Who's afraid of the "transgender" cartoon character?

Shezow in full flight.

Shezow in full flight.

Channel Ten is home to some of the most socially regressive television in the country. A big hello to The Bolt Report, The Biggest Loser and MasterChef. But for once it's on the cutting edge of promoting progressive social change with its cartoon SheZow.

SheZow follows the adventures of a 12-year-old boy, Guy Hamdon, who finds a magic ring that belonged to his dead Aunt Agnes. When he wears the ring he transforms into female superhero SheZow.

The show, which was funded by Film Victoria and Channel Ten, along with a Canadian backer, was picked up in June by US children's network The Hub. And it's causing quite a kerfuffle.

One Million Moms, an offshoot of the American Families Association, has the show and the network firmly in its sights. In a letter to its supporters, One Million Moms warns parents that the "superhero character will confuse kids".

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Now, with a name like "One Million Moms" you would think that its members would have some experience with children. But the suggestion that a boy who turns into girl will confuse children suggests that they have never met a human child.

For example, my daughter regularly watches Peppa Pig — a show that features a walking, talking pig and its nuclear family (go figure) doing such things as going to school, shopping and driving cars.

While our house could often be confused with a pigsty, I'm quite sure that my three-year-old does not think she is a pig. Rather than being confused, my daughter takes it in her stride. No confusion whatsoever.

And if One Million Moms thinks that a boy turning into a girl might be confusing to children, then what must it think of Spider-Man? Here's a young man who dresses in spandex and swings around the city like a spider. And then there's Batman; a billionaire playboy who dresses up as a bat to become a vigilante.

And what's better? Watching a boy who turns into a girl and saves the world, or a man who turns into an inarticulate, green, steroided Hulk with anger management issues?

I suspect the real reason why One Million Moms finds SheZow confronting isn't so much that SheZow is transgender, but that the show features a girl saving the world.

As the organisation goes on to explain in its letter calling for action: "Children desire to be just like superheroes and will mimic a superhero's every action, even to the point of dressing up in costumes to resemble the characters as much as possible. It won't be long before little boys are saying, 'I want to be a girl, so I can help people and save the world!”'

A little boy wanting to be a girl to save the world! Won't somebody please think of the children?

For years, little girls have aspired to be male characters and dress like male characters, or female versions of male superheroes (see Batgirl, Supergirl, Spider-Woman), and organisations such as One Million Moms have barely uttered a whisper. But when a boy aspires to be a courageous girl, well, get out the placards.

SheZow's creator Obie Scott Wade has denied any agenda. In an interview with pop culture website Nerdist, Wade said: "I just set out to make a comedy. Commenting on gender roles was never my goal. I just wanted to make a TV show that I'd imagined as a kid."

No doubt he did, but we shouldn't underplay the potentially positive role that such shows as SheZow can play.

Comics and cartoons have a long history of championing progressive social change. For example, Marvel's X-Men comics coincided with the emergence of the US civil rights movement in the 1960s, and both the comics and the films regularly tackle themes of diversity and acceptance of difference.

The comics and films feature transgender, bisexual and gay characters. Earlier this year, Marvel featured a same-sex marriage as X-Man Northstar married his partner Kyle Jinadu. More recently, DC re-imagined Green Lantern as a gay man.

SheZow is firmly in the tradition of ground-breaking, socially progressive cartoons that work because they're fun and kids like them.

A big thank-you to One Million Moms for raising the profile of this little show. I'll be sure to look out for it in the TV schedule.

Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband and OMG! That's Not My Child. www.kaseyedwards.com

7 comments

  • Whilst I think your point is awesome and it is great that there is a show that depicts a girl who is saving the world, the cartoon character isn't transgender. The boy has a ring and it turns him into a girl who is a superhero. That is not being transgender, that is fantastical luck. Will the boy continue to be a boy for the rest of his life when he isn't wearing a ring? Yes, he would. If he wanted to be be a girl always THEN he would be transgender and wouldn't ever take the ring off! I don't know if I am making the distinction clear enough. Basically unless the kid really wants to be a girl forever and always, he is not transgender and what you are saying is a misnomer that perpetuates more mis-information about what it is to be transgender. I am sure many transgender people would give their right leg to find a ring that would make them permanently into their desired sex/gender.

    Commenter
    Name
    Date and time
    June 12, 2013, 11:49AM
    • 100% agree. TG people want a permanent not temporary reassignment.
      Kids would love to be able to switch gender just for the hell of it with no sexual connotations entering their pre-pubescent heads! To them its the clothing and hairdo's etc- NOT the genitalia... Let the kids play out their fantasies while they can. When they are teenagers they will be hit with the horror of conformist expectations of parents, siblings, colleagues and strangers. A major cause of depression and suicide. let alone vilification and bashings.
      1 million sensible Mums beats 1 million dopey Moms... Let's start that Lobby group up!

      Commenter
      jayleabee
      Location
      littlebluedot
      Date and time
      June 12, 2013, 1:38PM
    • I'll bet there are also a lot of people who would love to be able to change gender at will (that easily) back and forth for all of their lives. I think it would be great!

      Commenter
      my 2c
      Date and time
      June 12, 2013, 1:46PM
  • Sorry but the Japanese already beat you to it, the show is called Ranma 1/2 it's a huge hit in the 90's it's about a boy who can turn into a girl if splashed with cold water and turns back to a boy if splashed with hot water the same as the dad but he turns into a giant panda... hilarious show still love it !! My point of the story is none of my friend back then dress up as a girl and running around trying to be a super hero, no mums is screaming not to watch it, nobody is confused about their gender after watching this kind of cartoon/manga... kids are smart if you let them, stop protecting them too much. But if you think that a cartoon can teach your kids something because you are too tired to spend a time with them then you are dead wrong..!! let them watch playschool or sesame street or wiggles if you are worried.

    Commenter
    Manga
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    June 12, 2013, 1:25PM
    • I have no time for organizations like One Million Moms (which actually represents a lot less than a million mums) and the .... Family Association. They are self-appointed lobby groups who most certainly do not represent my family or any of the mums I know; and thank god for that.

      Commenter
      DS
      Date and time
      June 12, 2013, 6:21PM
      • Dear Lord -
        Sailor Moon was doing this years ago. The Sailor Starlights spent their time as boys and transformed into female super heroes when the need arose. I think people forget that children will just go with the flow most of the time and what seems odd or weird to us grown ups is usually just accepted as "fair enough" by them. Don't even get me started on 1 million Moms.

        Commenter
        Jason
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        June 13, 2013, 5:32AM
        • I happened to catch this on TV a few days ago. This is not a transgender character. He doesn't turn into a girl at all, he is still himself in the guise of a female superhero. So, really, he's in drag. Still, it's quite an engaging bit of nonsense without making too big a deal about a boy dressed as a girl.

          Commenter
          Anita
          Location
          Sydney
          Date and time
          June 13, 2013, 12:11PM
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