Jessica Jones’ Krysten Ritter stopped by Late Night with Stephen Colbert this week. While he praised Jessica Jones as a trailblazer for being the first female superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, talk quickly turned to the general lack of female representation in the MCU — which Colbert labelled “a sausagefest.”
Colbert brought up the recent Iron Man 3 controversy as an example of this, which shocked Ritter who had not heard that Marvel Studios executives were making decisions based on the idea that female action figures would not sell.
“Girls can sell toys!” she exclaimed indignantly. Colbert followed up by asking if there was an action figures for the decidedly adult Jessica Jones.
“I don’t know if there is yet, but there should be; and I bet it would sell huge; and I’m going to make some phone calls after this,” said a laughing Ritter.
Female fans are used to being ignored by science fiction franchises. The lack of merchandise from recent blockbuster films has led to hashtag campaigns including: #WheresNatasha, #WheresGamora, #WheresNatasha (again), and most recently #WheresRey — a campaign targeting the fact that the two female leads of the new Star Wars film — Rey and Captain Phasma — were left out of a Target-exclusive 12″ action figure set.
That one set seemed like part of an ongoing problem. For the previous six Star Wars movies, if a girl wanted to get a Star Wars t-shirt, she had to look in the boys department. Lucasfilm had not licensed a single Star Wars product for women or girls.
Lucasfilm CEO Kathleen Kennedy addressed the issue directly at the Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit in October.
Kathleen Kennedy: We have to make sure that we create products that are, in a sense, appealing to both boys and girls. What’s wrong with that? Even with simple things like t-shirts. There is a fantastic story with this young woman who came to Lucasfilm in 2009. She plays the character of Ahsoka in both Rebels and she also had a role in Clone Wars — and she came to Lucasfilm in 2009 saying, “Why aren’t there clothes that are tied to Star Wars for girls?”
She struggled for quite a while and then put a company together called Her Universe. And it’s doing unbelievable business. And it’s — in fact — the t-shirt that I ran down on the Comic Con floor and grabbed and put on before the Comic Con convention. It just shows that anyone who steps out and does something in quality; they find that there’s plenty of young girls and women out there who are just as interested as the boys.
But the changes went much further than Her Universe. With the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens — for the first time ever — Star Wars is being marketed directly to women and girls. Action figures, clothing, hand-bags and even a make-up line have been licensed — even if they are sometimes a little hard to find.
Female action figures have been flying off the shelves, with some items such as the Captain Phasma Black Series figure already selling for premium prices on ebay. “We underestimated the demand,” said one Disney executive on condition of anonymity. “We’re rushing to get more product into retail channels. It’s a good problem to have.”
To help female fans find the merchandise that is still out there, Heroic Girls has put together this guide highlighting some of the best Star Wars merchandise made for women and girls.
We’ve broken down our guide into sections, you can jump ahead if you like to”
Still a favorite among both kids and adults, Funko has made a full line of Pops for Star Wars, including multiple Reys, a Captain Phasma, and quite a few Leias from the original trilogy.
Star Wars Black Series
The “Black Series” is Hasbro’s name for their line of ultra-detailed collectible action figures. Rey has her own figure that comes with lovable droid BB-8, but the early sought-after prize is the hard-to-find Captain Phasma figure.
Action Figures & Playsets
The most encouraging development is the prevalence of toys developed for children. There are Rey and Phasma action figures, and playsets fully integrated into the consumer line right along side the boys. While there are tons of female figures and sets, our favorite might be the Rey’s Speeder Bike set, which comes with a bonus Rey action figure, dressed to survive the harsh desert landscape of Jakku.
LEGO has always done an above-average job of prioritizing diversity, and they continue that tradition with their Star Wars sets. Our favorite — again — is Rey’s Speeder Bike, which comes with dual stud shooters, opening storage hatch and side-mounted bag, blaster, buzzsaw, electrobinoculars and an “Unkar’s Thug” minifig, that we will go out on a limb and say is a bad guy .
Build-A-Bear has a full line of The Force Awakens characters — no Captain Phasma, but they have this awesome Rey.
Disney Infinity 3.0, the latest iteration of the popular toys-to-life franchise, is all about Star Wars. The default set comes with Anikan Skywalker and Jedi-in-training Ahsoka Tano, giving kids a choice of gender, right out of the box. The Force Awakens playset is similarly gender-balanced, coming with both Finn and Rey. There are also sets featuring Leia, and the women from Star Wars Rebels.
While there are several to choose from, our favorite Star Wars plush to date has to be the “Itty Bitty Rey” from Hallmark. We won’t justify this decision. Just look at it.
The days of raiding the boys department are finally over. Disney licensed apparel for women and girls to a ton of retailers, including Target, Macy’s, Kohls, Amazon and Her Universe. Here are a few of our favorite items.
If there is one person to thank for the fact that Disney is now Star Wars making merchandise for women, it is Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels. Ashley pushed Disney to give her a license to make Star Wars merchandise for women and girls — and when they said, “no,” she went out, recruited experts in fashion and apparel — and came back and asked again, and again, until the answer was, “yes.”
Her Universe proved once and for all that there was a market for quality geek merchandise and apparel for women. Ashley is the woman that made executives wake up and realize that women love comics, science fiction and fantasy just like the guys, and Her Universe remains the gold standard for female-friendly Star Wars apparel on the web.
BB-8 Bomber Jacket – Her Universe
Rey Resistance Youth Tee – Her Universe
Stormtrooper Circle Skirt – Her Universe
Try Not Triangle Chiffon Tee – Her Universe
While Macy‘s doesn’t have much Star Wars clothing for girls, they have an incredible selection for juniors and women, with t-shirts, dresses and jogger pants.
Mighty Fine Juniors’ Star Wars The Force High-Low Graphic T-Shirt – Macy’s
Juniors’ Star Wars Jogger Pants from Mighty Fine – Macy’s
Plus Size Star Wars Luke and Leia Graphic T-Shirt from Hybrid – Macy’s
Juniors’ Star Wars Storm Trooper Sheath Dress from Hybrid – Macy’s
Target provides a wide assortment of entry-level Star Wars fashions for both women and girls. We buy a lot of stuff for the girls here because we want it to look good, but we don’t want to spend a ton of money on clothes they will outgrow in six months.
Star Wars Darth Vader Graphic Sweatshirt – Target
Girls’ Star Wars Leggings – Target
Girls’ Star Wars Trooper In Ya Face T-Shirt – Target
Girls’ Star Wars T-Shirt – Target
Kohl’s — the second largest department store in the United States — has some truly stunning Star Wars apparel that elevates your fandom above simple cotton tees.
Rock & Republic Star Wars Embellished Hoodie – Kohl’s
Women’s Rock & Republic Star Wars Poster Graphic Tee – Kohl’s
Juniors’ Star Wars Princess Leia Tee – Kohl’s
Juniors’ Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens Graphic T-Shirt – Kohl’s
Amazon partnered with Disney to license a fairly extensive line of Star Wars apparel and accessories that they carry right along side apparel made by other manufacturers. While many stores carry merch for women, online is still one of the best places to find apparel for girls. If you’re having trouble finding clothing that let’s your little girl’s geek flag fly, Amazon is a great place to look.
Star Wars Girls’ Rey and BB-8 Walking Girls Short Sleeve Graphic Tee – Amazon
Star Wars Juniors’ Henna Trooper Tattoo Art Racerback Graphic Tank Top – Amazon
Star Wars Juniors’ Episode 7 The Force Awakens Rebel Graphic Tank – Amazon
Star Wars Big Girls’ Galaxy Far Away Tee – Amazon
JCPenney has some cool designs that you can’t find anywhere else — including skirts, leggings and overprint tees.
Star Wars Short-Sleeve Burnout T-Shirt – JCPenney
Star Wars Bodycon Skirt – JCPenney
Star Wars Galaxy Leggings – JCPenney
Star Wars Long-Sleeve Reversible Sweatshirt – JCPenney
Jewelry & Accessories
Hip bag and apparel maker Loungefly has bee cranking out some really attractive Star Wars handbags, wallets, cosmetics bags and more. And they are quality products. The wallets are made from leather. The totes are lined, with zippered products. If you want to display your geek pride over your shoulder, but all the bags you could found were made from cheap vinyl and plastic — your days of waiting are over.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens BB-8 Embossed Wallet – Loungefly
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Captain Phasma Embossed Mini Dome Bag – Loungefly
Star Wars Tattoo Flash Print Coin/Cosmetic Bag – Loungefly
Next Star Wars Ewok Face Crossbody Bag – Loungefly
While there are inexpensive costume pieces at almost every retailer, Kay Jewelers has rolled out an entire line of exquisite gold and silver Star Wars jewelry. There has never been a better time to get a Darth Vader pendant made out of black diamonds.
Star Wars Earrings Stormtrooper 10K Yellow Gold – Kay Jewelers
Star Wars Onyx Bracelet Darth Vader Sterling Silver – Kay Jewelers
Star Wars Necklace Spinning BB-8 10K Yellow Gold – Kay Jewelers
Charmed Memories Star Wars Rebel Alliance Sterling Silver Charm – Kay Jewelers
Covergirl released a line of Star Wars themed cosmetics with six “looks” including “Droid,” “Mystic,” and “Chrome Captain.” Smartly, they also recruited Janelle Monae as their “Resistance Pilot,” and we pretty much buy whatever the Eletric Lady is selling.
As we continue to fight for equal representation in the action figure aisle with campaigns like #WheresGamora, #WheresNatasha or the recent #WheresRey, sometimes it can be instructive to look back to where it all began — with Star Wars.
This classic toy commercial from 1977 is both a source of hope, and a bit depressing. The hope comes from the fact that is shows a way of marketing toys that is actually better than what we have now. But it’s depressing because we had it way back in 1977 and we’ve actually gone backwards since then.
Here are a few lessons that marketing executives today could learn from a commercial made almost 40 years ago.
Princess Leia is more important than a generic stormtrooper
Because of an erroneous belief that boys will instinctively avoid anything that has to do with girls, marketers putting together modern sets often replace important female characters with other male heroes, or generic male villains.
Back in 1977, they realized that the female lead of the film was actually pretty important, and young fans of the movie might want to play with her as well — both girls and boys.
“The assumption that boys are only interested in male characters has probably been a guiding assumption since the advent of action figures, although it seems to have gained strength in recent years,” said Dr. Elizabeth Sweet, a sociologist and lecturer at UC Davis who focuses on focuses on gender and children’s toys.
While female action figures have become increasingly rare, it wasn’t always that way. “In the 1975 Sears Wishbook, the action figure lines for both the Star Trek series and the Planet of the Apes series included female characters. And, of course, the original Kenner Star Wars action figures had several different versions of Princess Leia,” she said.
Boys and girls can play together
The commercial is actually striking in that it shows a boy and a girl playing together with the same toys. Toy companies don’t do that very often anymore. “There are now far fewer non-gendered items available for children than in any prior era,” said Dr. Sweet. The idea that all toys have a “gender,” that they must either be for a boy or for a girl — but never both — is a recent invention.
In the Sears catalog ads from 1975, less than 2 percent of toys were explicitly marketed to either boys or girls. Rather than telling boys that playing with girls makes them look weak, or selling girls on the idea that boys were gross and stupid, toy companies used to actually encourage them to play together.
This is both a winnings sales strategy, and sociologically better for our kids. We want boys and girls to play together so that they can become well-adjusted adults, but if every single toy you can buy is heavily gendered, it inhibits play between boys and girls, and it is sending the message to our kids that boys and girls playing together is somehow wrong.
“This kind of marketing has normalized the idea that boys and girls are fundamentally and markedly different from one another, and this very idea lies at the core of many of our social processes of inequality,” according to Dr. Sweet.
The past isn’t what it used to be
As easy as it would be to paint an idyllic portrait of a more gender-equal time, Dr. Sweet cautions that things were far from perfect.
“I don’t want to overstate the gender diversity of historic action figures – while female characters were arguably more prevalent than what we see now, female-character action figures were still vastly underrepresented in historic sets,” she said.
But still, for all its flaws, it is hard to look at that commercial from 1977 of a boy and girl playing Star Wars together with action figures of both genders and not think we have taken a giant step backwards when it comes to gender neutral marketing to kids.
Were you aware that on top of Tim Hortons, hockey and free health-care, Canada also has an abundant supply of thoughtful radio talk shows where people don’t yell at one another and accuse opponents of treason? Who knew such a thing was possible?
Heroic Girls founder John Marcotte was interviewed on Calgary’s News 770 AM, on the lack of Black Widow superhero merchandise in the toy aisle. We talked about why this is happening, what the negative effects of this type of gendered marketing might be and potential solutions on the horizon.
It was a pleasant and illuminating conversation, and I encourage people to take a listen.
Natasha Romanov, the Black Widow, is the world’s deadliest assassin and spy, and essential part of the Avengers movie franchise. But with Avengers: Age of Ultron hitting theaters the Friday, Marvel and Disney continue to treat Natasha as the “invisible woman” when it comes to toys, clothing and other merchandise.
Of the 60 products that Marvel and Disney released for Avengers: Age of Ultron, only three featured Black Widow. That’s five percent. There were no Black Widow action figures, costumes or clothing for girls. The three Black Widow items available from Marvel are a tote bag, a men’s t-shirt, and a figure that is part of a large LEGO set.
Marvel’s licensing partners do not fare much better. Black Widow is consistently left out of toy lines, the fail to even try to market her to girls and she is excluded from team shots on merchandise aimed at boys.
Last summer, we all were asking #WheresGamora? We hoped that the outcry would lead to changes in marketing this time around. It did not.
Fight the Power
There are two ways you can help Marvel and Disney see the error of their way. The first is to find examples of how Black Widow is excluded from merchandise, take a photo and then share it on Twitter with the hashtag #WheresNatasha.
We’ve partnered with our friends over at Legion of Leia to get the word out, but we need your help, too. Every hashtag, signature and share puts more pressure on the decision-makers who have decided that girls don’t need heroic toys and that boys can never look up to a woman as a hero.