FYI: There are no spoilers in this post (my sister would kill me).
Violence against women is a societal issue. While sexism and misogyny are still acceptable in certain circles, so are domestic and verbal abuse. Thankfully, we have slowly been progressing away from these behaviors, changing what constitutes social norms. And a major influence in changing our view of women or minorities lies in how they are portrayed in films. I’m not going to spend a lot of time listing a bunch of movies that showcase a woman as the hero, because there are quite a few. I’m just going to focus on one particular film franchise that has most of the world captivated right now . . . Star Wars.
Like giddy little school children on recess, my husband and I raced to the matinee showing of the new Star Wars yesterday. We plopped down with our popcorn and soda, silently clapping in excitement when the lights dimmed, announcing the start of the film. Now I’m not going to give a review of the film. Nor am I going to give away too much. I’m merely going to gush about the hero, the lead, the main character . . . Rey, played by Daisy Ridley . . . a woman. In the original Star Wars trilogy, episode four, five, and six, the lead character was Luke Skywalker. And in all subsequent Star Wars films, all the roles of Jedi Knights are dominated by men. There are a few female Jedi Knights in the prequels and in the animated episodic series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, but no lead female. One of the things I always loved in the original movies was the role of Princess Leia, a strong female character that is able to fight alongside the men in battle and still maintain a level of believable femininity. She stands up against adversity and speaks her mind with no apologies. But she was not the lead character.
In the new Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the lead character is a lonely young woman in some distant desert planet. She has learned to take care of herself. She is strong, independent, and courageous. A series of events throws her into an epic adventure, leading her to her destiny. At no point in the film did I feel like her capabilities were a gimmick. I never once felt like she was some freak of nature. Let me explain. When minorities are cast as heroes, it usually is in some sort of David and Goliath scenario. The audience wants to root for the underdog because the underdog is relatable. And the victory is sweeter because all the odds were against them. So sometimes, when women do awesome heroic things in movies, it is played off as a phenomenon. Let me expound on this concept. We clearly see Rey take on some pretty intense fighting. Yet she does not exhibit overly masculine characteristics. She is a strong, capable woman who is still a woman. You may not think this is particularly noteworthy, but this is paramount in creating an influential female lead. Too often is it muddied with the misconception that strong women lose their desirability, making most girls feel as if they are strong and speak their mind then they will no longer be desirable to men. Women are better seen than heard.
Are we unknowingly being prepped for abuse?
Think about it. Subservience is giving in to abuse. A woman who speaks her mind and is forceful can be labeled as a “bitch.” Yet in the same scenario, a man who speaks his mind aggressively, is commended for his conviction and brevity. Women are plagued with the burden of showing niceties and common courtesies, trained to apologize and speak softly. It is almost as though we are trained in the ways of submissiveness. While simultaneously, men are “plagued” with the freedom to display bluntness and assertiveness, trained to lead and speak boldly. Are we unknowingly being prepped for abuse? Is this why we give in to the authority of men so easily? We are told from birth that as a woman we must be soft and sweet. We must pamper our men by pretending to like their jokes to indulge their egos. We must try and not show off, otherwise they will feel intimidated and therefore not like us. The development of our personalities seems to revolve around how to please men.
This is why I love the new Star Wars film so much. It is a movie that every young girl should watch. You can speak your mind. You can kick some ass. You can even be intimidating as hell and not be mistaken for some freak that will never get laid. So to all the mothers out there, take your daughters to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. She will thank you later.