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Melinda’s Brew: The Force of Female Fandom [1]

Melinda’s Brew: The Force of Female Fandom [1]

Years ago, when I was substitute teaching [a writer I always have been but there have been times in my life when I have pursued other interests in conjunction with my main passion], one of my favorite assignments was filling in for the primary grade [K-3] teachers. [My posts ran the gamut from kindergarten to senior year of high school. 🙂 ] Those little tykes were so much fun to be around!

Before I’d head off to school, I’d fix my lunch, and tuck it into my trusty Star Wars lunch box. At school, that lunch box – featuring R2D2 and C3PO – sat prominently on the teacher’s desk. [Have I told you this story before? If I have, please stop me. 😉 ] After going over the day’s lesson plans, I’d wait for the bell to chime. Before long, it would, and within moments the relative silence would be broken by the clamor of rushing feet and loud voices filling the hallways. Children would shed their outerwear, stow their bookbags and their own lunch boxes, and – eventually – make their ways to their respective seats. Invariably, a boy or two or three would meander to the desk, and query: “Mrs. Wolf, is this your lunch box?” When I answered in the affirmative, the boys would proclaim, “But Mrs. Wolf, you can’t like Star Wars. Star Wars is for boys.” [By the way, when I wrote “years ago,” I didn’t mean back in the Dark Ages. 😉 My tenure as a substitute teacher did not end all that long ago … although I will admit it predates this newest influx of Star Wars films.] Being their teacher for the day, I took that opportunity to pass along a simple lesson – I’d smile at my charges, and correct them [gently, of course]: “Why, yes, boys, Star Wars is just as much for girls as it is for boys. In fact, I have been a Star Wars fan since the very beginning, in 1977.” To those 5-, 6-, 7-, and 8-year-olds, I may just as well have dated as far back as the Dark Ages. ha ha

While I never have had an adult question my affinity for Star Wars – because I am of the female persuasion – I suppose I can understand the young boys’ conclusion about Star Wars and whether girls ‘can’ be Star Wars fans – when looking at it from their point of view. Yes, the first two trilogies have some strong, prominent female characters, especially in Leia and Padmé, but the stories really are about Luke and Anakin/Darth Vader. It is easy to see how the young boys in my classes would perceive, in the simple line of reasoning of young children, that the story of Star Wars is about boys – and therefore for boys. Of course, we all know that Star Wars is for everyone regardless of gender, race, religion, walk of life. From my own perspective, it matters not one iota if the main character of a film or book happens to be male or female – as long as the character is depicted truthfully and is someone to whom I can relate. My favorite Star Wars character happens to be male, Luke Skywalker – because I was drawn into Luke’s story arc right from the get-go. I was the same age as Luke was when I saw [the then] Star Wars in 1977. I had the same longings for adventure, to see the world, to experience life beyond the confines of my own corner of the galaxy – while still having strong ties to that ‘corner of the galaxy’ – as Luke did. Luke was a boy but could just as easily have been a girl – in fact, was originally intended to be a girl before George Lucas changed his mind to make his space odyssey revolve around a young man.

Fast forward more than a decade from the initial release of Star Wars [later known as A New Hope], I became the proud mother of two girls [brought up on Star Wars, of course 🙂 ]. It was very important to [my husband and] me that our daughters not be hemmed in by the stereotypes of ‘what is acceptable for girls’, and from a Star Wars point of view, that it really doesn’t matter who the main characters of the Saga might be. Leia is just as important as Luke and Han. Padmé is just as important as Anakin [especially in the first two films of the prequel trilogy]. When I was privy to their mornings, afternoons, days of make-believe, and they were immersed in the Marvelous Magic of Star Wars, I was pleased to learn that it didn’t matter to them if one day the hero of their imaginative scenario was Luke, and the next Leia was the one to save the day. Akin to me, my youngest daughter’s favorite Star Wars character is of the male ilk – Boba Fett [because he is pretty darn cool] – and my eldest daughter’s is a denizen of the Forest Moon of Endor, Wicket [he’s just plain cute]. Her second favorite character is Princess Leia. I certainly cannot fault either of my daughters for their choices. They like who they like – regardless of gender … or species.

While I was happy – and relieved – that my girls didn’t find it necessary to be hemmed in by stereotypical thinking [girls are the damsels in distress and boys are the heroes; science fiction and fantasy are for boys, not girls], how was it that we were living in the 21st century, and still those ideas persisted in other places?

It never has bothered me to have anyone question my passion for Star Wars. [My parents used to say “(I) walk to the beat of (my) own drum,” and I suppose that’s true. I just say, “I am who I am,” and make no excuses.] But what about other girls/women? That thought intrigued me. When that happens, I go on a quest. I thought it would be interesting – and fun – to find out what other female fans have experienced as Star Wars devotees. I called on friends of various ages, my niece, who just began her sophomore year of college, and two high school teens who co-host a weekly Star Wars podcast to help me out. I had only two criteria each girl/woman had to meet – one must be a female [surprise, surprise lol], and each had to be what I like to call a ‘die-hard’ Star Wars fan. What I wanted to find out – among a long list of questions – was  whether Star Wars still is construed as a ‘boy’s story’, especially after The Force Awakens hit theaters in 2015, whether any of them ever had experienced any alienation [or incredulous reactions] from others because they happen to be female and Star Wars fans, and whether they have considered Star Wars sexist in any way [including being ignored by either the Star Wars franchise or, for instance, toy companies catering to Star Wars fans]. This has been an eye-opening – and invigorating – experience for me.

On that cliff-hanger, I will close this blog [mostly because this post is long enough already, and I really don’t want to short-change anything anyone had to say], and hope you will return next month [on the 15th] to read the second installment about this topic. It is one that I believe bears telling, and all five of my interviewees shared some very candid comments about what they think it is like to be a female Star Wars fan. It is a subject to which I have alluded – even touched upon – in previous musings of mine here at CWK, but I never have delved this deeply into it. I think you’ll find it as enlightening as I have. So, please join me next month – when I promise to introduce to you five incredible women who just so happen to be Star Wars fans, each of whom brings her own individual panache to the table.

Until next time,

MTFBWY 🙂

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