Last week my goddaughter turned four and I wanted to buy her something that could help bring her towards my interests. Yeah, I'm trying to shape this kid into a nerd. Anyway, I went to Toys 'R Us looking for a girl-oriented Marvel or Star Wars toy, something she could play with that would introduce her to the world of fantastical fiction that I love so much*.
The only female toy in the Marvel or Star Wars aisles was a Slave Leia figure. There were forty Ezra Bridgers sitting around, no Heras or Sabines. There were a hundred variations on Iron Man, no Black Widow or Captain Marvel. There was A Nick Fury, in case a black kid wanted a toy that represented him, but it was a miniature toy, not even a cool full-sized one. But looking through all the figures and all the playsets I couldn't find a female toy except for the one that depicted a powerful politician and warrior reduced to the position of sex slave. I went to other stores and nada - you can get highly sexualized Catwomen or Harley Quinns with ease, but very little suitable for a four year old.
Things won't be getting any better any time soon. Hasbro has announced the details of their next waves of Star Wars Black Figures, and they have actually canceled Princess Leia from their upcoming waves of releases. She's getting replaced with Storm Troopers, of which there are many in the Black line.
This is kind of crazy, and what's more I think it's kind of bad capitalism. Look, I understand that for toy companies there's a business logic: girl figures do not sell because action figures are primarily boy items. I get this. But that truism is changing, and rather than be ahead of the curve when it comes to making money off the burgeoning wave of female fans, Hasbro (and other geek-oriented licensees, like whoever left Gamora off all the Guardians of the Galaxy t-shirts) is simply telling this new fanbase they don't want their money.
The fact that Hasbro is canceling one of its few Leia figures means that they're only keeping the status quo. Would more girl toys sell now, as the demographics of fandom shifts dramatically? No one can know when the toys don't exist. I wanted to go and spend my money on female characters for my goddaughter, but I was not offered the opportunity. Young female fans should be able to walk into Toys 'R Us and find a toy based on the largest and most popular stories in our pop culture that speaks to them. It's as simple as that, and when the only option is a sexualized and subservient variant - why would they want to buy that? Why would their parents want to buy that for them?
In the end I won't even argue this on social justice grounds - I don't think 'being marketed towards' is a great goal for equality, although it can reflect growing equality within the social structure - and I'll just go on financial grounds: keep up with the changing times, Hasbro. There is an army of consumers out there getting turned on to these movies and characters, and they're just as likely to waste their money on plastic garbage as the consumers you already have. You can make and sell stuff to all sorts of people, not just boys.
* totally anecdotal, but interesting thing: my goddaughter is nuts about Disney Princesses. Like, crazy for them... despite never having seen a Disney movie. Her parents raised her without gendered toys, but she gravitated to girly stuff, and once she got to pre-school the jig was up - the other girls got her into Princesses. She's not into Star Wars because the boys play Star Wars, and it involves a lot of fighting. She's not into fighting and she gets really upset when she sees injustice in a story, even when it's later rectified. I think my attempt to nerd her up is going to be an uphill battle. Oh well... I bought her the toy set linked below. Let's see if that's a good first step.