Hey Girl Gang. Molly here with your (slightly late) Force Friday! We’re not going to look at merchandise this week; instead, we’re going to dive a little deeper into why representation is so important.
Last week, I mentioned how the Rey pajamas did not come in adult sizes. I encountered that issue again this week when I saw the world’s cutest shirt at the Disney Store, light blue with Rey on the front and the Join the Resistance logo on the back, available in kids sizes only (it is sold out online, because clearly the young female customers of the Disney Store/their parents have excellent taste). I want to clarify that I’m not actually mad about this. Obviously, I too would like to own a shirt that cute, but the fact that Disney is creating Rey merchandise specifically for young girls is extremely important, and I want to talk about it.
It makes me very happy to see merchandise with female characters, but I can’t see it without noticing how much more of the merchandise only features men. Even while researching Rey merchandise for these articles and knowing that she has more than most female characters, I still get frustrated with how much less she has than Kylo Ren. I’m used to seeing this. I have come to expect it. Representation is nice to see as an adult, but adults are not why it is important.
I am aware that geek culture is typically misogynistic. I know that I have to jump through a thousand hoops to occupy space in geek culture, and that even if I do, I’ll probably be rejected anyways. I know that there are rarely characters that identify as female in geek media, and when there are, they’re usually assigned the role of the love interest, or put into a ridiculous ‘sexy’ costume, or killed off completely in order to advance the male lead’s storyline. I know that there is barely any merchandise for the lone female characters in movies, and if there is, they are very small in the background of a group photo.
But little girls don’t know this yet.
Little girls are not aware of the self-appointed gatekeepers of geek culture trying to keep women out. They don’t know that their mom had to specially look online to find their favorite character’s action figure for Christmas because the stores don’t carry female characters. Although little girls definitely notice when there are no female characters on a show, they don’t know that the women who are on the screen are only there as a love interest, or that their costume is ridiculous – they just know that she’s there.
Seeing toys, backpacks, and clothes with their favorite female character on them is telling young girls that they are welcome in that space. Girls do not have to notice that their favorite character is suspiciously missing from all of the toys in the toy aisle. They don’t have to feel that a franchise or story isn’t for them because they only see that stuff in the boys’ section. There’s always going to be that boy telling them that “Star Wars isn’t for girls”, but it makes it a lot easier for them to fight back against that when the shirt they’re wearing is clearly “for girls”.
Of course, we all know that the end game for any corporation is making money. I’m not naïve. I know that Disney did not create all of this Rey merchandise with the goal of making young girls feel the sense of belonging and inclusion that I’m describing. If they create a new generation of Star Wars fans, it means that they’ll make even more money in the future. But the very fact that they are including young girls in ‘potential future Star Wars fans’ is important. I distinctly remember how difficult it was to find Padme/Queen Amidala merchandise when I was growing up. We had a Lego set that came with a Padme figurine (a Lego with hair was a BFD. Until this point, I used to steal Qui-Gon Jinn’s Lego hair to make figures into girls.) Padme/Queen Amidala merchandise was just hard to find.
That is why something I discovered while researching merchandise made me really happy.
When you hover over the ‘girls’ section, these are the suggested characters. Not only is our girl Rey featured front and center, but so is Black Widow, a character who, in the past, has famously gotten little to no merchandise. Two out of the four suggestions are franchises that many people would wrongly categorize as boys merchandise. Whether it was the popular #WheresNatasha viral campaign or the popularity of Rey merchandise that inspired this change, it is clear that Disney is starting to listen to the merchandise that girls want.
While looking around the website, I noticed that there is actually less Rey merchandise for women than there is for girls. It is interesting that Disney chose to focus more on children than on the people actually spending money. But it’s also awesome.
If Disney was only making Rey merchandise for adult women, it would suggest that they have already written off young girls as a potential audience. This would mean that all of the young girls who are getting exposed to Star Wars through the recent The Force Awakens merchandise would not become fans. An entire generation of girls would be left out of the Star Wars fandom that so many have grown up with and carried through adulthood. Think of all the young girls who, through seeing The Force Awakens next month, might start participating in other areas of geek culture. These girls might grow up to be active fans, creators, and professionals who help to change geek culture into a more accepting and diverse community. All because they saw that light blue Rey shirt on the ‘girls’ side of the Disney Store.
So I guess it’s okay that those pajamas don’t come in my size. I can deal with that.
Join us for next week’s Force Friday, where we look at some Rey merchandise (I promise!) and also start talking about Finn.