Thursday, April 9, 2015

Dang it, Marvel! WHERE IS BLACK WIDOW??

I love the Disney, Marvel, the Avengers (and the whole dang franchise) so much it's not even funny. Do you know how hard it is to be mad at something that you really, really love? Of course you do, you're parents.

I just got an email from Disney (maybe you got it, too?) promoting all the new Avengers: Age of Ultron merchandise in advance of the movie's release on May1st. This is a movie my whole family is really excited to see, so I clicked through to the Disney store to see all the new stuff. I have two kids with birthdays coming up, you guys, so I was ready to drop some coin. But I was really disappointed. Because guess who is missing from almost all of the merchandise? AGAIN? Black Widow.

It started last November, when my youngest daughter Mini turned 6. All she wanted was a Black Widow doll so she could play Avengers with her brother and his sweet collection of Marvel action figures. I was ready to buy her her own because playing Avengers is awesome and sometimes brothers don't like to share.  I tried Target first and they had a box set of amazing 12" action figures.

(Note: If you are the mother of a girl, then you know that dolls and action figures in the 12" range are money. Why? Because Barbie is 11.5" tall and Barbie has all the cool stuff - cars, horses, outfits, houses we've bought, houses we've made out of random boxes and duct tape, furniture, motorbikes, etc.  Plus the really good action figures that we have are the larger ones - usually about 12" tall. Those are the ones that have accessories and special functions and positionable joints and can talk and light up and all the other things that make toys fun. You've seen Toy Story, so you understand because Buzz Lightyear.)

This is what I saw:

That was $47 I would have happily spent on your products but didn't, Marvel.
So then I looked at the display specific to the Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (which was maybe the best sequel ever made, and I'm including Empire in that statement). And this is what I saw:

So then I tried Guardians of the Galaxy, because last fall there was still a ton of that stuff for sale. There was even a set of really great action figures but guess who was excluded?

Like an idiot, I didn't get a picture of that set with one critical team member missing, who just happens to be the only female. Sure, there was a little doll for me to buy, but no 12" action figure (notwithstanding the fact that every other character was represented). The little Gamora doll was kind of lame. You couldn't move her arms or legs, which my kids say is less fun. But hey - at least the one female hero was available for purchase.

I was struck that in terms of merchandizing these two awesome movies for kids, that the female characters were essentially being written out of the stories. I'm not sure I like the message that sends. Why is this? Is it the assumption that these toys are for boys and boys don't want to play with female characters? If that's the case, then I think the people who make these toys vastly underestimate boys - and forget that they have sisters.

After leaving Target, I tried Walmart, Toys R Us and Amazon. Nothing. So I started googling and hitting fan sites. If I wanted to pay several hundred dollars, I could get a fan-made figurine in the right size. No, thank you. The affordable Black Widow action figures I could find on-line were small, not that fun, and showing a little too much cleavage. Then I went to our awesome local comic store to see if they had anything. They didn't, but I had a very interesting conversation with the young woman behind the counter who said she'd been pissed off since she was 8 years old that none of the comic-based female action figures that she wanted were ever available.

I ended up buying Mini a Black Widow Halloween costume on clearance. When she got it for Christmas, she put it on and didn't take it off for three days (except for sleeping). Not surprising. This is the same kid who wanted to be Korra for Halloween. When she plays, she gravitates towards characters that are strong, smart, courageous, complicated, and struggle with their choices but try to do what's right.

I think about the stack of Legos and Marvel action figures that dominate my son's room. He gets characters like Tony Stark, who is deeply damaged yet STILL A HERO because he's valued for his creativity and intelligence. My son plays with Captain America and thinks about what make Steve Rogers so extraordinary - is it his strength or his character? He and millions of other boys get to grow up weaving these narratives into their sense of who they are and who they want to be.

Meanwhile, my daughters get vapid looking mannequins with a glitter-pooping rabbits. They get Barbie and her "Glam Laundry" play set.

 There are other Barbie sets that are super fun; but maybe not so much for the glitter poo toys,
even if you like playing with poo.
That's not what they want. They want gun-toting former assassins who took control of their own destiny and now help save the world on a fairly regular basis. Can you blame them? I want all my kids to grow up to be heroes. I want them to accept their own imperfection, be brave in the face of adversity, help other people (especially those in need), and stand up for what's right. Those are themes that run through these stories and that's why they have such universal appeal.

So why aren't you making and marketing these toys for girls, Marvel? You have the chance to do it right this time. This article does a better job than I ever could articulating why Marvel should change course on this. Why not make Age of Ultron the test case for developing merchandise for girls and boys in equal measure? Is it because female action figures don't fit squarely in either the pink aisle or the boy aisle of the toy department? Do you think girls don't want to play with these toys or that their parents won't want to buy them? Because I would love to give you my money, friends. You start making kick ass action figures and merchandise of your female heroes, and I will buy all that I can afford, and I'm not alone.

And consider that of the Marvel fans in my family - 3/5 are female. And guess which member of this household makes most of the purchasing decisions about toys, clothes, family entertainment, and vacations? That would be me - the mom. Women control 2/3 of buying power in the US. And your merchandise choices are conditioning the next generation of women that these products are not really for them. And that stinks because what you do is awesome.

While you were busy wasting retail opportunities, we made our own Black Widow 12" action figure using a cheapo "fashion doll", some left-over Barbie clothes, and a black sharpie. She's not that awesome, but she's a lot better than nothing, which is what's currently available to buy from Marvel.

The real Black Widow wouldn't be smiling, wearing pink sneakers, or have such a big face.
But whatever, she's saved toy Captain America's backside at least twice this afternoon.

Disclosure: So, technically I work for Disney (sort of) since I got paid last year for stuff I wrote for Babble, which is owned by Disney. While I don't think I've actually written anything for them since late 2013, I need to say that working for Babble was a great experience and one I was very lucky to have. I also did two sponsored posts last year for Marvel Universe Live. I hope this proves that I'm not trying to slam either company. I love both Disney and Marvel, LOVE THEM, and that's why I'm bummed about the lack of merchandise options for my daughters. If Marvel and Disney, or any of you reading this, think I've gotten it wrong and I'm missing something - feel free to let me know. 

(c) Mommyland Blogs 2013-2015

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