Tag: Black Widow

Hasbro’s Problem With Women: Part Five

I’ve put a lot of thought into how I’ve structured this series. I was worried, for instance, that three straight weeks of interviews along a similar subject line would feel too repetitive. In the end, though, I went with it, because I wanted to establish the impact of what I’m discussing. It’s easy to point at a line of figures and say, “more of those need to be women.” It’s a simple, casual, and even correct observation. However, it’s also ineffective.

The point of part one was to identify a current practice as it was occurring; that piece published the same day that the Rescue figure was announced. Parts two three, and four were even more important; they establish the impact of that practice. As I said, it’s easy to point at a line, but that pointing doesn’t establish why the change needs to happen. It needs to happen because it affects people. It affects grown women, who look at something like a Play Arts figure or a Bishoujo statue and see, both clearly and immediately, that their desires, their concerns, and their opinions were not considered. This is, arguably, worse than having those desires and opinions dismissed; dismissal at least requires the chance to raise those things first. No, in this situation, those things are not even on the table. It’s as though they’re not worthy of wasting an iota of thought on, and women get to see that on display every time they walk down those store aisles.

A final caveat: Like in the first four parts, I’ll be confining my explorations largely to the 6″ scale Marvel Legends line. While Hasbro has other offerings in many scales with many other franchises, I quite frankly only have the money to spend on one of them. Also, those other lines would only marginally skew the numbers I’m working with here–in many cases, they’re actually worse than Marvel Legends.

Case in point: This small-scale Avengers Vs. Ultron 9-pack went to great lengths to include a large number of characters, but still managed to not include either of the two women featured in the film, despite the fact that the majority of the characters chosen are easily available outside of this pack.

Case in point: This small-scale Avengers Vs. Ultron 9-pack went to great lengths to include a large number of characters, but still managed to not include either of the two women featured in the film, despite the fact that the majority of the characters chosen are easily available outside of this pack.

The Widow Parallel

I discussed in part one the way that Rescue was initially planned for retail release in 2013, only to finally be announced again two years later as an incentive bonus. The path of the Black Widow figure is not identical, but it is markedly similar. In 2012, The Avengers hit theaters. Hasbro, smartly, used the film as a springboard to restart the Marvel Legends line. The line had been having some trouble that ran pretty parallel with the overall economic troubles the US had been experiencing. Having licensed figures of a smash hit film was exactly what they needed, and so they released a six figure line: Captain America, Hawkeye, Hulk, Iron Man, Loki, and Thor.

You’ll note a character missing from that roster.

It’s worth noting that, despite the rarity of villains from the MCU getting figures, Loki got precedence over Black Widow (and this despite the fact that her best scene in the film consists of playing him like a fiddle). Going back over the timeline, Black Widow’s first MCU appearance was in 2010’s Iron Man 2, which means that she was a part of the franchise before Captain America, Thor and Hawkeye. Still—no figure.

In fact, Widow wouldn’t get a figure for her appearance in Avengers until—you guessed it—two years later. This figure came out as part of a series tied with Captain America: The Winter Soldier—what would be her third appearance in the franchise. Even then, that figure was primarily a Winter Soldier figure in terms of costume design—it just had an alternate head featuring her haircut from the Avengers film. Her release for Avengers: Age of Ultron, part of the oft-discussed Amazon Box Set: a retooled version of the earlier release. The only differences are a new head, a slightly retooled abdomen, and the left hand.

The new Age of Ultron figure on the left, the previous figure on the right. Green circles indicate changes.

The new Age of Ultron figure on the left, the previous figure on the right. Green circles indicate changes. Scowls indicate dissatisfaction with flash photography.

For contrast, Hasbro has released a six-inch figure of every single suit of armor that Tony Stark has worn onscreen in the MCU save only two: The Mark 7, which appeared in the climax of Avengers, and the Mark 45, which appeared in the climax of Age of Ultron. The only repaints in that run are the Mark 3 and the Mark 43, which were repaints of the iteration directly before them in the film as well. Captain America has had four figures (one for each film appearance), Hulk four (two from the Avengers movies, one Norton Hulk and one Banner). Black Widow, who changed costumes for each of her four appearances to date, has only had one costume appear in figure form, and furthermore as an afterthought in both appearances.

It’s what makes the #WeWantWidow campaign an even more egregious oversight on Hasbro’s part—they’ve literally already been called out on this exact subject. The reason Widow came with an Avengers-styled head for her Winter Soldier release was because of how glaring her absence was during that earlier film’s marketing. One such oversight might be considered an easy mistake. Two becomes more suspicious.

Of course, even then, it’s only two if you restrict this criteria to Black Widow only. When you look at the merchandising for the MCU as a whole, you’ll note that only three women have had the action figure treatment: Black Widow, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Maria Hill, and Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy. That means: No Sif, no Jane Foster, no Pepper Potts (her upcoming Rescue figure is not an MCU version, remember), no Agent Carter, no Hope van Dyne, and no Scarlet Witch, despite what is again a very prominent role in Marvel’s biggest movie of the year. Furthermore, of the three that were made, Black Widow and Maria Hill share retooled versions of the same sculpt (the abdomen on the new Black Widow actually first appeared on the Maria Hill figure). While retooling and reuse is a long tradition in toylines, the decision to use the same sculpt a total of three times in a sub-line where there are only four female figures total is…questionable.

At any rate, that’s the parallel I mentioned earlier in the series–two female figures, sidelined and finally slated for release two years after the fact, while their male counterparts received multiple releases in the interim.

Hasbro’s 2015 Track Record

Now, I don’t want to ignore the progress that Hasbro has made in this regard. 2015 has been a banner year for the Marvel Legends line. This year they’ve put out over seventy three figures in the six-inch scale, up from 2014’s thirty-seven. Of those thirty-seven in 2014, only eight were female characters. To their credit, they’ve gone from being able to count their female characters per year on one’s fingers to releasing sixteen this year alone. Sixteen female characters in 2015, double the previous year’s! That’s great!

Until you start crunching the numbers. If you do, you’ll realize that, in this same year, they’ve released fifty seven male characters in the same toy line—more male characters than the entirety of releases for 2014—and that number climbs to sixty if you count interchangeable parts for some of those characters.

ML2015

A spreadsheet of Hasbro’s Marvel Legends releases for 2015.

That’s a ratio of more than seven-to-two, for those keeping track. For those keeping even more track, you’ll note that seven-to-two ratio applies to both years. That’s where the numbers really stand out: When doubling product for 2015, Hasbro doubled the numbers of male and female characters released almost exactly. Even so, it’s possible to chalk that up to coincidence–which is why I crunched the numbers on Marvel Legends for every year since Hasbro acquired the license. There was one year–2009–where the ratio is the same, and two where the ratios are better (one of those years had no general retail releases). Every other year has been worseThe ratio isn’t accidental. It’s deliberate.

And sure, with a number that high, we’ve gotten a lot of new, obscure characters out of that mix! However, we’ve also gotten:

  • Five Hank Pyms
  • Four Ant-Mans
  • Four Spider-Men
  • Four Iron Men
  • Three Hulks (or two and one Bruce Banner, if you want to split hairs)
  • Three Thors
  • Two Captains America
  • Two Groots
  • Two Hawkeyes
  • Two Daredevils
  • Two Ultrons
  • Two Visions

Again, to contrast: Of the sixteen female characters released in 2015, only three of them qualify (loosely) as duplicates: Spider-Woman, Ultimate Spider-Woman, and Spider-Girl are all separate characters who share similar monikers, as opposed to the list above, where we’re literally looking at duplicates of the same characters over and over. This point is actually good for the sake of female characters! Hasbro is at least releasing different characters, instead of the same couple over and over.

So—female characters are being made at a rate of two for every seven male characters. Not only are the male characters getting a massive precedence in the production rates, but several of those characters are getting multiple figures, when those slots could be budgeted for, say, a Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel, aka Marvel’s breakout hit of the last couple of years.

To highlight the glaring difference we’re talking about, let’s go back to Scarlet Witch. Scarlet Witch debuted alongside her brother in 1964 as an X-Men villain, then from there did a heel/face turn and joined the Avengers in 1965. Like Pepper Potts, this means that Scarlet Witch has been around for quite some time. She and her brother have been around long enough and are popular enough that they’ve appeared in both X-Men: Days of Future Past and Avengers: Age of Ultron despite those movies not sharing continuity. And yet—there is no action figure of Scarlet Witch’s film appearance (for Age of Ultron, she was a small child in Days of Future Past, so we can probably let that one slide). There is an action figure of her as she appears in comic books—sort of. That figure is the first Scarlet Witch figure in the Marvel Legends line in eleven years–and the previous one was from before Hasbro acquired the license.

Again: Five Hank Pyms, one year. Two Scarlet Witches, more than a decade and two different companies. This is what I mean when I say that Hasbro has a problem with women. As much as I’d like to believe that problem is getting better, it’s going to take more than two years of a slightly less dismal ratio in order to convince me.

Next week, I’ll tackle the topic of upcoming figures for 2016, and how these decisions are carrying into the future of the line.

Hasbro’s Problem With Women: Part Four

In part one of this series, I spoke first about the problems inherent in the decision to release a Pepper Potts Rescue figure as an online exclusive as opposed to its original slated mass release. Then, in parts two and three, I talked to both Claire Napier and El A. about their experiences in the toy market, and how the idea that there are “boy” toys and “girl” toys can be inherently destructive and marginalizing at a very young age. Today, my third and final interview is with Bailey Poland, author and collector, about her experiences.

I’d start with the question of whether you buy figures regularly, but in your case, I’ve seen (and been a little envious of) pictures of your collection. So I’ll start with: What got you started buying figures?

It is definitely a fairly regular habit with me. When I first started dating Gabe, who is now my husband, I had a couple of loose figures, but I was not actually engaged in collecting. He’s a lifelong collector, and he was sort of a guide as I got more seriously into it. Once I figured out what I wanted my focus to be on (loosely, “badass ladies”/Wonder Woman, and Star Wars) I took off from there.

You’re likely very aware of the outcry over Hasbro’s lack of Black Widow merchandise in conjunction with the Avengers: Age of Ultron release, yes?

Oh definitely – including their decision to place Cap in a toy version of a scene she starred in, and her absence on the DVD covers.

Are you aware of the upcoming release of a 6″ Widow figure as part of an Amazon box set?

I am! It would be nice if we could get a better ratio than 3:1 sometime on these. The set with Maria Hill was also 3:1. [1]

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD 3-Pack

Hasbro’s Marvel Legends: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D 3-Pack. Maria Hill is only the third female character from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be released by Hasbro.

Pack ratio aside, do you see any other problems with that release?

She’s not as sexualized as some versions I’ve seen. I don’t love that it’s a nearly identical sculpt to the previous release, but that’s not uncommon for figures generally.

That’s true. What are your thoughts on the idea of only making her available as a box set, and furthermore as an online exclusive as opposed to a general retail release?

That’s also prohibitive – I had to buy the entire box set to get the Maria Hill figure, which was a big expense to end up with 3 other figures that are not being displayed. For people on a budget, having female characters limited in that way can really be a problem.

How do you feel about the representation of female characters in action figure form? As a collector with a specific focus, are you happy with the amount of offerings out there, or do you wish there was a better spread? Specifically in terms of release rates; every collector I know wants more of their favorite characters in general.

One of the reasons I settled on using Wonder Woman as a focal point is that she is one of the few female characters you can find fairly reliably. Overall, though, there is a massive dearth of female characters in pretty much every line of toys out there, and it is hugely frustrating. The LCS[2] I go to has probably between 15 and 20 male figures for each female figure, and that’s true of most toy stores as well. Part of that is a problem of the culture itself – male characters still dominate a lot of the stories that figures are coming from. However, a lot of female characters end up getting totally left out of the merchandise, which does not help. I’ve built up a pretty large collection of female characters, but that’s after 2 and a half years of serious work on it, which not everyone has the time or resources to do.

And yet the industry perception is that female characters don’t sell.

Yeah, that is another big problem. They devote fewer resources to the female figures, the ones that do get put out are often lower-quality and hyper-sexualized, and the culture itself still has a lot of gatekeeping to getting women into collecting, when we would be a massive market. Can you imagine how well a Kamala Khan Ms. Marvel figure would sell? They wouldn’t be able to keep it on the shelves.

Absolutely–the recent Carol-as-Captain figure flew off of the pegs. Have you ever felt uncomfortable buying figures?

I definitely have – there are a lot of assumptions about what I’m doing in a specific environment, what I know about what I’m doing, and what my interests are. I wrote about this some in my piece on why comic shops aren’t welcoming to women – all of that is also true in toy shops, especially given the large overlap between the two. There’s definitely sometimes the sense that I’m being perceived as an interloper, or that my interest is not genuine or not as strong as theirs, which leads to some aggression, some posturing. There are also always the guys who orbit in stores like that and try to hit on me or “helpfully” point out things I already know

Have you ever bought a figure of a female character just because it’s the only representation of that character, even if you were unhappy with the design?

Frequently, yeah. Kotobukiya makes some of the most incredible statues I’ve seen, and their Bishoujo line is no exception, but it also cannot be denied that those figures in particular are incredibly sexualized. I’ve heard every defense in the book for it, but it can’t be denied that the superheroines, for example, are powerful women who are being put into often uncharacteristic poses. That is done for a specific audience, and it isn’t inherently bad, BUT there is so little representation otherwise that if you want a Koto statue of many of those characters, that’s your only option. I have a ton of the Bishoujo figures, but I am always a little disappointed that I can’t just get the characters as they are. Ditto the Play Arts Kai Wonder Woman, Black Widow, etc. Really, really cool figures with about a million articulations, and all of them are unbelievably sexualized in ways that don’t feel true to the characters.

I also once had a couple of guys who were collectors harass me online for hours for pointing that out, so that is a bone of contention for a lot of people.

bishoujo

Kotobukiya Bishoujo Starfire, Mystique, and Spider-Woman.

I have definitely been personally embroiled in an argument over whether Kotobukiya figures are unnecessarily sexualized. It’s always fun when people fall back on the, “Well I don’t see it that way, therefore it’s not” defense.

People get super, super heated when it comes up. “I have a right to my opinion!” Yawn.

Do you think the type and level of representation that women and female characters have in toys, especially when combined with gendered marketing and the fact that the target demographic is often kids, contributes to the marginalization of women as those kids grow older?

Absolutely. I think it’s one of those things where media is part of a cycle – women are underrepresented, and represented in limited/limiting ways when they do appear. That affects who feels welcome in those environments, who remains interested, and where the market goes through time. That also becomes a self-perpetuating cycle, where there’s the assumption that women are just naturally uninterested, and therefore nothing about the status quo needs to be (or even can be) changed. Girls grasp from a very young age that they’re not welcome in certain spaces – by the time we get to adulthood, a lot of us have lost whatever interest we may have had at one point.

Had you heard about the Rescue figure before I mentioned it this morning?

I had not! I don’t follow the Iron Man figure releases very closely, so I missed that one.

Well, for background, it’s a figure of Pepper’s armor, and it’s announced as an exclusive for Marvel’s Digital Unlimited subscription for 2016. For more background, it was originally planned as a retail release in 2013, was molded and tooled, but never put into production. It just vanished. Hasbro put out a series of Iron Man figures that year that contained three versions of Iron Man and two of Iron Patriot, however.

I remember there being a massive glut of Iron Man figures for quite some time

It’s interesting to me that the release of this figure so closely mirrors the path of the Black Widow figure.

Yeah, there are some important parallels to draw there.

I’m trying to think of anything to say about that that we haven’t already covered…anything to add on your part?

I think we pretty much hit a lot of the big stuff. One of the key things for me is that even when collecting is frustrating or limited, it’s also still really fun and rewarding, and it’s something I wish a lot more women were into. It’s going to be an uphill battle to change the market to actually be welcoming to women, but getting women interested again will have to be a big part of that.

I’ve talked to a few folks, and the running theme seems to be: Better/less objectifying designs, better availability, and including women both in the design phase and marketing demographics.

Definitely. Having better diversity at all stages of the process will speed that change along immeasurably

Thank you so much for taking the time!

I think that it’s important to note the way that all three interviewees have answered these questions. I selected three of them only on the criteria that they’re generally a part of what’s considered “geek culture”–that’s a whole other thing–and yet their answers are almost uniform in the way that they’ve felt regarding the treatment of women.

I also spoke with the three of them because I’m not a woman. I don’t have these experiences. The collector toy market is, ostensibly, geared directly at me. By and large, my personal relationship to the issue is that characters I’d like to see get made don’t get made on the basis of their gender. I think it’s absurd, but as a man, there are plenty of characters out there for me to identify with. You’ve heard talk of privilege in various spaces of the internet, no doubt, but this is what it is in its essence; I’m considered a prime demographic, these women are not. The extension of that logic is that my expendable income is desired, and theirs is not. Take a moment to consider that concept. These companies are literally willing to cheat themselves out of money in the name of adhering to sexist standards.

Next week, I’ll discuss the parallels of Black Widow and Rescue, to which I’ve alluded in this interview, and also review Hasbro’s overall 2015 track record.

[1]The pack she references was actually a 2:1 male to female ratio. This does not change her point in the slightest, I only include the correction for the pedants out there.

[2]LCS = Local Comic Shop.

Hasbro’s Problem With Women: Part Three

Last time, I talked with Claire Napier about her experiences with buying figures, and what ultimately drove her to give up the hobby. I felt that was an important interview to lead with, because it underscores a big point in what I’m trying to say–these practices are literally driving customers away. This week, I’m speaking with El A. of Femmes In the Fridge, and also a large part of the #WeWantWidow campaign on Twitter around the time of the Avengers sequel–a campaign that spilled over into real life.

For those not familiar, #WeWantWidow centered squarely around the lack of merchandise featuring Black Widow, despite both her appearance in Avengers: Age of Ultron and the sheer abundance of products that came out in support of that movie. There were multiple toy lines put out by Hasbro, and while there were a few things featuring her likeness released, Widow was largely defined by her lack of presence in most of those lines. In fact, in the most egregious instance, Widow was actually replaced on two separate occasions in toys that were specifically referencing a scene she starred in. In fact, the most recognizable representation of the character in toy form only just came out yesterday, despite the fact that the movie released May 1st–over four months ago.

Two Quinjet toys depicting the motorcycle-ejection scene from Avengers: Age of Ultron. Black Widow is replaced for each toy by Iron Man and Captain America, respectively.

In the interview (and the next one after this), you’ll see me retread some of the ground I covered when speaking with Claire last week–both because I wanted to get differing perspectives on subject and because Claire herself raised some interesting points during that interview that I hadn’t yet considered.

Hello! We talked briefly about figures a few weeks ago–you gave me a wishlist of characters that you wish were being made. Incidentally, that inspired a lot of the thoughts that eventually led to this series, so thanks for that.

Yeah, I remember that! Glad it was helpful!

So, first question: Do you buy action figures regularly?

I probably don’t count as buying them ‘regularly’. I only buy entertaining figures (to me) and the female characters whose design I find empowering. So I have, eh, maybe 30 of them knocking around the house…if I could afford the bombshells I would have them all, natch…

How long have you been buying them for?

Hmm, If you count non-comic characters that I bought at places like Barnes and Noble & toy stores, since Pirates of the Caribbean 1, so 2003…if you just count figures from comic stores, since early 2012.

Does the lack of availability of female characters affect your purchasing habits?

100%, yeah. Availability and design of female character figures is a huge money-saver for me, essentially!

I’ll bet. Does the act buying figures of female characters ever make you feel uncomfortable?

No, though the act of NOT buying the ones that do exist (due to their design or what have you) does make me uncomfortable sometimes!

Can you expand on that?

Sure. I feel guilty because it is a common and legit observation that we must demonstrate that selling diverse-oriented figures, ESPECIALLY to women, is a winning proposition. The reason you often see regressive people say that “the best way to change things is to support the things that exist” is that is creates this guilt. It’s a good silencing tactic in that it makes sense on a surface level.

I feel guilty I own no Batgirl, Batwoman, Spiderwoman, etc figures, but that is being imposed ON me by that tactic, because the reality is that there are no figures FOR me out there of those characters, (except the bombshells) or I would WANT to own them.

Also, I KNOW Hasbro, Disney, Lego actively do not want my money or my active engagement with their products. That adds to the sense that I am doing it wrong; I bought a Captain Boomerang figure recently, because…well, I wanted to annoy my mum by displaying a silly man with a boomerang hat on my shelf where she would eventually see it!

But in so doing, I am effectively invading a space where I know I am unwanted, demanding accommodation from the company that doesn’t want me, and then supporting…making figures of dudes, for dudes. It just generally makes active participation in figure culture feel icky. When DC did that with its comics, I just didn’t buy THEIR comics; for figures, there is no real competitor, certainly not for licensed characters.

So you feel that the solution to the problem is not just to offer a better selection of female characters, but also to actively market to women; to include consideration for customers who are women in the design process, etc.
The solution is to remove the antiquated, self-reinforcing market ‘wisdom’ that women and girls are not viable consumers of toys. Gender-neutral design based on the number of comic readers would fix it. (Even based on the number of physical copy readers, aka the data consumers have access to, which are skewed against new, young and diverse readers, all of whom are far more present on the digital market)

Batgirl of Burnside, who, if accurately molded, would not be hyper-sexualized as a figure, is the second most stable, successful series DC is putting out. A gender-neutral toy market would have made her and released her long ago. Ditto Ms. Marvel, who is the most stable title Marvel sells digitally, and rock solid in physical sales as well.

But instead of targeting characters with the most readers, they target characters with the most male readers, so we have Spider-Woman as one of the Marvel characters I see most often, always in her old, outdatedly icky costume and posed boobs-first. Realistically, many geeky women can and do accept that version in figure form, just like they did in comic form, but that’s never going to be a big draw or a thing that creates new figure collectors among women geeks; we kinda prefer not to see ourselves as sexual objects first, people second.

Marketing to women actively would be swell, but just not deliberately marketing away from women would probably be adequate over time. @LetToysbeToys is huge on that.

I certainly felt that the release of the Spider-Woman figure in particular was especially tone-deaf, given that it occurred right when a new costume was being showcased for the character.

Yeah, that’s either terrible communication between companies or terrible choices by someone in those companies. Especially since the new Spider-Woman costume & art was effectively an apology for the Milo Manara No. 1 variant cover.

 

At the time of #WeWantWidow, Hasbro had a 6″ figure planned as part of an Amazon box set. That set will be available this month. Were you aware of those plans then, and how do you feel about that offering, in relation to the lack of other Widow merchandise?

The Amazon-Exclusive Age of Ultron set, featuring the 6" Black Widow figure.

The Amazon-Exclusive Age of Ultron set, featuring the 6″ Black Widow figure.

Yeah, I was aware of that one. I don’t know that I have any feelings about it? I guess I’m not sure what you mean.

Well, I’m not sure they could have changed their plans for the release anyway; I’m sure certain contracts and deals were signed for exclusivity, but I find it interesting that the one well-sculpted, well-articulated BW figure to hit the market is doing so not only as an exclusive, and not even as a general retail exclusive, but as an online-only offering. I was wondering specifically how you felt about that, and whether it poses a problem.

Oh. Yeah, that’s an ongoing trend. Another example is the only Pop Funko figure of the female Thor being exclusively available in the loot box from Secret Wars (a bit ironic, since she isn’t IN Secret Wars, but whatever..)

It means they don’t put them in their retail catalogs and use up shelf space on the ‘real’ characters, just like the playset that replaced Black Widow with Captain America for the motorcycle scene did.

It is exactly that marginalization of the female characters that perpetuates the notion they don’t sell. She was also in a bundle of already fairly pricey figures, which makes it less likely that mom and dad, having somehow discovered it exists, getting it for their kid, and ditto for the adult fans; $20 on a figure is one thing, but $80 to get the one woman character is a hefty price tag.

(Also, and I’m fine with how we all rallied behind Widow, go with what works, licensing issues may be involved as well, but…you can get AoU Bruce Banner in street clothes, but not Scarlet Witch…)

You highlighted an interesting point re: the marginalization of female characters. Do you think that those choices, combined with gendered marketing and the fact that kids are generally the target demographic for toys, contributes to the further marginalization of women as those children grow up?

Oh, sure. It does. Teaching little boys that they are different from little girls, privileging ‘their interests’ and setting them apart from what little girls supposedly want, cancelling shows because little girls just literally do not count in viewership assessments all help shape the culture that leads to pay inequality, men and women both seeing their counterparts as ‘the other’, does nothing to counteract the negativity society has about those who straddle that gender divide, and, above all, only giving little boys male hero toys, and only giving those little girls who cross into that ‘boy only’ space access to male hero toys is EXACTLY why some dudes grow up seeing geek culture as ‘their thing’ and get hella uncomfy about Lady Thor, etc.

It is training the next generations to grow up with the same privilege sets as the last; the male white people are the heroes, everyone else is on the margins.

The GOOD news is that, as little as I personally like them, shows like Stephen Universe are counteracting those notions while still remaining heavily watched by little boys. The BAD news is that those are not figure-ready properties, and even if they were, toy companies wouldn’t want to make them, since they don’t conform to the standard aesthetics.

It’s definitely a frustrating situation. Thank you again for speaking with me!

El runs the site Femmes In The Fridge, where she discusses comics, pop culture, and the importance of intersectionality in both. You can also find her Twitter at @FemmesinFridges.

Next week, I’ll be interviewing Bailey Poland, freelance writer and ardent collector in her own right.

 

Hasbro’s Problem With Women: Part Two

Not nearly enough has been said recently about the lack of diversity in the offerings of toy companies. It’s an ongoing concern, perpetuated by outmoded views on gendered marketing and the so-called “correct” type of play for boys and girls. While views on this are, thankfully, beginning to change, most of that change is occurring at the store level, with parents who are making informed decisions about what their children can play with. This change has not, unfortunately, hit the level of cultural penetration necessary for toy manufacturers to change their approach in terms of character selection, character design, or marketing, so, it’s important that we keep discussing the subject.

In part one of this series, I wrote a little bit about the way that lack of proper representation can lead to girls–and grown women–being marginalized. This concept is as true in the toy market as it is in any medium; comics, video games, film, right through to non-entertainment-based occupations–recall the story from a few weeks ago of the first two women to graduate the U.S. Army’s Ranger training.

While writing that piece, I felt that it was not enough to simply speak about this subject; I wanted to ensure that it was given weight and proper consideration. To that end, during the writing process, I interviewed three women who have personally interacted with and been affected by this exact topic. One important note: I did not have to search for these women. I simply asked–the experience is a prevalent one. Because I conducted each interview separately, I’ll present them the same way, though each follows a similar thread. First, I spoke with Claire Napier, Features & Opinions Editor at Women Write About Comics, as well as a contributor at Comics Alliance.

Thanks for taking the time to help with this! I’d like to start with the basic: Do you buy action figures regularly?

Not for a long time now.

Okay–can I ask what got you both into and out of the hobby?

Into: I like STUFF. I like things, tangible things, and I like the environment-altering properties of art. An action figure is a sculpture, but you’re allowed to manipulate it.

Out: expense, dislike of buying environments, bad paint application, weird joint decisions, and ugly sculpts. Plus it’s hard to buy a girl without feeling like it’s a sexual transaction.

 Can you explain the last in more detail?

On the one hand, way too many female-character sculpts are eroticised. And on the other, it’s hard for me to feel 100% cool about literal objectification when I’ve felt so bad about metaphorical objectification in real life.

Do you feel that improvement on the one hand would make the other less of an issue?

I mean, it definitely wouldn’t make it worse.

Given your perspective on literal and metaphorical objectification, what are your thoughts on the availability of female characters in action figure form? Do you think there should be more?

Keep in mind that my facts are out of date because I was so easily riled by the ratios and the sculpting details. but yes there should be more. More of each type, I mean; there are plenty of Barbies to match the Kens and the action men.

Would “more characters with less objectified designs” be an accurate synthesis of your stance? 

Clothing and the semiotics of anatomy should be considered when designing and approving toys; I guess I’m not 100% clear on what you mean when you say “action figures”? I made an assumption that it’s 4-11″ moulded, jointed toys for action-based properties, without additional clothing (or with the occasional fabric accessory)?

That’s a pretty accurate definition, yeah. “Action figures” itself is a phrase that exists generally for marketing purposes–toy companies didn’t want to sell “dolls” to boys. The definition of them has evolved somewhat over time; they tend to be more articulated and have a greater range of motion than the traditional doll.

Which is so unfair. Like…posing. Is it, or is it not, vital to feminine modes of performance? It is! Frankly I’d have had and kept much more interest in Barbies if they could stand up on their own. But no. that’s for boys?

There’s an inherent lack of logic to that, it’s true. What are your thoughts on the idea that a lack of proper representation in toy aisles, especially combined with gendered marketing and directed at children, contributes to the marginalization of women as those children grow older?

I think it’s a perfectly reasonable assumption. I can’t see any reason to object to the notion at all.

Are you familiar with the outcry over Hasbro’s lack of Black Widow merchandising this summer?

Yes.

At the time of that outcry, Hasbro had a 6″ Black Widow figure set for release as part of an Amazon exclusive box set that also features Thor, Hawkeye, Bruce Banner. That set is due out later this month. As an avid collector myself, I have a great many thoughts about the choices behind the release of this figure, to include both time and venue, but I’d like to hear your perspective on it. Do you feel that makes for an adequate response?

lol, no. Not in the least. The word is “exclusive,” which is…the opposite of “inclusive”, as well as meaning more expensive and hidden away. You can already get Thor and Hawkeye and Banner figures, I’m guessing? I’m also guessing she doesn’t come with a motorcycle.

Thor and Hawkeye, yes. You can certainly get Hulk figures, but this will be the first release of Banner in his civilian identity. And you’re correct: No motorcycle.

I don’t care the tiniest bit about Black Widow, in my own heart. I’m not interested in the character individually, and I don’t care to see the films in question. but it’s deeply frustrating to be confronted with disrespect and disempowerment, and to be so baldly denied care. It matters to girls to see women doing things, and to be able to align themselves with these women. Action figures help, and so does acknowledgement of worth; in the toy sales field, worth is defined by “presence to be sold”. If she’s not there, she doesn’t matter, and so it goes: neither do girls.

The human form of Banner is empowered by his comparison to Black Widow in her super heroic form. “Maybe he’s not the Hulk, but he’s an amazing scientist.” Black widow isn’t magic (count “magic” as whatever extra-human power, in this case), she’s just really good at stuff. Like Banner. But Banner is only present on the team because he’s the Hulk AS WELL; Black Widow is made a graciously-included, lesser extra, by this comparison.

One more question: Given the subjects we’ve covered, regarding your level of comfort with the hobby, representation, and availability, do you think you’d still be a collector if not for these exact problems?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know if my interest has healed over naturally, or as a result of enforced separation. I’d be less mean about toys if not for these exact problems, though.

Toys could use a little meanness. Thank you again!

Claire has recently written heavily about gender portrayal in games as well; those articles are up at WWAC and well worth a read. You can also support WWAC’s Indiegogo campaign here.

Next time I’ll speak with El A. of Femmes in the Fridge, and also one of the folks behind the WeWantWidow campaign–who, as you can imagine, also has plenty to say about this subject. Until then!