Media studies scholar Dr. Christopher Bell wants to know why it’s so hard to find female superhero merchandise for his young daughter.
When he looks for action figures or costumes to buy for his daughter — a sci-fi and fantasy fan — the selection is limited in a very specific way, Bell says in a talk at TEDxColoradoSprings: “Every character is a boy.”
And it’s not that there aren’t female superheroes on the pages of comic books or on the big screen, Bell says, but that they are being “erased [or] replaced” on the shelves of toy stores and on posters and products.
After Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012, the Disney Store was flooded with figurines and costumes of beloved Star Wars characters, Bell says, with one notable exception — Princess Leia. When a parent asked the store on Twitter why she couldn’t find a Leia toy for her daughter, a representative replied, “[T]here are no plans for Leia products at Disney Store.”
And this lack of inclusion of female characters continues, Bell says. On Guardians of the Galaxy gear, the female superhero Gamora was erased from group images, and nowhere to be found by herself. “If I wanted to buy [my daughter] a Gamora backpack, Gamora’s not on it,” he says. “If I wanted to buy her a lunchbox, [Gamora] wasn’t on it, and if I wanted to buy her a t-shirt, she wasn’t on it.”
When it comes to the Avengers franchise, a play-set allows kids to re-enact a scene with a Captain America figurine instead of the female character who actually performs the scene in the movie, Black Widow, Bell says, and Disney Stores do not offer any Black Widow costumes, though they do make a costume for War Machine, a character with far less screen time.
“These companies are teaching my daughter that even if she is strong and smart and fast and fights like a ninja, all four of which are true of her, it doesn’t matter. She will either be ignored like Gamora or erased and replaced with a boy like Black Widow. And it’s not fair.”
For more, watch Bell’s whole talk below: