Since the 1930s, kids have been playing with little green army men; those iconic figurines made out of plastic and posed into various combat positions—made famous in Toy Story, of course. Come Christmas of next year, the platoon of little green army men will be expanded to include little green army women, thanks in part to a six-year-old girl.
As David Williams of CNN reports, Vivian Lord recently wrote to BMC Toys, one of the last remaining manufacturers of the figurines, to ask why the company does not make “girl army men.”
“My freiends mom is in the army to!” the letter reads (spelling and grammar errors included). “Pleaes can you make army girls that look like women. I would play with them evry day and my freiends would to!"
This wasn’t the first time that Jeff Imel, the owner of BMC Toys, had received a query about introducing female troops. In 2018, he was contacted by JoAnn Ortloff, a retired fleet master chief, who was hoping to buy female toy soldiers for her granddaughters and “and made a compelling case for why Plastic Army Women should be produced,” Imel writes in a blog post. He also notes that he had already been thinking about introducing women to the little green army, but had struggled to come up with the necessary funds.
“By the time you figure out the cost of everything involved in making an original set of plastic toy figures in this size,” Imel, who is BMC Toys’ only full-time employee, tells NPR’s Bobby Allyn. “It starts around the cost of a modest new car.”
But after receiving Vivian’s letter—and the suite of media requests that followed it—Imel decided that the time was finally right for little green army women to make their debut. He has prepared a budget that will allow for at least four different poses in a pack of about 24 figurines. He has already commissioned a sculpture for the set’s first pose: a female soldier, kitted out in combat gear and clutching a gun and a pair of binoculars.
“My current thinking is the next figures would be standing with rifle, prone shooting rifle (maybe sniper), and kneeling firing bazooka,” Imel writes. “I think that's a good assortment for a basic set that would be the most fun and useful for ‘plastic Army’ play.”
Speaking to NPR, Ortloff explains that she thinks it is important that female toy soldiers exist to reflect the increasing integration of women into combat roles within the U.S. military. “It's time that we have some equal representation in our toy soldiers to pass down,” Ortloff says.
However, just like the male toy soldiers, the little green army women will be fashioned in the style of mid-20th century troops, which is long before the U.S. army opened all of its combat roles to women. (That only happened in 2015.) But Imel contends that the anachronism is besides the point.
“Every kid wants to be the hero of their story,” he tells Allyn. “It shouldn't be up to us to decide who the hero is. Girls should be able to connect to the toys just as much as boys do.”
Imel has committed to getting female toy soldiers on shelves by Christmas 2020, and he plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the project. Little Vivan Lord, for one, is excited to welcome “girl army men” to her collection.
"I might just get the boy army men out of the way,” she says in an interview with WBRE, “and just play with the girls."