As if Joss Whedon weren’t in enough hot water along with the rest of the Marvel folks for not producing a Black Widow movie series, Disney adds the icing onto the sexist cake by rewriting Avengers: Age of Ultron to promote a new Captain America toy. That heroic motorcycle ride Black Widow took to save the day in the film? Captain America is the spokesman of choice to sell the Cycle Blast Quinjet. So much for the Widow’s most heroic on-screen moment yet.
At least I’m not the only one wondering where the Black Widow action figure is amidst all the Ultron marketing. Thanks to Disney/Marvel’s woeful lack of attention to a major on-screen character, entire websites have been created to “follow the symbolic annihilation of women through merchandise.” The main assertion is that Disney has “never” been good at marketing “non-Princess” or warrior-Princess (think: Leia) female characters through the toy market.
Which begs the question, why doesn’t Disney think female action figures will sell? Let’s not fool ourselves (like the ideologues do) into thinking this is about being anti-feminist. This is about money. If a toy company thinks a product will earn money, they’ll sell it. According to a 2005 MIT study on toys and gender, children prefer stereotyped masculine or feminine toys, a trait that extends to “young nonhuman primates.” An examination of the packaging and marketing of these toys determined that boys preferred aggressive, competitive toys like action figures, while girls aimed towards attractive, nurturing toys like Barbie or baby dolls. In other words, the historical biological roles of hunter/gatherer and birthing/nesting, by and large, still manifest as the preferred respective fantasies of children of both genders.
If contemporary feminists want to market a Black Widow action figure to girls, they’d better quit grumbling and follow Marvel’s suit in characterizing her as the nurturer and “mother” of the Avengers. They’d also be wise to take a cue from Time Warner’s DC Entertainment and Warner Brother’s Studio, who have paired up with toy makers Mattel and Lego to create a colorful line of attractive teen female superheroes to market to today’s young female toy buyers. Let’s face it: Black Widow’s black jumpsuit is sexy, but hardly appealing to a five year-old girl.
Forget about textbook ideologies. When it comes to sales, the customer is the only one who is always right.