By Enid Burns
Women have long played a significant role in the military, and while this was traditionally in medical and administrative roles, the armed forces of the U.S. and other countries have started to see more women in support and even combat positions. Last year, the first woman made it through the Army's Special Forces selection process, and the U.S. Army also saw the first two sisters to reach the rank of General.
Another significant milestone for women soldiers could be reached soon – even if it is a bit smaller in scale. Women are making their way to a military branch that has never seen the female persuasion: green plastic army “men”!
Those sets of green plastic army men that have been a staple of backyard battles for decades haven't changed much. You can still get the same basic 28-piece set with a range of men in 1:32 scale advancing with bayonets mounted, grenades at the ready, and rifles drawn. So popular are these toys that numerous companies have been producing them since they first stormed onto playgrounds and backyards in the 1960s.
What is different is that soon the first female "Army Women" will be joining the ranks of her plastic male counterparts.
The idea for female soldiers was sparked by a six-year-old girl who, after playing with her older brother, wrote to several toy companies asking why there are no army women for her to play soldiers.
She noted that there are pink sets to be found, but no army actually wears pink, and more, importantly not all girls like pink. Trying to get a change in the seemingly unchanged world of Army Men was met with fierce resistance, however. Most of the companies making the figures have relied on the same molds used for decades, and the price point for the plastic soldiers has remained low. What’s more – was there even a market for Army Women?
The girl’s touching letter started BMC Toys and its president Jeff Imel thinking – and that was enough for a victory of sorts! Now the company has a design in the works and plans to march out the first green plastic army women by holiday 2020.
BMC Toys started the process with sketches, brought in a modeler, and then created prototypes. Plans are to start with Cold War-era uniforms, but this could expand to a whole line of modern male and female soldiers. While there weren't American women in combat during of the Cold War, the company will enlist a few so that stereotypes are broken, and girls can see role models playing a part in the plastic green army wars.
First to Lead
The first plastic army women prototype to be shown by BMC is a female in a more command role aiming a pistol in one hand and holding a pair of binoculars in the other. She wears the classic Vietnam-era M1 helmet and combat fatigues.
Additional concept sketches include a woman kneeling and aiming a bazooka, standing with a rifle, kneeling with a firearm, and there are sketches of a sniper in a prone position. It is still early, and BMC is still developing its final concepts that will make it into the ranks.
History's Female Heroes
The plastic green army isn't the first of the toy forces to have a female in the ranks. Hasbro debuted its first female in the G.I. Joe line as a helicopter pilot in 1967. The female counterpart to the infamous commando toy is often referred to as "G.I. Jane" by enthusiasts and collectors today.
It's also not the only time the plastic green army men have been played around with. One company, Yoga Joes, poses soldiers in typical yoga positions such as warrior 1, plank, tree pose, and happy baby. These Zen soldiers are available in green as well as a rainbow of other colors, though they are predominantly men. Perhaps Yoga Joes will take inspiration and include female soldiers in its lineup, even if these are favored more by adults.
Female soldiers will remain in basic training – or production – until closer to Christmas 2020, when they can be commissioned to guard the tree on their first tour.
Photo Courtesy of BMC Toys.