A bright, shiny new section awaits here on Games, Galaxies and Other Geekery. I wanted to write about the LGBT community in the world of geek, celebrating where it’s included and talking about where it could come in more. We’re going to kick off this new series, LGeekBT, by talking about a cartoon that is heavy with controversy: SheZow.
SheZow is an Australian-Canadian cartoon that in America aired on The Hub, the same channel that still shows the new My Little Pony. The premise of a boy-turned-superhero is nothing new, but SheZow was met with its fair share of both praise and criticism over the fact that our main protagonist turned into a superheroine.
The show follows the exploits of 12 year old Guy (get ready for puns, it’s half the show’s humor), and his super hero battles as the female superhero SheZow. He didn’t exactly choose to be a girl superhero; it was magically thrust upon him, but Guy tends to take it in stride.
The obvious hot topic that many people argued about was that Guy was one of the first transgender characters in children’s television. This is probably why the show has only ever aired one season, with a second season stuck in development purgatory.
But we’re not here to talk today about whether or not the show was good from a television standpoint. What I’d like to delve into is: is SheZow good representation?
It’s worth noting that creator Obie Scott Wade has made a statement that his show wasn’t meant to be a statement on transgender visibility or the LGBT community, but that he doesn’t mind that people have taken it that way. Whether or not this is how he meant it to be interpreted, however, this still raises the important issue of representation as this is the first time a child could be exposed to this idea. So, what we must ask is if this is a good introduction to this idea for a young child.
With any topic entertainment media can delve into, there’s always a good way to handle it and a bad way to handle it. While some would argue that any representation for the LGBT community is good representation just because, hey, at least there’s a gay character on TV, this sadly isn’t true.
Generally, if a character is transgender – especially in television or movies – it’s the butt of some kind of joke. As in: look how funny it is that the character is dressed up as a girl, while ignoring that this is a thing that really happens in the real world. This teaches kids to laugh at this idea and perpetuates the notion that it’s not “real,” that dressing or wanting to identify as the opposite gender is just like playing dress-up.
Does SheZow fall victim to this? I would say yes, but the good thing about it is that it’s over after the first maybe 2 episodes. The initial “I can’t wear this, I’m a boy!” humor goes away really quickly and Guy just enjoys being any type super hero; he doesn’t care what he’s wearing. It’s important they got this boring humor out of the way fast, because this made room for great storylines and, my favorite part, creative villains for SheZow to fight.
The show had me feeling a little back and forth in some areas, mainly with how SheZow as a superhero is. She’s meant to be sort of the embodiment of femininity, in that everything she owns is pink and all her weapons are some kind of makeup or cosmetic item like lipstick or a hairbrush.
This, obviously, can get a little annoying when you think about how SheZow isn’t really allowed to branch out and do things that aren’t “girly.” This, once again, turns her powers into more of a joke. If Wade’s idea was to show that girl super heros can be just as cool and action packed as boy super heros, he might have wanted to make a heroine with cooler weapons than a lipstick lazer.
Give credit where it’s due, however: the main villain of the show is another female hero, whose powers are the complete opposite of SheZow’s in that everything she does is gross and nasty in contrast.
The show, however, does make some strides in what can be considered representation. (Again, I’m hesitant to call them super intentional LGBT coding as this isn’t what creator Wade meant for the show to be. We can only view this as how a little kid might interpret it rather than what Wade intentionally did or did not do). When you can get past all the girly jokes and puns galore, because this show is mostly puns for sure, the show is action packed enough to keep things interesting, with creative villians and a protagonist kids can love. It doesn’t dwell on Guy being upset that he’s a girl superheroine for very long at all, and instead focuses more on him being happy that he’s any type of hero at all. You might interpret the constant pink and make-up weapons as making fun of women or perpetuating gender stereotypes, and I wouldn’t be lying if I didn’t feel that way as well at times. But what SheZow does so well is that, even though what lots of what Guy does can be considered a stereotype, he loves it and revels in it. The show makes clear that Guy likes being SheZow, he doesn’t feel like it was just thrusted upon him and he doesn’t have a choice, and this is where the important representation comes in.
Imagine a little kid watching this show and seeing Guy transform back and forth between his normal form and his superhero form and not make a big deal about what he’s wearing. The show pretty much sold it to me when, in one episode, Guy says something to the effect of, “I’m not a girl, I just dress this way.” To a small child, this is so important to hear- that your clothes don’t change who you are and it’s okay to want to wear different ones. It’s important they see Guy be totally happy in his “female form” and loving it, and understanding that it’s ok to flip-flop back and forth.
Is the show perfect? No, but no show really is. And especially for a show that never meant to be any sort of statement on LGBT rights, we got an impressive amount of great and unoffensive exposure. This could have just as easily been a show where Guy has to dress like a girl sometimes and he hates it through and through, and always makes fun of that fact. But the fact that we got a smart, creative show that doesn’t make fun of this idea and can keep kids entertained is amazing for what Wade set out to create. Even if he didn’t mean it to be, the show has great ideas that kids can latch onto if they need to while keeping itself entertaining, colorful and funny all at the same time.