'Star Wars' Taught My Daughter the Meaning of Sexism

sexism in movies
Awesome, but not enough
How was your weekend? Did you have an intense conversation with your child about sexual politics based on one of the greatest movies of all time? No? Must have just been me, then. I have to admit, I was not expecting that to happen between pre-school graduation parties and grocery shopping. But as it turns out, everyone's favorite film that takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away was the catalyst for mom and daughter to sit down and have "the big talk" about sexism in our world.

You see, Star Wars, is huge at my daughter's pre-school. She's seen it, everyone in her class has seen it, and many of them have even been privy to Empire. Although we think she needs to be older to handle the loss, albeit it temporary, of Han Solo. The kids talk about Star Wars, they play Star Wars, and finally my daughter noticed something during playtime. So she asked me, "Mommy, why aren't there more girl characters in Star Wars?"


What followed was a very in-depth discussion about women throughout history. What started as an explanation that more men are filmmakers, television writers, and all-around in charge, turned into a much broader discussion about equality among all people. My daughter actually got weepy when I told her there was a time, not that long ago, when women were expected to stay home, have babies, and keep house. That women were not allowed to vote, or hold a job. "That's not fair," she sniffed. And I sniffed right along with her. Because it's still not fair.

Only 15 of the Fortune 500 companies are run by women. Even though women make up half of the population in the United States, there are 360 men representing us in the so-called House of Representatives, compared to 75 women. The Senate women show poorly as well with only 17 Senators, to the 83 men. When I told my daughter there had never been a female President of the United States, she could not wrap her head around the "why." Neither can I, frankly.

The fact is, when men are in charge, they hire other people who look like they do. If they're creating our entertainment, they draw, write, and create male characters more often than female ones. They populate their worlds with like-minded, and like-appearing people. Which is the largest argument for women's equality in the workplace. As my daughter started drawing parallels between what I was telling her, and what she had learned in school about Martin Luther King, Jr., I reiterated that African-Americans are not currently faring much better in the numbers game.

My own mother used to read Ms. magazine, and was in fact, an inaugural subscriber. So as I grew up, I didn't expect to encounter blatant sexism in the world, and especially not in the workplace. But I've been wrong. So while I told my daughter, what my parents told me, "You can do anything you want to in the world," I also gave her a dose of reality. Star Wars may have been made in the 1970s, but take a look at the summer blockbusters this year and see if women are doing any better. How many "girls" that my daughter can relate to, are in Cars 2? At least Princess Leia has an enduring legacy.

Sadly, we have to teach our daughters the history of inequality, and point out where it still exists today. It's not a happy lesson, but it's absolutely necessary. Let's just hope by the time they're having children, the pay gap, the representation gap, and yes, even (especially!) the children's entertainment gap, will have closed.

Have you talked to your kids about sexism?


Image via Zazzle

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