Today, I feel like Charlie Brown. I don’t have a dog with a sassy scarf and a cute red house, or a friend dragging around a blanket. No, I’m Charlie Brown and Target is Lucy van Pelt taking the football away. Target has an exclusive Star Wars: The Force Awakens toy set on their shelves from Hasbro. It includes Finn, Chewbacca, Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, a First Order stormtrooper, and a TIE fighter pilot—all males. Note the lack of Captain Phasma and, even more baffling, the lack of Rey—you know, the character who looks to be the lead of the film? I’ve been optimistic about The Force Awakens marketing and merchandise; the powers that be have included a lot of Rey and Phasma on products.
But then something this tone deaf happens, and I can’t help but lose heart. Someone—probably multiple someones—somewhere had to choose the characters in this box, and they left out women, either by choice or ignorance and it’s not okay.
Does this cancel out the progress that has been made? Absolutely not: Rey and Captain Phasma toy options abound from Hasbro, The Disney Store, and even higher-end collectible manufacturers like Hot Toys. In the arena of simply having those toys and having them available in different sizes and series, we’re doing good. Also aces? The promotions for The Force Awakens merchandise that are inclusive and depict girls and boys playing with toys creating their own Star Wars stories. You can recognize and applaud all the right decisions—and I do—while realizing a set like this is not okay.
An all-male character playset that features a Random TIE Fighter Pilot instead of Rey says: We don’t have a place for girls. Yes, cardboard and plastic can make that strong of a statement. I look at this as an adult and a fan aware of the other positive strides Disney and Lucasfilm are making and still hear, “No girls allowed in our clubhouse.” How would a young girl interpret this? And what sort of message does leaving out the female characters send to boys? This sort of product perpetuates the blue vs. pink ideology: that boys can only play with superheroes—male heroes only—and girls can only play with pastel ponies and dolls, in essence reinforcing that message to parents, kids, and gift-buying adults who aren’t in fandom.
It’s all the more disappointing for two additional reasons (yeah, there are levels of disappointing here and that in and of itself is disappointing). First of all, Target announced in August that they’d be removing gender-based signage in the toy aisles. This is a big change, and one I was—and continue to be—very excited about. They’re aware of how unnecessary gender-based marketing is. This is a topic on their radar. So, why aren’t they more sensitive about offering exclusive toys that are exclusionary?
And that leads to the second point: This is a recurring problem. The Force Awakens set is just the latest exclusive Target pack to leave out ladies. Before this there was an Avengers: Age of Ultron set without Black Widow, a Star Wars Rebels set without Sabine or Hera, and a Marvel superheroes package with no women but with two different versions of Iron Man. I wish I was making this up. The similar format of these packages leads me to believe the issue is with Target rather than Hasbro, but doesn’t someone at Disney or Lucasfilm have to provide a stamp of approval? How many people agreed to this before it was manufactured? Why doesn’t a male-only set like this raise flags? Especially in a time when we’re finally seeing more gender diversity in the Star Wars universe.
I saw someone comment about this Rey and Phasma-less box of figures and ask, “Why does every box, picture, and toy have to be considered either advancing women’s rights or destroying them? It’s just a toy.” I’m guessing that person has never had a problem finding a representation of himself on a shelf in the toy aisle. When a company chooses to include a random masked male characters instead of the female lead of the film in a package, it’s more than just a toy. It’s a problem.
Things in the realm of female action figures and fair representation in all merchandise are getting better. It has gotten better. But better isn’t good enough. Let’s aim for best.
What do you think about Target’s exclusive The Force Awakens set excluding Rey? Sound off in the comments.
HT: Jamie Ford