I have three nieces and I take shopping for their Christmas gifts pretty seriously. As the mother of only boys, I guess I’m working out a lot of my feminist angst directly through what I give to my female relatives. (I have feminist angst to spare for the boys, too, I promise.)
Last year around this time, knowing that my nieces love Star Wars, I went on a hunt for a Star Wars-related gift. I was dumb. I typed in “star wars + girl” into the Amazon search field. I don’t know what I was expecting to find – just that I wanted the consumer-driven/stuff-driven society I live in to blow my mind. What I found instead was a Halloween costume for Princess Leia’s bikini from Return of The Jedi. I was pissed, but I figured it was just that Amazon sucked. [Aside: I tried this again right now and things are a little better in 2013. I found R2D2 socks.]
Surely there would be other, better places to find what I needed. I tried A Mighty Girl and I tried Think Geek and no one had what I wanted. Which is maybe a harsh way to judge them, because I couldn’t really say what I was looking for. I didn’t want a cooking set, for heaven’s sake, or anything that revolved too much around traditional “women’s work” (although, now that I think about it, an Ewok-themed tea set of twigs and acorns with a spit for roasting Han Solo would have been awesome) and I didn’t want to get them a regular Star Wars toy like a light saber that came in pink. But I also didn’t want to give them regular Star Wars stuff made for any old kid, because my nieces are special. I wanted a Princess Leia playdoh head that squirted out buns and braids or a Lego set where you could build Cloud City. Darth Vader on a pony, maybe. A pony with a Darth head and black cape?
So maybe my problem was that Star Wars isn’t best judged on girl v. boy, and I think that’s a fair assessment. But I was still so, so disappointed to discover that the Star Wars universe and the shopping universe had not collided to make Niece Awesomeness In Star Wars Flavor. [ETA: You can actually buy a Cloud City lego set; it's $1300 on ebay and it's ugly.]
This year, I tried again. One of my nieces dressed up as the super hero Firestar for Halloween and I thought it would be fun to find her something about Firestar for her Christmas present. Well, guess what? THERE ISN’T ANYTHING.
I know, I know, Firestar is not a one of the more famous super heroes. She was on Spiderman and His Amazing Friends circa 1980. But that stuff is on Netflix streaming now and is currently having a resurgence of popularity. There are books about Spiderman (there is everything about Spiderman, really; even in my house, where the love of Spiderman is pretty low, around broccoli level, we already have a Spiderman nightlight and a pair of Spiderman sunglasses). But no books about Firestar. I thought, again, maybe I was just not searching well.
Marvel Comics, I discovered, has a whole line of comics for younger kids; no Firestar. No female super heroes at all. Online, they have comics featuring “The Power Pack” which is a group of kids with superpowers who follow around better known characters like Hulk. It’s nice and all, but it feels a little like when sugar cereal started being “fortified” with vitamins and minerals. Fine, thank you, not exactly what I wanted. Also, please to read this one about “The Avengers” and I dare you to find all four panels featuring Black Widow. Marvel even has a line of superhero early reader e-books; women superheroes are conspicuously absent from them all.
Here is where I get a little ranty. What. Is. Going. On? Whhhhhhy? Kaaaaaaaahn! Auntie Hulk smash!
Early reader books are supposed to be high interest and low skill, so that kids who are just starting out reading, or who are struggling to read on their own, can feel excited about picking up a book. I have really started to appreciate the “early reader” section of my library, because that is where all the character-based books are – the ones about Lightning McQueen or Peter Pan or Ariel or whomever. I still have wonder and amazement in my heart for traditional picture books, but after we got a very beautiful picture book at the library called Train to Somewhere, thinking it was about trains only to discover it was about orphans who were being adopted from a train – cue tears – sometimes I don’t want the mystery of an unknown entity; I just want to get a Monsters, Inc. reader and go home.
Early readers are designed to keep kids interested in books and reading, even if they cater to TV shows and movies. So … how come kids who love Spiderman can have a book that caters to their interest while kids who love Firestar or Wonder Woman or Storm cannot? I can’t imagine it’s because it costs a lot to write these books. I mean, just read a few; they sound like a robot put them together. Which is totally great for kids who are early readers, I’m not trying to knock these books.
It’s just that, if Marvel already owns the rights to Firestar, and they don’t need to invest a ton of money into a creative team to write a book about her, and they can publish-on-demand to fill a need or they can upload a Kindle version and don’t have to ship thousands of physical copies to bookstores anymore – WHY HAVEN’T THEY DONE IT?
Auntie Hulk angry. Auntie Hulk think maybe Marvel not care about nieces who love female super heroes.
I love this site about girls putting together their own super hero costumes. When I first saw it, I thought it was such a testament to creativity. I guess I didn’t realize girls do this because no one is making these costumes for them. No one is making these books for them. No one is making these super hero things they love, so they have to do it themselves.