In mid-October, Tokunation reported that Bandai may be decreasing the number of female Power Rangers action figures they produce. This was supported by official photographs of the upcoming Power Rangers Super Ninja Steel wave, which featured no female characters. Comicbook.com then followed-up with Bandai for further comment, where the toy company pivoted to vaguer language about their commitment to all Power Rangers characters, but confirming their reassessment of their line based on sales data. Often, this is toy industry speak for “we’re making fewer female character toys.”
What this would mean for consumers is that future Power Rangers waves would either exclude women characters altogether or, in the likely case of the Power Rangers Legacy toys, shortpack women action figures. (Shortpacking is the practice of producing fewer female character toys than male character toys, thereby including, say, two figures of a male character in a case, but only one figure of a female character.) All sources above cite the allegation that the female characters in the line do not sell, wrapping sexism in economics in the hope that that will shield them from criticism. In fact, this should not shield them from anything at all.
The economic argument has been heard, time and again, as an excuse for the decrease or elimination of female characters in toys. Galoob took this stance when they made their Star Trek: The Next Generation toys in the 1980s and omitted Dr. Beverly Crusher and Deanna Troi from their initial line-up, promising they’d come in the lost Wave 2, which would feature women “along with different aliens.” However, today, IAmElemental, Mattel, and Hasbro have shown that female characters sell just fine with the proper support.
To those still not convinced, I would ask why the IAmElemental Kickstarter was beyond successful, prompting the company to create two waves (with a third on the way) of original, feminist superhero action figures. I would ask why Mattel’s DC SuperHero Girls sold so well it led Mattel to report a “strong debut” for the line when they first emerged. I would ask why Hasbro’s Star Wars: Forces of Destiny, which produces dolls of female Star Wars characters, are flying off the shelves.
It’s marketing. The aforementioned companies crafted different looks for their female character showcases, making their debuts special, and designed to appeal to a broader audience. These toys are backed by their own supporting media, with TV shows, movies, and comic books aiding their stories. If Bandai were to put this kind of effort into their female characters, I would wager their sales data would change for the better.
But blaming gender for poor toy sales is easier than thinking critically about the story lines given to the female characters on Power Rangers. It’s easier than putting time and money into toy designs made to draw in a female audience. It’s easier than an overhaul. It is not, however, responsible.
The march toward positive change in the toy industry must start with this first step: toy companies need to see themselves as participants in a social dialogue that includes gender equality. Hasbro and Mattel, no doubt with inspiration from indie toy companies like IAmElemental, have entered this conversation. Bandai has yet to do this in a substantial way, despite being helped by a recent film that did a great deal to deepen the female Rangers’ characters. Instead, they have opted to simply claim that their female character toys aren’t selling. In truth, they have no one to blame but themselves.
Jonathan Alexandratos writes plays and essays about action figures and grief. You can find him and his head-flippin’ action on Twitter @jalexan.