Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Feminism of Princess Leia's Bikini

While I consider myself a feminist (that women are equal to men and deserve equal rights/treatment), my scholarship is not feminist.  That is, I don't study how gender affects foreign policy.  Yet, as a result of a brief dinner conversation with Ora Szekely, I want to wade into these waters with the following assertion:
While much of Star Wars has gender problems (erasing the female pilots from the Battle of Yavin, for example), the appearance of Princess Leia in the costume in Jabba's palace and on the barge in Return of the Jedi is actually not un-feminist.
How so?  Well, one could argue that this was just providing the fanboys of the movie with something to gaze/leer at, it is actually more complex.  Jabba had Leia wear this costume as part of his effort to dominate her.  Jabba is gross, disgusting and vile.  So, we should find his enslavement of Leia and his disrobing of her to be awful.  Indeed, one could argue that Jabba is a personification of patriarchy--that he is all lust, greed, and domination in a slimy package.

And what happens to this depiction of patriarchy in the movie?  It gets slayed, choked to death, by a woman who uses her own chains against her target.  The only help Leia receives in this effort from the men around her is the provision of a distraction.  Luke's deployment of the force does not liberate Leia, but only catches the attention of those around Jabba--he is the Jedi squirrel!  The hard work of killing Jabba, of freeing woman from patriarchy, is done by Leia with her own bare hands.

So, one could look at the iconic image of Leia in the bikini as sexist and harmful to feminism, or one can look deeper and suggest that she is a feminist icon for slaying the enslaver of women, green or otherwise.

As for the rest, well, yeah, George Lucas has some problemos.


KidSpew/TeenSpew/Jess said... I partially agree with you. Yes Leia choking Jabba, something that physically resembles the patriarchy and evil, with her own chains is pretty darn cool, the bikini itself is not great. One could argue that it represents how Jabba himself is making her this sex object and she uses it against him, however that is probably not what George Lucas ever put it in. More likely, the bikini was put in for the fanboys to drool and lust after. She really is an object of the male gaze in this situation, which you can't really ignore. Every Star Wars straight boy fantasy from here and back includes that freaking bikini. Overall, I think her choking Jabba with her own chains is a great metaphor/visualization of oppressed people taking their freedom. But at the same time, the bikini itself was pretty unnecessary and clearly not used as feminist symbol from Lucas and was mostly male gaze and fanservice. And certainly most fanboys that lust after that costume don't think of it as a symbol against the patriarchy and women as sex objects, and would like to have slave Leia of their own, thus completing the cycle of objectification. In summary, choking Jabba with chains = awesome, Leia wearing bikini = pretty much completely sexual objectification and male gaze, not a great thing.

FroshSpew apparently said...

Also here's a Cracked video about the subject of women in the original trilogy, though like the other trilogy is not great with women either (I don't remember enough to make a good enough argument about that but hey Padme freaking died to further Anakin's manpain, sooooo yeah)

Steve Saideman said...

Great video. And mostly on target BUT the head of the rebellion was Mon Montha--a woman. So, we have two women .... lovely.

I was trying to save SW from Lucas's various hangups/flaws. That there is more than one way to interpret the pivotal role of Leia. The Cracked video has ... another point of view. And so does this