This response is completely off the top of my head and ended up being (1) way longer than I expected, so I'm posting it in bits and pieces, and (2) more fervent than I expected, so if you like Padmé and/or the prequels, you may not want to listen/read. But here we go. Oh, and the transcript necessarily includes the essay I'm reacting to, since I read it aloud and responded point-by-point (well, started to).
Fangirlblog is a Star Wars blog, a Star Wars feminist blog, where "Star Wars" refers to the six canonical movies and the Clone Wars cartoon and sort of on-again off-again the EU, and where feminism seems to be a sort of 90s liberal feminism. On the one hand, SW has a pretty notoriously dudebro-dominated fanbase and fangirlblog provides a space where their voices aren't always privileged above female fans'. Other than LJ. And that is great and pretty desperately needed, I think.
The only difficulty is, of course, that it is that 90s liberal feminism where it's vaguely apologetic and gender essentialist and heterocentric and everything but guy centric. Basically, it means that this a place where you'll find the author, Tricia, I think, rightfully calling out Ascension framing domestic violence as "boys will be boys," but we'll also see a female character criticized for "promiscuity" and "frigidity" at the same time. Like seriously, prude-shaming and slut-shaming all at once.
So it's really a very mixed bag and I tend to be a little ambivalent about it, because on the one hand, it does provide a very necessary space, but on the other hand it does ... some really weird stuff. And it kind of specializes in apologetics, I guess. I don't mean it snidely, I do a lot of apologetics myself, and that's what it does - at least for me, the main attraction is in fact these apologetics where it periodically rolls out defenses of certain scenes and characters, generally focusing on the ladies. And fandom's hatred of fabulous ladies is notorious and really nasty, so theoretically I am totally in favour of this, but in practice it tends to be fairly problematic, because--
You get things like tortuous arguments, to be honest, about how the aggressive, outspoken heroine getting turned into a silent sex object is totally empowering because of gymnastics or something - and okay, because she uses her chain to kill her captor. And she doesn't really draw a distinction there between in-story reasons, what's going on in the story, and looking at it as someone that is constructed within our culture and something that is a sort of cultural object that is part of patterns and trends that reach beyond itself. And so there's just a lot of focus on in-story explanations and in-story justifications - because of the way the story is, this had to happen, and not why they made the story that way.
But it does produce some of the most thoughtful meta in the fandom, so I pretty much always end up click on it when it comes up at jedi_news, and I don't usually regret it. And the other day, there was, I guess, another one of these - apologetics. It was called "What Is Strong?" and it was about, in a general way, it was about what makes a strong female character, which is a really interesting discussion that there's a lot to talk about with. It's something that, I think, Tricia comes back to over and over, quite understandably, because it's such a fraught topic, and as somebody who writes fantasy - with a lot of female characters in it - this is something I personally wrestle with a lot, so I'm kind of sympathetic to that. But the way she went about it, I think it was - odd. So she begins by saying:
The call for strong female characters is often met with pursed lips and furrowed brows.
What exactly is a strong female character? Do we mean Ripley (Alien) or Sarah Connor (Terminator 2), almost male-like in their physique and demeanor?
Or Buffy Summers (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Wonder Woman, beautiful women endowed with superhuman abilities?
Many times the bafflement for creative parties is that women will disagree – quite strongly at times – about where they stand in regard to these and other characters. Some love what Ripley and Sarah Connor represent; others argue that their lack of femininity implies women have to become more like men in order to be heroic. While beautiful, Buffy has somehow transcended most of the fray. In part that may be due to her characterization, but also the wonderful cast of characters she fought alongside.
Okay, this is something you see a lot in these discussions, that [sigh] I think is - there's sort of [laughs] I guess an elephant in the room, that it seems everybody tends to ignore in these discussions, where they say that if the strong woman in your piece is like a, sort of, is coded, let's say, as masculine, then what it seems to say is that women need to be like men in order to be strong. OTOH, if you write a woman coded as feminine, it seems to be saying that a woman has to be feminine to be strong. That's your strong female character.
And what this seems to be ignoring is that if you only have one, that character is going to be unavoidably representative. It means, if you have your token strong female, then yeah, then whatever she is, is going to be seeming to say, this what a strong female character is. The answer to that is not that "well, none of these things work," or not "we need to make them all feminine" or whatever, but that we need diversity, we need more than one strong female character in a given work.
I mean, I'm an OT fangirl, I love the originals ... with certain, uh, qualifications, but I'm the first to say that a big, big, big problem is that there is pretty much one woman in them and it's Leia. Leia is fabulous, but - I mean, these other women are, most of them have no lines and they're largely forgettable. You have Mon Mothma, who is like "many Bothans died," and you have Oola who gets killed, and you have Aunt Beru who gets killed, and the random women who run the computers in Empire, and they don't say anything. You have a little bit of sort of background noise with women there, but the only female character who is remotely significant is Leia.
And you know Leia is great, and Leia is also really important in terms of looking beyond this one thing - in terms of a trend, in that Leia broke a lot of trends - I played Mario Brothers as a kid, on the Nintendo, and it was this ordinary plot where there are these two kind of ordinary guys and you have to go rescue the princess and she's like "oh Mario save me!" and da da da da. And you've got a stereotypical set-up like that, you've got these kind of of vaguely ordinary (but with secret depths) guys and there's a princess we have to go rescue her and they go after her and she's this total fricking badass. That was something really new and really stereotype-busting in 1977. Doing that now wouldn't be anything special.
In fact, I think that's one of the reasons why, I think, Padmé in The Phantom Menace didn't especially affect me - I mean, I thought she was cool, once I managed to sit through the movie, but I - I mean, I did think she probably the coolest character in the movie and I liked her, but she didn't blow me away the way Leia did. Because setting aside later stuff like Leia's characterization later on, I think, being a little more polished than Padmé's, but just looking at first appearances, I could never forget that Leia was, this is PRINCESS LEIA, she was one of the very first that, this is 1977. TPM was, like, in 1999, it wasn't special any more in 1999!
But there is a problem, that Leia is the only one there. So what she does becomes representative of ~womankind~. So it says that a strong female character is like Leia: she's kickass and she talks back and you can take her captive and stun her and take away her blaster, but you can't make her stop calling you smelly and compare Vader pretty much to a dog on Tarkin's leash. She's not the prize - again, a lot of things are good here, but that's our only image of what a woman should be when she's the only one.
And you look at the prequels, which are much later, and I think somewhat of an improvement, in that there are more...speaking women in them? But if you look at the major characters in the prequels, not just the main characters, but the major ones - off the top of my head, I'm sittng here going Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan, Anakin, Padmé, Yoda, Mace Windu, Palpatine (obviously), sort of, kind of Darth Maul, I guess - he's there, he doesn't do anything interesting, but he's there - yeah, you've got...um...General Grievous, you have Dooku... I think you can probably see the pattern here. You've got a lot of major characters and nearly all of them are men. And so because Padmé is the only important female character in the trilogy, she is - whatever she does and whatever she is, seems to be what they're saying about women.
In sort of the same way, you might say - what if, what is, if you have, like, in the original trilogy, Lando was like the only black guy in the galaxy nearly. And so Lando ... was not just Lando, he was The Black Guy, and what he did was, and how he acted was - is going to relate to - they're saying ... they're going to be saying something about who - um...Lando is going to be representative of black people because he's the only one. And so he can't be - a lot of times people will try to defend it with 'it's just that one person, they're not talking about black people, they're just talking about Lando.' But the problem is that you can't do that. If you're going to only have one, then you do, you are going to seem to be saying something about the entire group they belong to, because you only provide this one sort of model.
And so, so to go back, to me the answer seems to be, well, if you just have women who are, like, aggressive and stereotypically masculine, then women have to be like men, and if all your strong women are quietly feminine in a sort of steel magnolia way, then it's almost - you can be strong, but you have to stay in the house. And this a Catch-22 that can never be resolved? [scoffs] It can be resolved! Just have more women in things.