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Recently, my State Press colleagues have tackled the topic of sexism, which was greeted by a slew of responses.

Our recent discussion is timely as the debate continues in pop culture, this time with Marvel’s newest "The Avengers” T-shirts.

The men’s shirt is emblazoned with “Be a hero,” while the women’s shirt proclaims, “I need a hero.” In reporting the story, entertainment website io9’s headline redubbed "The Avengers’s" tagline from “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” to “Earth’s Mightiest Sexists.”

I dislike the term “feminist” due to its varied connotations. A conversation about “feminism” can quickly become convoluted, with more focus paid to the word’s controversy than to the overarching discussion of women in society.

But those shirts? Yeah, they got my dander up, “feminist” or not.

Why not have both say “Be a hero?" Or even a shared “We need heroes” motto? The sentiments, on their own, deprived of gender association, resonate with the genre’s core themes of becoming nobler, self-sacrificing and empowered versions of ourselves, or of looking to an external power for justice.

The distinct choice to use one sentiment on a shirt exclusively for women — one inherently constructing women as passive — could seem like a step backward in an industry known for poor female representation.

The problem with Marvel’s marketing is clear. What we should investigate is what ultimately misguided process led to the conclusion the shirt would sell. As much as the finished product missed the mark, Marvel hoped to tap into existing consumer anxieties.

With the semester’s end looming, many of us are actively seeking post-college opportunities to be heroes to others. However, in the current political and economic climate, the more passive “I need a hero” can become extremely appealing to both sexes.

With the domestic life as a historical precedence, it can be easy for women especially, no matter how self-reliant, to be tempted by security over independence. Marvel’s product, heavy-handed as it is, plays on this temptation. We might all agree the T-shirt sends the wrong message, but it targets a very real and prevalent anxiety, even in our so-called progressive era.

Our romantic comedies preach that personal validation and completion are only achieved through another person. The independent, career-driven life is repeatedly concluded to be soulless and unfulfilling.

Sometimes, the world makes being rescued look like the ideal option, especially when filtered through media and marketing images.

Even as an independent individual looking to impact others, I will admit that looking at the world sometimes leads me to think life would be easier and safer if I took the philosophy of “I need a hero” instead of striving to become one myself.

I do need a hero. You need a hero, too. In a culture floundering and squabbling, we need heroes to symbolize the morality existing beyond ourselves. At the same time, we need to be heroes for other people, to live as examples of the same morality and self-sacrifice we wish to see in others.

Marvel’s poor choice of words banked on the anxiety of women facing an increasingly vicious world to buy into safe, passive rhetoric. It seems to have forgotten that in order for heroes to exist at all, male or female, individuals have to face that vicious world and make the choices that are hard.

So be a hero. We need heroes.


Reach the columnist at or follow her at @EMDrown

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