When I watched the Feminist Frequency video on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was pleasantly surprised to find I wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it more than its predecessors, and for much the same reasons as Anita Sarkeesian. There are several things that make it much more relatable and satisfying to me.
the kind of person who focuses heavily on characters. For me, a story can be vague, have plenty of plot holes, and lack a traditional arc, and I’d still like it if I appreciated the characters, or was interested in their interactions with the world and other characters. The Force Awakens’ protagonist, Rey, checks those boxes exceptionally. She’s absolutely adorable, with an openness and childlike way of viewing the world that’s pure, without seeming frail or naïve. She’s intelligent, resourceful, and resilient, and despite having to look after herself since childhood, is by no means cold and hard. She is tough, and she can fight with her staff like a badass, but she’s also willing to open her heart to people. Rey is balanced.
She isn’t sexualized, either! She’s wearing enough clothing so you won’t double-take, and the type of clothes she’s wearing are practical and appropriate for someone living in the desert. Further, at no point during the film do I feel like she’s being posed in a “sexy” way (*cough Transformers cough*), or that the camera angles are intentionally highlighting… certain parts of her body.
I was talking to a friend of mine about Rey, and his main complaint about her is that she’s “too masculine”. I squinted at his text message. What??? How?! I tried to see his view, and I honestly can’t see it. Sure, you can say Rey isn’t the most “feminine” young woman (if you equate “feminine” with fragility, flirtatiousness, passivity, and sensuality), but she isn’t “masculine” either (that is, if you equate “masculine” with invulnerability, aggression, emotional distance, and dominance). Honestly, gender stereotypes make me cringe. Her behaviour is very natural and gender-neutral in my opinion. That’s another reason I find her so refreshing.
He went on to clarify that he’d like to see more portrayals of “strong and feminine” women. Okay. I’d like to see more of that too. But, usually the “feminine” aspect of a female character is shown in her sexuality, or the sexual potential of her appearance/body – AKA sexualization. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate (okay, maybe I have a huge thing for) strong and sexy women as much as the next lady-loving person, but there’s already plenty of that stereotype portrayed in the media. The more extreme cases of which are “femme fatales”. On the other hand, there are portrayals where strong women who aren’t traditionally “feminine” are some kind of queer. As much as I love LGBTQ+ representation, this is also problematic. But I’m starting to digress into a topic that belongs in its own post. What I’m getting at is there should be more diversity in portrayals of females in the media. Rey, who doesn’t fit into one clear stereotype, is a great step in the right direction.
As a whole, The Force Awakens makes the effort to have a wider representation of diversity in characters. From Captain Phasma and other female stormtroopers who have dialogue, to female Resistance pilots, to
Princess General Leia Organa, to having the main characters be from marginalized groups, things have improved quite a bit. Episode IV, V, and VI are classics that hold a special place in my heart. Episode I, II, and III… To put it bluntly, they annoy me. They’re sad and frustrating, and lack the magic of the older trilogy. But then there’s The Force Awakens. It’s not perfect, but I found myself much more engaged, thrilled, and emotionally invested than I had been with the previous Star Wars films. It captures my imagination with its charm, and my heart with Rey. So, for me, this is the one that comes out on top.