Feminism in Star Wars: Rey Vs. Princess Leia

The new Star Wars film has a woman with a gun shooting people and committing other acts of violence. She also has various other skills. This has been described as feminist by some, in contrast to Princess Leia. If people want more characters (or worse, people) like Rey, then I’m afraid feminism still has a lot to accomplish.

If you praise Rey for her skills and ‘strength’, you’re probably uncomfortable with a female character being a human. This new obsession with resilience, with a power fantasy also leaked itself into discussions around Mad Max. I don’t know which is worse. A power fantasy about violence, or a fantasy about being weak and defined by how a man feels about you.

7-reasons-rey-must-be-spoilers-daughter-in-star-wars-the-force-awakens-765508

Your average Fallout protagonist

Rey has no unique line of dialogue, no reactions that are specific to her that define her personality. Han Solo is a sarcastic, gritty smuggler. Chewbacca is his partner who growls and says whatever is on his mind. Finn is a moral hero who’s too afraid to be a hero. Kylo Ren is an angry teenager dying for a little bit of power. BB-8 is a childish, more energetic version of R2-D2.

What makes Rey unique?

People praised Rey for being strong, for being skilled and ‘surviving on her own’. If you played a Fallout game, you know that’s not much of an achievement. A character survives on a wasteland because the author wrote it so. A character can fix a spaceship because the author put skill points into that area.

Characters are not defined by skills. They are defined by their personalities, their desires and needs and flaws and inner conflicts. These are the qualities that drive stories. If skills were enough, then my Amazon in Diablo II would have been one of the best female characters ever.

The skills of the Amazon don’t move the story of Diablo. Why the Amazon would go chasing after Diablo could be an obsession with morality, or revenge, or desire for glory. Each of these traits would lead to a drastically different story with different themes.

maxresdefault

From one fantasy to the next, we still struggle to draw women as human beings

A hero concerned more with glory would interact differently with characters. They would boast and they would only take missions that will grant them fame. A hero that seeks revenge will have tunnel vision, won’t bother about anything but killing Diablo. In all of these stories the Amazon still has the skills. She can still throw javelins, yet they’re so different.

Princess Leia is more of a human than Rey. She might be a damsel in distress, but that’s her initial role. It’s not her personality. Throughout the film we learn who she is by how she speaks. She’s confident in her position of power. She’s so used to it she speaks to everyone in a bossy way. As soon as she’s rescued she takes command of the gang. Notice how, before they reach Leia they’re a bunch of weird buffons.

Rey doesn’t affect her surroundings like this. I often forgot she even existed. I cannot remember a scene that her personality contributed anything to. There is a bit of ‘tough girl’ persona going on, but it’s not well-developed. Rey screams here and there for Finn to stop holding her hand. Instead of sounding strong, she sounds like a grumpy tsundere. It’s shocking she also didn’t call him ‘baka’.

Mirai-nikki-gasai-yuno

Looks feminine, relies on a guy and still has more personality

The tough girl persona can work, of course. Furiosa was a cliche, but the creators (kind of) knew what makes the cliche work. Everything in her appearance pointed to a hero so rugged they have no existence outside of posing with shotguns. She has a distinct look that fits her archetype. Rey’s archetype is more vague. She’s tough, but not in a unique manner. Furiosa was tough in an 80’s action way. She’s inspired by Schwarznegger and Sylvester Stallone – the desexualized human who exists to kill people because it’s fun. Of course, they did tack the whole redemption thing but I already addressed Fury Road‘s failure at feminism.

It’s weird how Western cinema still struggles with female characters. You don’t have to explore anime too much to find diverse casts. Just look to Neon Genesis Evangelion or Attack on Titan. Even shows that rely on sexiness and fanservice, like Freezing, still have a cast that’s as diverse as their design. What’s better is that all of these characters can be developed without hiding their femininity. The characters of Freezing don’t need a tough exterior to fight the Novas.

635858814006220150-XXX-STARWARS-E4D-IA-5300-DCB-78029086

Leia isn’t satisfied with just getting rescued – she reacts.

The request for more women who ‘kick ass’ (basically, are violent) is odd. The obsession with power also makes me question whether these people even understand how fiction works. Fiction isn’t a fantasy to escape from reality to. Fiction, like any other art form, brings us closer to reality. It’s supposed to connect to it in some way. It can be anything from exploring pure visual beauty or themes of life and death. A character that is a wish fulfillment is boring.

I wonder how long it will take until this trend will die. Trends come and go, anyway. We now have an obsession with toughness and grimdarkness. We used to have an obsession with escapist brightness. Someday we’ll look at it all and laugh at how stupid we are.

Further reading: Keely’s series of posts on Strong Female Characters

Advertisements

Schrodinger’s Rapist or: Stranger Danger 2: Electric Boogalo

There are all kinds of problems with Schrodinger’s Rapist. It’s fairly logical, but it only states obvious things that don’t further our understanding. It’s a nice-sounding buzzword, too. As far as trying to reveal greater truths about the existence of rape culture, it’s a failure. In order to reveal rape culture, you’ll have to reveal something. This is just Stranger Danger with a feminist paintjob.

I’m going to tackle it from various points.

First of all, the language switch. This is the quote from Rebecca Watson with the sexes switched:

When you approach me in public, you are Schrödinger’s Rapist. You may or may not be a woman who would commit rape. I won’t know for sure unless you start sexually assaulting me. I can’t see inside your head, and I don’t know your intentions. If you expect me to trust you—to accept you at face value as a nice sort of girl—you are not only failing to respect my reasonable caution, you are being cavalier about my personal safety.

Dear women, you are Schrodinger’s False Rape Accuser, or Rapist, or Heartbreaker, or Run-Away-With-Child-er, or Mugger. I’m afraid, too.

What if made this a race issue? Schrodinger’s Black Mugger. Assuming black people commit more crimes (for whatever reason – class or genes or rap cred or because of biased reporting), wouldn’t it be reasonable to think a black person is Schrodinger’s Mugger until he proves otherwise?

Schrodinger’s Rapist is true, but its logic also encourages distrust of women. Even if you confine it to rape, males still get raped. Even if it happens less often, it does. Men being in power doesn’t matter. It’s not going to make the experience of a raped male any better.

Schrodinger’s Rapist is also an extension of Stranger Danger. Stranger Danger is an idea that should’ve been discarded long ago. People remember it when they want to ‘keep their children safe’ (=locked in the house with only a math textbook) and forget about it when complaining about how antisocial everyone is.

Stranger Danger is promotion of asocial behavior. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t respond when they talk to you. They’re all out to get you. What people forget is that everyone is a stranger until you get to know them, including the parents. The baby simply didn’t have any control.

Strangers might hurt you. Asocial behavior is certain to hurt you. Isolation is a common factor when it comes to depression and depression is a common factor when it comes to suicide. Stranger Danger didn’t contribute anything.

Stranger Danger (Schrodinger’s Rapist) also fail because it’s not only strangers who hurt us. These strangers have probably been brainwashed with being asocial, too. It’s often people we are close to who hurt us the most. Rape occurs more often by familiar people rather than strangers.

That makes perfect sense. If you want to rape, it’s easier and safer to do it with someone you know, who trusts you. They will be less resistant at first. You already know how to interact with them and how to coerce them to having sex. You can guilt trip them later. If you’re the dominating person in a social group, they will less likely to accuse you.

The idea can cause more harm than good. It will make women fearful of strangers, but it can make them more lax with familiar people who are most likely to rape them. Where does the circle end though?

It also misses the point. By telling people not to act like rapists, you’re actually telling rapists how better to conceal themselves. A person with little regard to consent doesn’t need to be told how ‘not to act like a rapist’ but why rape is so wrong.

Acting like a rapist and raping are two different things. A person can have an aggressive, loud behavior. He can even care little for personal space and accidentally touch you, but it doesn’t mean he’s a rapist. It means he’s loud, obnoxious and doesn’t care much for personal space. It doesn’t mean he’s inconsiderate (or sadistic) enough so he will harass you.

The only surefire way to tell if someone is a rapist or a sexual harasser is when they actually do it. We should not teach people how not to act like a rapist. We don’t people not-acting like rapists, but we want them to not rape at all.

I also saw a claim that talking to people who are currently in the middle of something – reading a book, on the laptop, browsing Facebook on their phone is rude. I fail to see rudeness in initiating social interaction. It’s rude to keep pushing if a person tells you s/he’s busy, but it’s possible that this person is browsing Facebook because there’s nothing to do on the train.

You will get hurt less by telling a person who approached you to leave you alone then by not being approached to at all. Loneliness is more damaging than we think. The fact some people won’t leave you alone is rude, but is a different story.

(Here’s some Hypocrisy With Natalists moment: You think it’s rude when guys approach you while you’re reading a book, but think it’s fine to force people into existence? That kid you just forced into existence and wants to die suffers way, way more than you.)

If Schrodinger’s Rapist is supposed to make us understand better the fear women have of rape, it fails. It’s Stranger Danger in disguise. It’s actually worse than Stranger Danger. Its main message is that you can’t trust anyone. In some ways it’s true. Anyone can hurt you. The key word is ‘can’. It’s possible they will and it’s possible it won’t. There is one thing that’s guaranteed – loneliness, isolation and fear of communication will hurt you no matter what.

Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes Were Watching God

theireyes
Is this novel really about Black people?

Can a Black person write a novel whose novel about a character who happens to be dark-skinned, and make it about things other than the Experience of Living as an African-American? It’s pretty racist to expect every book written by a Black to be about this. They have more in their life than just being dark-skinned. Women can also write about things that are not Being a Woman.

I’m not American, so I may have missed the part where it revealed truths about the African-American Experience. Then again, I didn’t miss it in that Chinua Achebe novel. What drives the story, the grand theme that connects it is love.

People often ask what is love (no references to the song please). The novel is an examination of that idea. It’s not an easy question. A Jewish proverb claims that not disciplining your son equals hate. It’s often a defense of hitting your kids.

Nanny thinks that mere survival is enough for happiness. She’s the mom who pushes her son to make sure he’ll have enough money to survive, which she defines as ‘rich’. The problem is, humans often need some sort of reason to survive. There are also other ways to survive other than being rich.

Some think love is protection. Yet protection can often slip into prevention. We all know these protective parents who think keeping their children away from things is good parenting. Then their kids reach their 20’s with depression and having no idea where to go. Joe Starks had good intentions. He did love and tried hard to make Janie happy, yet how could she happy if she’s being kept away from life?

This examination ends with Tea Cake. Tea Cake is a character whose role often feels like wish-fulfillment. He’s almost an ideal. There’s a wifebeating thing going on, but it’s addressed and then pushed away. Whether it’s pushed away because they didn’t take it seriously back then, or because Zora forgives Tea Cake is unclear. He doesn’t have a major flaw, but the pushing away goes in Janie’s head. She pushes it away because she was raised in a society where women are second class and she can’t think in any other way.

Janie is a little better. This is where Zora resembles other feminist writers. Then again, race is a pseudoscientific idea while sex is biological, so it’ll be harder to escape it. Janie isn’t a 3rd-waver who travelled back in time. She wants the ordinary dreams of loving husband who’ll define her world.

You can’t expect her to want anything else since that’s all she knows. What Zora recognizes is that you can still give this character an agency. Janie’s life may revolve around husbands, but she never gives up on looking for the husband that suits her. There’s a reason behind every action she does, even if she realizes it was wrong.

This adds some realism, but Zora doesn’t do enough with it. When Tea Cake appears, all development stops. The romance scenes are well-written but the only conclusion is a tragedy that comes out of nowhere. Too many realist authors add a surprising disaster for the climax. Something is happening, but it’s disconnected from what the story is about. Since Zora doesn’t deal with the randomness of tragedy, the climax only exists to be climatic.

It’s weird to see Zora descends into this cliche. Up until then she’s a talented author. The dialect prose takes some time to get used to, but it’s not used to obscure the dialogue. She manages to give different characters their own speech patterns. The men’s ‘I love you’ monologues are dead-on. Every time a character explains themselves, even when they’re obviously wrong their dialogue makes it clear they see themselves in the right. No one comes off as a caricature.

Zora’s prose is also pretty. It’s poetic, but precise. Her description of the disaster are a highlight. The disaster may have been pointless, but the scene is powerful enough because Zora’s description focuses on how it feels like, rather than give a shopping list of what happens. All her descriptions rely on pointing out the unique details that define a scene. The prose also has a great rhythm. The title comes from a paragraph in the novel, not a poem. If this is supposed to be an influence from the oral tradition, it’s more convincing than Chinua Achebe’s novel.

It’s an enjoyable novel. It’s well-written and realistic enough. Zora avoids the main pitfalls of realism – structurless events and dull characters most of the way. Her poetic prose is pretty and helps to emphasize the reality, rather than exaggerate it too much. She fails in conclusing her ideas, and only her good prose carries the ending. It’s good, but not very remarkable.

3 eyes on God out of 5