Just before my son turned four, we came across a treasure trove of action figures at the thrift store. They were the smaller, cartoon-ish kind with big feet. Marvel, DC, and Star Wars characters, heroes and villains, male and FEMALE. Whaaaaattt?!
My internal geek was going nuts! Even more so? My inner child was.
I grew up on comics, superhero trading cards and the X-Men cartoon after school. I didn't keep up as much as my two brothers, but we played superheroes together all the time. However, when it came to the toys and the video games it was repeatedly disappointing and frustrating. In the toy aisle, all we could find was Storm. On the consoles, again, Storm. Meanwhile, my brothers had an abundance of options to choose from. Recently, a friend told me he used to know a guy who only collected female action figures because they were so rare. I get it, boys were the target market.
And don't get me wrong, often times the one female was pretty damn cool. Tolkien's Eowyn beheads a dragon-like beast and destroys the Witch King. Princess Leia won my heart for life with her snark and fearless leadership. As a little girl, I was in awe of them, that ONE warrior female in an army of thrilling male characters filling the tale. That's a lack my brothers, my husband cannot understand, despite explanation, because it was never their experience. How can they know how much representation matters? They’ve always been represented.
The Ghostbusters movie remake, surprisingly, brought this to my attention. Opinions about the quality of the movie as a whole aside, here were four strong, sassy, smart female leads kicking some ass, wearing non-sexualized outfits. That was a story that even I didn’t realize I desired as deeply as I did until it was in front of me.
Now I’ve witnessed the Star Wars franchise born again, with a new female lead and its princess now a general; the first female led superhero movie, Wonder Woman, its army of warrior women storming a beach in armor that made sense; and Marvel movies increasing their strong female roles, eventually making Captain Marvel. They aren’t just a side character to the hero and, even more impressive and fulfilling, their strength is portrayed in more ways than masculine grunting and wielding a giant weapon.
The representation increases, the writing gets better, and choices multiply. My son and my daughter see that woman are capable, equal and complex. This will be their normal.
I grew up in a token female world. My daughter isn't. My son isn't. She was barely walking at the time, but I knew she'd be playing with those action figures soon enough and, dammit, she was going to have OPTIONS. My son was going to see warriors and heroes aren't just men.
Of the figurines we have, about a third of them are a female character. My daughter carts around her Batgirl fig everywhere. Yesterday, they were fighting over who gets to play with Wonder Woman.
Maybe it's not perfect yet, but there’s progress. So much so, that I am excited for their future. Do not underestimate the power of representation.