I collect female action figures. This all really started when I couldn’t find Eowyn from the Lord of the Rings movies. I was more than a little miffed that there was finally going to be a sword wielding ass kicker in one of the biggest movies ever made and I could not find her anywhere.
Over 20 years ago now, I bought myself my first action figures. It was an X-Files set that I still own. I loved Agent Scully and her unending skepticism no matter what she witnessed. Growing up I had Barbies. Lots of them. My mother loved Barbies and my brother had G.I. Joe and plenty of other superhero type guys. My mom was all about gender oriented toys. I don’t believe this was intentional, I think she was simply a product of her generation of women. My sisters and I never even considered that we also couldn’t let our toys have superhero powers, constantly making up elaborate story lines and having absolutely no problem with being able to kick the crap out of any villain, male or female. Our giant Barbies would date tiny G.I. Joes whenever Ken wasn’t available. But as I got older and started to read more and more, I started to realize that Barbie was not going to cut it anymore. I didn’t relate to her corvette, dream house and endless desire to be a cheerleader. I had Jem for a while, but as someone who has never felt the need to be a rock-star, I lost interest in her pretty quickly.
That’s when I met She-Ra. My mother started buying me She-Ra story books in grade school and when I made the honor roll, the action figures. I loved them and let me tell you, I wish I still had them. She-Ra had a sword, rode a flying unicorn, and could match her brother He-Man blow to blow with the bad guys. Around the same time my aunt started to send me Star Wars stuff and I dressed as Princess Leia for Halloween more than once. A friend’s mother would put my hair up for every holiday in her trademark braided buns. She was the ultimate Princess to me. She was the boss, resourceful, and got to wear a spectacular space dress when she felt like it. I will say I never really got her attraction to Han Solo as a kid. Then you grow up and realize that we can idiotically be attracted to “Bad Boys.” Whatever. Leia put Han in his place when he needed it, and I thought she was all the more awesome for it.
Fast forward a decade, Agent Scully comes into my life and then I start to realize there’s really something important here. A toy that represents something that wasn’t known to me as child. That I could be a smart, capable career woman of some kind. That’s why these toys matter. Because if you don’t know you could be a doctor or a hero of some sort you won’t ever consider it. For the longest time, and even now, it’s hard to find toys for females that cover the endless possibilities of growing up. No one ever doubts a male can be a hero but a female? Maybe not. Maybe she should only be in well-defined traditional roles? Well, if that’s what she wants then so be it. But all the options should be offered to everyone. And that includes in toys.
I don’t have a huge collection of female action figures. Maybe 30 or 35. But they all mean something to me. I noticed recently that I knew where they all came from, what stories they were from, or in some cases (like my Cleopatra figure) what time in history. What I didn’t know was anything about the history of the action figure toy itself. So I did a little research. And where it’s easy to find out what the first attempt at a female action figure was, it’s pretty hard to find much about it after that. I’m still looking into it. I have a lot of questions, including things like what was the first African-American Female Action Figure?
Here’s a little information for you to start:
-1959 Barbie is released by Mattel
-1964 Hasbro creates the phrase “Action Figure” and releases G.I. Joe
-1967 Hasbro releases what is thought to be the first action figure for females and is the first female G.I. Joe. Action Nurse. She is a complete failure. Girls don’t want to play with G.I. Joes and boys don’t want to play with dolls.
-1975 Marvel creates Storm and she is the first African-American Female in a feature role in a comic.
-1978 First Princess Leia action figure released by Kenner
-1997 G. I. Joe releases a second female action figure, a helicopter pilot.
-A friend of mine randomly found Eowyn for me in a Target she stopped at on a road trip some 10 years ago.