I used to consider women pitifully weak and pathetically delicate. For this, I blame Marvel Comics.
As a boy in the 1960s, I was seldom without my nose in one of that company’s fables. From them, I learned many valuable life lessons:
Always lock the portal to the Negative Zone.
Never ignore your spider-sense.
Mutants are people, too.
But I also learned that women – “girls,” actually – were like fine china, fragile and decorative. The Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men all had distaff members, but when the fighting started, the girls usually stood – or were ordered – to the side, if, indeed, they were allowed to go on the mission in the first place.
Yes, occasionally, Marvel Girl would trip a bad guy with her telekinetic powers or the Invisible Girl would throw up a force field to protect her partners. Then they would promptly faint from the exertion. Once revived, they’d start dinner. So the idea of girls in the center of the action would’ve seemed pretty far-fetched to me.
This was a pretty common mindset back in the “Mad Men” era, but you wouldn’t think it’d have much currency post Cagney and Lacey, post Lara Croft, post Ronda Rousey and the Williams sisters. Apparently, some of us think otherwise.
Or, to put that another way: Where’s Rey?
That’s the hashtag of a Twitter campaign that has exploded in recent weeks. The Rey in question is no piece of fine china. Rather, she’s a scavenger and a scrapper; she pilots – and repairs – the iconic Millennium Falcon spaceship, and she’s handy with a lightsaber, too. Rey is the undisputed star of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which has earned over $1.9 billion worldwide at the box office.
Yet if you buy the new Star Wars-themed Monopoly game, you won’t find her in it. You'll find a Darth Vader token, and he’s not even in the movie, but no Rey. Ditto the Millennium Falcon playset. Ditto a six-pack of movie figurines.
In response to international (yes, international!) umbrage, a spokesperson for the Hasbro toy company told Entertainment Weekly that the character was omitted because her inclusion would have revealed a key plot point. The company said Rey will be featured in the second wave of toys reaching stores this month.
Which may sound reasonable until you remember the same company has faced the same complaints before. In 2014, bloggers were upset that the character Gamora was segregated out of playsets based on the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movie. Last year, the omission of Black Widow from much of the Avengers merchandise was glaring enough for Mark Ruffalo, a star of the films, to tweet a plea for more Widow toys “for my daughters and nieces.”
He’s right, of course. Toys are the medium by which children act out their aspirations and dreams. My granddaughter, Lena, who is 6, regards herself as a princess. And a superhero. She sees no reason she can’t be both, and I want her to have toys that help her maintain that sense of herself as a person to whom all possibilities are open and for whom gender is no barrier. Girls can do anything. That’s something girls need to know.
But it is also something boys need to know, even if – especially if – they are resistant to the idea. Although frankly, I’m not sure if boys really are resistant or if Hasbro just assumes they are.
You hate to think, after all, that boys who understand a hero can be a sentient tree, a green monster or a shaggy, dog-faced furball, would be stymied by the idea that a hero can be a woman. Surely we have done a better job of teaching our sons that courage has no gender.
OK, maybe that’s something we couldn’t be expected to understand when I was a boy a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. But haven’t we all grown up some since then?
NOTE: In a recent column, I wrote of the stricken city of Flint, Michigan, that it “doesn’t even have a grocery store.” Several people have since contacted me to dispute that, one of whom even shared a link that seems to indicate that Flint, in fact, has multiple grocery stores. I got my information from Flint Mayor Karen Weaver as quoted by CNN. I’ve tried twice to reach her office to clear up the discrepancy, but have not been able to get through.
Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 3511 N.W. 91 Avenue, Doral, Fla. 33172. Readers may write to him via email at email@example.com.