But Really, Is Star Wars Sexist?

Mr. Reticent sent me an article yesterday, “Is Star Wars Sexist?” by Yahoo! UK & Ireland’s contributor Anthony Price.  In this article, he argues that looking through the lens of the Feminist Theory and ‘the male gaze’, these movies are clearly not feminist friendly.

I agree, but I also disagree.  Perhaps it’s just his wording, perhaps it’s just my abounding love for Star Wars, but something about this article doesn’t sit right with me.

In regards to Leia, Mr. Price says, “Sure, on the surface she’s a tough talking, laser gun toting political activist who appears to keep the men folk in check. But, by Episode VI she’s relegated to a bikini clad sex slave, chained to the universe’s most wanted gangster, Jabba The Hut, and is in desperate need of rescue from none other than…the men.”

First of all – he didn’t even spell Hutt right.  Hutt has two t’s Mr. Price.

My biggest problem here is that he said she is only a tough girl “on the surface” and only “appears” to keep guys in check.

Um, no.  She IS a tough girl and DOES keep the men in check.  There’s no “on the surface” or “appears” in any of her being; she is not a poseur.

To his second point – yes, she does end up as a “bikini clad sex slave”, and I mentioned this recently in my Girls and Sci-Fi follow up post, but she did not choose to be in this outfit.  She did not decide to dress with minimal clothing and be chained to the Jabba the HutT.

Ok, Mr. Price, I see you’re arguing that the whole purpose of that scene was to satisfy the majority of viewers (male) and that it was really unneeded…similar to the Carol scene in Star Trek.  I kind of agree.  The difference I see in this situation is that the Carol scene was a brief moment and served no purpose to the plot.  Leia’s moment in the bikini wasjabba's palace girls dragged out and clear that it was to satisfy the whims of a gangster who had a whole harem of scantily clad girls.  It was a setting that he wanted in his own palace because he’s a perv – did you forget about Oola, Yarna d’al’ Gargan, and Sy Snootles (has anyone seen what she’s wearing?!  There’s nothing there); and then in the Special Edition – Greeata, Lyn Me and Rystáll Sant?  So when you say that, “There’s no other reason for her to be in a bikini, other than to be leered at as a sex symbol,” take a look at how every woman there is wearing minimal or very tight clothing, so Leia was nothing out of the ordinary.  And, yes, you’re right – Jabba definitely wanted to leer at her.

As for being chained to Jabba?  Well, we all know how well that went for him.

When you move onto the prequels, you point out that Padmé is worse off than Leia and say, “Padmé’s sole purpose in the film is for Anakin to fall in love with her and to subsequently die in childbirth, thus pushing him over the edge into the abyss of the dark side. She’s basically used as a plot point, albeit one that gets dragged out over the course of three films. She doesn’t even get a heroic death, instead dying from a lack of a will to live. A broken heart. Cliché anyone?”

I used to completely agree with your statements regarding Padmé dying from a broken heart as it does seem undeserving of such a strong character.  However, having recently read the latest Star Wars Insider, Tricia Barr has an excellent article on Padmé as a woman in the Prequels and explores that whole dying-of-a-broken-heart-thing.  Read the whole article because her thoughts and analysis is so much deeper than yours.  Barr writes,

If Padmé’s injuries from her confrontation with Anakin were not fatal, and the rest of her portrayal shows she is far too determined to die of a broken heart, then perhaps her passing is intimately tied to Darth Vader’s refusal to accept death.  Balance is at the core of Star Wars…By turning his back on what a Jedi must do – to let go of Padmé and then his own life – the consequence of Darth Vader’s choice may have been Padmé’s life being extinguished from the galaxy.

But your line of, “she’s basically used as a plot point,” really irks me anakin and padme talkingbecause, yes, duh, the saga of Star Wars follows the life of Anakin Skywalker, especially the prequels.  And to claim that she pushes him to the Dark Side is a simplistic and “on the surface” view of a matter that is more complicated, namely that the Jedi didn’t allow attachment, the secrecy of their marriage in Anakin’s life, the loss of his mother, etc.  You cover up the fact that despite Padmé being only a plot point, Lucas chose to show her a strong woman where, instead, he could have just had her as a typical damsel in distress.

Mr. Price – Am I being unfair to you?  All you did here was take a theory and show how it relates to Star Wars.  But your analysis was too simplistic for me and your wording too contemptuous to let your article slide.  Next time you want to jump on the bandwagon of exploring feminism in a dominantly male genre, please do in-depth research first.

I, too, hope that Abrams and Disney show more strength in their women and hopefully even have them be the central character of one of the movies.  The casting call for Episode VII looks promising with the need for a “late-teen female, independent” and a “young female, also late teens, tough, [and] smart”.  We’ll see.

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8 thoughts on “But Really, Is Star Wars Sexist?

  1. I agree the casting call looks hopeful.
    Also, Price seems to dismiss Leia’s role in the rest of Return of the Jedi, where she joins in the battle on Endor, shoots down a stormtrooper, joins the Ewoks, and still has some booty-kickingness.
    Padme suffers the same problem as most characters in the prequels – a flatness and lack of depth. This is not a feminist problem. This is a screenwriting problem.

  2. Is Star Wars sexist? Hmm… Probably a little. Just the fact that women characters are sexualized far more so than any man in the series is a good indication. The whole galaxy is really such a male dominated environment, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense when you stop to consider a galaxy-spanning culture that’s full of not only different peoples coming from vastly different planetary cultures, but whole species of beings that should have different male/female roles than we even consider “normal”.

    Otherwise, I completely agree with Ms. Palmer about the problem with Padmé’s character sometimes feeling like a “plot point”. That’s because the Prequels exist to get us to Darth Vader. If some characters do at points feel that they exist to mark off steps in the script, that’s due to weak screenwriting rather than sexism.

    • Correct, the screenwriting does leave a lot to be desired. But again, like you also agreed with, Padmé is essentially a plot point because the story is about the Skywalkers (the prequels specifically about Anakin), not about the Naberrie’s.

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