Nichelle Nichols, playing communications officer Lt. Uhura, was an original cast member of the 1967 Sci-Fi TV show Star Trek. Her role as the only female bridge officer on the multicultural crew of the starship Enterprise was significant for being the first black character to be cast in a non-menial role on television. Uhura had another television first: in 1968 in the episode “Plato’s Stepchild” she and white actor William Shatner’s character Kirk shared the first scripted inter-racial kiss on United States television. In another famous story, in 1968, Nichelle had planned to leave the show for a Broadway career, but at a NAACP meeting she was approached by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, who said he was a big fan. When she told him she was quitting the show, he told her that she had to stay on the show because she was role model for black children and young women across the country, as well as for other children who would see blacks appearing as equals on TV. Needless to say, she stayed on the show. After the original series was cancelled in 1969, Nichelle Nichols worked with NASA as a public spokesman and as a way to reach out to women and minorities interested in becoming astronauts. Dr. Mae Jamison directly credits Uhura for sparking her interest to join the space shuttle program.
UHURA – Character in “Star Trek” Franchise, Created by Gene Roddenberry, 1967, Shown: Diamond Select Toys: San Diego Comic Con “Mirror, Mirror” Uhura, 7”, 2006
In 1941, Wonder Woman, an Amazonian princess from Greek Mythology, was introduced as a comic book character in “All-Star Comics”. At that time she was primarily fighting Hitler, the Axis powers and their supervillain collaborators. Her creator, William Moulton Marston, a Harvard psychologist who invented the lie detector, was also a polygamist and bondage enthusiast, which may explain why the Wonder Woman’s main weapons are a golden “Lasso of Truth” and her indestructible “Bracelets of Submission”. However, her character was rebooted many times over the next forty years (with far less emphasis on sadomasochistic imagery), and in 1975 a Wonder Woman television show starring Lynda Carter revitalized popular interest in the character. In 1977, feminist Gloria Steinem wrote, “Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of the women's culture that feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream: strength and self-reliance for women, sisterhood and mutual support among women, peacefulness and esteem for human life: a diminishing both of ‘masculine’ aggression and of the belief that violence is the only way of solving conflicts.”
WONDER WOMAN (Diana Prince) – Character in DC Comics, Created by William Moulton Marston, 1941, Shown: Kotobukiya DC Comics: Bishoujo 1/7 scale Wonder Woman, 9”, 2012
Mattel’s 1/6 scale Barbie was launched in 1959 as an “teenage fashion model,” an alternative to more common infant-type dolls for girls. In addition to dolls aimed at young girls, Barbie also has a large series of more expensive dolls aimed at older collectors. The Barbie franchise is responsible for over 80% of the profits made by Mattel. Barbie has come under fire by feminist and eating disorder organizations, saying that Barbie is too interested in girl-specific stereotypic behaviors such as shopping. Also, Barbie’s proportionally small waist is seen by many as the cause of eating disorders in adolescent girls. (In fact, no well-executed behavioral or scientific study has supported the idea that the dolls are the cause of anorexia.) Barbie has had many incarnations in roles that normally would be considered men’s jobs such as: Football Coach, Dentist, Doctor, Surgeon, Veterinarian, Paratrooper, Commercial Pilot, US Army Officer, Air Force jet pilot, Marine Corps officer, Navy Petty Officer, Ambassador, Firefighter, Police Officer, Canadian Mountie, Architect, Astronaut, Computer Engineer, NASCAR Driver, Photographer, Business executive… to name a few. She was a US President in 2000, and a candidate for President in 1992, 2004, 2008 and again in 2012. President Barbie 2012 was available as White, Black, Asian (pictured) and Hispanic versions.
BARBIE Fashion Doll Created by Ruth Handler Shown: Mattel: President Barbie, 11 ½”, 2012
Princess Leia (played by diminutive actress Carrie Fisher) was introduced in the 1977 movie “Star Wars IV – A New Hope” as a damsel in distress, but it became quickly apparent that she was a natural leader, pretty, brave and decisive. As the movie franchise progressed she was revealed to have magical force powers of her own, and in the novelizations that followed the movies she became a full-fledged Jedi Knight. Princess Leia is the only major female character in the Star Wars movies produced between 1977 and 1983, and was promoted in advertising by the studio in order to attract a female audience. Leia’s “cinnamon bun” hairdo (shown) became popular among young women, and although her costuming in the first movie was a neck-to-toe modest white gown (shown), in the second movie she appeared in her iconic metal bikini which rocketed her from feminist role-model to sex symbol. Although the movies have been woefully lacking in female characters, the extended franchise has featured female heroes in every capacity. Leia led the way for later science fiction movie female leaders like Ripley in the 1979 movie “Alien” and Trinity in “The Matrix” (1999). This particular figure is called “Monkey-Faced Leia” by collectors because of her mannish face; she was clearly not intended as a toy for girls.
PRINCESS LEIA ORGANA – Character in “Star Wars” Franchise, Created by George Lucas ,1977 Hasbro Power of the Force Red Card Princess Leia Organa, 3 ½”, 1995 Hasbro: Star Wars Movie Heroes R2-D2, 2012
The Thundercats were created by disabled WWII veteran Tobin Wolf along with his family as a kind of morality play featuring Lion-O, a boy trapped in the body of an adult, in conflict with the evil Mumm-Ra, a mummy sorcerer. All of the heroes of Thundercats had feline features similar to various species of large cat (Lion-O, Tygra, Panthro, etc). The American cartoon series launched in 1985 and spawned two runs of comic books, a live stage show, franchise merchandise and a reboot anime series in 2011. The only female team member for much of the original series, Cheetara had super speed and fought with a bo stick.
CHEETARA – Thundercats Television Series, 1985-1989, 2011-2012 Created by Tobin “Ted” Wolf, 1985 Shown: Bandai: The Thundercats Cheetara, 4”, 2011
In 1967, Hasbro expanded their collectible GI Joe (called Action Man in the UK) franchise with the addition of a female doll called “GI Nurse Action Girl”. Once the dolls made it to the stores, store managers didn’t know where to stock them. Should they be in the girls’ aisle with Barbie, or with the other GI Joe figures in the boys’ section? The dolls were a complete flop and Hasbro discontinued making them after one year. They didn’t try a female figure again until 1997, when they released GI Jane Helicopter pilot. Jane came in four varieties (blonde (pictured), redhead, brunette and African American) and came with a helmet, radio, jumpsuit, vest, boots and dog tags. She was just as detailed as a male GI Joe would be. The helicopter pilot did well, and in 1998 Hasbro released a 82nd Airbourne female action figure with an M16 rifle.
GI JANE - Part of 12” collectible GI Joe Franchise, Franchise created by Hasbro, 1964 Shown: Hasbro: GI Jane Helicopter Pilot, 12”, 1997 ( Note: The collectible 12” GI Joes should not be confused with Hasbro’s other GI Joe franchise as seen in movies. That franchise launched in 1982 and was a series of fantasy figure heroes fighting the evil “Cobra Command”.)
She-Ra, Princess of Power
Filmation’s “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” was an animated television series that premiered in 1983. The show featured characters made into a very successful Mattel toy line aimed at boys. The character “She-Ra”, He-Man’s twin sister, debuted in a made-for-TV He-Man movie which eventually evolved into the She-Ra series that premiered in 1985. She-Ra was aimed directly at a female audience, and she and her friends fought the villain Hordak and his minions in a relatively violence-free way that would appeal to girls. She-Ra had super strength and agility, and could mentally communicate with animals. “She-Ra” featured flying rainbow unicorns, characters like “Flutterina” and “Peekablue”, and the romantic interest for She-Ra was called “Bow” and had a big red heart on his chest armor. The Mattel She-Ra toy line featured dolls with rooted hair and had a sold-separately mount (usually a horse or flying animal). She-Ra herself came with a sword, a shield, and a red hair comb (pictured).
SHE-RA: Princess of Power Animated Television Series, 1985-1997 Created by Mattel Shown: Mattel: Comic Con She-Ra Figure, 6 ½”, 2004
Pink Power Ranger
The “Power Rangers” is a wildly successful American television series for children derived from a long-running Japanese television series called Super Sentai (translation Mecha Fighting Force). It follows the adventures of teenagers who transform into five color coded “Power Rangers” and fight evil with advanced weapons and martial arts. Footage of American actors in street clothing is spliced into Japanese footage of the Power Ranger fight scenes, in which the actors are wearing uniforms of various colors, always with a face-covering helmet. The uniforms and cast change every series (while maintaining the color coding), allowing for extremely profitable (over six billion since 1993) new toy production every year. Early on, producers unexpectedly discovered that up to 40% of the viewers were female, possibly because two of the five Rangers were girls. Actually, until 2007, most of the Japanese fight footage featured a male yellow ranger even though the American yellow ranger was female, but after 2008 the Japanese series also switched to a female yellow ranger. In fight sequences her yellow uniform now includes a little skirt like the pink ranger. The Pink Ranger played a subordinate role until the 2001 series when she became the leader of the group.
PINK POWER RANGER - Power Rangers TV Series, 1993-present Created by Haim Saban, 1993 Shown: Bandai: Power Rangers Overdrive Pink Power Ranger, Bandai, 5”, 2007
Xena, Warrior Princess
“Xena, Warrior Princess”, starring Lucy Lawless in the title role, was a television series spinoff of the male-oriented show “Hercules”. In her show, Xena, accompanied by her peace-loving sidekick, Gabrielle, is a reformed warlord seeking redemption for her past sins. “Xena” put a new spin on the female television superhero; as a laconic, grim and powerful warrior, she embodied Schwartzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian far more than the winsome charm of Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. In fight scenes she would give a freaky ululating war cry and was unflinchingly violent and merciless to her enemies. The show had a large demographic of lesbian fans who considered Xena an icon of independent feminine power. So, although Xena’s character had many heterosexual trysts, the producers played up the lesbian subtext between Xena and Gabrielle to play to their fans. “Xena” has been credited with paving the way for other tough-as-nails heroines like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Xena’s stunt double Zoe Bell also was the stunt double for The Bride in the movie “Kill Bill”. “Xena” led to hundreds of successful franchise comics, souvenirs, videogames, and a huge toy line including 5”, 6”, 10” and 12” figures. These toys were initially geared towards male fans of the “Hercules” series, but soon catered to female fans with 12” dolls with rooted hair in sumptuous costumes. There was even a Breyer special edition “Argo – Xena’s Horse” for the horse collectors!
XENA, WARRIOR PRINCESS - Television Series, 1995-2001, Created by Robert Tapert, Shown: Showbiz: 12” Collector’s Series Xena, 12”, 1998
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Buffy creator Joss Whedon wrote that with Buffy he wanted to subvert the idea of a little blonde girl who gets killed in the dark alley into a show about female empowerment, where the little blonde girl kills the monsters. Set in a high school, he wrote supernatural characters that were metaphors for the anxieties of adolescence. For example, you sleep with your boyfriend, he becomes a jerk (in Buffy’s case, a soulless vampire). Drug addiction becomes addiction to magic. A demanding mother takes over her kid’s life… literally, by switching bodies. “Buffy” ran for seven seasons between 1997-2003 and has continued in Dark Horse comics to the present. Buffy has been hailed as a post-feminist hero by some, but criticized for her (very teenaged) obsession with clothes and shopping. Regardless, Buffy is a hero to young women who want to be strong, powerful and independent… but still girly.
BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER – Television series 1997-2003, Created by Joss Whedon, 1992, Shown: Diamond Select Toys: Buffy the Vampire Slayer “Once More With Feeling”, 7”, 2005
Commander Jane "FemShep" Shepard
Bioware is a videogame company that specializes in single-player role-playing games such as the “Knights of the Old Republic”, “Jade Empire”, “Dragon Age” and “Mass Effect”. In these franchises, decisions made by the player affect the subsequent action and outcomes of the story, including which in-game characters live or die. These games became popular with female players because gamers can play as a female hero, there are romantic options for either gender, and there are appearance personalization options for in-game avatars. Most significantly for feminist gamers, the dialogue options for the male or female variant are exactly the same with the exception of some of the romantic conversations (Bioware only recently started adding male same-sex content to their games). In Mass Effect, the hero of the story, controlled by the player, is Commander John Shepard. The female version of Commander Shepard, called FemShep by enthusiasts, was voiced by voice-acting superstar Jennifer Hale, and became extremely popular with both female and male gamers. Her popularity was so widespread that in Mass Effect 2 Bioware devised a canonical appearance for FemShep; previously she was just a generic model for players to customize. (The male Shepard default in the first game was based on Dutch male supermodel Mark Vanderloo.) When Mass Effect 3 was marketed, Bioware created trailers featuring not only the usual male Shepard figure, but also an entire series of FemShep trailers showing the superhero and her team saving the universe.
COMMANDER JANE SHEPARD –Mass Effect Videogames Developed by Bioware, 2007-2012 Shown: Square Enix Mass Effect 3: Play Arts Kai: Female Commander Shepard, 8 ¾” , 2012