A Dispatch From The Gender Frontline (I Went to Some Toy Shops)

Needing to kill an hour or so, I took a stroll around the Westfield London shopping centre this week. I naturally gravitated towards the toy shops, and I decided to amuse myself by indulging in a spot of gendered toys mystery shopping.

The first shop I went into was The Entertainer. They are a large independent toy retailer, and I have a particular soft spot for them as they began with one shop in my home town neighbour of Amersham, Bucks. But sentimentality aside, I had no idea what they were like as a toy shop these days.

I was pleasantly surprised and really impressed with the way they categorise their toys – eg. ‘Action & Adventure’, ‘Arts & Creative’, ‘Cars, trains, and planes’ etc – not by gender. This seemed like such progressive (and logical) way to sort toys, that doesn’t exclude on the basis of gender – at least in how product is grouped. Bravo Entertainer!

The Entertainer toy shop
The Entertainer toy shop

What I didn’t realise (until I tweeted about it) was that this came about because of a campaign by Let Toys Be Toys (we were living outside of UK when this happened). So bravo to them too. ūüôā

I didn’t buy anything, but I will definitely be back to shop here, another branch, or online.

I was expecting the worst with the next shop I visited. I have written about the divisive way LEGO creates and markets its product before. The beloved Universal toy of my youth is no more. I have resigned myself to not buying any new LEGO, that in all likelihood my daughter will be playing with our ample hand-me-down supply throughout her childhood. So I went to the LEGO shop all prepared for their gendered marketing tricks.

But then I spotted this.

Lego Female Scientists set, Lego Female Scientists kit, Lego Female Scientists sold out, female scientist lego
Lego Female Scientists

Yes!

The female scientists minifigure set, that I had in my own little way campaigned so furiously for, that had finally been released only to be sold out everywhere… It was back! I stopped looking around the store, grabbed the set, and headed straight for the counter.

As I paid, I asked the staff about it. They told me they had only been delivered a small number of sets in the original release, and everyone in the company was surprised how popular it had been. The staff were keen to point out that they now have a much healthier stock of it. So if you’re thinking of buying some LEGO for your child (or you!), then I would strongly suggest that you get this one. I’m intending on saving it until Christmas day. Hopefully I can resist the urge to put it together it until then.

LEGO Research Institute 21110
My daughter’s LEGO Research Institute 21110

That’s all I can say about the LEGO shop. They could have had an entire wall of pink Friends sets, with a sparkling sign proclaiming ‘LEGO FOR GIRLS’, and I wouldn’t have noticed. That’s how chuffed I was to finally have this awesome set in my hands.

So it had been a really positive experience so far. My final stop was The Disney Store, which I entered with trepidation. I love Star Wars & Marvel (both acquired by Disney) as much as I do not love princess culture (pretty much created by Disney).

IMG_4015Given that Disney & gendered marketing to kids go together like the Empire & the Death Star, I tend to browse Disney’s virtual and actual aisles with frustration. This occasion was no exception.

Starting with Marvel, there was nothing in the store featuring a female character. No Black Widow in the Avengers line, no Gamora or Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy stuff, no additional female superheroes, nothing. *sigh

On to Star Wars.

There’s large section of the store devoted to movie merchandise, primarily the original trilogy. The lack of Leia merchandise was an early issue on this blog, so I was keen to see if things had improved at all. At first glance, it hadn’t. There was a prominent display featuring Han Solo, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, and a Stormtrooper – but no Princess Leia.

IMG_4040I scanned the large selection of Star Wars stuff here, and eventually found a Leia. In fact I found a couple. They were each part of different play-sets figures. One set was Jabba’s palace, which of course means one thing – Slave Leia.

An eagle eyed fan on Twitter also spotted a Torryn Farr figure. Who is she? The blink and you’ll miss her Rebel Comms officer from The Empire Strikes Back. She may not be the most active character in the trilogy (she sits in a chair and relays orders), but I guess at least she’s a female Star Wars character figure.

That’s not all the Star Wars gear the shop has now though. There’s a big display of merchandise from the brand new TV show Star Wars Rebels. It’s early days for the show, but it has TWO major female characters that are prominently featured in the artwork of the toy display. So I was curious about what the the product would be like.

Product? What product?

IMG_4009IMG_4037

That’s right. There was nothing, nothing, featuring either of the female characters of Sabine or Hera. Not an action figure, not a t-shirt, nothing. I asked a member of staff about this. She looked surprised, had a glance at the section, and then kind of shrugged “No, there’s nothing with any of the women”.

What’s a girl gotta do to get into the Star Wars line at the Disney Store? It seems even a pink skinny waisted Boba Fett with a boob plate can’t break the gendered marketing glass ceiling far, far away…

So in this flagship Disney Store, in one of the premier shopping centres in Britain, there were just three items including any female characters in the whole of their Marvel & Star Wars sections – nothing in Marvel, and Star Wars had a classic Princess Leia (as part of a set), Slave girl Leia (as part of a set), and an individual figure of a rebel who says “Stand by ion control…Fire!” and nothing else.

Apparently, Sabine & Hera will be included in the second wave of Star Wars Rebels figures being released by licensee Hasbro. Staff also told me “We’re going to get Princess Leia stuff soon. But they keep saying that”. They had no idea about female Marvel characters.

I didn’t buy anything, and I’m not planning on going back. I left the shop more frustrated than ever about the fact that The House Of Mouse now own Marvel & Star Wars. I really hope things change for the better, and they embrace the female – and girl – market for these brands.

I reflected that my previous positive toyshop experiences were both due to the willingness of brands/retailers to engage with feedback, listen to those seeking change, and take a good look at their offering.

In conclusion, in terms of gendered marketing and division of toys: The Entertainer good, The Disney Store sadly not, and the LEGO shop? Well, they had me at female scientist minifigure set and was the only shop I spent money in.

So while this may have been an unscientific survey, in the end it was all about science.

Despite #WeWantLeia, Star Wars is still a ‘Boys’ only brand according to Hasbro

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My daughter giving her Hasbro Leia doll a blow-dry

Not only does the Disney Store have Star Wars pigeon-holed as a boys only brand, it seems that main toy licensee Hasbro does too.

In this job ad (courtesy of Natalie Wreyford and , Hasbro states it has “immediate need for a detail-oriented, brand developer… for Star Wars” their “Boys Licensed brand”.

Sigh.

The ad lists seven key aspects of the job, but reading them it seems to me that a plucky applicant could successfully address each of these bullet points by addressing the gendered marketing issue too.

So, if you’re a detail-oriented, brand developer candidate – who is “proactive”, “responsive”, “creative”, and with “analytic based judgement” – looking to make a name for yourself, you could try this approach. I am after all a marketing guru (:s).

Primary Duties & Responsibilities of Star Wars Brand Development role:

1. Lead cross-functional teams to execute key brand initiatives, including finding innovative ways to grow higher margin businesses.
A: An innovative way to grow higher margin businesses should involve marketing Star Wars to girls as well as boys.

2. Drive product innovations through the system to better meet consumer demands.
A: Innovate by creating Star Wars products intended for girls, meeting their additional consumer demand, and market the entire brand to both girls and boys.

3. Develop overall go-to-market product strategy.
A: Create product and market the whole brand to both boys and girls.

4. Partner with global supply chain to identify programs to decrease development costs and gain efficiencies where applicable.
A: Market existing products to girls as well as boys.  Efficiencies gained by selling an existing product to a new market with minimal cost.

5. Maintain current knowledge of modern manufacturing trends, technologies and competitive practices.
A: Be competitive by marketing Star Wars to girls as well as boys.

6. Collaborate with global brand strategy and marketing team in the development of all special and exclusive products.
A: Suggest the global brand strategy includes marketing Star Wars brand to girls as well as boys.

7. Become the global insights expert and leverage learning across product lines.
A: Your insight should involve the need for marketing Star Wars to girls as well as boys. If not, this should be learned.

So there you go. You’ve got that application nailed! Why not apply using this as your template? If you can’t beat them, join them. Then beat them.

Failing that, tweet them at @HasbroNews, or email them at hasbrobrandpr@hasbro.com, and let them know that Star Wars is a galaxy for girls too – because they obviously didn’t get the #WeWantLeia memo.

What’s the opposite of a Troll? I reckon it’s an Emily…

IMG_0568 The ways in which¬†strangers comment and connect online usually gets a bad rap. Perhaps because it’s so easy to take on another identity – or remain anonymous – in order to be¬†vile to another person.

A ‘troll’ used to be¬†a¬†goat eating creature that lived under¬†a bridge in the minds of children. Sadly that monster¬†has been usurped by an all too human counterpart. But what of¬†the wonderful instances of selfless acts of generosity and human kindness that also occur online? Well, here’s one for you.

I¬†blogged about the Disney Store’s lack of Princess Leia products, and their absence¬†of interest making any. As the dad of a Star Wars loving daughter, I hoped for some meaningful response from Disney, and there was a muted¬†assurance that they will produce Leia merchandise in the future.

But the post also elicited this response from a lady called Emily:

“I don’t know if it would interest you, but I have a Leia doll and several of the Episode 1 Amidala dolls (all still in boxes because that‚Äôs how I was). It‚Äôs not the iconic Leia w/ buns, but they’re just sitting in storage and I’d be happy to dust them off and send them to you to share with your daughter. I may have some action figures but I think I gave those away already.”

Well yes, of course I was interested, so I followed up with Emily via email. The back and forth conversation basically went like this.

Me: I’m certainly interested, but how much do you want for them? Emily: ¬† Oh I don’t need anything in return. I know how it was growing up a girl in a Star Wars world, so I’ll gladly share what I have

Wow, that’s really generous. But hang on, there’s a problem – it’s not like I can just pop round and pick them up. We don’t live very near each other. In fact, we’re very far from each other. Emily lives in the US and we live in the UK. She replied:

Emily:¬†I have no problem sending them across the ocean – they’re just collecting dust in storage right now and I’m happy to send them off to a better home.

Once again, wow.

Special international delivery

swtoysTrue to her word, some¬†days later, we had¬†a large package arrive in the post from America, which contained three boxed 12″ Queen Amidala dolls, a boxed 12″ Princess Leia doll, and a bonus item of a large Queen Amidala towel. It also came with the following handwritten note from Emily:

Simon, I hope your daughter enjoys these dolls. I’m happy to share my love of Star Wars with your daughter and your family. Hopefully these will help fill the gap until some new official merchandise surfaces. I only have one Leia doll, but Amidala/Padm√© was marketed a fair bit, with her many dresses and hairstyles. Like many overzealous fans, I snapped up what I could, but already being in high school, I never played with them – just had them on a shelf in my Star Wars covered room until another interest came along and they got put into storage for 10 or so years. Now they can leave their boxes for some proper playtime. Enjoy! And may the force be with you, always! Sincerely, Emily

Emily then¬†signed off with these delightful Princess Leia illustrations. Emily's Leia doodles So it was with great relish – and Emily’s permission – that my daughter and I finally liberated these toys from the packaging they had been in for the best part of the past 15 years. It would be a sight to horrify many a Star Wars collector, but delight anyone who gains any happiness from the pure joy of a child. My daugher loves these dolls. She is already swapping shoes and outfits between them. Ceremonial Leia looks pretty good wearing Padme’s large brown boots. ‘Royal Elegance Queen Amidala’s red shoes are a popular interchangeable item as well. There’s also some toddler hairstyling and tea parties happening.

“You never forget kids like Emily”

In 1999, the year that The Phantom Menace was out and Emily purchased all these dolls, another eagerly anticipated movie was released. Eerily, it features a young lady called Emily who parted company with her childhood playthings. In Toy Story 2 we are introduced to Jessie, a once beloved doll who has been¬†abandoned at a¬†roadside when her ‘Emily’ outgrew her. In reality, perfectly normal behaviour, but in the story it was a source of great sadness and emotional trauma for Jessie, who mournfully states:¬†“You never forget kids like Emily…but they forget you.” Well, this real life Emily¬†didn’t forget about her toys. They may not have been played with, but they were bought out of love (of Star Wars), and passed on for the same reason. According to Buzz Lightyear “(a toy’s)¬†life’s only worth living if you’re being loved by a kid”. Well thanks to their¬†Emily these toys will be well loved by our¬†kid. They are out of their boxes and never going back in! The Emilys of the real¬†world should be celebrated. She reached out to a father and daughter she has never met, with whom she had only had the briefest¬†of online interaction with, and¬†made the¬†great effort to not just simply give us these toys she purchased, but to ship them across the world to us at her expense.

It also reminded me of¬†the end of Toy Story 3, when…***SPOILERS***¬†…Andy hands over his childhood toys to the little girl family friend.

IMG_1855That brought a tear to my eye, and I have to admit, this did too.

So thank you Emily. As well as giving us these awesome dolls, you have also given me renewed¬†optimism about the world I am raising my daughter in. And Disney take note. There IS a girls market for Star Wars, and there always has been. (Oh, while I immensely appreciate Emily’s generosity in giving these dolls to my daughter, at my insistence we have reimbursed Emily for the shipping. She also¬†has a big credit in the favour bank)

#WeWantLeia? We’re getting her! Princess Leia IS coming to the Disney Store

“#WeWant Leia” by Yakface.com

After earlier stating they had “no plans for Leia products at Disney Store“,¬†Disney have caved to #WeWantLeia pressure. Time.com writer¬†Eliana Dockterman¬†managed to pin down a spokeperson from the elusive House of Mouse, to get a¬†clear commitment¬†to including our favourite Alderaanian Princess in the Disney Store’s currently male only Star Wars line up. Disney spokeswoman Margita Thompson told Time:

‚ÄúWe‚Äôre excited to be rolling out new products in the coming months, including several items that will feature Princess Leia, one of the most iconic characters in the¬†Star Wars¬†galaxy.‚ÄĚ

The article added:

‘Thompson also pointed out that there are Princess Leia-themed costumes and toys available on Amazon.com’

What, like these? Hopefully not an indication of the proposed Disney Store line…

Anyway, well done Natalie Wreyford! It all started with your tweet.

So it seems to be an about face – or at least an understanding – from the House of Mouse. The #WeWantLeia hashtag was proposed¬†right here, with a comment from¬†SuddenlyFeminist Dad. Perhaps¬†the power of the force is insignificant next to the power of social media…

You want Princess Leia at the Disney Store? You may be waiting a while…

Disney Princesses. disney princess 1977, 1977 disney princess

A mini update to my earlier post about the lack of Leia in the Disney Store.

To recap:  Disney have owned Star Wars since 2012. But despite carrying a range of other Star Wars merchandise in the Disney Store, it doesnt sell any (hardly any) Princess Leia gear.

I wanted to know why, especially since my young daughter is into Star Wars and her favourite character is Princess Leia. Initial contact with Disney¬†elicited a rather non-committal response, essentially ‘we have no information/plans regarding Princess Leia merchandise’.

Last week, the Disney Store UK informed me they had¬†“escalated (my)¬†query to the relevant departments”. Today, I received the latest response.

Thank you for taking the time to contact us, and for your patience while this was escalated to me.

No problem.

It is wonderful to hear your youngling is already such a huge Leia fan.

It IS wonderful my… hold on, my what? My ‘youngling’?

Interesting. It seems that the Disney Corporate Communications manual has been updated with Star Wars buzzwords Рa youngling is a child undergoing Jedi training.

What’s also interesting is that ‘youngling’ is a gender neutral term. Star Wars is anything but gender neutral in the Disney Store – with it listed prominently in the¬†‘Boys’ tab, but nowhere to be seen in the ‘Girls’ one. The lack of Princess Leia product appears to be¬†symptomatic of the¬†Disney Store’s¬†embedded¬†gender segregation – Princesses are for girls, sci-fi & superheroes for boys.

At least the¬†Jedi don’t divide their ‘younglings’¬†along gender lines. Anyway, moving on:

The current assortment of Star Wars product launched at Disney Store earlier this year is just the beginning of what is to come.

Well, that’s promising. So you’re going to sell¬†Leia stuff right?

Disney Store designs products with all members of the family in mind, and we are looking forward to supporting the Star Wars Franchise for many years to come.

Great! Oh, hang on.

We know Disney “designs products with all members of the family in mind”. That doesn’t indicate whether they will design Star Wars products “with all members of the family in mind”.

Also, “we are looking forward to supporting the Star Wars Franchise for many years to come”¬†doesn’t address whether they will add Leia to their Star Wars items¬†on sale. No indication of when – or even if – they’ll get to Leia.

Once again, we thank you for taking the time to contact us, and if you have any further queries please do let us know.

Thank you too, I will.

May the force be with you,

Well, certainly¬†makes a nice change from “Have a wonderful day!” ūüėČ

#WeWantLeia