Friday, January 04, 2013

Princess in Chains

Bear with me. This one is a little complicated, and self-indulgent. It's something that's been floating around in the back of my mind for a bit and will take a little exposition. Okay? Here goes.

It started with this post at Geek With Curves where Amy Ratcliffe talked about
"...the "fake geek girl" joke isn't funny anymore. This ad sends the message that girls aren't wanted. I feel it also perpetuates the belief that we must question geek girls. If you want to be really extreme, you could say this comic encourages people to stop girls who are wearing Star Wars shirts and quiz them about the movies to ensure they've earned the right to wear it.

This shouldn't be a thing. But it is. This very discussion comes up semi-regularly, and it's disheartening. It seems that there are still enough people whose knee jerk reaction to meeting a geek girl is to question her "cred."
And that actually took me back to a related post that John Scalzi (whose typeface I am unworthy to set) put up at his blog Whatever back in July:
"Because here’s a funny fact: Her geekdom is not about you. At all. It’s about her.

Geekdom is personal. Geekdom varies from person to person. There are as many ways to be a geek as there are people who love a thing and love sharing that thing with others. You don’t get to define their geekdom. They don’t get to define yours. What you can do is share your expression of geekdom with others. Maybe they will get you, and maybe they won’t. If they do, great. If they don’t, that’s their problem and not yours.

Be your own geek. Love what you love. Share it with anyone who will listen."
Why all this geek love?

Well, because at heart I'm still the same sci-fi and wargame nerd (or geek, call the thing what you want to) I was in high school. An older, more confident, fatter-and-slower geek, but I still get a kick out of building models, playing wargames, and reading and watching everything from fantasy to sci-fi and beyond.

And, being someone who loves women, I love that there are women who love those things, like Amy, and hope that they can get the same love back from them that I did and do.

And so it ticks me the hell off when I read about the sorts of people that Ratcliffe and Scalzi talked about - or run into them, which is worse and, fortunately, something that hasn't happened lately.

And this, in turn, got me thinking about my son's turn away from George Lucas' Star Wars universe and how its left me as the only geek in the family who actually cares that the new Clone Wars episode is coming along tomorrow.

And that, in turn - remember, I told you to bear with me - led me to thinking about how women are portrayed in science fiction/fantasy and, specifically, in Lucas' universe, and from there to one of what I consider the real problematic images in the canon:

Slave Leia.

Let me preface my next section with this; I'm a het guy. I like women, and as part of that I think women are lovely to look at and I enjoy looking at them. Pretty, shapely women are, well, pretty and shapely. And a pretty, shapely woman in a skimpy, form-fitting outfit tends to reveal more of that shapely prettiness. And I had when the first trilogy was filmed and still have a bit of a crush on Carrie Fischer, a strong, smart woman who has toughed her way through some tough days.

So on those criteria, Carrie a metal bikini?

Success. TOTAL success.


If I stop being all testosterony and starting thinking with my large head it's not hard to recognize several problems with the entire idea of Slave Leia and especially the image of Leia/Carrie in her alloy undergarments.

First, in a created universe notable for its prudity, how come Carrie was the only one prancing around Tatooine in her beach wear? I mean; desert, sand, sun(s)...but no Luke in speedos? Leia is the only one who gets to show some skin?


Well, you and I both know why TF; it's because the boy-geeks wanted to see Princess Leia in her undies and George was catering to them. Like a LOT of other tropes in fantasy and science fiction, this one is pitched directly at The Boys.

Which would be fine...except in doing so it tells the Girls that they are supposed to be eye-candy.

Sure, Leia is an action heroine; she shoots and swings from a rope and rescues her lover (okay, well, love, then, since we never get to see the couple exchange more than a chaste kiss or two). But so is Harrison Ford and he never strips down to his jockeys or whatever the hell the guys in the Star Wars universe wear for skivvies. He's supposed to be female eye-candy fully clothed.

Leia gets to strip.

It's not hard to see a message there.

But in context the message is even cruder.

That's the second point; in the context of the movie Leia's near-nudity makes no sense.

Let me run quickly through the two main reasons I think this.

2. The critter who is making all these wardrobe decisions is a ginormous space slug. Presumably Jabba's notions of sexual attractiveness do not encompass female primates, so the point of shoving the last Princess of Alderaan into a bronze Brazilian tanga probably isn't to inflame Hutty lust.

2. And nowhere in the story do we get any idea that the natives of Alderaan have a particular nudity taboo, so if the point is to humiliate the proud Princess we have no way to get that. In fact, if that WAS the idea - and the censor wasn't an issue - why not just chain Leia up in her skin? But since the censor clearly IS an issue, why not put her in ostentatiously Victorian rags? Or a clown suit? Or half a suit of stormtrooper armor?

My point is that given all the above Slave Leia isn't really sensible as a plot point in the context of that portion of the story of The Empire Strikes Back. There's no reason for her to be in the metal bikini as opposed to the bounty-hunter outfit she's captured in, or rags, or a chador.

She's in that bikini purely as eye candy for us boy-geeks and the lack of context makes that crystal clear.


To get back to the original point of this post; the Slave Leias are troublesome, to me at least, just because they have the effect of dividing Star Wars/geek fandom into camps based on sexual display, and, in turn, devaluing one camp based on a sort of juvenile smuttiness about seeing their bodies.

They make a woman-fan's life more difficult because - all the way back to the original image - they are based on that fan-boy snigger at "that girl showing her titties!"

And that - to me - is a problem because, frankly, it makes it about the guys watching rather than what should be her choice whether to emphasize or downplay her sexuality.

Our job is to simply be smart and civil, and enjoy the fun with her, or not, and to STFU if not. Yes, her "titties" are pretty, but they're hers and not ours. We're grownups, guys, and we really need to get over our 8th-grade selves and start treating the gals with some respect.

I know that this seems like some trivial shit at a time when a real woman can be brutally raped, and what's worse raped in such a way that the rape tool tears out her guts and she dies.

This is just silly and trivial.

But it occurs to me that this woman-sneering, fanboy-leering shit is part of a spectrum, and the kind of guy who gets a dirty snigger out of a woman in a metal bikini - whose idea of his take on Star Wars is that woman should be in that metal bikini for his pleasure and not hers - is sharing a teensy bit of the sort of disrespect for her with the kind of guy that sees her as just a body to be used for his enjoyment.

For me it turns what should be an enjoyable bit of silly fandom into another damn part of the whole business of turning women into objects and meat for men's delectation.

That's a goddamn shame.

I don't think there's much I can do about Slave Leia, or should; it's really just ridiculous pop culture when you get down to it.

But here's what I can do; I can raise my own son so that when he sees the Slave Leia image he thinks not of women in chains, of himself, not of her body as a thing to leer at but as a person, as a woman, and as heroine in her own right who lives in that body. And to respect her AND that body.

For his own good as well as hers; because the other thing about Slave Leia is that if you fuck with her she will strangle you with her own chains and it'll serve you goddamn right.

And I can also raise my daughter to expect that men will treat her with respect, regardless of whether she's wearing a bathing suit or a spacesuit, and do the best I can to give her the means and methods to be the woman she can best be. If she still wants to be a princess, why not be a princess that can kick ass?

Are you getting all this, kids? Sorry it took so long to get here, but you both need to quit fooling around and brush your teeth. It's almost bedtime.


Ael said...

I agree with your larger point however I disagree with your interpretation of lore.

Rich folk display their wealth to demonstrate how powerful and important they are. Leia was one of Jabba's best jewels. It makes perfect sense that she was put into a fine metal setting designed to show her off to best advantage.

FDChief said...

But I think that was why it bugged me; the metal bikini was just kinda the typical slutwear the other dancers at his crib wore, and the script doesn't make Leia seem all that angry or humiliated wearing it.

If I was a big gangster that had a princess in chains I'd either strip her completely naked - degrade her WORSE than my most degraded plaything - or dress her in the highest fashion, but with my chain around her neck to remind her just who was the boss now...

Instead she's just THERE wearing a metal outfit so the fanboys can ogle her tits; it's that part that shouts to me of George Lucas the eternal-fourteen-year-old.

To have Carrie Fisher dressed in a floor-length gown with a choke-collar on, or naked and thrown at the feet of her captor fuming and hating every minute or icily proud and cold would have required ol' George to actually write some story that gave us real people instead of action figures.

There's been a ton of other great writers at work in the Star Wars universe that could do that but I'm not sure he could...

Anyway, all this fulminating over ten minutes in a twenty-five-year-old-movie is really silly and trivial, but I just found that it was pissing me off particularly because of a number of other anti-feminist/anti-woman tropes have been dumping on me lately in various genre places, the "Vasquez Always Dies/The Last Girl" sorts of things...

Leon said...

Chief, Chief, Chief, as anyone watching sci-fi movies from the 50's onward knows. All aliens find human women (specifically white anglo-saxon types) incredibly desirable. That's why they're constantly abducting them. Duh!

As for Leia in the bikini, it's Lucas. I'm amazed he didn't just blatantly put her in a corset, black stockings and garters...

What was I saying? I kind of got lost in thought...

FDChief said...

Lucas...sigh, yeah, I know, I know - with the ignorance of the grownup fanboy the Gods themselves contend in vain...

It's all the more frustrating when you think of all the OTHER talented people who have working in the man's creations...

FDChief said...

Anyway, the Boy seems to be undrawn by the juvenile tastes of his former muse; this morning we watched the animated film Tangled and he said he liked that Rapunzel was a tough gal with a fry pan.

We'll still working on the other parts of his interests...

Lisa said...

I'm fascinated by archetypes, and slaves, of course, don't get much of a choice on their dishabille. And you, as an aware man, are correct to ask the questions re. self-definition and the imposition of a self by others.

I think we're hotwired to enjoy someone on top, as it were (we women used to be goddesses, after all.) The problem is when people fail to make the shift in real life to according human dignity to all.

The violence we see toward women across the globe emanates from so very many different sources. I'm not sure that re-figuring the woman as the wielder of the fry-pan is the solution.

The wielding of the fry-pan (as opposed to the weapon itself) is the problem, and that impulse is the can of worms we can't solve.

FDChief said...

I think we all have a little of the frying-pan smiter in us, Lisa. So it's more an issue of "who gets to do the whacking"...

Mind you, if we can get to the point of studying war no more, I'll be all over it. I've seen just enough to know that I don't want me or mine to see any more.

Lisa said...

Yes, the David and Goliath impulse figures strongly. And yet, there's this pesky imposition of the meek inheriting the earth -- what's up with that? Pipe dream, perhaps. Good shill to the slaves?

It's far too early to see if we will ever extinguish our bad habits. Pity the best it gets is occasional "detente", but I believe that's where we are on the evolutionary scale.

Part of me agrees with Dawkin's The Selfish Gene theory as applied to all human systems (bodily or otherwise), but part of me also knows that within the system created by these genes there is the potential for something other than all against all.

The potential is there to exceed the biological imperative, but it has not been seen demonstrated in any large human-created system.

(Certainly not in the corner Baptist church:))