#WheresRey: Gender stereotypes still an issue as companies hide strong female roles

Jan. 25, 2016

Davy Mellado
dmellado@uccs.edu

In my weekly trip to King Soopers, I was met by a large display of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” merchandise in the toy section.

The latest Star Wars episode was a wonderful flurry of old and new characters following the journey of the female protagonist, Rey.

As I looked over the boxes and stands in the grocery store, I noticed there was not a single poster, toy, mask or even packaging with Rey on it.

With a disgruntled shuffle, I pulled out my phone and tweeted, “#WheresRey,” along with a photo of the scene.

This is not the first time I’ve seen a Star Wars display lacking Rey. This hashtag started a month before the movie came out.

It began with a controversial Hasbro product of six Star Wars action figures. Of the six figures, Rey was nowhere to be found, despite there being two unnamed figures irrelevant to the film.

It wasn’t for lack of space, so why was Rey absent?

The brand that owns Star Wars, Lucasfilm, was bought by Disney in 2012 and soon after, the seventh movie went from rumors to reality.

But this purchase didn’t come without strings attached. Disney propagates a specific marketing plan when it comes to females.

It’s called the “Disney Princess.” This role is typically passive, has enchanting beauty, wears a dress and is almost always married.

In the latest Star Wars film, Rey is an active woman who doesn’t enchant anyone with her looks, wears pants and doesn’t get married. The trending hashtag, #WheresRey continues because multiple products commissioned by Disney omit her.

In response to an 8-year-old’s handwritten note, Hasbro made a public announcement on Jan. 4 explaining they did not include her because they didn’t want to ruin the “surprise” that Rey plays an important role.

Why would a consumer who doesn’t know the significance of the characters buy posters, action figures and masks of them?

Hasbro commented just one day after the spoiler statement that they will produce and ship a new line of products that include Rey.

Hasbro and Disney have a dodgy history of omitting female characters in their products. Black Widow from “The Avengers” is another example. Despite being an Avenger who fights alongside The Hulk and Captain America, she is largely underrepresented in merchandise.

These female characters have roles that are crucial, active and not based on their looks. These are values that we easily encourage in young boys, but seem to forget about when it comes to girls.

#WheresRey is evidence we still have a problem with gender roles in today’s society. We discourage girls to play with female characters that “act like men.”

When there aren’t skilled and intelligent female characters in movies and merchandise, young boys and girls have no choice but to look to men for role models.

That means that skill and intelligence are only associated with one gender, male.

This is a problem we have to address. Strong character traits like fighting, outsmarting villains and motivating others are needed for both young boys and girls.

This country changed the minds of decision makers in a multi-million dollar company for the better. People like you were able to shape our culture and take control of the toys our kids play with and look up to.

Never forget you have the power to resist being a product of a culture, but a reckoning force for change.