Friday, October 3, 2014

DC Comics T-Shirts Misrepresent Superheroes as Non-Sigma Sexists

Batman vs superman

Guest Post by Matthew Alexander, Director of Coaching, Sigma Status 

I’ve read and collected comic books as long as I can remember and have to admit that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Even though writers and artists put their own spin on individual superheroes, these characters’ basic traits remain pretty consistent. I know the editorial staff does its best to take as much artistic license as possible but the fact is, comic book companies protect their trademarks like sacred cows — anything to secure the never-ending flow of royalties attached to their biggest character’s sparkling images. 

Given that, I was amazed to discover a recent marketing gaffe that slipped by the licensing arm of DC comics. As it turns out, a couple of recently released t-shirts offended a multitude of buyers, as they portrayed both Superman and Batman as sexists.

First, the Superman t-shirt:

Superman macks on wonder woman

Next, the Batman t-shirt:

Batman wife in training

These images, along with an accompanying litany of vitriolic comments, went viral this week. Most people, including comic book aficionados, were not happy about this perpetuation of negative stereotypes. Without question, this news item didn’t do much to elevate the oft-sullied image of the comic book industry, which has long been accused of everything from cashing in on the sexist portrayal of scantily-clad female characters to inspiring misogynistic rape fantasies. But in an effort to avoid becoming a magnet for our friendly neighborhood trolls, I’ll just stick to a discussion of the images I’ve posted here. 

From the perspective of both a relationship coach and a comic book fan, I find both t-shirts problematic.

Given the well-known romantic involvement of Superman and Wonder Woman, the first t-shirt distills their relationship to nothing more than a conquest, another notch in Superman’s belt. I’m not a Superman fan, but this t-shirt still had me shaking my head.

Superman is perhaps the greatest Protector icon ever created, nothing like the womanizer suggested by the word ’Score’. A respecter of all women, Superman has always been drawn to the strongest of them, from his longtime friend Lana Lane to the tenacious reporter Lois Lane. Additionally, Wonder Woman is the epitome of womanhood: Strength and beauty inside and out.

Since they are the combination of humanity’s ultimate Protector and womanhood’s ultimate Defender, this reductionist version of Superman and Wonder Woman’s true relationship completely misses the mark.

Besides, I’m pretty sure that Wonder Woman wouldn’t let down her guard if she didn’t feel absolutely safe with ‘Supes.’ I’ll bet she’d bash his face in if he tried to make an unwanted advance.

With regard to the second image, I’ll let blogger PJ speak for me:

“The idea that you should settle for being married to or sleeping with someone awesome instead of being the awesome person is insulting. This just happens to be aimed at a young girl. I resent the idea that she should “train” to be so Batman’s wife.”

To me, the idea of Batman falling for a weak, vain woman is laughable. While Superman has always been a worldwide Protector, Batman looks after the weakest and most downtrodden of Gotham City’s citizens, especially its women. It would have been more accurate to have titled the t-shirt “Training to be Bruce Wayne’s Wife,” as that would have fit the false image maintained by Batman’s alter ego.

Like Superman, Batman has only been attracted to the strongest women he associates with: Talia al Ghul (his arch nemesis’ daughter), Selina Kyle (née Catwoman),  and Vicki Vale (reporter) just to name a few. He also relies on the assistance of other strong women, like Dr. Leslie Thomkins (physician) and Dr. Barbara Gordon (PhD).

But I’m overreacting, right? They’re just a couple of innocuous t-shirts.  What’s the big deal? If you don’t like them, don’t buy them.

Unfortunately, these t-shirts rehash the negative stereotype of domineering male/weak female, a view that sends today’s men into full retreat. Modern Men are so desperate to distance themselves from any appearance of chauvinism that they have willingly eliminated all forms of dominant behavior from their lives, including the positive dominant traits of Protector, Provider, and Presider.

That’s too bad, because I think we can agree that both Superman and Batman adhere to the Sigma Philosophy: They respect a woman’s strength but are still willing to ensure her safety. And that’s dominant behavior we can’t afford to leave behind.

Shame on DC for sullying these superheroes’ images while indirectly giving a black eye to real men who actually care.


Dr. John Alexander is relationship expert and the author of The Sigma Male: What Women Really Want. To learn more about Sigma Coaching, visit his website, subscribe to his blog, “like” his page on Facebook, and follow him on Twitter.


  1. while I see where you are coming from on the superman shirt, I find it interesting on the second that the focus is first on the wearer coming from a place of weakness as opposed to a place of strength. that speaks strongly to societal perspective as evidenced by the outcry.

    I wonder what the feeling would have been if roles were reversed - "I'm training to be Wonder Woman's husband" would we assume weakness of the wearer and a domineering Wonder Woman? Or would we assume Wonder Woman would only have the best in a man so becoming the best man one can be would be the best and likely only way to obtain such a prize?

    finally, t-shirts are an art form and thus frequently a platform for social commentary. I find the color choice interesting. why not batman black?

  2. Good point but here's why I interpreted the wearer of the Batman shirt as being weak:

    Societal norms and interpretations.

    Typically, women "training" to be someone's wife are placed in the category of "gold digger" or a woman looking for a "sugar daddy." That's just the way society has come to view a woman whose sole goal is to be a certain man's wife. Also, defining somebody solely in terms of being a "wife" has all sorts of negative baggage in today's society. Not saying that's right but it's certainly accurate. While being a "wife" or "husband" used to be at the top of our list, not so much anymore. It is what it is, as they say.

    So, what about turning the phrase around to have a man say it? First of all, a man wouldn't say he's training to be somebody's husband, even if the woman was a great "prize" that seemed unobtainable. How many men would wear a t-shirt that said "Training to be Jennifer Aniston's Husband"? (insert any "out of reach name). It infers a secondary status instead of a partnership. I have the same problem with that t-shirt as I have with the "Batman's wife" one.

    Following the same line of reasoning, would you rather be Wonder Woman's partner or her side-kick? I think modern vernacular suggests that "training to be a husband/wife" is a step down from being a partner. The whys and wherefores are complex and extensive, but aspiring to be "just" a husband or wife is seen in todays world 's a submissive thing. (Too bad, to my way of thinking).

    A better phrase would be "Training to be Batman/Wonder Woman's Partner/Teammate," but that's not catchy and also eliminates the romantic undertones of wife/husband.

    Your comment about the color pink over black/gold (spot on) cements the intended message of "Training to be Batman's Wife." Black would suggest a more equal standing in the relationship. I doubt the designer was trying to make social commentary by using pink; rather, it was chosen to reach a demographic -- a woman who would consider wearing a pink superhero shirt (definitely a certain "type.")

    My main message was less about the weakness or inferiority of women and more about how superheroes are commonly mislabeled as being sexist. By inference, strength is sexist. In reality, the strongest superheroes have always been protectors and defenders of women. The message that men should be sorry for displaying strength (physical, social, or emotional) is a bad one that has had increasingly negative repercussions in relationships.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. For the most part I am in complete agreement.