HUDSON HEIGHTS — She’s just your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Like many 4-year-olds, Hudson Heights resident Ellie Evangelista loves to dress up like her favorite superhero and act out scenes of Spider-Man’s death-defying bravery.
Then some boys in her pre-K class told her that she couldn't pretend to be her favorite web-slinger — just because of her gender.
“She started coming home and talking about not wanting to be a girl anymore,” said Margaret Ryan, Ellie’s mother. “When we pushed her on it a little, she said some boys at school were telling her she couldn’t be Spider-Man because she was a girl.”
After hearing about Ellie's plight, the neighborhood decided to band together and throw her a parade.
The first-ever Uptown Superheroes March will take place this weekend to show that both girls and boys can dress up as whichever superheroes they want to be.
“So many parents responded to it,” Ryan said, referring to Ellie's experience. “Whether they had little girls going through the same thing or had heard their own little boys maybe saying similar things to girls.”
Ellie had created a pretend world in which she turns into a boy at school so that she can be Spider-Man and then reverts to being a girl when the school day is over, Ryan said. This workaround worried Ryan, who runs a Harlem-based charter school along with her husband, Steven Evangelista.
“I didn’t like that at only 4 she was having to grapple with something like this, that she didn’t want to be who she is,” Ryan said.
She was also concerned about what might happen as Ellie got older.
“I’ve heard of stories where girls start to hide this away,” she said. “When they are out in public they will pretend to like 'girl' things. They will still follow their real preferences at home, but will never admit to them in public.”
Ryan said at first she tried to turn her daughter on to strong female characters, including the Spider-Woman of the 1970s cartoon series.
“She was like, ‘Mom, I love her, but I still want to be Spider-Man,’” Ryan said.
Unsure of how to handle the situation, Ryan took to a listserv for local parents to ask for advice. The topic quickly exploded, she said.
Cheryl Burgos, another parent in the group, suggested taking a proactive approach.
At Burgos' suggestion, the parents decided to organize the parade.
The parade will take place on Sunday, June 7 at 11 a.m. Families will march along Fort Washington Avenue from 185th Street to the entrance to Fort Tryon Park.
Children are encouraged to wear costumes or outfits related to their favorite superheroes. Families can also bring signs with sayings that support the message that superheroes are for everyone.
Ryan said she is looking forward to the event as a way to bolster her daughter’s self-confidence.
“I’m hoping that she can remember this experience and feel more comfortable with being who she is, in terms of what she likes and what her preferences are,” she said.