The Hub’s gender-swapping cartoon “SheZow” premieres this weekend

My six-year-old nephew’s favorite things are superheroes, the color pink, and “dressing fancy,” so when I heard about The Hub’s new hero cartoon, SheZow, my interest was fully piqued. At first, I read that SheZow is a transgender pre-teen. And then I read that SheZow is a boy who chooses to dress as a girl to fight crime. Now that I’ve seen the first episode, I realize neither of those things are really true. SheZow is the story of a guy (named Guy) who puts on his dead aunt’s glowing pink ring and transforms into a feminine superhero named SheZow. He doesn’t change genders when he transforms; he changes gender presentations. And while that may sound like some revolutionary gender-bending in the world of superheroes and animation, it’s really not.

Bending gender is about eschewing traditional gender roles. It’s about existing in the space between society’s ideas of masculinity and femininity. That’s not where SheZow lives. SheZow’s powers are maintained through proper grooming. SheZow’s gadgets are all cosmetics-based (boomerang brush, vanishing cream, laser lipstick). In addition to super speed, SheZow has powers like slapping and screaming and She-S-P (female intuition). The show’s portrayal of femininity seems to have been adapted straight out of a Golden Age comic book or an early episode of Mad Men or the Barbie aisle at Toys R Us. When Guy isn’t SheZow, he does dude things like skateboarding and burping. When Guy is SheZow, he does lady things like getting manicures and wearing the color pink. The show is less about bending gender and more about flipping between two stereotypical gender extremes.

But there’s a lot to like about the cartoon. While Guy’s brother and sister — from whom he stole the SheZow ring, by the way — first see him in the costume, they mock him mercilessly. But by the end of the first episode, they both accept his new look. He’s here to save the world and he’s dressed like a girl. It’s as simple as that.

The show’s creator, Obie Scott Wade told io9 that while he has no intention of making the cartoon political or even really exploring gender in any deep way, he also doesn’t plan to clown on feminine heroes: “I think that it shows a very positive role-model in SheZow. There’s been a number of SheZows over the decades, throughout his family. It’s something that’s passed down from generation to generation. And so women are very much honored in the show, and in his family.”

So while it’s probably going to stick to gender stereotypes, it plans to treat both genders as equals.

Also my nephew has a fancy-dressing hero in pink to root for now, so I’ve got to high five SheZow for that.

If you’re looking for a really excellent animated story about gender-bending, you should definitely checkout Ranma 1/2, an anime adaptation of a manga comic of the same name. And if you hear conservatives prattling on about how SheZow is going to rip the fabric of society in half, just let them know that Ranma 1/2 made its debut 25 years ago and Japan seems to be doing just fine. (And unlike Guy/SheZow, Ranma actually transforms genders when he gets his superhero on.) Or, of course, you can settle into the gender-swapping episode of Adventure Time called “Fiona and Cake.”

SheZow‘s first episode airs Saturday on The Hub at 12:30 EST and 9:30 PST. You can watch the first episode right now at The Hub’s official website. If you check it out, let me know what you think.

Oh, and if you want to experience the visual equivalent of a triple espresso, check out SheZow‘s opening credits.

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