Star Wars pretty much dominates our household these days – a fascination driven by my daughter, aged 6 and in grade 1, who has watched all movies, is watching the Clone Wars and carries around the Star Wars Encyclopedia day after day.
In searching for Star Wars themed party things – I was appalled to discover ToysRus Canada (@toysruscanada) considers 138 of their 139 Star Wars as toys for boys not girls. I tweeted the #fail – wondering if I am making a mountain from a molehill. But it continues to bother me and importantly, my daughter agrees with me - “I feel sad and its weird” she says to ToysRus Canada only listing 1 of the 139 Star Wars toys as a girl toy.
I had to wonder if this was hap-hazard product classification based on old stereotypes. With gender specific filters – certainly there is strong responsibility to ensure accurate classification. Could misclassified toys have a role in promoting old stereotypes? Are girls not getting into Star Wars because a large toy retailer fails to include them in their toy recommendations – thereby limiting girls out of popular sci-fi experiences?
Low interest in Star Wars by girls would surprise me – especially these days with the successful Star Wars Clone Wars cartoon tv series and their strong female character leads like Jedi Ahsoka Tano and Senator Padme Amidala. (And I do consider Ahsoka is a far better role model than pre-90s disney princesses). Could erroneous product classification give parents and boys the wrong cues about girl interests?
Upon a bit investigation, I found a wonderful anti-bullying essay by Carrie Goldman, @cmgsart , that I missed from November 2010. She spoke about her daughter, Katie Goldman, taunted by boys in her grade 1 class who believed Star Wars paraphernalia to be ‘for boys only’.
Her blog post created strong internet support for girls who like Star Wars and don’t deserve to conform into traditional ‘sci-fi is for boys’ thinking. It made me think about the role retailers, like ToysRUs Canada, has when you have gender based filtering on products – especially for kids. Did it start with the boys believing Katie should not have a Star Wars water bottle or could they have gotten their cues from retail?
A little more investigation turns up a wonderful interview by Ann Hoevel, @cnngeekout , Geek Out! producer for CNN with Ashley Eckstein, @heruniverse and voice of Ahsoka Tano – “Her Universe is Ashley Eckstein’s Battle Cry” . She highlights the 2011 shift in Star War popularity from boys to include girls as girls show they are not afraid to embrace sci-fi.
‘somehow even children hold fast to the idea that sci-fi is only for boys. I think we have a responsibility to the younger fans today, and I think obviously we saw that with Katie Goldman, the ‘Star Wars’ girl. “
Ashley goes on to say “many girls are told “this isn’t for you – for so long. Told that, ‘just accept that (sci-fi franchises are) a boy’s and a men’s property,’ “ – well – @toysruscanada is doing the same thing. [ Ann's interview with Ashley - excellent!]
Certainly, I have appreciated gender specific recommendations for gifting in the past. And yet, I think any retailer who offers an opinion on what is best suited by gender has a strong responsibility to ensure gender specific recommendations are accurate and do not uphold old stereotypes for either gender. Toysrus – its time to look more closely at your 139 Star Wars toys and identify many of them as gender neutral.