Juno Diaz, a creative writing professor at MIT writes, “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” A whole bunch of us gals feel like invisible monsters these days, and for good reason. We rarely see stories that reflect who we are, and what we can be, on the screen. Joss Whedon, who is known for creating memorable female and feminist-friendly characters in television and movies, uses Professor Diaz’s quote as he fights the woman-hating Hollywood entertainment machine. Currently there’s a Twitter campaign protesting Marvel’s decision to erase the Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, from any meaningful storylines, stand-alone movies and even worse, toy stores. That’s right: the Black Widow, a complex character who has one of the most memorable scenes in “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” still has no merchandise tie-in for the girls and boys who want to make the Marvel empire even richer. Marvel Comics is a huge player in not only media, but in ancillary merchandising that includes lunch boxes, T-shirts and dolls.
Dolls? Oh yes, I know it’s not politically correct to call “Action Figures” dolls, but that’s precisely what they are: Dolls. I’ll say it again: They are Dolls. Don’t pander to sexism by calling dolls aimed at little boys “action figures.” It is only a reflection of our feminine/female hating, masculine/male worshipping society that we accept calling a doll meant for boys an “action figure” so as to not embarrass them. God forbid they should be associated with nurturing or caring for or playing with small representations of themselves or other human beings.
God forbid they should be able to buy a “passive figure,” my sarcastic term for a female “action figure.” And God forbid that a complicated, interesting, neither completely saint nor completely sinner female protagonist in fiction or real life be looked up to by the young male minds that are being molded every day to regard females as interesting only insofar as to how decorative and passive they are. We literally train our little girls to be inconsequential and our boys to expect girls to take the back seat or no seat at all.
My parents once gave me a toy iron and ironing board. I looked at it and wailed. Then I went outside and climbed our apple tree. Its blossoms smelled a lot better than the crap the burgeoning toy industry was cooking up and marketing in post-war America. The toys our children play with are often a rehearsal for what they’ll be doing later in life. The message of giving a girl and not a boy an Easy Bake Oven could not be clearer.
In stark contrast to cultural expectations of girls, Bear Ride — the younger sister of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space and one of our greatest astronauts — said, “Sally loved ‘Star Trek’ and comic books when we were young.” Is it a coincidence that Dr. Ride would go on to be a star, not only in space but in promoting science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) educations for all kids, with a focus on girls? I think not. They do not teach ironing techniques in the Sally Ride science camps. There is no need to iron an astronaut outfit.
Sally’s legacy lives on in Samantha Cristoforetti, the first Italian woman astronaut, orbiting earth in the International Space Station. She is cultured, insanely smart, social media savvy, and a badass! Hopefully boys aren’t being told that it’s not “manly” to care about her. Boys can look up to her, literally and figuratively, not for her stereotypical female attributes, but because she is a brave and cool person. She wears “Star Trek” outfits and quotes “Star Trek: Voyager’s” Captain Kathryn Janeway. I’ll bet that, once she finds out about the absence of the Black Widow from the toy line-up, she’ll tweet about it. (She tweets a lot.)
Why, oh why, do I make such a big deal out of this? Because what and who kids see as admirable, exciting and action-oriented matters. Marvel panders to boys. How about using their formidable marketing prowess to market the idea that boys like to see and play with strong females, or that little girls are a significant marketing force?
Mark Ruffalo, the actor who plays the mild-mannered über geeky Dr. Bruce Banner, but transforms into the super destructive Hulk when angered in the wildly popular Avengers franchise, turns out to be a mensch, too. He doesn’t like that his daughters and nieces don’t get to have a Black Widow doll and is storming the Twitter-verse. If you are a social media type, tweet about it using either the #blackwidow and/or #wheresnatasha hashtag campaigns: the second refers to Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow’s alter ego.
Finally, if you’re tired of female invisibility everywhere you look, here’s another action you can take: Sally Ride needs to be in the Statuary Hall at the Federal Capitol. We can make that happen by writing to our state representatives and requesting it. Who is remembered in sculpture is determined by the state itself. Statues are permanent physical representations of importance, not dissimilar to “dolls.” I want a statue of Dr. Ride representing California. Don’t you?
Ellen Snortland teaches creative writing in Altadena. www.snortland.com.