So my brother and I recently got into a weeks long text dispute over whether or not the Where’s Rey hash tag was something worth being offended about.
His take: No. There are tons of Rey toys, he bought my daughter one for Christmas. They aren’t hard to find, with right before Christmas being an exception because they were sold out. Not including her in the group sets creates a market scarcity, and how awesome of a money making strategy was it that Hasbro now has two sets of Star Wars monopoly? Plus they were trying to avoid spoilers. It created an air of mystery about the character. Women should be more focused on big, actual issues not whining about this unimportant stuff. Especially when the biggest movie of the year just had a super strong, capable, amazing female protagonist.
My take: What spoilers? Every toy but two shows Rey with the staff she had in the preview. There was no reason to delay launch based on what I’ve seen of these toys. The protagonist of the story should be (and in literally every other movie is) in every set with three or more characters unless said set is specifically “Droids” or “Sidekicks” or some other weird category. The protagonist has never before been an add on character you can only buy separate. Particularly when that protagonist is an underrepresented facet of society.
Look, I like princesses as much as the next person. Better, probably. But it sends a message that a girl can be an awesome pilot of a certain space ship and be left out of that set. That a girl can be a great fighter, but not show up alongside her opponent in boxed sets. That a girl can be the protagonist of the entire story and not be included in the games and major merchandise for the movie she starred in. You don’t create market scarcity with the protagonist. You do it with the adorable robot or a random sidekick. You take a not as valued character, like say Sailor Mercury or the ugly beanie babies and make that character 10,000 times more valued by making her harder to find.
As for worrying about real issues, the toy aisle is a real issue. Representation matters. The fact that the toy aisle is moving backward matters. Maybe not as much as rape or the big issues surrounding feminism, but that argument is a slippery slope. There’s always a bigger issue more worthy of getting upset over. That doesn’t mean the small stuff doesn’t matter or doesn’t contribute to those bigger issues. Especially when you’re talking about messages being sent to small children. They internalize those messages as they grow, and they don’t stop coming.
Girls do not exist in traditional “boy toys” like star wars sets, or they are very, very rare. You can’t find Black Widow in the “complete avengers set.” In the toy aisle, boys can pretend girls don’t exist at all. Incidentally, this doesn’t happen to the same degree in the girl toy aisle. There’s a prince for every princess.
“Boy” shows that too many girls like disappear and are pulled off the air. But if boys like a girls show, its a smash hit. In fact, if you look at the marketing for the most recent princess movies, you’ll find the previews “designed to appeal to boys” did so by creating a complete absence of girls. Remember that weird Olaf/Sven commercial? That whole thing where the names of the movies are no longer the names of the protagonists? That was thought up to create a crossover audience. Movies are headed in the right direction, but marketing is moving backward.
As boys grow, this absence continues in the classroom, where boys out talk girls and girls who speak as third as often as they do are labeled as chatty and distracting and accused of talking more than anyone else in the classroom. There’s a reason girls preface questions or comments in lecture like settings with “I’m sorry.” They are taught to from a very early age. It continues movies where the absence of girls has become so commonplace that people literally interpret a crowd of 17 women, 83 men as having an equal number of men and women. At 33 women to 67 men, women are seen as outnumbering the men. There’s a reason girls try to take up as little space as possible in public settings (though I maintain it’s just good manners not to sprawl out and take up as much space as possible, there IS a reason it’s a gendered phenomenon).
And let’s not even go into the absence of female historical figures despite their actual prevalence in history. Or of female authors. Or how anything that girls like en-masse is criticized and belittled into non-existence (think of all the criticism princess movies get compared to their super hero counterparts?).
We KNOW girls are absorbing all these subconscious messages. There have been countless studies to prove just how huge of an impact that socialized silence, and manners, and mannerisms have in every aspect of our lives.
But what impact is it having on boys? What does it mean that when they hear girls talk it’s instantly interpreted as taking over the conversation? What does it mean that when they see a crowd with 30% women they see themselves as outnumbered? What does it mean that from an incredibly early age on the toy aisle, they are trained to expect girls to vanish from their own stories so they don’t have to deal with having a female action figure spoiling their set. What message does it send that when they go with their sisters down the pink aisle they see space carved out for them their but the opposite isn’t true. What message does it send that when a little girl dresses up as batman she’s praised for breaking boundaries but little boys are shamed for dressing as princesses? That all their lives they hear girls stories, toys, movies, books, whatever thing is being geared toward girls trashed while their own play escapes the same scrutiny. That the worst thing you can imply about a boy is that he’s girly and in the inevitable romantic subplot of “boy” books and movies one of the go to lines is that “she’s not like other girls.”
It starts on the toy aisle.
The toy companies are fixing the Rey thing because of a hash tag. Or maybe my brother’s right, and the whole thing was a marketing tactic designed to get everyone offended and taking about the lack of toys so the second they made them, they’d be snatched off the shelf. Either way, leaving her out was damaging.
Representation matters. Because when people aren’t represented, they disappear. Even when they’re standing front and center in the spotlight. Amazing how that works.