Have you ever been the sole reason behind a child’s heartbreak? Have you ever seen hope drain from a little girl faster than you can apologize? Believe me, it’s one of the most devastating things that can happen in your daily life and it hurt double for me because I knew exactly how this heart break felt when I was a kid.
But…I couldn’t do anything about it.
Let me explain…
At my summer job, we sell these little Avengers: Age of Ultron figurines. They’re not much and we don’t really focus on toys so we only have four figures: Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, and Ultron. Occasionally, we’ll get requests for superheroes we don’t have. A lot of customers request Captain America, a couple hardcore fans ask for Vision, and I’ve even had one request for Quicksilver. However, it was a request for a different superhero that completely broke my heart.
“Can we get Black Widow? She’s my daughter’s favorite.”
As a female superhero fan myself, I know all about Disney/Marvel’s merchandising problem with Black Widow. Compared to all of the male superheroes, Black Widow is pitifully misrepresented. In fact for a toy set based on a scene she played a crucial role in, she was replaced with Captain America for no logical reason.
The little girl’s disappointment after I explained we didn’t have Black Widow is a disappointment I’ve known my entire life. When I was my little customer’s age, I hoarded Poison Ivy from my little brother’s Batman collection. She was the only female action figure remotely close to a superhero we had. Star Wars is notorious for only have a handful of female characters in a large cast and believe me I had every incarnation of Padmé and Princess Leia action figures I could get my hands on with a handful of female Jedi that never made it into the movies for more than a few seconds. However these eight figures still couldn’t compete with my brother’s collection of over twenty male Jedi.
It’s tough growing up with such little representation. You want to be the superhero, you want to be a Jedi, but how can you be if none of them look like you? How can you possibly imagine yourself saving the day if the only people saving the day are white males? Even though the future is bright with Captain Marvel on the horizon, the problems with Black Widow’s merchandising is still telling millions of little girls that even if they do save the world, they will always come second to the male superheroes.
Since Disney/Marvel is adamant on invalidating Black Widow as much as possible, it’s up to us older fans to assure these little girls that their interests are valid. We must be an example for these girls and show that, as women, it’s awesome to love superheroes. It’s awesome to admire a super spy/former assassin who manages to hold her own against a super soldier, a genius billionaire, and a literal god. It’s awesome to think that one day you can save the world too.
Things are getting better. When I was a kid, the only live action female superhero was Batgirl and she only appeared in one film. Now we have not one but two live action female superheroes who are essential to the storyline in several movies. Captain Marvel and Wonder Woman are both getting their own movies in the near future, which is something I’ve only dreamed about. Although it’s ridiculous that we only get two female led superhero movies out of the fifteen other male led superhero movies, its baby steps.
One day, we will have our female superheroes not be just for the male gaze.
One day, girls will be able to love superheroes without feeling invalidated.
One day, little girls won’t be heart crushingly disappointed in the lack of toys for their favorite superhero.
But for now, we just have to keep asking…#WheresNatasha?