High XP Women, Continued

CarrieI don’t follow movie marketing closely, and I’d describe myself as a less-than-avid Star Wars fan. Liked it as a child; had a Darth Vader lunch box; was disappointed by episodes 1-3; didn’t expect much from The Force Awakens.

But I love this poster from a character series for The Last Jedi. Some of that’s for superficial reasons — the classy design, the beauty and menace of that vibrant red, the lush high-collared cloak. I would love a cloak like that.

Some is sentiment; I was more sad about Carrie Fisher’s passing than I would have expected, and learned things about her that I hadn’t previously known. I am glad to have one more movie of hers to see.

But I love other things too. The poster doesn’t downplay, conceal, or apologize for the fact that Leia is an older woman in this shot. Her hand, her throat and mouth, are graceful without being fake-young. She wears bold jewelry. She doesn’t discard her femininity here in order to assume a role of power, but the adornment that she wears is also not sexualized. It reads to me not as “I have dressed like this to attract men,” but “I have dressed like this because it pleases me, and because I have in the course of my life earned a certain status.”

And her pose itself: chin up, looking outward. We can’t see her eyes — all of the posters in this series cut off the face before the eyes — but where many of the other characters have some kind of physical action pose, General Leia surveys and assesses. The mental action is hers, not the viewer’s alone.

Return_of_the_jedi_old.jpg

The red Leia poster says all those things on its own, I think, but it pulls those meanings in even more strongly if you compare where we came from.

I could write about the differences here but I feel like the contrast of those two posters is fully eloquent without my help.

*

A lot of women I know, including myself, have to make a journey from object to subject. Indeed, for me it’s not so much a journey as a daily commute. I’m aware that there are consequences to how I present myself, and I have chosen to think about that rather than pay the price for ignoring it. But it takes work and judgment to balance that with one’s own perspective and preferences. It helps to have reminders to look outward.

Most of all, I feel like the red-cloak Leia poster and the behind-the-scenes trailer are hinting at things that I really want from this movie. Maybe I’m reading in too much. Maybe I’m not going to receive what I’m hoping for. But I deeply want to see more stories and art about older women of authority and power. I need those stories, not out of some kind of abstract accounting of representation numbers, but because I’m looking for teaching and inspiration about what I can become as I grow older, and pop culture is not offering much. I am not a mother, and I don’t plan to be. Portrayals of authoritative matriarchs are sometimes extremely cool, but they don’t help me with my future.

Instead I’m drawn to media about women at the top of their profession, in positions of management or authority. I watched The Good Fight with interest partly because of this: it’s a spin-off of the hugely popular The Good Wife, but focuses on the nearly retirement-age Diane Lockhart, a founding partner in her firm. There were a few things about The Good Fight where I thought its messaging a bit heavy-handed. But still, it hits some notes that resonated with me. Vulture writes up one of the key scenes thus:

There’s a lovely moment in all of this where Barbara asks Diane if she’s ever regretted not having children. I’m positive Diane must have had a similar conversation on The Good Wife that I’m not remembering, but it’s fascinating regardless, especially when she says she most regrets it when she thinks of Kurt. She wonders what a son of his would be like, and later, she calls him, but then quickly hangs up. My imagining of Diane has always been “childfree by choice, no regrets,” and it’s fun to be surprised by her after all these years, even if the moment is bittersweet. — Lauren Hoffman for Vulture

…but this doesn’t describe why I connected with this scene. What Diane says is that the work has always been both central and sufficient for her. She can imagine a road not taken, and feel a little curiosity or a little wistfulness about that. But the dialogue does not, to my mind, suggest she’s made a mistake. In contrast with a lot of common tropes, it acknowledges that a woman can have a vocation, can rise to the top of her field, can be her best and happiest self, can give the most that she has to give to the world, through her career. That can all be true even if you have a vague tug of feeling about the other possibilities if your life had turned out differently.

And I’m drawn to things about empathetic styles of authority, whether the role models in question are male or female. I feel like General Leia is a particularly interesting case to look at here. She chose not to train as a Jedi even though she has the potential. Instead, rather than depart for solitary training in an often-coercive ability, she has remained at the head of her community and applied her “Force strength” more in the form of increased intuition. Now, to some degree that plays into feminine intuition tropes, but still, I feel like there could be a great story here, not only about what she did but about why she did it.

I have no idea how much The Last Jedi is going to tell that story. But I can hope.

4 thoughts on “High XP Women, Continued

  1. Thanks for this. Men need these perspectives as well. What you’re describing is a huge part of why my partner, Nicole, loved the roles older women had in The Force Awakens, and I appreciated it that much more after she described it to me from her perspective. Even the alien Maz Kanata, who hadn’t stood out to me as a female role model until hearing Nicole’s perspective, was a female character with age, wisdom, strength and compassion. As a man it was super easy to not notice that Yoda’s maleness made it easier for me to identify with him than for a female viewer, no matter how non-human he looks.

  2. Annnd I posted this before finding out the news about the 13th Doctor: https://twitter.com/DoctorWho_BBCA/status/886611172715241473

    My reactions to that are a little more cautious; for one thing, I’ve been thinking they might write some episodes for Peter Capaldi that really riffed on the Doctor’s age and experience, as opposed to his zaniness — and in what I’ve seen so far, they mostly don’t do that. (Admittedly, I’m not up to date on the latest season.) So I’m not sure what to expect from a female Doctor.

  3. This reminded me of the character of Chrisjen Avasarala in The Expanse, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo (House of Sand and Fog):

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