Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 13 January 2016

Where’s Rey?

This is a blog I’ve been meaning to write ever since the Where’s Rey hashtag hit the social media networks about a week ago.

All the big franchises, from Marvel Entertainment to Disney are notoriously bad at representing their female characters in merchandising. I know that the last time I became frustrated was when Black Widow was replaced on that motorbike by Captain America in the merchandised version. I thought it was ludicrous, and no amount of arguing would ever have changed my mind.

I’ve waited to write this post, because, honestly, I wasn’t sure of the angle I wanted to take.

I write feminist rants a lot on the blog.

Honestly, when I had my feminist training wheels fitted forty years ago, it never crossed my mind that I’d still be speaking out and loudly on this subject in the twenty-first century… I expected that it would all be over by now. It isn’t over. We’re still fighting the fight one battle at a time and there’s no sign that we’ll ever win the war. There is no accumulation of victories. With each win, we’re back at square one. The message never sinks in. We have to keep going on a case-by-case basis. There is no statute book for this stuff… There bloody should be.

Not for nothing, I resent that I end up using violent language when talking about feminism… it should never have been a fight.

The Where’s Rey hashtag took off in a big way when the Force Awakens Monopoly game came into play. There are only four player tokens rather than the usual six as this is a variant of the traditional game; the tokens come from the Star Wars franchise, so are not exclusive to the single movie that gives the game its title. Those player tokens are cast as characters from the franchise and they are: Kylo Ren, Finn, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.

Of course we all want to know Where’s Rey? Some of us want to know, Where the f*ck is Rey? More than that, I want to know why there are four male characters, why there are no women included in the player tokens, why there is no Princess Leia and no Amidala.

It’s about corporate America run by privileged, middle-aged, white men, and it’s all about the buck. These, apparently, are boys’ toys and boys’ games. There is still a gender divide in the entertainment industry, and it is still accepted in the boardrooms of those who pay for the licenses to produce the merchandise that these are boys’ toys and that boys don’t play with girl dolls, and that boys don’t want to be represented in board games by female tokens.

So, they exclude fifty percent of their potential audience, and they disregard the girl-buck (or should I say the girl-85-pennies-on-the-buck), and they underestimate the boys at the same time. And they do all of this before they’ve even considered the significant percentage of the population that doesn’t fit the binary gender construct or the heterosexual one.

Marvel Entertainment, Disney, Hasbro and many other entertainment and toy companies have simply decided that their audience is white, heterosexual men. What percentage of the population now fits that profile? And of those men, how many are so politically naive that they fail to see the nonsense that’s being peddled to them?

The problem is that some white, middle-class boys are still politically naive enough… They simply don’t see the cynicism of this approach, the misogyny of it, or for that matter, the generalised bigotry: the lack of inclusion of any group that doesn’t fit the ‘norms’ that the industry chooses to subscribe to and perpetuate.

Most Monday evenings, the husband and I have a drink with friends, among them the son of one of our number, a rather lovely seventeen year old boy. He’s bright and engaged, and sometimes very sharp and funny. I like him. He’s going to be, with a little guidance, a very nice bloke one day, but there’s a little way to go. I like his father too, and I’m always particularly impressed by his aunt. She’s about my age, she’s single, cultured, bi-lingual, a professional in a male-centric environment, clever, funny and, as it happens, gay. I know very little about the other adults in this young man’s life, but the influence of his father and his aunt really ought to give him a great start.

This week, we met for a drink, as is our custom, and it wasn’t long before the Where’s Rey hashtag was mentioned. It was actually used as shorthand between us women as part of another conversation, but the young man joined in. He began to tell us why the Monopoly game didn’t have a player piece of Rey. He gave us Hasbro’s line. He had bought it.

On another day, in other circumstances, I would, very patiently, have explained to him how and why he’d been duped. I didn’t do it then, because it wasn’t the time. We piled in, made a joke of it, and the husband wisely told him it was a battle he shouldn’t even try to fight.

That’s why I’m finally writing the Where’s Rey post, because now I have an angle.

A seventeen year old white, middle-class boy didn’t notice that there was no woman player piece in the game and when it was pointed out, he was happy to accept Hasbro’s line. He was content to ‘explain’ to me and his aunt why we were wrong… SERIOUSLY!

I know this child loves and respects his aunt, and he and I have had some feisty conversations. He’s seventeen, but he’s also white, privileged and male, and he feels totally at ease telling the two of us what’s what. That’s what growing up in a patriarchal society has taught him. He trusts white, male, privileged corporate America more than he is prepared to listen to the women in his life.

I saw the same Hasbro excuse that this young man saw, it went like this:

The Star Wars: Monopoly game was released in September, months before the movie’s release, and Rey was not included to avoid revealing a key plot line that she takes on Kylo Ren and joins the Rebel Alliance.

Well, OK, but that doesn’t explain why neither Leia nor Amidala was included as a character in the game.

The Guardian's take on the Who's Daisy riff April 2014
Wait a minute… The game was released in September 2015, but wasn’t casting for The Force Awakens announced in April 2014! Yes, it was, and Daisy Ridley very quickly became the most talked about new member of the Star Wars family. Headlines appeared the following day, and not just in the RedTops and on the gossip sites. Who is Daisy Ridley? was a question that was asked everywhere; the Guardian and the the Independent both ran stories on her during the week of the cast announcement in April 2014, and so did Vanity Fair and Glamour magazine.

This kind of publicity doesn’t happen without Disney’s involvement. The company wanted The Force Awakens to be talked about, and it wanted Daisy Ridley to be talked about. There was very little to know about the actress back in April of 2014, she had very little on her cv; nevertheless, the World’s press wrote inch after column inch about her. Disney managed to cover every base and every demographic, and pretty soon, we had all heard of Daisy Ridley.

For Hasbro to suggest that including a player token of Rey in its Monopoly game to be launched in September 2015 would spoil the movie was ridiculous. They were simply excusing what had happened in the room when the game was designed and the tokens decided upon. They didn’t want to include female player tokens, because had they wanted to, they would have. It’s as simple as that. It could easily have been Rey, but it didn’t have to be, Leia and Amidala were right there in the mix.

The men at Hasbro were caught with their pants down, and they made an excuse. It was a pitiful excuse and it simply won’t play to this audience.

The really sad thing is that it clearly does play to teenage boys, who still want to be like their fathers, and who are still taught that their opinion counts for more than their mothers count for at all.

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