An Open Letter to Authors Everywhere – We Need More Female Characters like Rey!
I have been a little behind my friends when it comes to heading out to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I only just went to go see the movie a couple of days ago, and have spent many of the hours since contemplating on everything the movie has meant to me. You see, I got to see a lot of posts regarding The Force Awakens: good, bad, and ugly. But what I’m left pondering is on the general development of female characters in most fiction and Rey.
First, some context: I grew up with Star Wars. I don’t remember a single day of not liking Star Wars. I was about a year old when A New Hope came out in theaters, so I didn’t see it on the big screen until it was remastered many years later – but I did see the others on the big screen. It was my first book and it was even my first book on a 45.
And I cried the day my mother told me I couldn’t listen to that 45 because it was at some place where they could transfer it to a cassette.
So, I guess that also means it was my first book on tape!
I had all the action figures, the costumes. I practiced my Yoda impressions all the time.
And I had this secret power – I could turn anything into a light saber. Brooms, paper towel tubes, sticks… So I practiced my light saber moves all the time. My somersaults. My twirls. My thrusts and my jabs.
And when my friends and I got together to play Star Wars, I was a Jedi. Sure, I wasn’t Luke, and the boy down the street always played Han and the other two boys always fought over who got to play Chewie. The other girl always played Leia (and she did it wrong, I might add!)
So I was a Jedi.
Because even back in the 1970s, girls got it. Girls knew they could look up to male role models and learn something. They knew they could to all those same things. They knew they could be chosen for some destiny. Girls knew. So I’m so glad to see the rest of the world is finally catching up.
The rest of this post contains some spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens – so if you haven’t seen it yet and don’t want it spoiled, stop reading here.
If you’re still reading… How freaking cool is Rey!?
A dreamer, so she’s heard of the old rebellion and she knew all the stories. And you could see it in her eyes how much she reveled in those stories and how much hope those stories gave her even as the myths unfolded before her.
A scavenger, so she was resourceful, quick on her feet, and worked for every bite on her plate.
The troubled past but without the troubling, emo angsty cry-baby whiny annoyance factor that Luke had. As much as I love Star Wars, to this day I still just want to slap Luke every time he whines about something.
And I swear, if in Star Wars VIII Luke starts whining about how good Rey is – I really just might head down to that set and slap him. But I digress.
Rey is amazing. And smart. And she’s been given the traits that so many male characters are given without any problems at all: she’s given strength. And the best part, the best part of it is that this is a natural progression of the Star Wars saga. Rey wasn’t there to pander to the female audience, or to turn The Force Awakens into “Star Wars for Girls.” She wasn’t there in some lame attempt to draw a female audience.
She was there because it made sense for her to be there. She’s not a side kick, a maternal figure, or the Goddess in The Hero’s Journey. She’s not some background in a library that helps the hero along. And she’s not the female lead who twists her ankle right at the end so the male character can swoop in to save the day.
And yes, I did cheer when she called on the force to pull Luke’s lightsaber to her. My only regret was that the handle didn’t smack Kylo Ren across the chin as it spun by him.
So imagine my dismay when, after having such an amazing experience getting to know Rey, I go online and I see so many people bashing her for being female? Calling her lame and calling her knowledge into question because she didn’t “earn” her powers?
It was truly heart breaking.
The fact of the matter is, we need more characters like Rey. We need more women characters in our stories of all genres who are smart, witty, intelligent, and strong. More women who will give the chivalrous man a funny look for trying to save her when she can save herself. More women who believe in themselves and believe in their own strengths.
And we need these women to come into these powers without having to be stabbed, raped, tortured, or otherwise beaten to within an inch of their lives before the universe decides she’s ready for these powers.
Authors of all genres, I beg you to empower your women characters. People like to blame Hollywood: saying that the media establishes standards of beauty, strength, and gender discrimination. But it starts with us. If we write strong characters, Hollywood will follow.
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