While I am a bit surprised that today, in late 2017, gender biases still exist in some circles, as I pointed out in the middle post of this series: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Still, it is heartening to learn female fans of Star Wars care not one whit about what anyone thinks. We like what we like, and we make no excuses for it. While the majority of friends I contacted to help me examine what it has been like to be a Star Wars fan and a female mentioned their favorite characters happen to be female, their choices are not based on gender but rather on the tenets of what makes a character one to which an individual will gravitate – self-confidence and strength. Strength of heart. Strength of mind. Strength of spirit.
Star Wars if rife with characters – especially female characters – that fit that bill.
For her part, just turned 16-year-old Zoe Hinton’s favorite character is Ahsoka, and ranking right behind the Jedi Padawan-turned-rebel-leader is Star Wars Rebels’ Sabine Wren. Zoe posits, “What I like best about Ahsoka is she always asks questions. She’s very inexperienced [especially in “The Clone Wars”]. That makes her more relatable. Her relationship with Anakin sounds like the relationship I have with my dad [who also is a big Star Wars fan].” Sabine’s appeal is multi-faceted, Zoe says, because Sabine is about the same age in Rebels as Zoe is, “and she’s very colorful.”
Zoe’s Geek Girls podcast cohort, Lizzy Perales, is a huge Sabine fan, too. “Sabine is more artistic and expressive through her art,” the 15-year-old from California says. “I like Jyn [Erso], too. She’s such a cool character – so strong and smart … like someone I’d like to become.”
Although she also considers Han Solo pretty high on her list, Chicago’s Bethany Hamilton Clearfield states emphatically that Leia is her favorite Star Wars character. “Leia resonates with me because she does not fit into the mold of what we might expect a princess to be,” the freelance singer explains. She adds: “I love the relationship [Leia and Han] have throughout. They are sort of a package deal.”
Bethany is not the only Star Wars fan who chooses a “package deal” as her favorite characters. Lily T. from Florida has a penchant for Padmé and Anakin from the Prequel Trilogy. While Lily quips that she is “a sucker for [the] classical love story,” being drawn to Anakin and Padmé goes much deeper. “Love is never easy,” the 64-year-old retiree points out. “Here are two people who truly loved each other. It shows how good/bad circumstances in their individual lives can manipulate each person and change their perspective on each other and their bond.”
Jay Krebs, a high school teacher from Ohio, has a list of 15 characters that have held favor with her over the years. Nine of them are female characters. “For me, I think I latch onto a character that I think subconsciously is satisfying or filling a need,” she explains, “so it changes all the time. It sounds wishy-washy, I know … but it’s true. There’s a little part of me in each one of [these] characters [I like].” Right now, Ahsoka Tano tops Jay’s list.
Of the six female Star Wars fans to whom I reached out for this series, only my niece, Vanessa Reese, a sophomore at Loyola University in Chicago, and I have favorite characters who are male. It just so happens that we both favor Luke Skywalker. Says Vanessa: “I just love seeing his character change throughout the movies. He changed from a young man into a powerful master of the Jedi arts. That arc was fun to see, and seeing how he also made a few mistakes along the way. I think anyone can relate to making mistakes while growing up – but that doesn’t stop you from becoming who you want to be.”
What do these characters – Leia, Padmé, Ahsoka, Sabine – have in common? They all are strong characters to whom fans can relate [so is Luke, of course]. But what about the way in which they have been depicted? Has there been any sexism in Star Wars to perpetuate even the inference of gender biases?
“I do not think Star Wars is sexist,” says Vanessa. “If you look at the original movies, they had Leia as one of the main characters, and she was such a strong and independent woman. Now, with the new films, they have Rey who is the main character and already we can tell that she is a strong and independent woman as well.” Jay concurs: “No, I never did … until I was inundated by ‘sexism’ through social media. Call me naive, or blind, but I never saw it as an issue.”
Bethany doesn’t find Star Wars itself sexist, although she points out there likely are some people out there in its fandom “who may be.” Sexist Star Wars may not be, she contends, “[But] I think there is a lot more the creators of Star Wars could have done to be more feminist.” Was it necessary, for instance, to put
Princess Leia in that [in]famous metal bikini in ROTJ? Bethany, who enjoys cosplaying as Leia, has a number of the freedom fighter’s costumes in her closet. “When I mention to a male that I have Princess Leia costumes, nine times out of 10, the man immediately asks, ‘Is it the metal bikini?’ While that may seem like an innocent question to some, it has worn me down over the years. Of all the badass roles Princess Leia has fulfilled in our saga, why do so many people, men in particular, immediately jump to the scantily-clad, in-need-of-rescuing Leia? She obviously could handle herself, and ended up doing much of the saving, even in chains and a bikini.” Too, it wouldn’t hurt if companies with Star Wars licenses would take into account that there are female fans who don’t want everything “boyish”. “I think variety is key,” Bethany asserts. “Why can’t some of [what’s available] cater to girls who like pink?” My niece agrees with Bethany: “It would be nice for those companies to realize that females love their movies, too, and there should be more merchandise that is geared towards girls.”
Then came along Ashley Eckstein, who voiced Ahsoka Tano in both The Clone Wars and Rebels. “She has started a positive revolution that has reverberated through the geek universe!” exclaims Jay. “Now, everyone from ThinkGeek to Loungefly to female-founded entities like Love and Madness has been given the opportunity to include – and be included!”
That has been one of the greatest messages of Star Wars – Star Wars is for everyone. 🙂 Why? Just listen to what my friends and niece have to say:
From Zoe: “It has a really strong message of family. Some are set. Some are ‘found’, like the Ghost crew. The message of family is very important, and the power of familial love is my favorite part of Star Wars.”
Says Lily: “It’s the classic good vs. evil, in IV, V and VI. When Star Wars was first shown in 1977, no science fiction or space movie had ever been so real to me.”
Vanessa adds: “Star Wars gives people a way to escape everyday life. Many movies do that but Star Wars reminds everyone of their childhood. It opened my eyes to a wide variety of films and genres.”
Lizzy agrees with Vanessa about Star Wars providing an escape, and continues: “But there’s that feeling that Star Wars is the ‘real world’. It keeps pushing me to do what I want, to inspire me to fight evil, even in small ways. It’s really important to me and my family. It gets us together.”
From Jay’s point of view, “There’s truly something for everyone. No matter who you are, you can find something to latch onto. There’s so much to love about Star Wars!” As a youngster, Star Wars helped Jay find her sense of self-esteem and
bravery through Princess Leia. As an adult, Star Wars has played a pivotal role in many aspects of Jay’s life. “The better question is how hasn’t it [touched my life]?”
To Bethany, the appeal of Star Wars is being able to “escape to an alternate universe, complete with a group of friends ready to welcome you in the fold, and an exciting battle between good and evil.” The real magic of Star Wars may be that it transcends generations. Bethany shares: “When I was at the Women’s March in Chicago this year, I held a sign that had a silhouette of New Hope Princess Leia with blaster in hand on one side saying ‘Fight Like A Girl’, and a silhouette of the classic Leia buns on the other saying, ‘Fight Like A Princess’. All throughout the day, young girls would smile with delight at the sight of one of their favorite characters. One girl tugged on her mom’s shirt and said, ‘Look, Mom! Princess Leia!’ The mom replied, ‘She’s a general now, Sweetie.’ My heart nearly burst with pride. What a gift to fandom! A young girl learning about the lengthy arch of a strong female character from her most influential female role model – her mom.”
Isn’t it wonderful that Star Wars can mean different things to different people, and in sharing we come together? How lucky I’ve been to have these six incredible women share with me what being a member of Star Wars’ female fandom means to them – and via me, with you. This post wraps up my trilogy of blogs in this series, but before I sign off, I want to thank Bethany, Jay, Lily, Vanessa, Zoe and Lizzy for helping me with this endeavor. It has been an incredible experience, and I never will forget it.
Until next time,
p.s. In case you missed them, you still can read Part 1 and Part 2.
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