead of just being frustrated about it.”
So - Rowan wrote this herself.  That's important to note, as a number of people in tweets and comments have implied or outright stated otherwise.

Also - she wrote it about DC because she likes DC. Yes, she could have written about gender issues in Marvel or whatever, but she likes the DC female characters and wants more of them.

Next, from the same piece, there's this:
“The things is, it's not that there are no female superheroes," Renée said. "There are lots of them, as comics fans know. But in terms of what's available for kids when you walk into Target or Toys-R-Us, the superhero world looks pretty exclusively male. That's frustrating for girls who are fans; the boys can wear their favorite superhero all the time, but to this day we've never seen a Hawkgirl T-shirt for kids. It makes the girls feel like they're not important in the comics world, and that's hard when it's something that they love so much. Frankly, Rowan doesn't like not being taken seriously.”
That's such a key point. Plenty of people (though a small fraction of the hundreds of interactions I've now had about this tweet) criticized the letter by pointing out how many female characters there were in the DC Universe. This doesn't in fact contradict Rowan's letter, but is Rowan's point. She loves Hawkgirl. Where's the Hawkgirl merchandise?

So next we see whether DC lives up to their tweeted promise. The letter is still rolling around the internet, and it wouldn't surprise me for it to pick up more steam if the right folks notice. It's also, as the many links above note, just part of a much bigger conversation about gender and comics, or gender and geekdom more broadly. Here are my questions.

1. What, specifically, does DC have planned to address the gender issues in their product lines? That's the easy question to answer.

2. Has DC done any hard thinking about the systemic issues behind the lack of strong product lines and shows for girls?

Because you can roll out six or seven new shows, movies, and more t-shirts. You can hire some women to write, do art, and direct. You can invest in diversity. But if you don't de-stablize the corporate culture that led you astray in the first place, that consistently de-emphasized female characters, or sexualized them, or put them only in pink and purple settings ... the new products and shows will likewise fall prey to that culture.

Good luck, DC. We'll be watching.

Update: Covered in the Telegraph. Covered by BuzzFeed. Covered by Mic.com. Headline News. Huffington Post.  The Independent. And many more. If you see an interesting one, let me know!

Update 2: At Mommyish.com, there's a good piece which makes the following point.

Meanwhile, just a few tweets later, the company posted this thrilling news about new animated projects with accompanying toy line-ups:
batman unlimited dc comicsCount ‘em up: that’s five dudes and exactly zero lady-people. The other project, not depicted in the Tweet, is a new version of the Justice League line-up, which has six guys and one token, albeit Wonder-ful, Woman. 8% women? Yeah, that ‘girl power’ is almost palpable.
I am as skeptical as this author.

3 comments:

Jer said...

Do you have contact/mailing info for this girl and her parents?
I think it's great that she's gotten into the world of comics and superhero(ine)s, and her mom (I think) mentions they've never been able to find her a Hawkgirl shirt... I would love to send her some encouragement to keep fighting to have a stronger female presence, and thought that a tshirt with Hawkgirl on it might be a way to do that.

David Perry said...

Please email me at lollardfish AT gmail dot com.

K Lambertsen said...

I'll just say that in addition to not finding female superheroes at Target, the majority of female superheroes who DO exist are presented in such a hyper-sexualized (among other things) way that I won't show them to my five year old daughter. So, as far as she knows, they *don't* exist. I mean, would Rowan's parents ever take her into a comic book store? I wouldn't take my kids. And I'm no Puritan.