While watching tv with my two young nieces the other day, a certain commercial caught my eye on Disney X.D. It was an ad for Mattel’s new line of superhero dolls, featuring DC heroines and villainesses. The six debut figures include Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, Bumblebee, Harley Quinn, and Poison Ivy.
Sales of the traditional Barbie figures aren’t what they used to be, so Mattel is apparently aiming to capitalize on the rising popularity of the superhero genre. It goes far beyond dolls, too. This line of product–named DC Super Hero Girls–also includes traditional action figures, clothing, and books of the DC gals.
No one should be surprised by this venture, especially considering the company whose characters Mattel has chosen to work with. DC has a long history of showcasing female icons—both the kind that we witness save the day, and the kind that stir up trouble wherever they go.
But today, this attempt by Mattel and DC to appeal to a female audience feels so much more significant than it would have in the past. We’re currently in the middle of a huge cultural transition as a society, where “geeky” and “nerdy” entertainment media is rapidly shedding its negative connotations and ascending to mainstream status.
And when something goes mainstream, it can’t include just the boys.
DC understands that. They may be years behind the commercial and critical success that Marvel’s cinematic productions have seen, but in regards to extending their hand to the female audience and inviting it to enjoy a genre that’s long been stereotyped as ‘only being for guys’, DC is way ahead of the game.
In the aftermath of Batman v. Superman’s release, the one thing that fans are unanimous about for the polarizing film is that Gal Gadot knocked it out of the park in her portrayal as Wonder Woman. She didn’t need the screen time of Batman or Superman—Wonder Woman came out as the character who resonated the most with audiences even with what amounted to a supporting role.
Supergirl continues to be an absolute darling in the eyes of fans and critics. Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn is the poster girl for this summer’s upcoming blockbuster Suicide Squad.
Don’t underestimate the presence of superheroine dolls like what DC and Mattel have teamed up to make, because Marvel would be hard-pressed to create such a line of products for young girls based on the female characters in their cinematic universe.
And the reason why Mattel’s DC Super Hero Girls line can’t be underestimated is because that potential to appeal to the female audience could be instrumental for DC to take their cinematic and television universes mainstream—even when their biggest competitor has a gigantic lead on making its properties pop culture.
We’re closing in on a point where more and more entertainment mediums are no longer defined by which gender they’re supposed to be for. “Boy stuff” and “girl stuff”? That’s quickly becoming a thing of the past.
We’ve seen numerous cases in recent years where women have stepped into male-dominated fields of entertainment and taken said fields to new levels of popularity. Danica Patrick had a huge impact on NASCAR, while Ronda Rousey was easily one of the most recognizable figures in sport during her run as the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion.
Rey was instantly beloved by anybody who sat down to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Nickelodeon’s animated standout The Legend of Korra and its titular character were adored by fans just as much as Aang his show, Avatar: The Last Airbender, were.
As superheroes, fantasy, sci-fi, and other action/adventure entertainment go mainstream, girls deserve to have plenty of characters that they can relate to, and this is no more important to any age group than it is to little girls. They deserve to have toys and other memorabilia featuring empowering female characters that they can look up to. There is no reason why they should be stuck with just Batman, Superman, Iron Man, or Spider Man—let those young girls know that Wonder Woman and Supergirl are really awesome, too.
It’s also very important for little boys. They need to know that there isn’t any difference between the capabilities of a male character, and a female character.
They need to know that your gender doesn’t determine what characters you’re supposed to like the most. If a young boy wants to admire Woman Woman just as much as he does Batman, more power to him.
We need an entertainment environment where fans—especially young fans—should have no reservations about what franchises, what stories, or what heroes they find the most appealing.
DC is well on its way to making sure that female characters make their mark. Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn are set to hold down the fort across the big screen—and don’t forget when Mera joins Aquaman his standalone film and the Justice League films. Supergirl has things taken care of on our televisions at home. Starfire and Raven will continue to be integral members to whatever new animated movie or television show that the Teen Titans appear in.
And hopefully, plenty of DC Super Hero Girls dolls and action figures find their way into the hands of many children as time goes on.
Jeff Pawlak is a contributing member to the Geekiverse crew who’s the resident Nintendo, giant monster, and animation fanatic. When it comes to superheroes, Wonder Woman is right up there for him alongside Green Lantern and Thor as his favorites. Catch him on Twitter @JeffreyPavs