Why Rey's Late Arrival Matters

As my son excitedly opened a holiday gift containing the newest Star Wars action figures last month, my husband and I exchanged glances.

The six-pack of characters from the latest film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, had a glaring omission. “Where’s Rey?” my husband asked. Exactly. Where was the Jedi heroine?

Rey arrives in stores this month, and it’s about time. I hope Hasbro, the maker of toys for the Disney-owned Star Wars license, has learned something from the backlash that greeted Rey’s initial exclusion from the first release of The Force Awakens toys — and that is that they could have made more money if she had been available during the holiday season.

Hasbro has vowed to include Rey in all character merchandise being released in the spring. 

But why not at the beginning? That is the larger question, which speaks to the staid, myopic nature of consumer testing practices. Guess what, toy industry? The Force Awakens is wildly popular with the female set of all ages.



Rey is brave, scrappy, self-sufficient, and has tremendous abilities that truly do surprise and awaken not just her, but in the film, the galaxy at large, the balance of the force, and the franchise’s enormous fan base.

Rey is also a role model for the current generation of kids in our modern world; a new message just one generation removed from the bikini-clad Princess Leia in “Return of the Jedi.”

When Disney and Hasbro left Rey out of the first toy sets, it sparked a much larger message: When will female action figures be here to stay?

As a parent of young elementary school children, I am keenly aware of how companies market to children. And as the owner of an advertising agency, I am sometimes at odds with the general approach to toy-industry marketing. Children’s toy marketing in this day and age remains loyal to gender stereotypes from another era. Gender still seems to play the defining role in determining which products will interest girls and which will interest boys. 

Peggy Orenstein’s book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, is a fascinating read that tells of a mother navigating the deluge of marketing and products with her daughter,. Does a trip to the dentist really need to involve “sparkle paste?” Do 4 year olds really need to wear makeup?

As Orenstein details in her book, Disney’s Princess products explosion came from an idea that a marketing executive had after attending Disney on Ice. All the girls in the audience were wearing homemade princess dresses and costumes. The executive saw a tremendous growth opportunity, and princess products are still Disney’s main licensing source of revenue—estimated at $4 billion each year. My point is this—if a marketing executive could see opportunity in traditionally female products such as princess garb, why do so few see the tremendous opportunities for product merchandising that transcends traditional gender roles?

Orenstein argues that because childhood is brief, children should be exposed to as wide a range of toys as possible.

A recent study found that gender-neutral toys can have positive long-term effects; when we offer kids equal choices at a young age, they will continue to expect and demand equality in their personal and professional lives. 

My 5-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter gave telling answers regarding gender classification when asked what they liked most about Rey. Their answers were a mix of, “Rey doesn’t abandon her friends … she believes in herself even when she has to fight scary things … she’s tough and brave … Rey is really good with tools and machines.”

If the relatively late release of a Rey action figure is any indication, we still have some significant work to do. But my hope is that retailers and manufacturers alike continue to push to create toys for today's children.  

Come next holiday season, I look forward to seeing toys and games that are innovative, stimulate the imagination and do not emphasize traditional gender roles or attributes.

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