I went to a comic book convention a year or so ago with the intention of buying some Black Widow merchandise for a blog giveaway, but there was none. At a comic book convention. A smallish comic book convention, but still.
You have to understand this goes back to the reasons Disney bought Marvel in the first place. Like Gail Simone has pointed out, in the wake of the “Young Justice cancelled because too many girls were watching” fiasco, Disney wanted a share of the boys toy market to match the Princess brand’s stranglehold on the girls toy market. And one of the easy and frequent ways to market to boys is to hang up a no girls allowed sign.
Marketing logic goes like this: if you have a target demographic identified, you spend all your time and $$$ pitching to that demographic, because that is the most efficient way to get returns. If you do not have a target demographic identified, you identify a target demographic. And the big population % casualty of this clever logic, not just when it comes to superhero toys but geek culture in general, is women.
When giant boobs and ass pointing the same impossible direction grace all the covers of your comic books, when five year old kids have Hawkeye nerf arrows and Iron Man masks to play with, but not Widow’s bites, it says, hello chums, this is for you. For you, and not for girls. Girls games and girls merchandise are kept on special shelves, conveniently colored pink, so they can be bordered off, easily identified. Comic book costumes for women are made in “sexy” variants, comic book shirts for women tend to say things like “girl power” or “my boyfriend is a superhero” and are kept, in this way, safely in their girly-place. (And why there are shirts like this one that got Greg Rucka so mad.) It is why, so often, when nerdtypes are troubled by Anita Sarkeesian types or articles like Janelle Asselin’s, they act like something has been taken away from them. You can’t expect comic books to be made for you, they say. Comic books are not for you.
Yes, I think about this a lot. I think about this a lot, and it grows fangs in my mouth, turns my rhetoric vicious. I think about how much money toy companies must have spent to convince the world that action figures and dolls are not the same thing. I think about what it means that we do not have so many Black Widow toys for girls to play with, because superheroes are for boys. And what it means that we do not have so many Black Widow toys for boys to play with, because boys do not need women to be superheroes.
Further reading, if you’re interested: