There is a serious injustice happening right now in the Toy industry. I’m not talking about how we’ve strayed from making toys indestructible (have you ever tried to break a Lincoln Log?), or how craftsmanship is a thing of the past. Nor am I talking about how most toys now-a-days have some kind of mechanical battery operated mechanism which leaves nothing left for imagination. No – the injustice I speak of is something that’s always been there, yet I’m so damn fed up with it – and that’s gederfication and blatant sexism in the toy industry.
Recently I was taking a stroll in Target, probably picking up some sheets for the guest room or something, which is neither here nor there. Anyway, my husband and I always check out the toy aisle despite not having children of our own. We’re geeks. We like toys. We also have nieces and nephews that like toys – so there is always a reason to go down the toy aisle. Don’t judge me.
But when we were going through the “Marvel” section (yes… they have a Marvel section now), I noticed something that made me look twice. What’s wrong with this photo? Notice anything strange?
Could it be that it’s a package of actions figures marketed as “THE AVENGERS” and they just happened to place Ultron (the Villain) smack-dab next to Hulk? Or is is that the box is marketed as “THE AVENGERS” and NOT ALL THE AVENGERS ARE PRESENT!
You see – this is the part where I get pissed. Black Widow is missing. And that’s on purpose. She was magically replaced with Ultron, because, you know – he’s such an integral part of the Avenger’s team. Hmph.
So there I was in Target, visibly turning red, and about to have a conniption fit… and before I could scream, my husband gently removed me from the aisle. In my mind I kept asking myself, why in the hell would Marvel, Target, and any of the countless other decision makers between “idea” to “production” approve of dismissing Black Widow from the Avengers pack? Who said that was okay? Surely this was just a mistake or oversight?
Then, not but two days later, my buddy ol’ Pal Ryan sent me this:
OH HOLY HELL! What is going on!? This is some sick joke, right? Where the hell is Black Widow? PLEASE, someone tell me they didn’t just replace Black Widow with Captain America? They wouldn’t do that – would they?
They would. Not only with Cap, but also with Iron Man.
Damn it. Damn it. Damn it.
Jesus H. Shwartzman. Now I’m beyond pissed. Oh – don’t get me wrong, I was pissed before, but now there is no turning back. I’m at spewing bile stage – Linda Blair style.
It is completely inexcusable in my mind to create toys that basically erases Black Widow’s biggest moment of self-sacrifice and heroism from the movie by replacing her with Captain America or Iron Man. This is a whole other level of doing willful disservice to young Marvel fans. And it’s cheap – I don’t care what you say about marketing dollars (I’m looking at you Watson).
“Kids of all genders deserve to be shown that girls are capable of saving themselves and that femininity isn’t toxic or inferior, and the few (and remarkably elusive) Black Widow figurines Disney currently offers simply aren’t sufficient. And it’s not just feminist bloggers that think that either; Mark Ruffalo, Clark Gregg, and young fans have all asked #WheresNatasha.” – The Mary Sue.
Why can’t we have women super hero action figures front and center? Why are we telling our kids that it’s okay to dismiss a women action figure? Why are we buying this shoveled shit off the toy shelves and perpetuating the market research that “Boys want boys toys” and “girls want girls toys.” It’s a complete disservice to the intelligence of our kids who should grow up to look past gender, race, color, sexual preference, and anything that says someone is better or should be worth more than another. It’s wrong, and we all know it.
The absence of Black Widow in the new line of Avenger’s toys is a huge misstep. I cannot excuse it, and I won’t. But surely the previous examples were simply poor decisions made by stupid people at the most inopportune time. I mean – there are good examples of women action hero toys out there, right? Or is Marvel & Disney just that inept?
So I did a little more digging. And I was surprised at what I found. And not in a good way.
This is supposed to be Scarlet Witch….. I have no words. I’m appalled. Maybe it’s cheap material, or maybe it’s that she only bends at the groin. Or maybe it’s that she too was left out of the Avenger’s pack. At this point, I don’t know anymore.
It’s not just the Avengers toys that are lacking. Lord knows that when Guardians of the Galaxy was at it’s height, you can bet there wasn’t a Gamora or Nebula action figure to be found….not out of popularity of selling out, but out of the sheer fact that they were never made. This became such big deal, that a campaign was created around #WheresGamora. But if Disney has taught us anything, its that they don’t see the value in developing merchandise for female characters that aren’t princesses. PRINCESSES! That’s right little Jenny – we’d like you to idolize an over privileged (and usually underage) girl who’s only goal is to be married in the morning verses having anything to do with a strong woman who can get by on her own. You know, priorities.
We are better than this – the toy industry SHOULD be better than this – our kids are better than this.
And you know what? One of the worst things I came across when I started looking for good examples is that I ended up finding more bad examples. It was completely disheartening.
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So, the other night, on May the 4th to be exact, I sat down with my 4 year old daughter and showed her Star Wars: A New Hope. It was her first time watching it. She loved it. Her favorite character was Princess Leia. She kept asking "Where is Princess Leia? Where is Princes Leia?" A few nights later, I show her Empire Strikes Back (or as she called it "The Emperor stripes back) and within four minutes of watching the movie she says, "It's so tiring watching these movies. It's always boys, boys, boys and there's only one girl." I could not of been more proud of her. So today I take her to Toys "R" Us to buy her a light saber and a Princess Leia toy. After being told that the light sabers were "in the boys section", she picks out the light saber of her choosing and asks about the Princess Leia toy. One problem: they only had the "slave Leia". As you can see, sad depressing, "slave Leia". So wrong. The only good to come from this is that, once again, my daughter makes me look at the world in a whole new light. #HelpusJJyoureouronlyhope
Star Wars. Oh Star Wars – you were supposed to be a pioneer in paving the way for a strong female character to be marketed and sold to kids everywhere! But you too fell short! And Leia is a DISNEY PRINCESS to boot! Okay, okay, I’ll be fair, it’s not totally Disney/Marvel’s fault, because the Star Wars franchise hasn’t always been under their umbrella. And yet – blah. We get slave Leia.
It makes me sad that we continually fall short in the toy industry. Not only with how we are portraying women super heroes, but also how we are dictating WHO gets to play with what toys? We really are doing a piss poor job when it comes to promoting strong female characters, especially in the toy industry. Why do we keep gender an issue when discussing what toys boys and girls should play with? And why should we care? Let me tell you why:
- Kids should decide for themselves what they think is fun. Why put these limits on play?
- Play matters. Children need a wide range of play to develop different skills.
- Marketing matters. Directing consumers in this way is restricting children’s play.
- The real world has moved on. These gender stereotypes are tired and out of date.
There is a wonderful campaign currently happening in the UK called “Let Toys Be Toys” The campaign asks the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.
This is huge people! And if you don’t think so, just go to your local toy store and check out the aisles. Go to your local Target, Toys R’ Us, Walmart, etc. and you will see that color alone is marketing girls against boys and subconsciously telling them which aisle is “for them.” And you can probably guess that all the girl stuff is packaged and marketed in Pink – boys in blue. Why are we doing this to our kids? Don’t we want them to grown up accepting all people, all types, and all colors?
I’ve been ranting for a while, and if you’ve made it this far with me – thank you, I’m impressed. Gold star for effort everyone. And while I’m handing out gold stars, I should stop to give credit where credit is due. There are a few toys and distribution companies out there that are trying to change for the better. I personally love what Goldie Blox is doing to help girls learn more about how to make and create things based on math (a typically male dominated subject). Another company called Play Worm is doing something similar but expanded around math physics, astronomy, and science. LEGO recently released it’s all female branded line Research Institute. So gold stars for all of those companies.
So as I leave you dear readers, I implore you to be aware of what you are buying when you buy something for your kids. What are you really telling them (and the heads of marketing) when you make that purchase? I dream of a day when “girls” and “boys” toys are a thing of the past, and instead we look at toys without a gender lens. I also want to see women action figures right next to the men action figures and given equal chance for purchase. I want to see a full sized Avengers pack that actually includes all of the Avengers. I want to see less pink, less blue, and more FUN. Because FUN is a color that should represent all toys, not just marketing dollars.