On Star Wars fandom, feminism, diversity and anger

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Title: On Star Wars fandom, feminism, diverstiy and anger
Creator: Dunc at Club Jade
Date(s): May 6, 2014
Medium: online
Fandom: Star Wars
External Links: On Star Wars fandom, feminism, diversity and anger, Archived version
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On Star Wars fandom, feminism, diverstiy and anger is a 2014 essay by Dunc at Club Jade.

Some Topics Discussed

  • Star Wars
  • social justice
  • "Attack Pattern Clinique": "When a hostile party, generally male, enters the chat room and makes himself known as such, frantic chatter regarding Clinique Bonus Time ensues. The hostile is ignored, drowned out and generally retreats in defeat."
  • privilege
  • the role of fans and consumerism


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.

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 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?

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.

Fan Comments: At the Post

[Tricia Barr]: Excellent post, Dunc. In sports, fans can be totally invested and love their team, but angered by decisions made by the team management. Imagine if no one cared enough to get upset? Star Wars is a consumer product just like sports teams; it’s not a religion where we have to buy it wholesale.

Wanted to add a point that I made today on diversity in my Star Wars storytelling post.

“But when you look at the Episode VII production team, which has only one woman, as well as the Star Wars Rebels executive production team and the recent slate of authors for the kids and adult novels – essentially the people making the most important storytelling decisions – the casting ratio for women in Episode VII looks good by comparison.”

[Ruth]: Excellent job, Dunc. I am just not sure that I can reasonably conclude anything but that this is deliberate. (And there’s also that the new books are all male authors about male characters). It’s not as if Disney doesn’t know how to appeal to the female demographic. Disney has the princess line for girls so maybe they bought Star Wars so it would fill the same marketing niche beyond Buzz and Woody for boys. It seems to be all about boys because it is intended to be all about boys. Never mind, as io9 put it so perfectly, that Star Wars is a modern myth of enormous cultural significance that should be shared by everyone.

[Oleo]: I strongly believe they bought the property as a boys property and they intend to market it to boys because market research tells them that is where the money is going to be made with the least risk. I suspect that it’s purely business and they have no interest in driving culture in any direction but are merely concerned with the bottom line for their investors. That said, they will do what they can to avoid negative press, so openly expressing concerns is likely to help albeit slowly. It also doesn’t help that Star Wars is based on white and Japanese male literary/film traditions of fantasy and violent hero mythology. Now that I’ve sort of mentioned the Samurai connection, how about some Asians in these movies already? With the popularity of Star Wars in Asia and the ever growing market for films in China I am very surprised that we don’t have any Asian actors in the cast. I thought they would do that even just for the business reasons.

[Sabrina]: Two years ago at ALA Midwinter in Seattle I attended a Star Wars Reads talk and was basically patted on the head when I pointed out that them constantly referring to ‘boys’ excluded the fact that women and girls might be interested in attending Star Wars Reads events too. They more or less straight out said ‘it’ll be mostly Dads and sons that are interested’. It was infuriating and I’m not very good at speaking up in public, but I did it anyway because I wanted the other librarians in the room at least, if not the authors up front, to recognise that they should market to an entire family and that women liked Star Wars too. This shouldn’t be rocket science, but it apparently is.

[Eric J. Brown]: I’ve got just a few thoughts on this… I’m just tired of anger. I rarely, rarely ever see anger being constructive. I don’t trust it. And a lot of this is because I grew up in a conservative household, and while I still trend conservative on a great many things personally… the angry conservative talking head just got really old. I got really tired of the angry guy shouting vitriol… and normally without all the information first.

And I hate to say it… but I’ve gotten the same vibe from a lot of the responses to casting. I can understand the hopes, the things wanted… but the instantaneous and quick anger… so much of the larger picture can be pushed aside. Think about the point that the new “big three” might not have a white male in it — if there was someone I’d be expecting to jump the gun and complain about the casting, it would be some right winger on Fox lamenting political correctness (maybe something about how white men only are allowed to be villains…).

Again, we don’t know… we need to give things a bit more time, see how they play out. Otherwise things are premature.

[Graaf]: I definitely sympathize with you on this, but it’s important to distinguish vitriolic reactionism from a resolute desire to create change for the better.

Disney is a big company, and their priority is to minimize risk and capitalize on audience enthusiasm. If they don’t have the wisdom to take a lesson from the devoted followings gained by the increasingly diverse and inclusive EU and Marvel Universes, then the only way we can influence them to avoid the same mistakes in the future is by voicing our displeasure.

As with any issue that people are passionate about, some of us have fallen into the wrong kind of anger from time to time, but the vast majority of opinions I’ve seen have been clear, respectful and constructive in tone. I see the best side of fandom speaking out here, and I hope it gets heard.

[Eric J. Brown]: Not to get overly philosophic – but that’s the exact same line of argumentation any tyrant can use. You can find even the worst acts being spun as “just trying to change things for the better.” That just doesn’t convince me.

And reading your response got me thinking – why should we as fans think that we should be the ones doing the influencing? Seriously – we are dealing with movies and stories created by artists working in collaboration – why would we as fans (or I as an individual) take ownership or responsibility for what is produced. We are free to like or free to not like what is produced… but that just seems… egotistical to me. We get to watch and enjoy events in other peoples’ creation… it’s not our own, we aren’t supposed to be in charge of it.

Call me old fashioned… fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. Anger, fear, aggression… the dark side are they. Better to be calm, at peace… enjoy fandom for some knowledge, not for the attack =o)

[Alexandra]: Eric – the thing is, you are *able* to be calm and at peace about issues like this, because you’re a man, and thus you’re approaching this from a perspective of male privilege. (I’m assuming, given that you’re posting with a male name.) Everything is already aimed at you and catered directly to you as a man, so you have no reason to be upset. But why should I, as a woman, just passively sit back and accept entertainment that deliberately excludes me, and makes me feel dismissed and unworthy of notice? When you, speaking from a position of privilege, tell the less-privileged that they should just calmly and happily accept content that excludes them, it comes off as pretty patronizing. I’m all for artistic vision and creators being free to tell the stories they want to tell, but when time after time after time, those stories all seem to be produced solely by white men for white men, it starts to get pretty old.

[Kelsey]: Requests for representation stem from the desire to feel accepted and valued, and to know that our opinions and contributions matter. This is a basic human need that’s common to pretty much everyone (speaking in general terms). It’s not “egotistical” or tyrannical, and it’s kind of insulting that you would even make that implication.

[Elizabeth DeHoff]: Yeah, “respect their artistic freedom! We don’t have the right to complain because we’re merely the consumers!” is a bad argument because it makes the opposite point: WE ARE THE CONSUMERS. Our opinion matters quite a bit. This isn’t some indie film being made on the director’s mom’s credit card. This is a multimillion-dollar commercial venture being financed by a multibillion-dollar multinational corporation that is publicly traded. Yes, the filmmakers have a bit of artistic freedom, but let’s not pretend that’s the driving consideration here. It’s not. WE ARE. We are the customers. We are the market. And if they don’t care what we think, that’s going to show up in the bottom line sooner or later, and that’s something they certainly do care about (see above re: publicly traded company). Yes, a commercial blockbuster can be great entertainment and even a work of art, but it all comes down to money. If we make our voices heard, the DIsney marketing department will pay attention, I assure you, even if George doesn’t.

[Dunc]: Well, here’s the thing: We have to explain these basic concepts every time the subject comes up. Every time, guys act like this is brand new information to them. And yes, often it’s the same exact guys. Can you see how frustrating that is? I don’t have the time/energy for lengthy replies this week, but I will get back to this at some point. Hopefully. But let me just say: This post was NOT the one I wanted to have to write last weekend. The first reaction post to the casting was NOT the one I wanted to write hours after the announcement. I’m not doing any of this because I want the trouble; I’m doing it because it needs to be said, because we feel like we are constantly not being heard. And I’m sick and tired of “If you don’t like, leave,” being the default reaction to any criticism, no matter how mild. (And this was mild, believe me.) I’m not boycotting anything, because I know it’s pointless in this case. But I’m sick and tired of any kind of feminist dustup in fandom ending up like Groundhog Day.

[Wendetadlc]: Not really. You could make a point by not going to see the film and not buying merchandising. In fact, you could make even a stronger point if as mother, decide it’s not good for your boys to see a world where only boys and men get to do things while women and girls are secondary (at best). And since it’s not good, not take your child to see it, neither buy them merchandising of that film. Yes, it’s a really tough decision and means giving up things. But if many people do that, it would make then rethink their “marketing wisdom”. It would work the same way than age rating, which always struck me as weird, banning sex but not violence. If that pressure can make producers autocensor, then I’m sure that this would make then change a little. Not that much, since numbers show they are willing to take loses just to defend the status quo (lack of Gamora or Maleficent merchandising show this). In fact makes me wonder about some CEO’s skills. Sure, they get good income, but less than they’ll do by having some marketing… Anyway, I’ll wait to see some reviews to decide if they are worth my money.

[lovelucas]: shitowski – brilliant, Dunc. I’m a geezer and have lived through the b.s., – watch Mad Men for just a hint (I was pre-schooler in the 50’s but even then, I knew) – and had assumed by now we would have no glass ceiling, and equal pay which are foundations of feminism = and even humanism. So easily understood, these two goals. Not as easily achieved. We encounter new prejudice in geekdom that has to be eradicated. That’s why we want to be a kick-ass cosplay….who takes no prisoners. It didn’t have to come to this.