We live in a post-Rey, post-Wonder Woman world. Young girls are finally being included in sci-fi blockbusters, and with each new female-led movie comes a slew of heartwarming photographs of little girls dressing up as their kickass heroines. And yet, there's still a battle to be fought, because when it comes to merchandise, toy making companies still think that young boys are the only demographic worth chasing.
No scandal illustrates this better than #WheresRey, a protest that sprung up after a The Force Awakens Monopoly set excluded Rey — but included Darth Vader, who isn't even in the movie.
Hasbro promised to rectify this, claiming that Rey would be included in another version of the game that would be available later in 2016. But a year and a half later, Rey is still nowhere to be found in the #StarWars Monopoly sets that line the walls of toy stores.
One little girl from Illinois, stung by the unfairness of this, sent a hand-written letter to Hasbro, demanding to know how the company could leave out Rey, that "without her THERE IS NO THE FORCE AWAKENS" because Rey is the reason the "bad guys" lost. The Associated Press reported the story, reaching out to Hasbro for comment — and Hasbro's response is infuriating within itself.
Claiming that there was "insufficient interest" for the new Rey-inclusive Monopoly set, Hasbro spokesperson Julie Duffy told The Associated Press that the company offered an updated game to U.S. stores, but they were refused:
"Retailers had ample inventory so they did not choose to sell the new version."
And here's the crux of the matter — the "insufficient interest" comment is misleading, because it doesn't refer to consumer interest, but that of the retailers. Of course stores aren't going to replenish their stocks if they already have plenty of copies of the game. To retailers, the inclusion of Rey is irrelevant, and they would lose money if they let their existing (Rey-excluded) stocks of the game go to waste.
There isn't "insufficient interest" in Rey's inclusion in the merchandise — the online campaigns are proof enough of that — but in the game itself, which hasn't sold as well as Hasbro expected. Therefore, retailers don't need more copies of it — copies that just happen to include Rey.
Misleading Comments And An Impossible System
But that's not all. Duffy claimed that the Rey-inclusive version of the game was available in overseas markets, including the United Kingdom. However, when The Associated Press investigated this, they discovered that recent purchases of the Star Wars Monopoly game also didn't include the Rey token.
For people who had already bought the Monopoly game, the Rey-inclusive version is available by request to Hasbro Consumer Care, with only 99 requests made in the USA and 10 in Canada. With this information not made public, we're left wondering how consumers — especially the target demographic of children — could have known that they had to request the Rey version, then wait weeks for their order to be sent.
With customers forced to jump through admin hoops, low sales for the game leading to retailers not needing the updated version, and contrasting reports about whether the Rey Monopoly game is in any stores at all, this tangled mess proves just how pervasive institutionalized sexism is.
Aggravatingly, this works like a self-fulfilling prophecy. By excluding female characters from merchandise, little girls aren't persuaded to buy these toys, and the subsequent sales reflect this. Companies then assume that girls aren't a demographic worth chasing, ignoring the fact that they are being excluded from merchandise in the first place, which makes them unlikely to want to buy toys exclusively aimed at boys.
Merchandise is a huge driving factor when it comes to a child's development — as developmental studies have proven time and again, toys allow children to involve themselves in stories, to work out who they want to be. If girls don't see female characters in action figure sets, as tokens in Monopoly games, on T-shirts and lunchboxes, then a clear message is being sent: You are not wanted here. And that's a horrible lesson to learn so early on in life.
Obviously, the solution is to just include Rey, and Black Widow, and other female characters in merchandise. Thankfully, this is starting to change. Earlier this year, I conducted my own study on this to see if the #WheresRey campaign had made an impact. Boy, has it. If you walk into a Disney Store or any other toy store (especially around Christmas), Rey is everywhere.
The same goes for Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and DC's other female superheroes. However, #Disney and Marvel seem set on excluding Black Widow and Gamora, who were missing from most Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise.
Things are improving, if slowly. The Monopoly game news is disheartening, but this was always going to be a losing battle. Instead of pushing for Rey to be included in one game — that has already been produced, dispatched, and is failing to sell well — we should be pressuring all merchandising companies to make new toys with female characters included. If this scandal proves nothing else, it proves how many institutional roadblocks can be thrown up against progress — but that campaigns and media pressure really can make a difference to the market. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go buy more Rey toys for my many nieces. They've worn out their old ones.
Tell us in the comments: Would you like to see Rey included in more merchandise?
(Source: The Associated Press)