I don’t usually write blogs because something makes me angry. Firstly, I try not to respond emotionally when someone else has a differing opinion. Secondly, engaging in arguments on social media is like complaining to a lion while he’s eating you: he isn’t listening and nothing is going to change.
But I do mind when it comes to females and the world of science fiction and fantasy. The gamergate crowd is sickening. Some male authors and industry power players are cavemen. I get that. This isn’t new: we’ve all been painfully aware of our chosen genre’s shortcomings for a very long time. So, stick with me, because I guess I’ve hit a boiling point or been loaded with the last straw that broke my dromedary spine. But when a major corporation HASBRO and the biggest entertainment franchise in the world STAR WARS/DISNEY effectively kick the girls to the curb by the way they handle their toys, it shows a lack of social awareness/responsibility and personal gutlessness (because a corporation is a person, right?) which further chafes the sense of what is right in my soul.
In a time when our embattled females and minorities deserve to be championed in an American society slowly awakening in fits and starts to the journey towards true equality, science fiction (supposedly the planet-hopping, utopia-imagining, prophesy-seeking harbinger of the future) as an industry is proving to be something of a disgrace. Don’t get me wrong, there are GREAT sci-fi people out there of every race and gender doing things right (the vast majority) and I deeply respect all of them. But the big players have to step up too. They owe it to us, goddammit. They owe it to the kids first and foremost, but they also owe it to us mothers and fathers who have grown up with STAR WARS and endlessly purchased their heavily produced comics, toys, etc. and made them rich by weaving Star Wars into the collective threads of popular culture.
The latest big product of the Star Wars universe, STAR WARS REBELS, is a high-quality animated show and I like it. Two of its four lead characters are male and two are female. When Hasbro released the first wave of Star Wars: Rebels action figure toys I took my Star Wars obsessed daughter to Target to pick them up and, lo and behold, the FEMALE characters were not available. Despite being two of the four leads, Hera Syndulla and Sabine Wren had not been released. This, in a word, is Bulls**t.
My daughter, digging through stacks of male character action toys, asked me why the girl toys weren’t here. I tried to explain that they would be coming later, and she bought it, but I saw the expression on her face. She was a little confused and a little hurt, because she, a collector of all things Star Wars, had never imagined that the female leads would ever be absent from the huge NEW Star Wars Rebels toy pile which so prominently displayed the male figures. I tried to explain it to her but on a certain level she understood that the girls were coming in second. And it pissed me off.
I’ve read how Hasbro says they’re just saving the female figures to release in their second wave, just as they waited for a convention following the BIG reveal of the male character toys (New York Toy Fair) to reveal the female character toys (ComiCon San Diego.) Hey, do you remember when DISNEY released their first Star Wars toys? The females were almost AWOL in that batch too, including anything to do with Princess Leia. Now they are making up for it, apparently. But the impression has been made.
WTF? No matter how you slice it, no matter how Hasbro and Disney spin it, they have, in their actions, relegated every female in the Star Wars universe to a secondary role in the eyes of the children who show up to buy them. Even in the new Star Wars Rebels, where it is impossible to argue that Sabine and Hera are anything less than equal partners and just as capable as the male lead characters on the show, Hasbro has put them in the back seat in the toy store. Don’t talk to me about ‘staggered releases’ and ‘secondary waves’ because normal people like me don’t care. All we know and all our kids know is that the toys CAME OUT and the main female characters, fully expected to be there, were NOT THERE. That is what my family saw.
As a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I try to make my male and female and other-than-white-or-human characters strong and alive, but it is impossible to argue that the females and minorities don’t have some ground to cover in order to achieve a prominence in sci-fi (and all fiction) equivalent to what their real place in the real world deserves, and if only (in this instance) to serve as a leaping-off point for the imagination.
But I’m not talking to writers or readers or toy purchasers here. I’m talking to Hasbro and Disney, though apparently they don’t hear me or anyone else. Their corporate officers, flesh and blood and real, male and female, have a RESPONSIBILITY to us. They are RESPONSIBLE because they are in a position to change the world, if only a little bit. Great profits rain down when you own and sell a popular modern mythology that appeals widely to CHILDREN. But as human beings and not Gods, perhaps such power and wealth means that you must consider some things more important than power and wealth.
Dear Hasbro and Disney: I get that the sci-fi world is still having trouble pulling its head out of its ass. I get that your multimillion dollar research printouts tell you that “girl” toys might not sell as well as “boy” ones. But as a man who grew up with lots of other guys collecting Star Wars toys, I can tell you that I wanted to have both. And in the Star Wars: Rebels television universe you gave us both, and they are all well-drawn characters. Why can’t you take the lead on this one, and put your money where your mouth is?
This is a world of males and females and variations on those themes, and to hold one sex of lead characters back from the high-powered premiere on store toy shelves is inexcusable because it proves, in actions louder than whatever words you choose to explain it now, that the trailing sex FEMALE is lesser, a second-class toy, a second-class life form, a second class citizen.
And you are proving it to children.
I just had to sugar coat your bulls**t for my daughter.
And it pisses me off.