My wife recently played me an episode of Stuff Mom Never Told You titled, "Where The F Are The Female Action Figures?" It's a great podcast that dives deep into the business side of the world of toys to answer the question proposed by the show's title. It was interesting to hear about the history of the lack of female action figures that can still be seen today, with characters like Rey from Star Wars and Black Widow from the Avengers missing from major releases. This inspired me to do some investigating of my own. I decided to head out to a few different toy stores to see how easy it was to find action figures of women.
I walked into a Toys R Us and saw a bunch of Marvel figures at the front of the store. The usual heroes and villains were there and after hearing that no one was making Black Widow toys I was glad to find some included in this line of Avenger's figures. Hopefully enough people spoke up and the manufacturers answered this time. I was also able to find a figure of Shuri from Black Panther, though she was only available in a two-pack.
I turned the corner to see all the DC toys were right next to the Marvel figures. While I think that boys are going to see these and think they're dolls, not action figures, I imagine girls are going to be excited to find them. I like that they are right next to all the other superheroes, as opposed to being in the pink Barbie aisle.
Along with the DC Super Hero Girls you can find some more figures of women that are geared more towards collectors. It's mostly Wonder Woman because of the success of the film but I've also seen Supergirl in this style. Hopefully Batgirl and more women of DC aren't too far behind.
Not pictured, there were also a lot of Moana toys. I thought it was worth mentioning because there were a few different kinds of sets. Some just had Moana and others had Maui but the more popular options seemed to be packs with both characters. I didn't get to ask the cashier why she thought that was but my theory is that both girls and boys want those characters because they're both strong and funny with or without each other. Boys can play Moana without the helpless princess aspect and girls can have just as much fun with Maui's stupid bravado as boys can. The characters just work.
So, not too bad for my first look for action figures of women, but with Toys R Us closing and the stock limited I wanted to look around some more.
While it's not solely about toys, the Disney Store was my next stop. They have enough action figures to warrant the visit and since they own Marvel and Star Wars I knew they'd have to have something relevant.
The first toys I saw were from a line called Toybox which I think is exclusive to Disney Stores. Much like the other display this one had all of the popular Marvel characters. I was happy to see among all of the Iron Man, Captain America, and Spider-Man figures they included Black Widow.
I turned around to see the Diamond Select figures. These are very detailed and made for adult collectors. They had two different versions of Spider-Man, Black Panther, Thor, and the Hulkbuster, but no action figures of women.
I kept walking through the store and passed the clearance section. I realized it wasn't that they didn't make a Black Widow figure for the collector's line, it was more like they made them and didn't know how to market them. The figures of the male characters were going for $25 or $30 but there was a mountain of Black Widow merchandise in the clearance bin and most of it was marked down to $5.99.
I was starting to see the problem firsthand. I get that they're making merchandise based off of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, not just the comics, but that's been going on for ten years and we're only just now starting to see Black Widow represented. I couldn't find any of the women from Guardians of the Galaxy; Gamora, Nebula, or Mantis. I also didn't see Maria Hill or Agent Carter. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure they make either of them. There are plenty of strong women in the Marvel canon and I'm sure there are tons of people who want to see more of their favorite characters represented in a stronger presence. This is a missed opportunity to provide for adult women who collect action figures too. It sucks that it's so hard to get there.
In the Star Wars section I saw a similar problem. Rey was included in the Toybox line but she was the only woman in there.
At least with Star Wars they have the new series Forces of Destiny. I haven't seen it but I've heard good things and it's new to see Rey, plus Princess Leia and Jyn Erso featured prominently.
The Disney Store gave me a better perspective on the issues discussed in the podcast. I was ready to head out when I turned my head and saw this jerk among the Toy Story 3 goodies.
I wanted to check out one more toy store before I called it a day. I had looked for figures of women from franchises but I hadn't looked at generic toys yet. I went to a traditional toy store thinking there wouldn't be as much distinction between what was meant for girls and boys. I figured teddy bears and Lincoln logs wouldn't be gendered. To my surprise I found traditional toy stores so much worse!
The store seemed to rely very heavily on pink for girls and blue for boys. The dinosaurs, building blocks, and science tests were all on the side with the blue wall but the ponies, baby dolls, and sewing kits were on the pink side. Yes there are girls on the boxes of slime but I still feel like they're marketing to boys, unlike that mermaid kit.
Though the toys were disappointing I was a little relieved by the book section. There were lots of classics marketed to all kids, and though there was a girls section, it had books like these
I thought I had seen enough to get the picture. Though there is still a lot of progress to be made, I think Mattel is on the right track with the DC properties. It's great to see women who are heroes and villains presented as toys that kids can play with. I talked about Hasbro and Marvel needing to step it up in that regard earlier but I wanted to add these last two photos to the article before I finish.
I was picking up some things at Walgreen's when I passed the toy section and saw these.
The Legends series seems to be better about featuring women than Diamond Select. That's a great Invisible Woman figure and I love that Ms. Marvel has been included in their lineup. If you're looking for a fun comic with a strong female lead Ms. Marvel is for you. The fact that everyone can pick up her toy is an excellent sign.
We need more of this. While talking to women about this subject I've realized the best benefits of making more figures based on women help everyone. Not only do girls get figures that represent themselves but boys get figures that are outside their experience. It'd be nice to see boys playing with figures of women and coming up with adventures where it's not about gender, it's just a team of heroes.
Thanks for reading my article about action figures based on women. Hopefully companies will make more! Oh, and in case you skipped it, I recommend you give that episode of Stuff Mom Never Told You a listen. Once more, here it is.