Sometimes good people say dumb things, and in those times it falls to other good people to call them out. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 actors Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield seem like good people and a sweet couple -- they've been dating since 2011 -- but in a recent kids' Q&A to promote their upcoming movie, Garfield said a dumb, sexist thing. And co-star Stone coolly challenged him for it. You can watch the video right here.

Asked by an adorable English tyke, "How did Spider-Man get his costume?", Garfield replies, "He made it. He made it with his bare hands. He sewed it. ... It's kind of a feminine thing to do, but he really made a very masculine costume."

If Garfield had a spider-sense to warn him when he's in trouble, this is when it should have tingled. To suggest that sewing is feminine is to imply that certain jobs are more appropriate for a woman than a man. To say Peter Parker made a masculine costume implies that he had to salvage his masculinity from the indignity of women's work. This is some old fashioned thinking, to say the least.

Thankfully Emma Stone was on hand to challenge the idea that sewing is feminine, asking, "It's feminine how?" This earned some cheers and applause from the audience, and a "wooh" from co-star Jamie Foxx, and put Garfield on the defensive.

"It's amazing how you took that as an insult," said Garfield.

"I'm not taking it as an insult, I'm asking how it's feminine."

We all make mistakes, and Garfield's attempt to deflect the challenge is sadly typical of someone caught making a mistake in public. Less typical, but very welcome, was Stone's refusal to be derailed. She wanted an explanation. Garfield worked his way towards one.

"I would say that femininity is about more delicacy and precision and detail work and craftsmanship -- like my mother, she's an amazing craftsman. She in fact made my first Spider-Man costume when I was three. So I use it as a compliment. To compliment the feminine not just in women but in men as well. We all have feminine in us, young men."

That's still a response that panders to stereotype, but at least Garfield managed to praise (and personalize) these supposedly feminine traits, and to acknowledge that these traits are not actually determined by gender. Of course, he still used the word "craftsman" to describe his own dear mother. Garfield's past behaviour -- for example, his enthusiasm for playing basketball with local kids in full Spider-Man costume between takes -- suggest that he's the sort of considerate soul who might have found his way to a more rounded answer if given enough time.

And that matters. The best of us make dumb remarks sometimes. We use demeaning language because it's familiar -- "girly", "gay", "retarded" -- or we fall into easy stereotypes about behavior based on gender, race, et cetera. Our reflex when challenged will often be to try to dismiss, to deflect, to derail.

It's important to try to find our way back to a better answer. It's important to find the space and time to get there.

It's also vitally important that people like Emma Stone are there to make the challenge, and it takes courage to do that, and cool-headedness to do it right, because backing someone into a corner usually makes them double-down on jerky behavior. That this exchange occurred in front of a room full of kids makes it especially vital. After all, today's kids are tomorrow's internet commenters. Let's teach them well, and let them lead the way.

Jamie Foxx almost dug a fresh hole, responding to Garfield's claim that we all have feminine in us by saying, "Not me. I'm extremely macho. I've never done anything feminine." He defused the defensiveness of the statement by wiping his brow with a conspicuously effete gesture. For comic effect. I'm still trying to unpack all the implications there, but we'll take life one fight at a time, I suppose.

Spider-Man did of course sew his own costumes in the comics, because he couldn't ask anyone else to do it without jeopardising his secret identity. It's a valuable life skill for any young hero to have.




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