*Note: The following post is a conversation between Christina and Shannon.
SB: So, hey! Guess who’s missing from all the new Star Wars merch? JUST GUESS. I’ll give you a hint: Vaginas.
CML: Is this a reference to the Rathtar? Because if your vagina looks like that I would suggest you see a doctor. I mean, vagina dentata AND tentacula seems a bit much for this, the era of skinny jeans.
Rathtar? Vagina dentata? Who can tell? Image source
But if you're talking about Rey, then let's dish, sister.
SB: IT’S REY. But also pretty much any of the characters with vaginas. Captain Phasma, General Leia, AND Rey. Rey who is, you know, THE MAIN CHARACTER OF THE MOVIE AND THE PERSON IN WHOM THE FORCE AWAKENS. Come on, merch makers. COME. ON. But now that you mention it, the Rathtars are nowhere to be found either. Any guesses about why companies hate vaginas?
CML: I'm assuming that it's related to the same reason companies will put out a catalog marketing shiny D&C ornaments: There are no goddamn women in the room when these decisions are made. OR it's because the people in the room when those decisions are made believe erroneously that boys, the primary marketing target for Star Wars gear, won't play with toys that feature women characters. An insider at Hasbro, the toy company that makes Star Wars merchandise, leaked to a magazine delightfully called Sweatpants & Coffee that the decision to exclude Rey was deliberate. The marketing folks at Hasbro didn't think that boys would play with Rey dolls - ahem - action figures, Monopoly pieces, and the like. So they erased her. Disappeared her. Like a 1980's Latin American dictator.
SB: Because boys never play with girls. Right. Mmm-hmm. Because girls are... what... icky? Much better to erase them. Super call, folks. Really brilliant.
CML: So, Shannon. What is the answer to this problem? This recurrent disappearance of female protagonists from the merchandise side of popular franchises? It's happened to Princess Leia. It's happened to Black Widow. Now it's happened to Rey. What's our plan of attack?
SB: Our plan of attack is to speak up. To talk about OTPBS as loudly and as often as possible. To point out- to anyone who will listen (and even those who won’t) that women matter. And that it’s important to treat women as though they matter. To talk about the fact that when we devalue women, we are devaluing half of our population. HALF. That we are hurting our daughters.
I think that has to be it. I think we have to talk and talk and talk about it. No more being polite. No more putting up with it. It’s time to be brave and refuse to be erased. It’s time to stop allowing ourselves to be disappeared. And it’ll take work and yelling and pissing people off. It’s gonna suck sometimes. Frankly, it’s gonna be a real pain in the ass. But it's already a pain in the ass being ignored and devalued and minimized all the time. We’ve been working at this for so long already, and we can’t afford to stop trying.
CML: Yes! Agreed! I love being on the delivery-end of a good calling-out! And with Twitter and the Interwebs and all that, the callings-out we need when female characters are erased from their own stories are far more urgent and effective than letter-writing campaigns of yore.
But I also want this to go beyond mere calling-out and verbal/virtual demands for change. People: We have to stop paying these companies to be shitty to us. Hasbro's sales of Star Wars toys is expected to jump by about $230 million from its 2014 pre-The Force Awakens Star Wars sales revenue. But what if - what if, friends - we just didn't buy Star Wars shit until Rey was represented, as she's supposed to be later on in the "second wave" of merch to be released. That's right, buddies. What if we just stopped buying licensed plastic until that licensed plastic represented all genders of the starring characters in the Star Wars franchise?
I know that threatening a boycott and loudly declaring that one is in the offing is popular. But what if we - members of all genders on behalf of children of all genders - just didn't buy that stuff until Rey was included in it.* Behemoth companies like Hasbro listen to Twitter hashtags and Internet buzz, sure. But their sole purpose is to make money, which means that they'll listen to poor sales reports even faster and with even more dedication.
So, you, Smarty Mommies (and Daddies and Aunties and Uncles and all Fellow Travelers) let's just stop shopping the Star Wars aisle until it is actually selling us what we want: gender inclusion and the recognition that, YES, the main character in this movie is, indeed, a woman.
OR, if you must have Rey merchandise, what about making your own costume? This puts me in mind of a quote from the recent Bloomberg feature on how Hasbro acquired Mattel's Disney Princess business. Discussing how the Disney Princess line of merchandise came to be, former Disney executive Andy Mooney recollected attending a Disney on Ice show at which he "'saw these girls ages 5 and 7, waiting to go see the show in full regalia—tiara, shoes, the works... I asked the mothers, ‘Where did you buy this?’ They said, ‘Well, we had to make this. You don’t sell it.’ I said, ‘If we made this, would you buy it?’ They said, ‘Loads of it.’"
What if we got scrappy and met our own Rey needs until Hasbro has the ovaries to meet them for us? The best licensed merchandise I've encountered for my kids in terms of quality play are movie soundtracks, related books, and costumes. The first two for Star Wars would appropriately recognize Rey, and the third could easily be DIY'd in the spirit of the independently crafted Disney Princess gear Mooney references. Plus, how satisfying would it be to meet your own Star Wars merch needs without lining the pockets of the company that blithely and purposefully erased an awesome female protagonist?
VERY satisfying. VERY, VERY satisfying.
SB: Oh, you mean make your own** power-lady Star Wars costume? Like this one?
That's me! That's me! I DIYed Hoth Leia because that costume does not exist. Because vagina.
I SUPPORT THAT. I support that hard.
And I totally support not buying the merch - hitting companies where it hurts is always a good idea if you want to be heard. But I also think it’s important to be realistic. We’re not all going to completely stop buying the stuff if our kids are in love with the stuff and begging for the stuff. My kids, for example, LOVE Star Wars. Love, love, love. They would eat, sleep, and breathe it if I let them. And sometimes I do because I also love Star Wars. So then what? Is it realistic to not get the stuff for the kids and to tell other family members that they can’t get the stuff for the kids because of OTPBS?
Maybe. For some of us. And it’s a great goal. I'd like to think it's a goal I could maintain. But I also know what has happened to many of my mightiest parenting goals. Right in the shitter, my friend. Right in the shitter.
So, for the rest of us, I think we yell louder. We write to the companies and tell them we’re upset. We take to the streets of the world wide web and talk ALLLLL about why we’re disappointed in Hasbro and Disney and all the other companies for excluding women in toys from a woman-centered movie. Between not buying stuff and yelling about how it’s bullshit that they’ve left out all the women… we’re bound to get inside some company heads. And we'll definitely be making sure other consumers are paying more attention.
The point is, we have to do something. And that “something” will look different for all of us. But it will still be action. And action causes reaction. SCIENCE.
CML: YOU NEVER LET ME STICK IT TO THE MAN!
(Spoken by a woman whose house is so full of Frozen swag that it resembles Arendelle more than Seattle.)
Well, I can't argue with science. However it works - through speaking up loudly or through quietly refusing to pay the bastards who disappeared Rey, I'm happy to be a part of rectifying that stupid, thoughtless wrong. You hear me, Hasbro? Don't make me get all Rathtar on your scruffy, nerf-herding asses!
THAT'S WHAT YOU GET FOR YOUR REY-ERASING OTPBS. So there. (GIF Source)
SB: Let's get our ladies back, Smarties.
CML: Bring back Rey. Everybody loves Rey. Hip-hip-hoorey!
*or possibly not ever, but that's another blog post.
**And by “I made it myself” I obviously mean that I ordered the coveralls and vest from the interwebs and a lovely, talented friend offered to sew on the quilted patches and shorten the sleeves since coveralls for women are not available for less than $80 because OTPBS. Anyway.