'Her Universe' is Ashley Eckstein's battle cry
Ashley Eckstein, left, strikes a Jedi pose with a young fan.
December 23rd, 2011
03:34 PM ET

'Her Universe' is Ashley Eckstein's battle cry

Ashley Eckstein, voice of "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" kick-ass Jedi Ahsoka Tano, believes there is a stereotype built around girls who like sci-fi that's as thick and impervious as a brick wall. And it's finally starting to crumble.

The words geek and nerd "are not necessarily being looked at as negative labels anymore," she said. For the last two years, her company Her Universe, which creates sci-fi fandom T-shirts, hoodies, pajamas and jewelry for women and girls,  has proudly been using the phrase "geek girl" in their advertising and communication.

"Like, 'heck yeah, I'm a geek girl, and proud of it!' " Eckstein said. "I think that that's a major shift. If you had seen, a couple of years ago 'geek girl,' in an article or if you were being referred to as a geek girl, it wasn't necessarily a positive thing." Geeky girls, she said, have similarly been marginalized when it comes to expressing their love of sci-fi.

"Several years ago girls just had to accept the fact that if they wanted to show off their fandom and their geek pride, they were just stuck wearing a guy's oversized tee," she said. "And I'm trying to say, 'No, you can look fun and sexy and flirty and girly and strong and powerful all at the same time.' Our items are just as geeky as what the guys have but they're truly made for women."

Expressing femininity in the sci-fi fan community hasn't been much valued in the last 50 or so years, Eckstein said. Almost as if women have been erased from the genre. Citing one of the formative science fiction writers, Mary Shelley, Eckstein said, "There are so many women behind the scenes, creating these stories. I’m not saying it’s more women than men but I would venture to say it’s equal."

"How do you debunk this stereotype that it’s just been men involved in creating this when it truly hasn’t been? I don’t know how you prove that, but it would be interesting to see. Even a lot of the top websites about science fiction are run and created by women," she said. And yet, somehow even children hold fast to the idea that sci-fi is only for boys.

"I think we have a responsibility to the younger fans today, and I think obviously we saw that with Katie Goldman, the 'Star Wars' girl. The reason that had such a big reaction is because we all related to her," Eckstein said. "And I feel like we all wrapped our arms around her and said, ‘No. We’re not going to allow this to happen to you.’ "

Many girls are told "this isn’t for you - for so long. Told that, 'just accept that (sci-fi franchises are) a boy’s and a men’s property,' " she said, and she included herself in those ranks. After a while, it's hard not to believe that kind of statement, she said.

"I was met with the same statement several times. 'Girls don’t care enough, just be happy with men's shirts. Just forget about it,'" Eckstein said.

But something about 2011 shook the foundation of that stereotype. Eckstein noticed a shift in 'Star Wars' culture around the Disney "Star Wars" Weekends last June.

It was her third year signing autographs at the event, and in 2011 the line for her autograph was dramatically different than it had been in years past. "The first year it was a lot of men, the classic fans of the original trilogy, and then we did see a lot of little boys at first, and this year it was mostly little girls and their moms," Eckstein said. "And that was something I was really proud of.  The fact that little girls and their moms are coming out to enjoy this together, to me that’s so special. A clear statement about girls not being afraid to show their love of a sci-fi franchise like 'Star Wars.' "

"It’s something that’s not fully being recognized, how big Ahsoka’s becoming with little girls. She’s very popular with the boys as well because she’s Anakin Skywalker’s padawan,  but finally there’s this girl Jedi that’s elite in a 'Star Wars' show that is just a kick butt, strong character for young girls. I see it more and more," she said.

Disney saw it too. Her Universe's most successful T-shirt, the "Daddy's little girl" design from Katie Cook which depicts an assertive-looking Princess Leia standing in front of Darth Vader (who, as squillions of people around the world found out starting in 1980 with the movie "The Empire Strikes Back" is Luke Skywalker's father. Later in "Return of the Jedi" it was revealed Darth Vader is Leia Organa's father, too, since Luke and Leia are siblings. This is not a spoiler, people.) was one of the reasons Disney has decided to sell Her Universe merchandise year-round in Disneyland and at Disney World starting in 2012.

It's not only Disney who's noticed. In 2011 Her Universe began a relationship with geeky Internet retailer ThinkGeek.com, thanks to Eckstein's "Battlestar Galactica" Red Spine shirt. It's been a best-seller for Eckstein and something she is proud of.

"We specialize in more subtle designs that you have to be in the know to know what you’re wearing.," she said. "I do love the classic logo shirts ... but I like shirts where you’re not a walking billboard. A lot of people have no idea what that red spine means, what that Cylon face means on the bottom corner. They just think it’s a cool design."

Retailer Hot Topic thinks it's pretty cool, too, and Eckstein said the company's leadership actually got the "Battlestar Galactica" message, loud and clear. After her first meeting with Hot Topic, Eckstein said, "Hot Topic truly, truly gets it. They truly care about the fans and they want to be legit - they want to be offering the product that's truly legit for the fans." And they'll be stocking Her Universe merchandise in their stores in 2012, too.

With the addition of two new major sci-fi franchises to the Her Universe group of licenses (which currently includes "Star Wars," Syfy Channel brands and "Battlestar Galactica") Eckstein plans to build on her success in 2011 with the development of Her Universe-branded merchandise.

"One thing I’ve said from the beginning is that Her Universe is also a community of female sci-fi fans," she said, "and I want Her Universe to be a brand that endorses and expresses strength in women and encourages the sci-fi genre for girls and women." Eckstein sees that as her responsibility to female sci-fi fans, everywhere.

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Maverick

    You're kidding, right. How is this relevent in any fashion?

    December 27, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Muvrick

      how is it not? How is your comment even relevant

      January 4, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  2. Ryan

    My wife is a huge Doctor Who fan now, as well as StarGate. She'll watch Star Wars when I watch it but not on her own like with Doctor Who and StarGate. Our friends are also huge Doctor Who fans, and I think my friends wife is a bigger geek than he is. She even posted on her Facebook that thinkgeek.com is like their family's favorite website. My wife said we may have to even get a bunch of the Doctor Who stuff on Amazon. Being female does not necessarily mean that you can not be a geek.

    December 26, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
  3. Mary

    Scruffy nerfherder!

    December 26, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
  4. jack

    Formative? Good gawd CNN, Mary Shelley CREATED the genre!

    December 26, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  5. cyberCMDR

    It's about time retailers noticed that girls like sci-fi. Anybody going to a Star Trek convention or ComicCon would know that love of sci-fi/fantasy is not gender specific. Next they need to branch off into Dr. Who related merchandise; lots of fans out there.

    December 26, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  6. Slurp

    Yes, her husband is David Eckstein.

    December 26, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Jesus

      David now works in Ashley's company. Nice people!

      December 26, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  7. Wars of the Stars

    Ashley has brought the word class to nerd girls, it's growing bigger and bigger each year. the nay sayers or ones that think this is recycled basically don't have the facts straight. Why cuz their not nerds! LOL

    December 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  8. hamsta

    i always have thought nerdy girls were hot.

    December 24, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  9. Brandon

    lol they recycled this. I think I saw this 2 other times, and most recently this summer that just passed. CNN is pathetic.

    December 24, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  10. Miba

    Actually I've been using the term "Geek Girl" on my site http://www.starwarsdotcom.com for the last 5 years at least. I even made a badge that others could take and put up on their own sties or blogs. So it's definitely not original.
    Also, if she actually cared about girls being able to wear Star Wars tshirts they'd be reasonably priced. As it is right now only" daddy's rich little girl" types can afford them. Seriously, who in their right mind would pay 25-30 dollars for a girly tshirt when you can pick one up at wal-mart or ebay for 7 dollars and then alter it at home yourself with a sewing machine?
    Katie is stuck up and probably just a marketing tool. Us coddling her and dedicating a whole day to her is like a slap in the face to everyone who got bullied at any point in the last 34 years SW has been around. Why don't THEY get media attention? Why don't THEY get days dedicated to them?
    Huh, apparently these Ahsoka fans who like her strong character as a role model have never actually seen the movies, or have we become so Clone Wars obsessed and centered that we forgot that Padme and Leia exist? What about the EU? Have we also forgotten to read? What about tons of strong female characters in the books?
    Actually who Vader is IS a spoiler, people. There are people out there who haven't watched the movies, people who just haven't been paying attention, and, most importantly, children whose parents have kept away from that spoiler for the sake of getting a stronger reaction at a later age. This parent's dream and years of hard work are killed when people run around with spoilers posted on their shirts.
    Not surprised Hot Topic's stocking her shirts, they are insanely overpriced as well. But, hey, this just means if any of her shirts get moved to the bargain bin normal people might have a chance at buying them.

    December 24, 2011 at 11:36 am |