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A force to be reckoned with

Female leads in action movies matter

By Hannah Schaefer | Contributor

Rey’s strength encourages girls to stand up for themselves.

Rey’s strength encourages girls to stand up for themselves.

I expected a lot of things from “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” but I did not expect to cry. So I was surprised by the tears in my eyes when Rey used the Force to pull the lightsaber from the snow, turned it on and stood to face Kylo Ren.

I acknowledge that Star Wars VII is far from perfect writing—the movie borrowed so many plot threads from the old movies that it was practically fanfiction—but I was underprepared for how meaningful it would be to witness a woman who looks like me use a lightsaber for the first time onscreen.

It wasn’t until after I saw Star Wars that I learned how few people understand the value of female leads in action movies. And not just women who are onscreen regularly, but women who speak up and exercise their autonomy and power. Polygraph, an organization that explores popular culture through data, found that out of the 2,000 screenplays they studied, an average of 88 percent of the dialogue is said by men. Even in Mulan, where the main character is a woman, Mushu has 50 percent more lines, and 75 percent of the dialogue in the movie is said by men.

If all women were quieter than men or weaker than men or less driven than men, this would make sense. But the women we see onscreen are not good representations of the women we see in real life. Seeing Rey fight for herself and for Finn was meaningful, because if Rey can fight for herself, maybe I can, too.

I cried when I watched “Mad Max: Fury Road,” because, for the first time, I saw onscreen a woman who embodied all the intensity and determination that I want to model in my own life. Imperator Furiosa and the women she rescues paint the walls with their message: “We are not things.” We will not remain silent. We will not do as we are told. This act of compassionate rebellion echoed through my own heart as I silently shouted with them, I am not a thing. I will not stop speaking. I will not be silent.

One day, I may raise a girl of my own. I want her to see movies and art where she is told she can be a mother and a nurturer, but also brave and opinionated. I don’t want her to be “nice,” I want her to be kind and resilient and confident enough to tell people “no.” I want her to rescue and fight for her children, but also for causes she believes in.

Women are articulate, driven, caring, compassionate, loyal and brave, and our stories are incomplete when we water them down to merely being a body on a screen or a trophy to be won. Women are strong in lots of ways, and I want my daughter to be proud of so much more than her appearance.

So to those who thought Rey was unrealistic: there is nothing unrealistic about a woman standing up for herself. In fact, I hope we only continue to see more of it as we’re given new stories and role models to follow.

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