Equality and Action Figures

“Whoa! I didn’t know you were a nerd!”

I’ve heard that statement more times than you might imagine, and, yes, it’s true. I am a nerd. But not one of those pocket-protector nerdy nerds. I’m a cool nerd.

When you walk into my office, you’ll notice typical office-y things until you turn a corner and see my collection of action figures. Protecting my work space is an assembly of earth’s mightiest heroes: an army of 12” plastic replicas of Marvel’s Avengers, Superman and Batman — and somehow a Ninja Turtle snuck in to join the team.

These heroic friends are a popular conversation piece, but recently someone pointed out a major flaw in my collection:

“All your action figures are boys. You really need to add a girl hero to your collection!”

I’ve always known and recognized that most of America’s action heroes are males. While that did seem weird and probably wrong on some level, I have to admit that I didn’t really put much thought to it. I didn’t avoid female action figures on purpose. I’m not against female heroes. But the noticeable shortage never really bothered me.

New Arrival

Four weeks ago, my life changed forever when my wife and I welcomed our first child, Heidi Mae. With a family lineage on both sides that is mostly males (apart from their spouses), my wife and I were very pleasantly surprised with a baby girl — the first in my family for more than 80 years.

During her first few days here (when we weren’t surrounded by doctors and nurses and paperwork and visiting relatives), I couldn’t help but stare at my daughter and daydream about what her life will look like.

Who will this child become? Who will her friends be, and how will she spend her days? What will she study in school, and what career path will she choose?

Who will this daughter of mine become?

I Wonder: Where’s the Woman?

Back to my action figure saga. A few days after Heidi’s arrival, I made a special shopping trip to find my first female figurine. When my baby girl comes to visit my office, I want her to see a bold and awesome girl hero in the mix with Captain America and his pals.

I rummaged through the toy aisles — which isn’t that unusual of an occurrence — searching for Black Widow, Gamora or Scarlet Witch (hang with me, non-nerds). When those were nowhere to be found, I figured surely there would at least be a Wonder Woman figure, especially given the success of her recent film. Eventually I did find one, but she was in a long, flowing blue dress. Gone was the iconic red, blue and gold battle garb. The only figure I could find was way more “trendy Barbie” than she was an action hero.

I finally found a Black Widow figure at a different store; it’s now proudly front and center in my hero line-up. But that experience really struck me. Why was this such a difficult purchase? Why were there four or five different Spider-Man figures to choose from, but no women to be found anywhere in the hero aisle?

Something was missing, and something was wrong.

Girl Power

I’ve always believed in equality, but the birth of my daughter and my action figure purchase forced me to look at gender roles and stereotypes with a fresh perspective. With this new bundle of joy whom I wholeheartedly believe can accomplish anything, I understand on a deeper level how unacceptable it is for her to grow up in a world where she is denied opportunities because of her gender. It’s unacceptable for her to see a line-up of heroes with none that look like her.

Maybe because I am a guy who enjoys music and art more than video games and cars, I want it to be OK if she’s interested in things that girls aren’t “supposed” to like. If she loves princesses and dances and pearls? Great! If she’d rather play with Legos, Stormtroopers and airplanes? Awesome!

If someday she ends up working at NASA or some sort of sweet science lab, I couldn’t be happier. If she stays home to raise children or run a daycare? I couldn’t be prouder. I want her to know this from day one, and my attitude and purchasing habits should model that.

I also want my daughter to know the Bible is full of characters like Esther, the heroic queen who saved her people. And Ruth, who took great risks to honor her family and become the great-grandmother of King David. And Deborah, a prophet, judge and ruler over Israel long before the first female American presidential candidate.

Come to think of it, there’s a pretty long list of female characters that would make for a pretty stellar line of action figures.

So whether you’re male or female, married or single, parent or not, I hope we continue to be a generation that fights for women. I hope every man believes this whether he has a daughter or not. We need to live out the conviction that all men (and women!) are created equal. The Bible is clear that men and women are both created in God’s image, and we are all His beloved children.

Even nerdy grown men shopping for action figures.

About the Author

Matt Ehresman
Matt Ehresman

Matt Ehresman works as the creative media director at First MB Church in Wichita, Kan. He loves using video, images, words and sounds to help people think about things that matter. He is a graduate of Sterling College and Regent University and an expert on all things Mountain Dew and superheroes. He is the proud husband of Tillie and occasionally frustrated owner of Jarvis (their mini Aussie).