Gender-bending cartoon ‘SheZow’ causing controversy

Shine On

This summer’s box office heroes may be manly, crime-fighting muscle masses of “Iron Man III,” “Man of Steel” and “The Wolverine” – but on children’s television, the pressure is on a 12-year-old boy donning white thigh-high boots, with a purple skirt and cape to match.

He’s got a she-cret, and her name is SheZow.

“SheZow” is children’s network the Hub’s latest animated TV project, premiering in the United States June 1. The show’s main character is a boy named Guy who, with the help of a new wardrobe, power ring and the magic words “You go, girl!” transforms into a girl to battle evil.

"When I first heard about the show, my reaction was 'Are you out of your minds?'" Margaret Loesch, chief executive of the Hub, tells the Los Angeles Times. "Then I looked at it and I thought, 'This is just funny.'"

It’s no laughing matter in the world of competitive children’s television traditionally dominated by Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network.

The Hub, owned by toy-making giant Hasbro and Discovery Communications Inc., needs a hero: although it has found concentrated success in shows such as “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” “Transformers Prime” and “G.I. Joe: Renegades,” Loesch has high hopes for the gender-bending superhero to boost the network’s competitive edge.

Also see: Ken Tada and Joni Eareckson's inspirational love story

But before Guy and her superpowers have had the chance to win over the Hub’s target audience – children ages 6-11 – the show’s main character is facing some heavy resistance.
“Nothing says ‘child-appropriate material’ quite like gender-bending underage superheroes,” quips Ben Shapiro, editor of Breitbart News. He also called “SheZow” as a “soon-to-be-dud,” even though the show has already been running on Australian television since December.

But Shapiro isn’t the only one with concerns about what some are labelling as television’s first transsexual superhero: many television fans took to Twitter to take part in the cloud of controversy around “SheZow” and its impressionable target audience.

“The difference between #Bugsbunny crossdressing 20 years ago and #SheZow is Bugs didn’t have a hidden agenda. This one does,” tweets user @annamaquino.

User @CameronC_Scott agrees. “This is wrong on many levels. You all ought to be ashamed.”

While others are hailing the show for its groundbreaking support for LGBT rights, one children’s psychologist said kids may not even notice what all the fuss is about.

Sally Ann Graham, a child psychologist, tells News 12 Long Island that parents shouldn’t worry about the cross-dressing appearance of the Hub’s new hero because many kids might just see the show as pure entertainment and pure costume.

Also see: Fraternal twins suffer extremely rare strokes just months apart

In an e-mail statement to Yahoo! Shine Canada, The Hub explicitly denied featuring a transsexual character on its latest show, and rather pointed to inspirational characters like Disney’s Mulan, a girl who dressed up as a male warrior to save her family.

“SheZow” writer and executive producer Obie Scott Wade says creating the show was never about divisive entertainment.

“I set out to create a comedy in ‘SheZow,’ not a political statement,” he explains in an e-mail statement to Yahoo! Shine Canada. “While the character of Guy does learn many things about himself by becoming ‘SheZow,’ the main focus is on responsibility and less on gender.”

Despite what the recent commotion might indicate, “SheZow” wouldn’t be the first place a transsexual or cross-dressing animated character appeared on television.  The popular “Ranma 1/2” was just one Anime series to feature a gender-swapping character (the main character turned into a female when doused with cold water and back to a male if immersed in hot water). Several fandoms on the blogging site Tumblr have also taken to the trend of creating gender-swapped versions of their favourite movie stars.

The Hub has offered its American fans a free sneak-peek to reel them in the new series: the first episode is available here.