Slut-shaming Princess Leia or protecting childhood from adult sexuality?

As news spreads that Disney will be adding Leia themed toys to its merchandise, I’m seeing more instances where others have noted how often Leia is shown as a slave in kidworld. Last week, Jezebel posted this:

Why Is Slave Leia the Only Princess Leia Toy Available at Toys”R”Us?

Over the weekend we received a tip from a concerned mother who had come across something very disconcerting while perusing the aisles of Toys R Us. Apparently the only available toy or figurine of the Star Wars character Princess Leia is of her in the “Slave Outfit” from Return of the Jedi. Bikini? Check. Loin cloth? Check. Chain around the neck? Check. And in case you were wondering if it was actually geared towards children, it’s listed for kids ages 4+….This is a perfect and heart-breaking example of how ingrained sexism is in geek culture. It’s not like there’s a Chewbacca toy in a banana hammock

 

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This makes me so mad. It’s so twisted. Taking the heroic Leia, one of the few females in the Star Wars franchise at all, certainly the most famous one, then showing her chained and in a bikini again and again and again.

Yesterday, I posted this picture of a LEGO set I bought for my daughter. I chose it because the salesperson told me it was the only one in the store that includes Leia. I regretted the purchase as soon as I saw this mini-fig. Now, I know to check more carefully.

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I also posted yet another picture of an illustration from Vader’s Little Princess, where the distorted narrative depicts the slave outfit as Leia’s independent, rebellious choice:

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The book has another illustration with the same message:

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I haven’t yet been accused (that I know of) for slut-shaming Princess Leia yesterday, though whenever I complain about toys and media created for little kids where the females are consistently half dressed, commenters often put me in the role of Vader in these illustrations: I’m the one curtailing the independence, rebellion, and freedom of girls.

I’ve written about Polly- Pocket where the whole point of the toy is to dress Polly is various belly baring shirts, mini skirts, hot pants, and bathing suits. Polly is marketed to 4 – 7 year olds.

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Desperate for female superheroes to show my kids, I purchased the DVD set of the Wonder Woman TV series starring Lynda Carter. My 5 year old daughter wanted to know: “Why is she in her underwear?”  Here’s Wonder Woman as a LEGO minifig (not easy to find at a toy store or Target, even half dressed.)

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When Pigtail Pals founder Melissa Wardy dropped her kids off at school, they were walking behind a first grader with a Winx backpack:

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On her blog, Wardy writes:

Try this test: If the image can be lifted from the child’s toy/backpack/t-shirt and placed on the billboard for a strip club and not look out of place, then things are seriously fucked.

I’m not saying that 4 year old kids know what being half naked has to do with adult sexuality, but these repeated images teach all children that it’s normal to sexualize girls. Sexualization is very different from sexuality. In her best-selling book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein quotes Stephen Hinshaw from his book The Triple Bind:

“Girls pushed to be sexy too soon can’t really understand what they’re doing…they may never learn to connect their performance to erotic feelings or intimacy. They learn how to act desirable, but not to desire, undermining, rather than promoting, healthy sexuality.

In short: sexualization is performance; it’s all about being desirable to others. Sexuality is understanding and connecting to your own desire.

At the reading, Orenstein shared this passage from Cinderella Ate My Daughter:

Let me be clear here: I object– strenuously– to the sexualization of girls but not necessarily to girls having sex. I expect and want my daughter to have a healthy, joyous erotic life before marriage. Long, long, long before marriage. I do, however, want her to understand why she’s doing it: not for someone else’s enjoyment, not to keep a boyfriend from leaving, not because everyone else is. I want her to explore and understand her body’s responses, her own pleasure, her own desire. I want her to be able to express her needs in a relationship, to say no when she needs to, to value reciprocity, and to experience true intimacy. The virgin/ whore cycle of the pop princesses, like so much of the girlie girl culture, pushes in the opposite direction, encouraging girls to view self-objectification as a feminist rite of passage.

 

That last sentence is again, exactly how Leia is presented in Vader’s Little Princess.

Older girls and women can choose to wear a bikini, or a even chain around their necks if they want, but girls and women should not feel like they have to be “attractive” to men all the time, 24 hours a day. Or even 12 hours a day. Or 6. Or any hours at all. Nor should they feel like they have to be attractive to all men. It’s this kind of fucked up mentality– be attractive to all men, all the time, that leads to men feeling entitled to women’s bodies. I could go on here about the legal ramifications of this as far reproductive rights, coverage for contraception etc, but that’s another post. The point of this one is that 4 year old girls should not be trained that it’s completely normal to be half naked most of the time. The females in kidworld  should not be constantly baring their bellies. Please stop selling kids toys and media where females are half dressed. Parents, please stop buying these kinds of toys for your children. They set a dangerous precedent. That’s no slut-shaming but protecting childhood from adult sexuality.

I’d like to collect some images of Princess Leia here that you all think would be good for Disney to base its merchandise on. Here’s a couple to start:

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More great posts on this issue from around the web:

Why Representations of Women and Girls Can’t Be Slut-Shamed

‘Slut-Shaming’ Has Been Tossed Around So Much, It’s Lost All Meaning

When Do We Allow Our Girls To Partake in Commercialized Sexualization?

 

 

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “Slut-shaming Princess Leia or protecting childhood from adult sexuality?

  1. There were/are LOTS of Leia figures in regular or combat attire that do not sexualize her. Here are just a few:

    http://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Princess-Collection-Prince/dp/B000A7ACQK
    http://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Collection-Princess-Skywalker/dp/B00078ZDEI
    http://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Freeze-Princess-Organa/dp/B000GL3J6K
    http://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Organa-Bespin-Escape/dp/B000B7MDDY
    http://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Princess-Collection-Wicket/dp/B000A7ABR0
    http://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Freeze-Princess-Celebration/dp/B000B69C3E
    http://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-General-Organa-Action/dp/B000F9QC0S
    http://www.amazon.com/Hasbro-Princess-Organa-Action-Figure/dp/B000A6VJL8
    http://www.amazon.com/Star-Wars-Action-Figure-Flashback/dp/B000JOUPS4

    Sure, the “Slave Leia” figure is a thing…but it was also a thing in the movie as well. In the movie, she used the chain to kill her enslaver (some interesting symbolism there)…and there’s nothing to prevent someone from using “Slave Leia” to re-enact that exact scenario. They’re just providing the props from the scene.

    I’m sure there are are many that choose to look at this version of her in the sexual fetish light…but people choose how they want to see it. Just like you’re choosing to focus on the “slave/fetish” aspect and not the “slave who overcame oppression” aspect.

    As for kids…if they’ve seen the movie, they’re just seeing it as “oh, this is her from that part with the big gross slug creature”. It’s adults that add all their personal baggage on top of it all.

  2. Pingback: Legions of Leia Fans « fangirlblog.com

  3. Obviously it would be on you, if you find a father protective of his girl with her boyfriends “Creepy”

    Do you think a woman who gets drunk with a man shes never seen before and has sex with him is a rape casualty?

  4. You previously commented on ‘Vader’s Little Princess’ on my blog. I don’t understand your objection to the two illustrations you have included in this piece. In both a young Leia is dressed in outfits that her father disapproves of. To me it’s a commentary on their inappropriateness as outfits for Leia or Padme, not an endorsement.

    • Hi Man vs Pink,

      Here are my objections:

      (1) Leia did not “choose” the slave girl outfit in the movie. She was forced into that outfit because she was a slave! To flip that in this story and act as if Leia chose to wear this as her independent and rebellious choice, continues the myth that Peggy Orenstein refers to:

      “The virgin/ whore cycle of the pop princesses, like so much of the girlie girl culture, pushes in the opposite direction, encouraging girls to view self-objectification as a feminist rite of passage.”

      (2) Providing yet another lllustration that makes the same point makes the same point– the Leia “chooses” to dress this way as her step towards independence.

      (3) I really hate the the father/ daughter narrative where he steps in to control her sexuality. Fathers don’t “own” their daughter’s sexuality and all the stories where “loving” fathers get jealous of their daughters boyfriends I find creepy and offensive. THere are so few models of positive father-daughter relationships in the fantayy world, there area million other scenarios the writer could have depicted that have nothing to do with Leia’s clothing. In the comparable book about the son, clothing, talking on the phone, and painting his nails is not something the boy is shown doing. THe gender box Leia is put in is awful.

      Margot

  5. Hi Sarah S.,

    Yes, I feel like Vader’s Little Princess’s take on everything is exactly how this whole “slut-shaming” things gets twisted. I really do also desperately want images and narratives for kids where girls/ women are not always seen half-dressed. I question how much is “choice” when these kids get older when so many rewards come when you dress one way, and punishment when you dress another i’e. the Vanity Fair cover where Rachel Mccadams was asked to leave when she wouldn’t get naked, while Tom Ford was clothed. Also, I wish being sexy for women was understood, as it is for men, as being powerful, competent, brilliant (sports stars, President Clinton etc) and not just being half dressed.

    Margot

  6. Thanks for this article, Margot! Some of your posts did have me concerned you fell on the “slut-shaming is okay” side, but I should have had more faith in you! Those movements that seek to cover girls and women head-to-toe like we are living in Little House on the Prairie times are just as bad, if you ask me, as Polly Pocket’s skanky wardrobe. What is important, as you point out much more concisely, is that in this case Leia was FORCED to wear that bikini as a freakin’ slave… so to turn that around and pretend it’s the same as a teenage girl trying out sexually suggestive clothing does a disservice to a potential take-away of the choice to put Leia in the bikini in the first place – yes, I do think it was for titillation for the male audience, but also to show that Leia is not the type of person to objectify herself. Because she’s not an innocent girl who doesn’t understand her feminine wiles, she’s a tough princess who gets to CHOOSE who sees her in a sexy outfit… when she’s not enslaved, that is. That this was demonstrating her oppression was probably clearer to an audience in the ’70’s than to today’s audience that regularly sees women going out practically naked (supposedly by choice, but probably more out of naivete… emulating pop stars).

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