Yesterday was not a good day for newly revealed Star Wars information, considered from the perspective on the franchise we specifically advocate here at FANgirl Blog.
This is one of those days you wish Twitter had an "I'm just marking this tweet for later outrage" button rather than have to hit "favorite"— Tricia Barr #StarWars5050 or we've settled (@fangirlcantina) January 21, 2015
I can point to a lot of ways I’m crazy excited about the future of Star Wars right now, as well as some aspects that concern me. Yesterday, one of the problematic areas reared its head again: the marketing jargon coming exposed at the UK Toy Fair.
Read that again: “Merchandise Target: Priority: Boys 5-12.”
Not children. Boys.
Eleven Thirty-Eight highlights the part of this repeated cycle that frustrates many fans.
Frankly: reasonable people can disagree on this girls/boys thing. But it's telling that no one in the biz ever actually stands behind it.— Eleven-ThirtyEight (@eleventhirtyate) January 21, 2015
Essentially, we are looking for someone to take responsibility for the marketing, to discuss how marketing merchandise might have a different goal than the storytelling, or perhaps to admit to the reality that “we actually are making Star Wars for boys.”
In the absence of consumer responsiveness, feelings of frustration, disgust, and outrage when it comes to Star Wars’ licensed products are unavoidable. Lucasfilm’s messaging often portrays the welcoming notion that Star Wars is for everyone, but too many instances remain where actions and products speak louder than words – and those words are like the clichéd boyhood treehouse: no girls allowed. Based on social media chatter around the blogger community regarding an upcoming product that hasn’t yet gone public, I suspect we will see an even bigger episode of outrage from anyone concerned about the marginalization of women and girls by the franchise’s licensed products.
It’s heartbreaking to see Star Wars toys limit their potential. Marketing norms are the root cause of most discrimination, both perceived and real, across pop culture currently. Even George Lucas sees it.
“I think girls go to the movies just like anybody else. That’s a marketing reality, but it’s very powerful. It’s very hard to counter it. They have their ideas about what movies will sell. That’s what they do. The industry is kind of run by the marketing department. … This one’s got monsters and swordfighting and all that kind of stuff, which they’re playing up. They’re taking down the music and the fairies.”
~ George Lucas, discussing Strange Magic on CBS News
That’s what makes these incidents so important for the fandom to address. Women and girls aren’t only marginalized as customers, but also culturally. When toys in what will likely become the most influential franchise of this century reinforce that message, it will inevitably be called out, not just by fans but also by pop culture critics. Still, the most powerful message will come from inside the fandom, from those people who want to spend their disposable income on Star Wars.
For that reason, I thought I’d highlight this tweet exchange and share my thoughts as a long time blogger and advocate. Working to affect change in a franchise that can be very set in its ways is a daunting prospect. Advocating effectively will advance the cause and achieve our objectives that much sooner.
Always conflicted when really douchey people make really excellent points (but in a douchey way). Right message, wrong messenger.— Ron Seoul-Oh (@CPThrio) January 21, 2015
My first recommendation is simple: begin in private. Feel your outrage; embrace your anger. Scream in your living room; chuck that book. Do whatever you need to do to express the emotions of a customer who has spent hard-earned dollars on a franchise, who wants to spend more of that disposable income on it, but realizes that corporate mindsets can be as self-limiting and blindered as the Jedi Council in the Prequel Trilogy. One of the most important lessons of Star Wars is that we can’t deny our emotions, but we can manage and control them.
When the goal turns to public advocacy for change by Lucasfilm, as with any other multinational company, the approach matters. Social media analytics do matter. Customer feedback matters. Reviews matter. That’s why it is imperative for fans who want change to speak up. Anger can be a great ally when it provides inspiration to become an advocate for change, but it also can be self-defeating when it overtakes the message. If fellow fans like CPThrio are tuning out, then it’s likely the powers that be are, too. Facts and evidence, even stern words and harsh truths, will be far more effective than rage-filled rants.
It’s also important, when we’re criticizing the franchise we love, to emphasize the positives we see, as well. The list from UK Toy Fair includes promising signs in the merchandise listings, too: Fashion, Accessories and Footwear, Health and Beauty, Home – these are not traditionally boy- or male-targeted product lines for Star Wars. As frustrated as I was to see, yet again, the “boys franchise” myth crop up in official Lucasfilm promotional copy, I’m excited by the rumored possibility that Tatiana Maslany, Rooney Mara, or other amazing actresses might be starring in the upcoming Star Wars standalone film. It’s amazing that Lucasfilm featured so many women working on Star Wars Rebels in the latest Rebels Recon. Those positives help me get back to remembering why I’m fighting so hard to make the Star Wars franchise even better than it already is. It also helps make sure the anger isn’t controlling, or limiting, the message.
As a blogger do I always follow through on these recommendations successfully? No. But I believe there is no question of my passion – my love – for Star Wars.
I firmly believe that is how fans will make all of our opinions the most effective. It’s too easy for Lucasfilm, Disney, or any other company to revert to “haters gonna hate” and shake off the negative feedback as irrelevant. It’s when their known passionate fans, their proven most loyal customers, are speaking out in criticism that they can’t – and don’t – ignore the consequences.
It’s true, there are some individuals on the inside of Star Wars who just don’t listen, and haven’t been listening for a while. But there are others who are trying, who need us to keep pressing for what we want as customers. Just as we ask Star Wars to grow as a franchise, we need to look to ourselves and make sure we deliver our message in a way that must be heard.
What I’ve learned in the past four years of FANgirl Blog is that our greatest strength is changing the hearts of our fellow fans who don’t see why what we ask for matters to them, and why they should care too about things like marketing aimed solely at boys. Every day I hear from a father who’d never thought before about not being able to buy Rebels products for his daughter, from a fanboy who realizes Hera subverting the Slave Leia trope in “Idiot’s Array” actually is amazing storytelling, or a man who spent most his life believing women just weren’t that into Star Wars because the merchandise caters almost exclusively to men.
The future of Star Wars is exciting, but undoubtedly, Lucasfilm has had a string of unforced errors that prevents many female fans from having full confidence that they’ll do right by them.
I hope that Lucasfilm remembers just how powerful Star Wars is as a brand. Star Wars has the leverage to make essentially unlimited demands of its licensees, whether it’s ironclad secrecy about The Force Awakens, higher quality, increased diversity, or gender-neutral toy marketing. The epic mythology of Star Wars has already proven it is for everyone. Lucasfilm can insist that truth is reflected in the licensed merchandise that allows corporations to make money off their brand. Entertainment media and toy manufacturers may be stuck in their blindered mindsets, and even our broader culture will not transform overnight, but Star Wars has the power to be a force for change. As fans, we should keep speaking up until it lives up to the legacy of the first Star Wars movie, which wouldn’t have been made were it not for George Lucas refusing to take no from an industry very set in its ways.
Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.