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Tarah Ashmore

Revised Draft: MWA1


English 120
Coach Matthew Irwin
The Force Awakens through the lens of social Justice involving Gender Roles
Gender roles have changed society as a whole, and a big part of that change takes place in
the film industry today. The problem that arises from the lack of female characters in film and in
society today is a concern that women do not get the recognition they deserve. In my literary
analysis I will be addressing gender roles and how Reys character from the new Star Wars film
illustrates the importance of diversity for lead female protagonist in films today. Throughout my
essay I will be focusing on not only how Star Wars The Force Awakens has redefines gender
roles but rather focus on how there is a shift in gender roles in film today. Through my analysis
of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I noticed a shift of gender roles and societies view on gender
roles based off of Reys character in the movie has ultimately shed light through the lens of
social justice . The film establishes a whole new direction for equal opportunity and is able to
address gender roles, and suppress the ideas and negativity that comes along with defining
gender roles. Other examples of dominant roles played by female characters are The Hunger
Games which is based off of a strong independent female lead in Jennifer Lawrence, and
Divergent played by Shailene Woodley. I will be comparing how films such as Star Wars the
Force Awakens, The Hunger Games, and Divergent and use that as an example of shifting gender
roles while comparing it to other Sci-Fi films in the past and the present. These films are
valuable to changing how society views men and women and proves to a wide variety of

audience that gender roles are overrated and there should not be such a thing as masculinity
and Feminine. Reys character creates this new foundation that is continuing to become more
influential to major topics in society including gender roles. It can only continue to expand our
minds that men and women should be treated as equal based on capability and not appearance or
stereotypes. Reys character notion s change and suppresses how society views men and women
and what they capable of doing and how they should act. Reys character in the film defines
gender roles, yet we see an uprising of other lead female roles in the film industry today. Reys
character develops from beginning to end and ultimately goes against traditional norms when it
comes to gender roles. J.J Abram addresses Reys character through the lens of social justice and
Star Wars the Force Awakens takes a different direction from previous Star Wars films and sends
a message that the rise of lead female roles is becoming an epidemic in films today and I will be
addressing why that is. Throughout my essay I will be addressing Reys character and her
importance to the film while comparing it to other strong female leads in Sci-Fi.
Star Wars the Force Awakens is the seventh installment in the main Star Wars film series,
and takes place thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire. New challenges arise and the
Resistance joins forces with new characters such as Finn and Rey. The galaxy faces a new threat
from Kylo Ren and the First Order in their quest to discover the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker.
Finn and Rey join forces with Han Solo and Princess Leia, Chewbacca, and face many battles
along the way. The last remaining Jedi, Luke Skywalker has disappeared and Rey is currently
discovering the force within her. Kylo Ren is son of Han Solo and Princess Leia and Reys
character acts a strong threat against Kylo Ren in the film. Rey character is completely selfsufficient and Finn and Rey ultimately form a strong bond in the battle between good and bad
(Abram, 2015). With the absence of Luke Skywalker Reys character becomes the dominant lead

role in Star Wars the Force Awakens. Gender roles have switched in the seventh installment
which has not been done before in any other Star Wars movies.
Star Wars introduces Reys character early on in the film and throughout the movie she is
able to do just as much if not more than any man, while living in a world full of chaos. Reys
character is a strong, fearless, and very intelligent scavenger who has been through a fair share of
struggles. One of those struggles being she has to wait for her family to return to Jakku, and try
to survive on her own. She is relentless and self-sufficient and the film early on switches gender
roles and focuses on the importance of Reys character. Time and time again she is able to hold
her own while trying to survive in any way she can. For example there are a few scenes in the
film when she has to hunt for scraps just to get food supply, and water. Another scene is when
she is captured by The First Order, and she is able to escape on her own. The First Order is
controlled by Supreme leader Snoke and Kylo Ren. Rey constantly comes into contact with The
First Order yet she is able to stand on her own given she has help from Finn and Han Solo a
leader in the Resistance. A scene that really defines her character is when she is taken by The
First Order and ultimately realizes she is a powerful Jedi. To everyones surprise she proves that
she has the force within her and is able to do just as much as any previous male Jedis (Abram,
2015). Reys character redefines change and J.J Abram is able to change the familiarity of what
fans are used to seeing in a positive light. Change advocates the ability to expand our minds
about something in particular. Gender roles t set behaviors and expectation on how we are
supposed to act based on gender alone. According to Childs Reys character is pivotal to the film
and shows how we continue to embrace equal opportunity and diversity. Rey comes from little to
nothing yet proves herself, to be an intelligent role model who brings diversity to the force
(Child, 2015).

With gender roles comes controversy and Reys character shapes the way for women
everywhere. Let me start by defining what a gender role is. A gender role is a particular image
that one must uphold based on gender (Ressler-Culp, 2014). It is defined as what type of
behaviors and is considered appropriate. Society often times has these fixed ideas on what is
considered to be masculine and feminine and Star Wars was able to reduce those ideas by
adding Reys character into the mix. Adding Reys character as a lead role enhances the overall
diversity of the film. Star Wars has always focused on dominant male characters including strong
Jedis, and even Darth Vader. It is important to look at both sides of the argument when talking
about gender roles (Berlatsky, 2013).Gender roles are so heavily focused on, and society gets so
caught up in the idea that women are care takers, they are stay at home moms who do all of the
cooking and cleaning. Men are the strong ones, they bring in the money, and they are capable of
doing a lot more than women. The series undergoes many battles, adventures, and even in a
sense politics between Rey and Kylo Ren in the concluding battle between good and evil
(Abrams,2015).
In previous Star Wars Movies and other Sci-Fi films we are used to seeing the hero
played by a male. Before Reys character the only other strong female lead was played by
Princess Leia. Anyone who has seen previous Star Wars Films knows that Princess Leia is one of
the resistance strongest leaders, who is fearless, and not afraid of anything in her way. Although
there are some differences between the two characters they are both act as threats against the
dark side. Princess Leia was the only quality female character early on and seemed to exist
through Han Solo and Luke Skywalker. As for Reys character there is no romance in the mixed,
she is discovering the force within her on her own with no help need from any man. Since Star
Wars the Force Awakens first debuted strong female leads have evolved. Meaning films with

strong female roles are become evident, and are redefining gender roles. The Hunger Games and
Divergent are examples of two films that also have strong, independent female roles. Characters
such as Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior embrace the spotlight rather than having men engaged in
all the fighting. It is becoming more acceptable for women in films to play the hero in Sci-Fi
films.
The background of the previous Star Wars films focuses primarily on the male Jetis such
as Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and even Darth Vadar rather than its purpose to convey a wide
range of diversity when integrating female roles. The force Awakens breaks the rules and made
the point of identification for any gender. Stars Wars has been known to be timid in its approach
to gender equality (Berlatsky).Star Wars takes a step back and uses Reys character as a positive
way to transform the stereotypical idea of how a male character should act in a movie and how a
female character should act. You could easily argue that Reys character goes against your typical
norm or behaviors that are considered to be acceptable based on gender. I think films need a lot
more it. In films today you often see the typical male hero whereas the female heroes tend to go
unnoticed because nobody brings attention to the female character. Star Wars: The Force
Awakens has brought attention and has surfaced overall change in the way we perceive gender
roles in films.
It is important to realize how the roles of men and women in society are constantly
changing because of the film industry. In this particular article Laura Bradley emphasizes how
crucial Rey is as a character to the film. Star Wars: The Force Awakens is interesting to a wide
range of fans including the franchises female audience. Previous Star Wars have been known to
target a specific audience, and they use mostly male characters in the films (Bradley, 2015).
From the beginning to the latest Star Wars Film you see constant change from one movie leading

up to The Force Awakens.. Ben Childs goes on to say that Star Wars is known as a boys
thing with the familiar faces including Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo as major lead roles.
Star War can be a film for any gender and should focus so heavily towards gender. The Force
Awakens is actually very female friendly and women are able to relate to what going on. Stars
Wars: The Force Awakens is really female-friendly and introduces women in a positive spotlight.
Besides Princess Leia, most female characters only speak for 63 seconds of the 386 minute
original trilogy. The Force Awakens takes a noticeable change of direction, in the opening twenty
minutes of the film (Child, 2015). J.J Abrams brings about a New Feel to The Force Awakens
and continues advocate change and diversity in Sci-Fi today (Bradley, 2015). Any Star Wars fan
has an ideal image of what gender a Jedi should be based on an ideal image" of what a Jedi
looks like. We automatically assume that a Jedi has to be masculine in order to fit a certain
image. We define gender roles as a public image rather than a capability of being able to get the
job done not matter if you are male or female.
Films in the movie industry today have brought attention to female roles overall. As more
and more films come out we see more diversity among character and gender roles. For example
two other films in the industry that have recently taken over are played by two female
protagonists which are The Hunger Games, and Divergent. Both Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior
have also had key roles that have shaped women as being strong and independent and not in need
of a man. Reys character fits into the ideal image of a strong and independent character just like
Katniss andTris. Each character has to prove themselves and has to fight for survival. It is
encouraging to see that women are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Whether they are
escaping The First Order, or fighting in the Hunger Games, or proving it has what it takes to be
in the divergent fraction. Women should not be held to lower standards than men because women

are very capable of a greater purpose. People respond to films that advocate strong female roles
because you do not see it very often in the film industry. Empowering women to set high
standards is very important, and you see very little of that due to gender roles based on ideal
limitations.
Star Wars has shifted and redefined gender roles that are so heavily placed on society as a
whole. Rey is a young woman and she is able to fight off her aggressor which is very uncommon
in films that are so fixated on male heroes. Also a lead role played by a woman steps outside the
lines because she is able to do just as much as a male character. From the beginning it is clear
that the film conveys equal opportunity. Women are often times overlooked based on gender
alone. Mens Right enthusiast in previous films have dismissed female action heroes. They
strongly agree that women are physically weaker than men and they are not capable of defending
themselves. You see more strong female leads in Stars Wars: The Force Awakens. According to
Child another character that arises in the film, and is proven to be very wise and intelligent is
Maz Kanata (Child, 2015). Star Wars has branched out with many other female characters.
Examples include lead roles played by Maz Kanata is a smuggler in the film and is very wise and
intelligent for her old age (Abrams, 2015). Princess Leia is obviously another strong female lead
from previous Star Wars film and continues to be the face of the beloved film. She plays a
powerful military general in the Resistance. Captain Phasma is on the opposite side of the
spectrum but yet plays a fierce leader. This goes to show that the importance of female characters
is rising and J.J Abrams enhances the diversity among gender.
The lack of Rey action figures also shows how gender roles play a huge part in
merchandizing the film. Star Wars: The Force Awakens has already earned 800 million dollars in
box office sales since its release. According to Walt Disney the money not only is based off of

box offices sales, but a staggering number of sales is being made on merchandise alone (Davis,
n.d). Toy makers left out Rey and it goes to show that society has these ideal images of Star Wars
character. Rey is the woman protagonist in the new film The Force Awakens. The figurines
that had been released included Chewbacca, as well as a handful of other male characters in the
movie. The new Monopoly game even failed to include Rey as a game piece. The outrage
became very apparent through social media and Disney as well. Tweets that hash tagged
#WheresRey focused on highlighting gender disparity in merchandise sold. Rey is considered to
be a true breakout hero according to Elissa Margolis. Gender roles play a huge part in why
little to no Rey action figures were sold (Davis, n.d). Many people think that young boys are
supposed to play with action figures, and other male characters. That shows you just how much
society focuses on gender roles, and how merchandisers will do anything to get money. They
target young boys and they think boy characters will sell more than female characters. Many
people think that by playing with a girl action figure it goes against the standard norm. Fact of
the matter is that Rey is the main character in The Force Awakens (Davis, n.d).
Star Wars: The Force Awakens addresses many issues involving gender roles in film
today, and changes the notion of gender roles in society while shifting gender roles originally
played by men. As the film industry continues to expand on the lens of social justice issues
movies like Star Wars ultimately expands the minds of fans nationwide. We see characters like
Rey that challenge norms set by society, and that represent women as being equal to men. I think
that Reys character represents females in film today and paves the way for future generations in
a positive light. Throughout the film she is able to do just as much as any former Jeti if not better.
Society has fixed ideas on what we define as Masculine and Feminine and those ideas need
to be silenced. Examples of strong female leads make for a stronger argument that women can be

equivalent to men. As I mentioned in the beginning Reys character creates this new foundation
that is continuing to become more influential to major topics in society including gender roles. It
can only continue to expand our minds that men and women should be treated as equal based on
capability and not appearance or stereotypes. By getting to analyze Star Wars: The Force
Awakens we can look at how J.J Abram is able to really expand the minds and create a character
who does not fit a perfect mold yet realizing that is okay. By using sources from popular
literature we see both sides through the lens of social justice. Reys character paves the way for
change in gender roles throughout films today, and goes against traditional norms when talking
about the importance of gender roles. Reys character in the film defines gender roles, yet we
will continue to see an uprising and acceptance of other lead female roles in the film industry in
the future.

Works Cited
Berlatsky, Noah. Star Wars Needs a New Approach to Gender-Not Just More Women.
Thealantic, 19 Feb. 2013. Web. 27 Jan 2016.
Bradley, Laura. The Force Awakens is the Movie Female Star Wars Fans Have Awaited for
Years. Slate, 21 Dec. 2015. Web. 27, Jan. 2016.
Child, Ben. Is Star Wars: The Force Awakens really female-friendly?. Theguardian, 16 Dec.
2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.
Culp-Ressler, Tara. Forcing Kids To Stick To Gender Roles Can Actually Be Harmful To Their
Health. ThinkProgress RSS. 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.
Davis, Cindy. Heres The Ugly Truth About Why Rey Was Missing From Star Wars
Merchandise. Bust, n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2016.
Star Wars:The Force Awakens. Dir. J.J Abrams. Perf. Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher and Daisy
Ridley and John Boyega. Lucasfilm, 2015. DVD.