Ellie Evangelista, 4, dressed in her Spider-Man costume, baking muffins with her dad, Steve Evangelista. (Photo: Margaret Ryan)
This Sunday, superheroes will march in a parade in New York City – all because one 4-year-old was told by classmates that she couldn’t be Spider-Man because she’s a girl.
Ellie Evangelista’s favorite game is to dress up as superheroes. “Ellie loves Spider-Man. We got her a Spider-Man costume for Christmas, she adores it. She has [Spider-Man] pajamas she wears every night,” her mother, Margaret Ryan, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Then she started coming home [from school] and saying she didn’t want to be a girl anymore, and I said ‘What do you mean?’ And she said ‘I want to be Spider-Man, and to be Spider-Man I have to be a boy. So when I want to be Spider-Man, I turn into a boy and when I am done being Spider-Man, I turn back into the Ellie the girl.’ It started to bother me that she felt she couldn’t be herself, or that being herself wouldn’t allow her to be who she wanted to be with fantasy play.”
Ellie Evangelista, who loves superheroes, taking a nap in her Buzz Lightyear costume. (Photo: Margaret Ryan)
So Ryan spoke to Ellie’s pre-k teachers, who promised to speak up when they heard boys telling Ellie she couldn’t be her favorite superhero. “They said they would tell the kids that anyone can be who they want to be,” she said. “But I wasn’t sure it was going to be enough.” Ryan, who runs a New York City charter school, said she didn’t realize until this incident just how young kids pick up these gender-stereotyped messages. “They need to be taught even earlier than I realized that they can be whoever they want to be.”
Hoping for some advice, Ryan reached out to her neighborhood listserv. “The thread just blew up,” she says. “Parents of girls who love superheroes chimed in, and parents of boys who said ‘when I hear my kids say things like that, you can bet I set them straight.’”
Ellie Evangelista, with her favorite Spiderman toy in hand, dresses up as her own made-up superhero. (Photo: Margaret Ryan)
One parent suggested throwing a parade to celebrate the universality of superheroes, and this weekend, the Uptown Superheroes March will make its way through the Washington Heights neighborhood.
“Kids can wear anything they want,” Ryan says. “What I’m most excited about is that it’s a concrete experience we can talk about. Other parents can do that as well – there were girls dressed as boys and maybe there will be boys in girl costumes and we can say ‘look how much fun everybody had.’ I just want to be able to continually work on how to make her more comfortable with the idea.”