I never, ever, ever wanted to be a social justice blogger. I still don’t. But apparently it’s happened, so let’s talk a bit about Star Wars, diversity and feminism, shall we?
I have been very lucky in that I did most of my fandom growing up in spaces that were heavily female, from the early ship-war days to Club Jade to the fanfic community. That’s not to say jerks don’t happen in such spaces – the Star Ladies invented Attack Pattern Clinique back in the days of AOL chat rooms for a reason – but for the most part I ‘grew up’ in fandom areas where women and their contributions were unquestioned, where the idea that Star Wars needs more women was simply a given.
When I came back into general fandom via the StarWars.com forums, it was from a position of authority. Not big authority – moderator of a message board – but there was still a certain amount of respect expected and received. I’m sure having nicknames that tend to read masculine doesn’t hurt, either.
Still, in general fandom I have, for the most part, had a good experience in dealing with male fans. It wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t see a lot of random outright hostility due to my gender, either. Until I, oddly enough, started writing more extensively about feminist concepts. Curious, no? (Not at all, actually.) But I personally haven’t received any rape threats for criticizing Star Wars, as recently happened in comic fandom, so we have that going for us, I guess.
I have very little patience for explaining basic concepts of feminism to anyone, which is a large part of the reason I’ve avoided the topic in the past. I can’t even claim to an expert myself, just a bit more versed in it than some – but if you’re actually interested in learning, we have Google. Here are several resources I found on the very first page of a search for ‘Feminism 101:’
→ Wikipedia has a Feminism entry, because of course it does.
→ Shakesville’s directory of Feminism 101 posts: Most relevant to the past week are On Anger and “Feminists Look for Stuff to Get Mad About.” Shakesville is a bit more deep in all this than I am- certainly more than this fandom itself is, generally, but it gives you a good general idea. (I’m not mad if you’re not angry at the same things, for instance, because I realize that not everyone is going to be aware of these things. I just wish people would understand that anger is often perfectly valid.)
That said, something a lot of guys in fandom could bear to learn when it comes to feminist and diversity issues? That sometimes it’s best to just listen to those of us who are less privileged. Look: As a white woman, I am in no place to tell anyone less privileged than I am how to feel about their own experiences, in fandom or otherwise. I can speak as a woman and a feminist, but I can’t speak for all women, or even all feminists, and that’s not what I’m trying to do here. I have a fair amount of privilege myself, so what I can do is listen when they talk about these things, and not tell them they’re being irrational, because I don’t know. That is the consideration I’m asking from men who insist on saying that one or two (granted, white) women is more than enough.
Now, I am not saying “sit down and shut up” – I am saying that it is not about you, specifically. It’s usually not personal. Of course feminists know that “not all men” are like that. What the anger is about, is a system that is set up and built to benefit white males. That’s the culture, and when it benefits you, you may not notice the disparity. What else gets me angry? The fact that no matter how many times we talk about these things, no matter how we do it, women get written off as being ‘scary’ and told to ‘calm down.’
(Has telling an angry person to ‘just calm down,’ ever actually worked, I wonder? It certainly didn’t last week, though I was actually surprised to read my original column with a bit of distance and see it was a hell of a lot calmer than I remember being when writing it.)
It’s hard to miss that Star Wars is a male-dominated fandom, and very few of us came into this thinking otherwise. I don’t think anyone is expecting change to happen overnight, but that’s the thing – change has been happening. In just the last few years, we see Her Universe. We see creepers being thrown out of conventions and harassment policies being drawn up. We see The Hunger Games and Frozen making money hand over fist. We see Rebels, with two female hero characters out of five. Sure, we wonder why Marvel hasn’t made a Black Widow solo film, but we also see a Captain America movie where Captain America’s primary allies are three women and two black men. Progress. Slow, but progress.
And, yes, we see people speaking up when Episode VII only has two women and two minorities on its cast list. This was, again, not an isolated incident. It wasn’t just me and Tricia and the folks at Tosche Station. The objections came from all over geekdom, and the mainstream noticed.
I regret that it was lost in the outrage that there’s a very real possibility we’re going to see a new trio that consists of a black man, a white woman, and a Hispanic man. But the fact is, we don’t know yet which of these new actors will be playing the Luke Skywalkers and the Obi-Wan Kenobis, and which will be the Boss Nasses and the Crix Madines. All we see is the total group, and the disparity stands out. That they’re going to add at least one more woman, and perhaps a black or biracial one, is very good. It will help, particularly if the role is or becomes a major one over the trilogy. But we’re still looking at a lopsided cast. And why can’t minor roles be women? Would making Crix Madine, Boss Nass, Grand Moff Tarkin or Wedge Antilles female change their roles in the films? Did Mon Mothma and Padme’s handmaidens suspend anyone’s sense of disbelief?
Here’s what I’ve seen in fandom over the past week: Women seeing this as another in a long line of recent disappointments. The Rebels character launch that introduced every single male hero before Hera and Sabine. The lack of t-shirts for women and girls in the new Disney Store displays. The decanonfication of the Expanded Universe, and all the women in it* we’ve grown to love over the years, and a line-up of new books all written by and (mostly) starring men. And that’s just the official stuff from this year.
* Granted, not as many prominent women as we may have liked, and with a definite diversity problem, but still more than we see in the movies themselves.
I’ve seen people worried that this all means Disney or Lucasfilm are trying to exclude women from Star Wars. Now, I don’t think it’s deliberate, but it’s getting to the point where ‘business as usual’ and ‘same-old same-old’ simply aren’t good enough anymore. That’s why the blowback to the Episode VII cast has been so strong. What was revolutionary in 1977 and pretty good in 1999 isn’t going to cut it in 2015. Why are we mad? Because we’ve become more aware of these things, more outspoken, and we expect better. This is the original mega-franchise, a movie most of the first world is going to see no matter what. Star Wars has broken barriers in the past – can you really blame us for expecting it to keep doing that now?
I hope we see a diverse new trio in Episode VII. I hope we’re getting the J.J. Abrams who made Felicity and Alias and not the one who OK’d the Carol Marcus underwear scene in Star Trek Into Darkness. I didn’t want to be angry about the casting, I didn’t want to harsh anyone’s squee, but the fact is: It matters. Star Wars and fandom matters to us; We are just as much a part of it and we have just as much right to speak up, angry or otherwise, as anyone else. This is our fandom too, and our anger is not about destroying it; It’s about wanting it to be better. For everyone.
I’m sorry that’s so scary.