STEM Wars: Can the Force Awaken Change for More Women in Science?

It took less than a month for Star Wars: The Force Awakens to smash through the record books. The latest edition of the beloved epic series surpassed the $1.56 billion earnings mark and became the top-grossing film in North America.

With all eyes on when (not if) the film will take over the No. 1 spot in global earnings, it’s the pioneering content of this latest edition of the decades-old saga that intrigues me most.

Los Angeles Times film writer Rebecca Keegan captured the sentiment with a short but telling tweet:

“Among its many wonderful qualities, STAR WARS: The FORCE AWAKENS passes the Bechdel test.”

The Bechdel test is a simple benchmark about the depiction of women characters in films and other fictional works. The criterion is simple: Are at least two women characters featured who talk to each other about something other than a man?

The concept is actually inspired by an approach to exploring literature introduced by pioneering author Virginia Wolf. Wolf described the prevalence of the concept in the writings of her time.

In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Princess Leia (played by Carrie Fisher) is a respected general in the Resistance, and the new star of the franchise, Rey (played by Daisy Ridley), is a scrappy, resourceful, young woman warrior.

What’s crucial about this blockbuster passing the Bechdel test is the power it holds to influence a whole new generation of pop culture consumers on gender representations. This film gives women — and men — an opportunity to see women as adventurers and leaders in the infinite world of science fiction.

Imagery and role models are so important. I heard this point made over and over at a recent gathering of women scientists and state and national politicians who gathered on our campus to talk about how —> Read More