Real-Life Reys: A Dad's Love Letter to Fangirls

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While this article mentions many fangirls who I admire, it is by no means exhaustive. That’s the wonderful part of this celebration! For all the awesome fangirls I mention, there are thousands more who are equally amazing. From all the women working as a part of the Lucasfilm story group to the fan-moms raising our fangirls, they all show our little girls that they are invited to the intergalactic fun-fair that is Star Wars. They are all worthy of celebration and deserve our thanks.

 

Leia, Rey, Ahsoka, Padme, Satine, Jyn Erso, Duchess Satine, Hera, Sabine, and Bo Katan... after so many years (and in no small part, thanks to Dave Filoni and the crew of Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels) the amount of female characters in Star Wars is growing. In the far-flung past, our young girls only had Leia to look to to see themselves in a galaxy far, far away. As time has gone on (as a society, we’ve also begun to better realize the importance of varied representation in film and media), our littlest fangirls can now choose from a wider variety of female characters that might better reflect the many facets of their own personalities. As important as it is for our young women to see themselves represented in characters, it’s equally important that they see examples of themselves in real life. The fact that they can is one thing that makes me so proud to be a part of the Star Wars fan community. Our female fans can look at different actresses, voice actors, writers, artists, podcasters, and other female fans; and they can see someone who represents them. Each of these women are great role models for our young fangirls, and I often find myself pointing them out to my daughter and discussing how awesome they each are in their own unique way. In a world that sometimes tries to tell my daughter that she can’t like Star Wars because it’s for boys, it’s nice to be able to show my little one that Star Wars is in fact for everyone and provide examples of women who prove that Star Wars is for her. With that meager introduction, I want to celebrate some of my favorite fangirls who best exemplify what I hope my daughter will become as she grows up as a Star Wars fan.

Ashley Eckstein is well known for voicing the character of Ahsoka, who may just be the most famous Star Wars character creation of the last twenty years, but it may be her creation of Her Universe that has had the greatest impact on many women’s fandom. It was an act done with a caring heart. In an interview with The Mary Sue, Ashley describes how her search for a Star Wars shirt made for a woman revealed that there really were none. The real problem was not the lack of clothing options, but the message it was sending to young women:

“More importantly than just merchandise, what really spoke to me and what compelled me to make this happen was reading story after story in my research of fangirls being bullied for liking what they loved. There was one group of women in an online chat board who would pretend to be men just so they would be taken seriously. Granted, this was back in 2009 and so much has changed since then, but women felt like they couldn’t be themselves.”

Her Universe changed that. Because of her own rocky experiences with the geeky fashion scene and her love of fashion, Ashley Eckstein dared to try something unheard of: she made geeky clothing for women popular and commercially viable. In doing so, she contributed to a movement in fandom of appreciating and giving voice to fangirls. She cared because she had heard stories of girls who had been picked on and bullied for loving something that was supposedly only for boys. She’s a fashionable, cupcake-loving version of Batman, vowing to help fangirls around the world not have their own negative experiences with fandom. As a husband and father, I love that I am able to get emails showing the newest Star Wars fashion and share them with my wife and daughter. Lily has been blessed to receive multiple shirts featuring Leia, lightsabers, and even Salacious Crumb cupcakes from friends and family. Often she will answer my morning question of “What do you want to wear?” with “Star Wars,” and I am thankful to Ashley Eckstein for caring enough to make sure that my daughter and so many others can wear something made especially with them in mind.

If you do yourself the favor of watching The Star Wars Show and Rebels Recon each week, you already know that Andi Gutierrez is joyful. It’s written all over her face. As she and co-host Peter Townley share news, interview guests, and just plain nerd out over Star Wars, you can tell that she is having the time of her life. The best example of this may be from this summer’s coverage of Star Wars Celebration London. During one of the clips, Andi is surprised by Carrie Fisher. She is visibly shocked as she sits next to the princess at a replica of the Millennium Falcon’s dejarik table, but it’s in this shock that we can most clearly see her joy at being a part of Star Wars. She  couldn’t hide the happiness if she wanted. This exuberance is so easy to see that my six-year-old daughter (who admittedly is pretty brilliant) has caught on and started acting out her own Andi moments. More often than not, when Lily and I finish a play session with her Star Wars action figures, we end it with a pretty horrible, but lovable, acapella version of the Rebels Recon theme before she jumps into a very Andi-like recap of what we just played out. She will ask me questions about what I thought of the play session’s plot or how it feels to play a certain character, as if I were Steve Blum or Freddie Prinze, Jr. There’s no specific reason why Lily would do this except that Andi makes being a fan of Star Wars look like a party, and she’s the hostess inviting us all to come on in and have a ball on a weekly basis.

It’s just reality that getting involved professionally with Star Wars takes a lot of work. Sure, loving Star Wars probably helps quite a bit, but to be involved professionally, you have to be willing to work hard, take constructive criticism to heart, and revise to make your writing, podcasting, or whatever more entertaining and enlightening for your audience. Tricia Barr and Amy Ratcliffe have both worked their way up through the ranks of fandom to catch the eye of Lucasfilm, who must have been watching their rise with great interest. Tricia has been a fixture in fandom for a while now: founding and writing numerous blog posts for FANgirl Blog and helping lead the fantastic Fangirls Going Rogue podcast. The hard work paid off. Within the last couple of years, she wrote the encyclopedic tome Ultimate Star Wars with Adam Bray, Daniel Wallace, and Ryder Windham; and she has published numerous articles using Joseph Campbell’s philosophy to analyze the hero’s journey of multiple characters from the Star Wars saga in Star Wars Insider. Outside of Star Wars, she also authored a novel titled Wynde, and in the novel, you can see reflections of her love of a certain legendary galaxy that many of us will find familiar.

Amy Ratcliffe has followed a similar path. She has written articles for many different websites, such as IGN, io9, Nerd Approved, and Geek with Curves and participated in many different podcasts, including Lattes with Leia. By doing so, she has built up a portfolio of work that has lead to her working directly with Lucasfilm. She consistently writes great articles for Star Wars.com and last summer in London, she was a presenter hosting one of the stages at Star Wars Celebration London. Both of these women are extremely dedicated to their craft. If Lily were to ever want to podcast, write, or simply help build a stronger fan community, I can feel confident in pointing to these two women as examples of the drive it takes to be successful.

Something about Star Wars stirs the artistic soul in many of us. Whether it’s the visuals, the characters, or the enchanting themes of John Williams, it has inspired many of us to write, paint, compose, or orchestrate crazy Youtube videos to let out the spring of creative expression Star Wars started within us. Our little fangirls are the same way. One look at “Bantha Tracks” (the letter page for Star Wars Insider) will show you art from fanboys and fangirls depicting Rex blasting clankers, Ahsoka battling Vader, or Rey riding her speeder across the windswept sands of Jakku. For our artistic fangirls, Amy Beth Christenson is a great example of a female artist who is currently working in Star Wars. Amy Beth Christenson (or as Dave Filoni calls her, “ABC”) has been working in Star Wars for years. She began working at Lucasfilm in 2000, and during her time there, she contributed art for such fan-favorite games as The Force Unleashed and Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter before moving on to work with Dave Filoni at Lucasfilm Animation in 2011. Since then, Amy Beth Christenson has helped design the look of the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and now, Amy Beth Christenson continues to use her fantastic artistic vision to provide us with art for Star Wars: Rebels.  I’ve pointed out Amy Beth Christenson’s art to Lily as we’ve read various Star Wars: Rebels books, so she could see that other women like to draw Star Wars, too. As we drive home from daycare, Lily draws pictures of dinosaurs, animals, Pokemon, and TIE Fighters. I have a picture of her first AT-AT drawing in my classroom because it has her first written word, “AT-AT,” written above it. Who knows what may happen in the future? Perhaps that simple AT-AT will be the start of a career drawing Star Wars after Lily was inspired by great artists like Amy Beth Christenson.

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Art by Amy Beth Christenson used Courtesy of Lucasfilm

Other fangirls use their creative flair to weave together art of a different kind. Meg Humphrey, from Far, Far Away Radio’s Rogue Podron podcast, stitches and sews together all kinds of beautiful Star Wars-themed aprons, scarfs, and bags and sells them from her Etsy store and at various conventions. Lily loves to sew, and when she’s with her grandma, she often comes home with a patched together Pikachu, Dinosaur, or Tooka. I’m glad that she has so many sensational seamstresses that she can observe in our fandom and know that her love of creating with fabric and thread is one shared by many within Star Wars and beyond.

It’s a sad fact that in our fandom (and many others), women’s voices can sometimes be ignored or seen as less than those of their male counterparts. While the fact that this happens angers and offends me, I am blessed to know many awesome female fans who don’t put up with it. They continue to speak their minds, offering gentle (or sometimes not so gentle if that’s what’s called for) criticism for those who would either purposefully or accidentally muffle their voices. Over at Tosche Station, Nanci  and her husband Brian have been espousing for years that we need more diversity in Star Wars. I have heard them discuss numerous times how Star Wars needs more women characters and characters of different ethnicities and sexual orientations, and I am more than a little ashamed to admit that at first, I didn’t get it as I had always looked at fandom through my lens of a straight white male. I am glad that I kept listening because their voices eventually got through to me in a way that I will always be thankful for. They helped me reflect on other group’s experiences with Star Wars, and because of their discussions, I have gained a better understanding of groups that I want to continue to foster for the rest of my life. Within the last year, other women like Saf, a great fangirl who may in fact be a droid if the amount of podcasts and blogs she participates in is any indication, have also taught me much about groups of other sexual orientations than my own, and I firmly believe that this group needs more representation in Star Wars, too.

Becoming a father changed me. I began to think about the world that my daughter would grow up in, and I imagined (as imperfectly as I could) how our current world would look through her eyes, and when I looked at Star Wars, all I saw as role models were a princess from Alderaan, a queen from Naboo, and a Togruta apprentice. Nanci and Saf were right. It was not enough, and it never had been. While my perspective is limited (being a straight, fairly financially well-off, white male), I could now see how important it is that all people can look to the world and see themselves somewhere in it, whether it is in Star Wars or something else. Because of their influence upon me, I have been able to stand up and speak my mind more. As Lily and I have watched episodes of the animated series or trailers for the upcoming films, we talk about how cool it is that there are more women in them. We rejoice in the awesome characters of all ethnicities and walks. Things are improving, and I am proud of Lucasfilm for what they’ve done. I also know that there is a lot more to be done, but I am confident that voices like Nanci and Saf will continue to ring out for more diversity, and I hope that as she becomes older Lily’s voice won’t have to join ours, but if it does, I feel blessed to have great women that I can point to and tell my daughter that is a part of a much larger chorus that fights for greater equality for fans.

My daughter will never lack for female role models in fandom. That is an awesome statement to be able to make when that would have been a hard claim to make a decade ago. Because of the fangirls mentioned in this article, those not mentioned, and those she sees regularly (like my lovely wife and fangirl friends), Lily will always be able to point to a fangirl and say, “She uses her fandom to care for others. That fangirl’s fandom brings her unbelievable joy. That women is dedicated to experiencing and sharing her fandom on a deeper level. The art that fangirl creates is fantastic, and that fangirl is able to use her fandom as a way to speak out and stir a positive change in the world.” Lily will see these women doing great things, and when she grows up, she may follow in one or more of their footsteps. If she does, her way will have been made easier because of those who came before. For that and so much more, all fangirl-fathers should offer those fan-women in their life a ton of thanks.
What fangirl do you admire and why? Share out with us on Twitter at @mapplebee7567 and @farfarawayradio. Be sure to tag the fangirl you’re celebrating in the tweet, too. Let’s let all those awesome fangirls know how appreciated they are!