Unless you have been living under a rock, by now you are aware that this week is the long-awaited premiere of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Like many of you, I am *super* excited to see the film on Friday. I was three when the original film – Episode IV: A New Hope – came out and, like a lot of little girls growing up in the late `70s and early `80s, I wore those Princess buns just as often as I could talk someone into putting them up for me.
One thing that I’ve heard about the new film is that it passes the Bechdel test, unlike the original films. If you aren’t familiar with it, the Bechdel test asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women in it, who talk to each other, and are talking about a topic other than a man. The term comes from a 1985 alternative comic strip by Alison Bechdel, and calls out the propensity of Hollywood to marginalize women in many mainstream films as just the love interest or just there to validate the male characters.
Now, this whole topic is one that gets controversial. I can’t tell you how long I’ve gone round and round debating Harry about the Bechdel test, if it is really needed, if it artificially sets up a quota system for characters, etc. But whichever side of that issue you fall, here’s one thing you need to recognize. Even though the original films failed the Bechdel test, and even though they featured less than 2 minutes of dialog by non-Leia females in the entire original trilogy, the Star Wars Universe was pretty amazing for women.
Leia Organa was an amazing role model – intelligent, snarky, able to fight, and generally self-rescuing (despite that whole “Help me Obi-Wan, you’re our only hope” intro). She was a main character involved in most of the action, the one who played politics AND military tactics, and the one who sometimes even got to save the heroes’ butts, subverting the whole princess/hero dynamic from fairy tales and Hollywood flicks alike.
While they may not have had major roles (or even, ultimately, screen time), the original films did include other female characters in some powerful roles that were rare given the era in which the films were made. Mon Mothma, for example, is the LEADER of the Rebel Alliance and arguably one of the most important characters in the Alliance, despite getting very little screen time. And, as we learn from the deleted scenes from Return of the Jedi (BluRay edition), Lucas even included multiple female pilots among the Rebel forces in an era when women-in-combat in the real world was still fiction.
The prequel trilogy expands this trend, with Queen Amidala as a strong and powerful elected ruler (well, until later films when she falls apart), female Jedi wielding lightsabers with the best of them, and even the first female villain – an assassin shapeshifter named Zam Wesell in Attack of the Clones. So, it’s pretty clear that even though the films aren’t great at showing it clearly, the Force has no gender bias. Regardless of your bits, you’ve either got it or you don’t. Male or female, you can be Force-sensitive, Force-strong, or without it entirely.
So, what does this have to do with AV? As I see it, quite a bit. You see, our industry is a male-dominated STEM industry, much like the original trilogy was extremely male-dominated and Bechdel-failing. But, like the Star Wars Universe, AV is still a pretty amazing place to be a woman. We have women in leadership roles within our Association and companies alike. We have opportunities for education and growth industry wide. Yes, we may encounter rogues like Han Solo who mockingly call us Princess and smirk at our presence, but once we show them we know our way around a blaster and take out a few storm troopers (or, you know, wire a rack, design a system or troubleshoot a service ticket), they generally come around and work side by side with us for the Light Side. AV knowledge, like the Force, has no gender. Male or female, folks can be AV-conversant, AV-experts, or without tech-savvy altogether. But to achieve success in our field, we need to embrace and use the Force wherever we find it – whether it comes in male or female bodies, young or old, or even if it comes from an IT-trained crossover employee or someone who’s worked in AV their entire lives. The wrapper or container doesn’t matter. What matters is the AV knowledge and experience working against the Dark Side.
Now excuse me while I go put my hair in buns again… May the Force be with you, fellow AV pros!