Warrior Goddesses: Why Female Action Figures Are So Important
The following is part of Laura Bickle’s blog tour for DARK ALCHEMY, out today with Harper Voyager Impulse – a cross between Stephen King’s The Gunslinger and Breaking Bad.
For children of the ’80s, action figures for girls were a new phenomenon on the market. Girls of my generation had a taste with the 1970s Lynda Carter Wonder Woman doll, but prior to that, toys marketed specifically to girls were often fashion dolls or baby dolls. I personally had little interest in baby dolls. Barbie and Darcy were all right, as far as fashion dolls went, but their activities in television advertisements and the JC Penney catalog seemed to center on walking the catwalk, dressing up for dates with Ken, and decorating the Dream House. Which was okay, as far as it went.
But I wanted more.
When my mom would take my little brother and me toy shopping, I’d often wander down the aisles of boy toys with him. It seemed like a lot more exciting stuff was going on over there: dinosaurs, Legos, monsters. I felt like I was sneaking over there, like it was an area that I wasn’t supposed to be in. All the action figures there were male – soldiers and knights and such. They looked cool, but they didn’t really speak to me. I couldn’t imagine myself in their armor or their combat boots.
This was the era when He-Man and the Masters of the Universe had just come out. This was my first exposure to fantasy. There were barbarians and skeletons and tigers… oh, my. It looked really cool, and I really wanted the purple tiger, but I wasn’t sure I was allowed there. Was this a boys-only club? Would I have to pretend to be a guy if I played with my brother? Maybe I could pretend to be the tiger…
But then I saw her – a female action figure. I reached up on my tip-toes to pull the package off the peg. It said: TEELA – WARRIOR GODDESS. She was wearing a white bodysuit and furry boots, with reddish hair. The package had a cool snake staff and what looked like snake armor – armor for a girl! – in the back of the package.
YESSSSS! She looked like me – or maybe, an adult version of me. I could pretend to be her! A WARRIOR GODDESS!
My mom bought Teela for me, no questions asked. And I was fully immersed in the fantasy world of Masters of the Universe. I collected the male action figures and the beasts, and my brother and I were given Castle Grayskull for Christmas one year. My brother had his own collection, and so did the kids down the street.
But, get this… we all were able to play together with the toys. Cushions were torn off the couch and thrown on the floor on snow days off from school, and massive wars were played out on the shag carpet. I got to be part of that world. A couple of other female action figures were added to the line: Evil-Lyn and the Sorceress. And I was in heaven. These were toys I could take outside, drag in the mud, and twirl through the sprinkler. They got launched off the slide and swam in the bathtub. I got to be part of the big world of Eternia. Nobody could say that I couldn’t play. There were female action figures, so girls belonged. They were on the cartoon every week, so that was proof.
I belonged there.
Gradually, things began to open up in the marketing of female action figures. I discovered Princess Leia in Star Wars, and the herd of girls and boys in the neighborhood played Rebels versus the Empire during every movie release. I belonged, shooting a blaster with Chewbacca. Scarlett and the Baroness were available for G.I. Joe – I now belonged in a plastic F-14 jet or out spying on the evil minions of Cobra.
Then, He-Man’s sister, She-Ra, got her own line… the Princess of Power got her own castle, her own clothes, and her own super-powered friends. The girls on my block who had been steadfastly into Barbie were in awe of the Crystal Castle. Not only did she get an awesome sparkly house, and a flying horse, but she had a magic sword and saved the world. All the time.
The action figure wars on the block were epic. Everybody was in. The sandbox was the lair of all evil, Snake Mountain (actually, it was an upturned paint bucket), while Castle Grayskull was perched on top of the slide. Someone parked the Crystal Castle under the neighbors’ rose bushes, and all the action figures in that universe were in play. Our parents didn’t see us all day on summer afternoons.
I treasure those memories of feeling part of a group. Everybody belonged. Everyone could play. Possibilities were limitless.
I credit those years of creative play with nurturing my nascent writer’s imagination. I believed that anything was possible for a girl. When I create heroines as an adult, I remember that feeling of freedom and open destiny that I had as a little girl. My protagonists can be warriors and scientists and sorceresses. There are no rules about what a heroine “should” be.
That is why female action figures are important.
Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology – Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs, also writing contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams. Her work has been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016. THE HALLOWED ONES and THE OUTSIDE are her latest young adult novels.
Bickle’s newest book, DARK ALCHEMY, is out today with Harper Voyager, and follows geologist Petra Dee as she searches for clues to her father’s disappearance – but finds Temperance, a dying Western down with a gold rush past and a meth-infested present.