#WheresRey: Why Do We Still Need Fan Outcry to Get Hasbro to do What It Should Have Done in the First Place?
In a not so shocking sexist merchandising twist, fans learned that the latest edition of Star Wars Monopoly would not include Rey, the main character of The Force Awakens film. After the fan outcry, Hasbro announced that it would remedy this issue by including Rey in the updated version. In a statement to Entertainment Weekly and to the eight-year-old girl whose letter spawned the #WheresRey Twitter campaign, a Hasbro representative explained:
“The Star Wars: Monopoly game was released in September, months before the movie’s release, and Rey was not included to avoid revealing a key plot line that she takes on Kylo Ren and joins the Rebel Alliance.”
Spoiler alert: Rey’s been in the movie trailers since 2014 and is front and center on the poster, so I’m not sure a figure of her, say, holding her staff, would have revealed any of that. In fact, Hasbro’s statement itself is far more of a spoiler now for anyone who has still not seen the movie. Moreover, one might say that having Finn–whom we first saw as a stormtrooper–now wearing a Resistance jacket or Kylo Ren hanging out with Darth Vader (who does not appear in The Force Awakens at all) might be far more of a spoiler. Director J.J. Abrams agrees with the outcry:
“I will say that it seems preposterous and wrong that the main character of the movie is not well represented in what is clearly a huge piece of the Star Wars world in terms of merchandizing. […] I read that she wasn’t in the Monopoly game and was quickly making phone calls about this because if it were true — and it is true, and now Hasbro, of course, has said they’re going to put Rey in — it doesn’t quite make sense why she wouldn’t be there. She’s somewhat important in the story.”
Just after Christmas, a trip to the Disney Store revealed the, again, not so shocking fact that there were exactly zero Rey figures available. There was Finn, there was Poe, there was a random stormtrooper, Captain Phasma, and not one, but two versions of Kylo Ren, but no Rey. I can’t help but wonder if the androgynous Captain Phasma toy was only present because the character was originally intended to be a man. Gwendolyn Christie was cast in the role following fan outcry over the lack of female cast members other than Daisy Ridley (Rey). I asked the manager about it, and he quickly replied that she was very popular and they would be getting more of her soon. I asked if they would be getting a lot more—as in, will the store receive an adequate number of Rey figures to deal with such a demand? He gave me a noncommittal answer and all but ran away.
To date, there’s a new Han Solo toy to go with his appearance in the The Force Awakens, but there are no Leia Organa toys at all. Princess Leia and her female Star Wars compatriots are used to this treatment from Hasbro and the Disney Store, (unless, of course, you are looking for Slave Leia).
@nataliewreyford Currently, there are no plans for Leia products at Disney Store, Natalie. Have a wonderful day!
— Disney Store (@DisneyStore) May 20, 2014
(The exception to what seems to now be Hasbro’s rule is Padmé Amidala, portrayed by Natalie Portman in the Star Wars prequel films. There appears to be numerous toys made available for her character from the poorly received prequels.)
There are Rey toys out there, and those who would excuse Hasbro’s actions are quick to point out that you just have to look for them at dedicated toy stores, rather than department stores. (The closest dedicated toy store to my house is at least one hour away. That’s how far I would have to go for my daughters and I to see a more gender balanced display of action figures.) But it’s not simply about purchasing the toys for a collection. On the surface, the problem should be obvious when even the packaged sets for The Force Awakens don’t include the main character. Imagine, if you will, A New Hope set that doesn’t include Luke Skywalker, the star of the original trilogy. Why then is it okay to completely omit the main character of the latest movie?
You don’t have to dig much deeper to consider the message that is being delivered by Rey’s omission and shelves and displays that are bereft of the female characters of Disney’s major intellectual properties. Black Widow didn’t get to ride her own bike after The Age of Ultron. Gamorra didn’t get to be a Guardian of the Galaxy. And Honey Lemon and Go Go Tomago were the “plus two” in Big Hero 6. Why? Because Disney and subsequently its licensees have determined that boys think girls are yucky and girls only care about princesses when it comes to merchandising. This is the message that Spring Creative’s licensing manager, Emily Robbins Kelly, delivered to, Veronica, the mother of a young child looking for Big Hero 6 (not Big Hero 4) fabric:
“Disney’s target audience for Big Hero 6 is boys 5-12 and secondary are girls 5-12 and teens. Since this is geared toward boys, we chose to focus either on the main characters (in this case Baymax and Hiro) or on just the boy characters. We have found boys do not want girl characters on their things (eeeww girls! Yuck! Haha).”
To which Veronica replied:
“By eliminating the women in your fabric design, you are telling boys that it’s OK to think girls are yucky, unworthy and less than a boy. You are also telling girls they are unworthy, unwanted, and that it’s uncool to be smart and confident.
It’s not just your one design. It’s your design, with all of the other designs in the industry, in our daily lives, that tell girls and women that they are not worth it, they are not as important or capable. And even more dangerously telling boys that girls are worthless and yucky.”
None of this should be surprising anymore, but the fact that it is still happening despite the continuous fan outcry is deplorable, and the continued attempts to deny or defend the sexism behind the merchandising choices is asinine. Yet companies like Hasbro and other merchandise licensees and retailers still don’t seem to care about what either boys or girls might actually want or think.
As far as Disney is concerned, girls only want to play with princesses (except Leia), and they obviously have the lock down on that market. Disney only captured the Star Wars and Marvel universes because they wanted to get their hands on that lucrative “boy market” they were missing out on. But rather than take the opportunity to provide both boys and girls (and collectors of all genders) with all the merchandise from these properties, it’s still a boys club that my daughter, for example, isn’t allowed to play in, even though she loves Rey, Black Widow, and Gamorra—just as much as she loves Tiana, Mulan, and Rapunzel.
The truth is characters like Rey are just as much a hero to boys as they are to girls and we need them not just to show little girls that they can be more than just the sidekick and love interest, but to show boys that girls can do and be more than that too. Writes author and father, Mike Adamick:
“[Rey]’s a role model for the boys in front of me — and the millions like them — who continue to grow up under a steady drip drip drip of societal sexism that says even fictionalized female heroes are unbelievable, let alone that our real life heroes shouldn’t be paid as much as their male counterparts or be in control of their own bodies.
It made me so happy to think those boys just watched two hours of Rey absolutely kicking ass. No excuses. No ‘I’m sorrys.’ No further justification that a hardened desert scavenger with more raw Force abilities than anyone in the universe can obviously win a lightsaber duel.”
This is the message the movie gave us, and other merchandisers seem to get it, with advertisements like this from Duracell:
And this from Disney Parks itself:
But Hasbro reneged on all of that when they didn’t bother to include Rey in the Monopoly game and in toy sets, then offered a lame excuse.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s response to the question of why his cabinet is fifty per cent women was “Because it’s 2015.” Well, it’s 2016 now, and big, influential merchandise manufacturers like Hasbro still haven’t got the memo. Or rather, they seem to be ignoring the concept completely, until fan outcry once again demands it be fixed.
To their credit, Hasbro, the Disney Store, and Springs Creative did correct these issues in response to the backlash, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it still keeps happening. How many times do hashtags need to be created or letters need to be written before they listen? How much media attention is needed before companies stop retroactively adding Rey to the game board, instead of making sure she’s there from the beginning? Or the way it used to be with Kenner toys (closed by its parent corporation, Hasbro, in 2000), when boys played with Leia dolls, and girls played too:
It’s no secret that companies are only looking at their bottom line first. Disney might not care about the money supposedly lost to a Men’s Rights Activists boycott, but the demographic of the parents and guardians of young boys and girls, as well as collectors of all ages, have been speaking with our wallets for a long time. Worse, the excuse that girls only want princesses and boys think girls are “yucky” is a fallacy created and sustained by these very companies under the moniker of target marketing. If you want to know what children really want, then ask them:
“Some girls like superheroes, some girls like princesses, some boys like superheroes, some boys like princesses. So why do all the girls have to buy pink stuff and all the boys have to buy different color stuff?”
Stop deciding what kids should be playing with and just let them play! Frankly, I’m tired of fan outcry fostering changes that should already be the norm—that were the norm just a few decades ago, when the gendering of toys was not paramount to making a profit. There’s no denying that the Barbie aisle earns Hasbro lots of cash, and boys certainly do love action figures now. That’s what decades worth of marketing drip have taught us to believe and perpetuate. But, while completely alienating half your consumer market might be logical and feasible to a company, it certainly doesn’t make sense to a consumer who is ready and willing to shut up and give you our money, if only you’d make the merchandise available.