In recent weeks and months, there have been several stories in the media involving toys and perceived gender biases. One that specifically comes to mind is the video of the father whose son wanted a doll as a gift. Dad shot a video of himself giving the young boy the doll, and received all sorts of (deserved) kudos online. I’m guess he received a fair amount of backlash as well, but, if so, it was not heavily publicized.
More recently came news that the character Rey was left out of Monopoly games re-designed to tie in with global mega-blockbuster The Force Awakens. The official line on this is that the game manufacturers didn’t include her because her presence was a “spoiler” for the film. Hard to know how that could be, given that she appeared in the previews and is one of the first characters introduced, right near the beginning of the movie. But OK. Now comes news that a new round of Star Wars toys has arrived, and there is our friend Rey, front and center.
The natural assumption here (incorrect or not) is that an element of sexism is at play, and that Rey did not receive as many tie-in products because Star Wars is a “boys” movie and that these same boys aren’t interested in a Rey toy. But this overlooks one of the best elements of the The Force Awakens (mild spoilers ahead) which is that young women have a strong hero to look to on the screen. She is not helpless, waiting to be rescued by men. In fact, she dismisses Finn’s attempts to “save” her and quite effectively dispatches enemies. In addition, she does not exist simply as a romantic foil. In fact, she plays a key role in the plot and what small hints of romantic elements that do exist are unimportant.
Some people will be saying “toys? Who cares?” Study after study confirms the importance of toys, as it is a common way for children to express their emotions and to open up about topics they might not otherwise open up about. As regular readers of this blog know, one of the ways I engage clients in therapy is by speaking about pop culture. The Force Awakens opens up any number of opportunities for children to talk about things. What sort of message are we sending to children if a Rey toy is unavailable? That she is unimportant? Or, even worse, that girls are unimportant in Star Wars, one of the biggest cultural phenomena of all time?
I, for one, am glad to see an extensive line of Rey toys now available.
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture