How do they measure up?
Less Satisfactory Female Portrayal, Failed Bechdel
Star Wars: A New Hope (source)
I realize that subsequent Star Wars productions have plenty of awesome ladies not featured in the original trilogy. However, that’s why I’m looking at the first film of the original trilogy—this is George Lucas’s vision. And his vision for women? Just two: Aunt Beru, Luke’s adoptive mother, and Princess Leia, a delegate in distress hailing from the planet Alderaan.
Though A New Hope only passes the first part of the test (no women converse), Leia’s character in particular enthuses us despite the lack of other women. After all, she’s a spy transporting information at great personal risk, withstanding torture, and leading the rebellion in secret. She is significant and impacts the plot, remaining Luke’s friend and ally during the resistance—even into the next movies. Of course, other than Beru, Leia, and Mon Mothma, all other females in the trilogy are sex slaves. Where men have many options—as Jedi Knights, government employees, soldiers, bartenders, space pirates, bounty hunters, or even moisture farmers—women have few: princess or sex slave. Suffice it to say that this galaxy isn’t as women-friendly as we might like.
Leia is okay; the rest of the universe isn’t doing so hot. Representation… ehh.
(This is among my favorite children’s films but you probably haven’t seen it. Let me catch you up: Igor wants to prove he can be an evil scientist despite beginning as a hunchbacked henchman. With the help of Scamper (a suicidal, but immortal, rabbit) and Brain (a brain in a jar), Igor reanimates human remains to create a perfect monster. Problem being that she doesn’t want to be evil, she wants to be an actress.)
This film depicts three classes of people: evil scientists (all men, minus one), Igors (all men), and the scientists’ girlfriends (all women). Most women are extras, but there are two women of significance: Eva and Jaclyn. Eva is Igor’s creation, and her dream is to play Annie on Broadway. Jaclyn is Dr. Schadenfreude’s girlfriend, and she manipulates people.
Eva and Jaclyn only speak to discuss Igor romantically—only passing two Bechdel criteria—but they still shine. Take Eva. Eva is good. Literally, her goodness defines her friendships, her worldview, and her every action. Though her passion for theater motivates her, Eva’s goodness is apparent even before she can speak: she gives piggyback rides to blind orphans! Though men surround Eva, her character is less about being a women among men, but being infallibly good in an evil world. She represents our own struggles between good and evil, and her most important choice is not about a boy, but morality.
Jaclyn is the opposite, but I like her. Jaclyn is hard to appreciate on the surface because her appearance defines her identity and she exists to seduce and steal from men on behalf of another man—her boyfriend, Dr. Schadenfreude. Still, in a world where men control the government, the world, and doomsday device production, Jaclyn impresses me. She is an unusual villain, because where all other villains battle each other in a competition no one truly wins, no one can compete with her own brand of evil, and no one defeats her, either. The great irony is that while Schadenfreude gives Jaclyn the power to be a villain, he doesn’t recognize her as one. In my opinion, she trumps them all.
If only Igor took place in a world where women have significant political and social power, too…
I love Eva and Jaclyn, but more girls can be evil too! Representation… ehh.
Last week, I felt that movies without female characters don’t represent women very well (surprise, surprise). This week, I’m torn—neither movie passes the Bechdel test, but I like what Leia, Eva, and Jaclyn bring to the table. But my problem isn’t with individual women, but rather the world they live in. These three women live under phallocracies, and that isn’t a problem solved by the plot. Women still get the short end of the stick. I’m left wondering… what is the significance of a strong female character if she is unique in her universe?