Patriarchy and Star Wars: The Mother Strikes Back

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SPOILER ALERT

I have been waiting to write this piece. After all, I really enjoyed Star Wars, The Force Awakens. It passes the Bechdel Test and Rey is a character of depth, strength and nuance. As for the originals, I grew up enjoying all three, especially Empire Strikes Back – a classic. But, like others, I was sorely disappointed by the prequels *spits*.

But the fact is that, along with Disney movies and others, the Star Wars franchise doesn’t like mothers very much. After all, in the Disney films, they are usually either dead, wicked or absent.

In Star Wars, they rarely get a mention: Padme died in childbirth; and Shmi was brutally killed after losing her son to the Galactic equivalent of boarding school. Yes, Anakin Skywalker was freed from slavery. But his mother wasn’t. It turns out the price to pay for training as a Jedi is that you are removed from your mother. In a galaxy far, far away, even if you’re not dead, you still don’t have much of a hand in raising your kids.

And we know how that affected Anakin, don’t we?

We know he was consumed by anger at being separated from his mother; he was seduced by the Dark Side in the wake of his mother’s murder by Sand People, but the cracks were already there. Hello Darth Vadar, we’ve been expecting you.

So, naturally, when Kylo Ren, the son of Leia Organa and Han Solo, was a child, what did the wise forces in the Star Wars universe do? Remove him, a child, from his mother; and train him as a Jedi away from his mother.

And look what happened. A young man, consumed with anger and hostility. His mother consumed with guilt at having sent him away.

And the fate of Rey? An apparent orphan – consumed with waiting, waiting, waiting, for someone to come to Jakku to find her, to return to her. We don’t know who. One thing we know is that, so far, there is no place for her mother. But we can suspect that she has a very, very important Father. That’s patriarchy for you. So yes, I enjoyed Star Wars. I look forward to the next sequel.

But for the moment, I introduce you to the Olorenshaw Test. A test for mothers in film:

A film passes this test if it:

  • Features a mother
  • Who has a name
  • Is alive
  • Who speaks to her child
  • Is or was involved in raising her children
  • Is not wicked, incompetent or inadequate

Just stop to think how many films pass this test. Erm. Wait. What about… Er. There was that film about… erm.

A film might be feminist. But it could still be patriarchal as hell.

Mother. Family. As Betty Friedan said in The Second Stage: Family is the New Feminist Frontier. Or have I confused Star Wars with Star Trek? Potato, Potarto.

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Pay Gap? Try Working for Free All Year Long

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Here is a link to my recent letter published by the Guardian about Polly Toynbee’s article on the ‘pay gap’. One of the things about the pay gap discussion is the tendency to forget the unwaged work done by mothers, often at great financial sacrifice and risk for her future economic security. Time to talk income, not pay; after all if your average feminist is incensed at ‘working for free’ from September to December, why is there not similar outrage about the unpaid work done by women from January?

“I read Polly Toynbee’s article with one foot in the school run and one nursing my youngest child. As a mother of two young children who has voluntarily taken time out of the workforce, my decision to forgo my income and career to raise my children must surely contribute to official figures which show that the pay gap between men and women is stubbornly persistent. I would certainly agree with Polly that caring work, traditionally done by women, is undervalued. However, we must go further: no more so than when the work is done for love not money by a mother herself, rather than outsourced to the market.

When it comes to the pay gap there is undoubtedly a significant issue of the period of time a woman spends in unwaged caring for her children. The fact is that caring and motherwork is not valued and is entirely unpaid under our market-driven economy. This failure by society to ensure that a woman is not financially impoverished for her choice to care for her family is at the root of the disparity in income between men and women.

Given that the objection to the pay gap is the relative loss of women’s income (caused in part by time out of the workforce) it is surely time to reflect on a universal basic income or a carer’s income – to ensure that women do not sacrifice financial security or parity in order to carry out the important work of family.

If the terminology changed to reflect this issue – so that we no longer talk about a “pay gap” but rather an “income gap” – then this predicament facing mothers would be more apparent.

As it is, talk of the pay gap is well and truly stuck within the rules of neoliberal capitalist individualism, with no room for valuing the extremely important work of care and childrearing”.