Imagine this, you have a kid in your life (or maybe you are that kid at heart) who loves superheroes. You decide to go and buy them some merchandise. You turn up at the store or go on to the website, to find some female superheroes because they are just as awesome as the male ones. You look all through the girls’ section, and you find nothing.
This is an issue which is becoming all too common and is an issue I have faced myself. Recently, my niece celebrated her third birthday. My niece loves Disney and, in fact, adores Big Hero Six. She is also able to pick out Supergirl from the merchandise I have in my room and was able to sit still glued to the screen to watch Wonder Woman – no small feat for a three-year-old watching her first ever live-action movie. She has asked me to let her fly like Supergirl before (a game which involves her lying on her stomach and me throwing her slightly in the air and catching her) with a blanket around her like a cape, so I made her a red Supergirl cape for her birthday, but I needed an accompanying card. Could I for the life of me find any female superhero card in any store? No! I resorted to making a card for her myself simply to let her have a superhero card.
Jump to one week later, when it is my own birthday. My mother faces the same issue in finding a card for me. She searches in the girls’ section. She searches in the adult section. She even searches in the boys’ section, but does she find any superhero card? No.
Let’s fast forward now to me scrolling through YouTube and finding the following video and discovering that this isn’t an issue that I alone have faced, or even that it is a new issue.
The superhero industry is marketed towards males. We all know that it always has been. It has only been recently that we have been seeing more and more female superheroes. But where, as Christopher Bell addresses in his video, is all the stuff!
Like Christopher Bell, I will start off with Disney as an example. When was the last time you were on the Disney Store website? When was the last time you looked at the Marvel section or the Star Wars section? Were you trying to find something Captain Marvel or Princess Leia? Good Luck!
Now I know what you are going to say ‘But Christine, Captain Marvel doesn’t come out until March 8th 2019, there is no merchandise available yet.’ Au contraire, but that is not the issue on the Captain Marvel section of the Disney Store website.
The Marvel section of the Disney Store site annoys me from the get-go. The main image features a child with Iron Man hands on as well as a gentleman wearing Venom clothing. The thing that bothers me is that it is all male superheroes in the banner. Why isn’t there a female with a Scarlet Witch toy, or someone wearing a Black Widow hat? The answer? They do not exist!
When searching by a character on the Disney site, I was deeply troubled. My first stop was Black Widow, the longest running female superhero in the MCU. It states that there are 15 items featuring Black Widow. Great I thought. 10 of these items have Black Widow, or her insignia, on them. Perfect! I can get an action figure. Then I look at the clothing. There are just shoes for kids. Kudos to Disney for not gendering their shoes, but why are there only shoes? And why is it that when I go to refine the search to be for males, the Black Widow figures pop up, but there is nothing for females? Next up, I stop at Scarlet Witch. There is only one thing for her character. No action figure, no hats, no shoes, just one bag where she features alongside the other Avengers for Infinity War.
I go back to my little search refiner tool again, and I see Captain Marvel. I think that’s amazing! Captain Marvel merchandise being released before the movie comes out! I need some of that! I click Captain Marvel, and what do I find? Nothing to do with her, In fact, what I find instead is all Captain America. Maybe it is a typo on Disney’s behalf, so I leave it at that and go back to the tool one last time for my Marvel search and simply change the gender to Female instead of searching by character. One out of the seven items that came up was for an actual female superhero. One item that populated that was gendered out of 50 was for a female superhero. That’s 2%.
I won’t bore you with further details of my travels through the Disney Store website, but you get the picture. There is very little representation in merchandise for female superheroes. This has not changed since the time of Christopher Bell’s Ted x Talk back in 2015. What message is this sending to the young (and young at heart) people in our life? Don’t young children need female superheroes in their life as well as male superheroes? Why it is then that male superhero merchandise is seen as worthy, whereas female superhero is not?
I’ll leave you with one final anecdote. In June 2018, Van’s released their Marvel range, featuring a pair of Captain Marvel High Tops. I all but ran to the store on the day of their release to get a pair and managed to get the last pair. This particular style was up against Black Panther and Deadpool. In the store I was in, the attendant informed me that the Captain Marvel style was the most popular one in that store and that all of the men wished that they could buy the Captain Marvel style as it was their favourite, but sadly it only came in women’s sizes. If this doesn’t tell you about how much we women love our female superheroes and want to show off our merchandise, I don’t know what will!
– Written by Christine