I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, but childhood nostalgia pulled me to the new Star Wars film during the holiday break. Chewy and the gang did not disappoint. However, the movie, which had the potential to stand as an intense feminist film, fell short of an achievement in gender equality.
The movie was diminished by the new and powerful female lead, Rey; not because of her performance, which was stellar, but because she was referred to as ‘the girl’ throughout the film. Rey was not four or eight or twelve-years-old. She was not a girl. Rather, she was a tough and buff young woman. Very few young male warriors are referred to as ‘boys’. Why was she?
Not only did the film fall short as a feminist model because of biased language; the never-ending scrutiny over Princess Leia’s aging face demonstrates that our culture lacks support for older, striking woman. The standard for a beautiful woman remains a size-2 teenager. Realistic? Not in my world. The prejudice about how Carrie Fisher weathered time as opposed to Harrison Ford is staggering. And yet, I shouldn’t be surprised. As modern and free as our society has become, women still fall short on the equality factor.
Here are a few brief facts. According to the National Committee on Pay Equality, in 2014, women still made 78.6 percent of what men earned. Forbes reported that only 26% of college presidents are women, and according to the Catalyst, a mere 4.2% (a total of 21 women) hold CEO positions for the S&P 500 (a list of 500 companies). I could go on—there are gender differences in almost every field.
So what happened to the women’s movement? Somewhere along the line, since the 1970’s, feminism became a dirty word. The lobby became associated with armpit hair-growing, men-hating activists who thumb their noses at stay-at-home mothers. This characterization was and is fueled by people who want to maintain a patriarchal power structure. Those who want women to keep quiet behind men encourage stereotypical branding.
How do we grow strong daughters when their future is capped by a society that doesn’t fully embrace gender equality?
For one, we embrace the word, ‘feminist,’ and redefine it to stand for strong and powerful girls who become strong and powerful women, unafraid to defend their integrity, their grace, and their belief in themselves. A feminist should be able to work from home as a mom, an organizer of their family. A feminist should be able to work as a CEO with or without having children. A feminist should be able to make her own choices without prejudice or backlash.
Language is a subtle but powerful method of creating hierarchical structures within a culture. Words like ‘girl’ might seem innocent or even sweet, but words can be dangerous. If we begin to understand when language is used in negative ways, we can begin to unwind destructive behavior.
Above all, we can teach our daughters and our sons that although men and women are inherently different, both genders should be given the same opportunities, the same respect, and the same privileges without inherent bias. And when movies do cast a strong female lead, and the directors do something belittling; like referring to her as a girl and diminishing her power, let’s talk about it. Let’s point out the inequality and not let it slide by. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Rey is a female warrior, not a little girl. Not only is she physically strong; she’s smart and savvy, and funny. All such young warrior women should be championed.