My pre-teen daughter stood on the path in the Disney store, her back to the walls of sparkles and princess dresses. She was staring at the Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the Avengers gear, packed over on what I can only imagine is the "boy side" of the store.
Here it comes, you're thinking. Another post about gender bias and toys and blah blah blah. But no. This is more complex and more simple. This is a post about Marvel and the marketed toys for Avengers and Captain America. And it is a post about my daughter.
|Monkeymoo dressed as Black Widow at the Denver Comic Con|
So back to the Disney store and her frustration. Fans might know where I'm going with this, I'm guessing, but let me show you the pack of toys that led to Monkeymoo's anger:
It's called the "Avengers Assemble 5 Piece Set"
She picked it up.
She put it back down in disgust. That's Avengers *unassembled* mom. I'll be honest. She said a few more things including references to the absence of other women (there was also reference to the absence of African American figures Nick Fury and Falcon in the Marvel lines, but that's for another day, another post, I guess), but I can't quite remember them and I don't want to put words in her mouth. Suffice to say her issue was this: With the exception of a Christmas special set we purchased from Target, it has been extraordinarily difficult to find Black Widow toys.
We've found Black Widow collectors figures and trust me, we have those. But they aren't toys. They don't allow her to sit down and play action figures with her brother and her father. Trust me : She's standing on the precipice of teendom and our toy days might be short. We want her to play toys with us now, while we still can. We want her little sister, who looks up to her, to have Black Widow toys to play with in the future.
We also want her to see that the Avengers aren't complete without Black Widow. But the Marvel toy marketing has shown her otherwise. Stand back, it says. The boys will take care of this. Don't worry dear, she hears. Iron Man and Hulk and (old school) Hawkeye and Thor and The Cap are on the case! See, darling, boys don't want a Black Widow toy and only boys buy Marvel Merch.
Fortunately, the Avengers movie has shown otherwise. Black Widow plays a pivotal role - and when the universe expanded to include Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., our regular Tuesday night viewing, my daughter got to see a strong cast featuring several powerful women. The Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. ladies are strong. They are feminine. They fight alongside men and occasionally they swoop in to save men.
My girls want to play Avengers and S.H.I.E.L.D. They want action figures. They want Melinda Mae. They want Agent Skye. They want Black Widow. They want *ALL* of the Avengers to assemble. I don't think they're asking too much.
In 2006, Joss Whedon gave a speech for Equality Now discussing his answer to "Why do you write these strong female characters." He ended with this: Because equality is not a concept. It's not something we should be striving for. It's a necessity. Equality is like gravity. We need it to stand on this earth as men and women. And the misogyny that is in every culture is not a true part of the human condition. It is life out of balance, and that imbalance is sucking something out of the soul of every man and woman who is confronted with it.
And look, I realize in the larger discussions about misogyny and rape culture and all of that, the availability of female action figures might seem like a minor cause. I'm writing about my kids' toys and their cosplay. I get that. I'm writing about merchandising and stuff I know little about. But I know Joss is right - equality is like gravity. We need it. We need balance. And merchandising a movie by omitting one of its pivotal characters is not balance, it's broken.