Steinn over at The Dynamics of Cats brought my attention to an interesting topic intially broached over at Bitch PhD. That issue is a little pet peeve of mine: the representation of women in media, advertising, and entertainment. Specifically, guest blogger No_Nym asks:
Am I the only one who thinks that Carrie Fisher’s slave outfit in Return of the Jedi is part of the reason that there are so few women in science and engineering? George Lucas did shape the minds of a whole generation, seldom for the better.
Although Steinn wasn’t sure, the comments at Bitch PhD were quite interesting:
…Many nerds have since told me that Princess Leia was a pretty powerful Jedi, so I guess it’s too bad that people treated her as a Princess and a damsel in distress *instead* of a Jedi, except for that one time she saved Han. And, you know, the slave bikini. Where was HER big showdown with Darth Vader? Oh nevermind, her brother took care of it. ~Tally Cola
Princess Leia was a freakin’ princess. Her available life choices were necessarily different from other females’ options — and, by return of the Jedi, George Lucas’s weakness at writing characters was painfully clear (at least to teenaged me).
Girls who wanted to go into science and engineering benefited, I think, from recognizing that the available female “scripts” in cartoons (and the rest of popular culture) were dead-ends. What you needed to be able to do was write your own script. ~Dr. Free-Ride
Now I haven’t seen the Star Wars movies a trillion times like some, but I do distinctly remember a few things about Princess Leia:
1. She was the leader of the Rebellion against Vader and Friends. She had a position of authority, doled out the orders, made the decisions, and was portrayed as a competent and sucessful leader.
2. She was protrayed as the love interest of Han, mostly due to the fact that initally, she didn’t want anything to do with such a scruffy egohead. Now, it WAS Harrison Ford, so I’ll give her a pass for relenting. But the point was, she wasn’t just falling into the arms of any old guy. She didn’t NEED a man. She finally chose Han because deep down he was a sweetheart who thought Leia rocked socks. And she wasn’t afraid to tell him to shut up, if need be.
3. She didn’t choose to put on that slave bikini, she was forced to by Jabba the Hutt. Now, Jabba got what was coming to him when Leia killed him in cold blood. Thats right, she strangled him with her very chains of slave-dom. Now what more fitting symbol of the patriarchy could you ask for?
4. She didn’t have any kids. Her job as diplomat and secret Jedi was fufilling enough.
5. She rescued Han from Jabba with the threat of a bomb, even donning a very convincing (male) disguise to do it. Yeah, she could pull out the brass ones when needed, and bluff her way into getting things done.
6. Leia used a gun/blaster with the best of ’em. Sure, she needed to be saved at intervals, but so did Luke, Hans, etc at some point. She surely took part in her own defense, and in the defense of others. No bystander was she.
7. Luke was portrayed as the disposable sibling. Remember when Obi and Yoda are conversing about who was the last Jedi? It was made clear then that “there is another.” Yeah, Luke’s not anybody’s last hope–Leia was. And Yoda didn’t look too worried.
While I’m not going to take the leap and say Leia was a feminist (she blew that with the bikini, I guess), I don’t think she could be lumped into the same category as Barbie or Snow White either. As a child of the 80s, and the daughter of a sci-fi fan, I grew up thinking Leia was a badass role model. She could run a rebellion, dodge the Emperor of the universe, save her friends, plan a coup, blast some Stormtroopers, and was still able to pull off Heidi buns. Snow White, she was not.