Heroes are everywhere – in books, in movies and toy stores, in the corners of our imagination, but something strange seems to be happening with a particular subgroup. The hashtag #wheresrey has gained a fair amount of publicity when Star Wars Fans realized that Rey, the main character of the movie, was missing from most of the merchandise.
Female heroines are not a novelty in pop culture – Wonder Woman, Charlie’s Angels, many X-men female characters, She-Ra and others have existed for decades and yet, the entertainment world is strikingly lacking in their availability. It’s a rare treasure to find a female action figure in your typical toy store, and most movies tend to be made around the more popular, male heroes and superheroes.
The #wheresrey situation has already gained quite the popularity but it’s far from the only instance. Before #wheresrey, there was #wheresblackwidow and #wheresgamora. The decision to exclude female heroes in favour of their male counterparts can be attributed to a variety of reasons but what stands out is the misbelief that girls simply don’t buy or play with action figures, and boys would much rather play with a male one.Don't believe me? Check this out
Saying that girls in heroic roles simply do not sell would be completely wrong – just look at Katniss from the Hunger Game franchise, who is adored by the 40% of male Hunger Games fans.
The mistaken belief that we don’t want or need female heroes is also dangerous. Just twenty, thirty years ago, girls were taught that their value lies in their physical experience – in how they look rather than what they can do. The male heroes taught our children that being brave meant being strong and brute, qualities that were in contrast with what a girl “should be like”. In short, we taught our children that girls can’t be brave because bravery is a manly thing.
A recent article showed that girls are constantly underrepresented in children’s films and cartoons which led to girls seeing themselves as more of an accessory than the main character. And when they do imagine themselves being the hero, they are branded tomboys as if wanting to be strong, independent, a saviour is something only boys would want.
Of course, this is not to say that things haven’t changed. Female heroes such as Katniss or Ray have started to transform people’s perceptions of heroism and gender, of bravery and female strength and independence, but that is not enough. Because when your kid walks into the toy store but can’t see his favourite Star Wars protagonist because she is a woman, it sends the subconscious message that these female heroes are somehow different than their male counterparts.
Female heroes and female action figures are just as important to girls as they are to boys. Continuing with the Star Wars example, Luke’s story has inspired thousands of little girls to sympathize and identify with the hero and now Rey does the same for millions of children around the world. We look up to heroes because we want to be like them, regardless of their gender or background.
So let’s forget about the stereotypical descriptions of what a girl should be like. Let’s not underestimate the importance of grace, of kindness, of warmth but also let’s help children around the world understand that girls can be just as brave as boys are. Let’s celebrate female bravery, independence and strength by broadening our definitions of “heroes” instead of trying to fit them into strictly male tropes.