Mild movie spoiler alert: This article reveals information about characters who appear in the film as well as information about character family ties. It does not reveal any information about story climaxes or how the film resolves.
Did you notice the contrast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens? I don’t mean the vintage sets vs. CGI, or how the prequel and the original films were melted into one. I’m not referring to Vader’s complexity vs. Kylo Ren’s unexplained emptiness or even Lucas’s tight plots vs. Disney’s simplistic story loopholes. The deeper messages in the film were the contrasts between the heart-skipping chemistry between the mature Han and Leia vs. the hollow, parched dynamics between the young Rey and Finn; the contrast between the strong, proud, compassion of General Leia vs. the hostile, aloof and disconnected Rey; and the contrast between the confident, masterful and tender Han Solo vs. the bumbling Finn who repeatedly sacrificed himself for a woman who only “friend zones” him in the end.
The two generations of us who are old enough to have been alive when the original three Star Wars films emblazoned their genius into our pop-cultural legacy appreciate the nostalgia of Han and Leia’s warm embrace. We feel the passion behind their brief exchanges and the decades of their love and devotion towards one another in their reunion. The unconditional love that they exude for their son, despite his descent into the “Dark Side”, is enough to bring tears to our eyes when we reflect on the love we feel for our own children. However, the youngest generations, the Millennials, as well as the first arrivals of the yet undefined new cohort, are internalizing very different messages about love, connection, sacrifice and the beauty and richness of both maleness and femaleness. They aren’t looking to the mature characters as their role models or heroes, but to the young and anxious Finn and Rey, who embody the new unhealthy gender dynamic: The young female who believes she must be hostile, rejecting and cold in order to assert her strength and relevance and the young male who clumsily acts as if he must apologize for his existence, his maleness, his intellect, his emotions, his needs and his pain while he chases after the type of female who will only confirm his sense of irrelevance.
There is an additional, more insidious contrast in Star Wars 7 that expands these unhealthy gender dynamics to the darkest realm of the Dark Side: The insinuation, through dialogue, struggle and drama, that Kylo Ren’s invasive use of The Force on Rey, a woman, was more violating than when used just as violently on Resistance pilot, Po, a man. Likewise, violence against males was presented as collateral damage and even suggestively comedic, while Rey’s vulnerability to harm was always the cliffhanger.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens certainly isn’t alone in feeding this unhealthy Millennial gender dynamic; I can’t seem to escape encountering it. It saturates the philosophy of nearly every social institution and popular media source, from the education industry to the health and human services, right down to every type of media entertainment that we ingest. On the surface, these media and cultural messages seem benign to the general population: Are they not “empowering” women? Even if hostility, aloofness and rejection were the definitions of being “empowered” (which they are not), what are these cultural messages depicting about men? Are boys being showed role models of men being “empowered”; their needs and feelings important to be considered? Is male suffering and violation treated as egregiously wrong as female suffering and violation? Are boys shown men who are confident, competent, masterful and who are also respected for being vulnerable? Are boys shown males being loved for who they are rather than given only brief admiration for when they “change” or sacrifice their bodies? Or are boys primarily shown men in roles of being shamed, of being dangerous, of being mocked or of being beaten or murdered as punishments for their “badness”?
The consequences go beyond mere entertainment laughs. The incessant derision of males and the promotion of female hostility is having serious repercussions for our culture: Natural boy behavior is pathologized in schools, causing boys to be prescribed mind-altering psychotropic drugs in epidemic numbers. Young men are subverting higher education as campuses have become increasingly hostile to young males, viewing them as sexual predators and obstacles to women. Empirical research has shown that sexual and domestic violence by females against males is equal to or has surpassed male violence against women. While innumerable organizations and campaigns are in place to empower girls and women, and to bring attention to violence against females, there are no such counterparts to empower boys and men and bring attention to violence against males. Most tragically, 80% of all suicide victims are men and boys.
Take a look at your vulnerable children and realize that a worldview is being formed from the gender messages they internalize from the media and the culture. This worldview is not only shaping how they think of themselves and how they treat others, but it is shaping the future of our society in a direction of disconnection, mental illness and suffering, not peace, unity and empowerment for all people. Boycotting media sources and walking away from campaigns and institutions that promote disunity and hostility between females and males or that exclude males from empowerment, concern and protection, is the fastest way to make systemic changes. Opening up a dialogue with your children while pointing out these damaging gender dynamics when you observe them, is also crucial.
What makes Star Wars: The Force Awakens so unique is that the unhealthy male/female dynamics in the movie didn’t stand alone as the only possibility: There was a contrast between the messages being presented to and internalized by four generations of fans, between connection vs. rejection; confidence vs. insecurity; strength vs. aggression and unconditional love vs. selfishness. I only hope that the older generations are aware that the younger generations need more positive gender and relationship heroes than those represented by Rey and Finn.
Laurie A. Couture, LMHC is the author of Instead of Medicating and Punishing as well as a holistic parenting and alternative education coach with a background as a youth and family mental health counselor. She has been featured in the films, Class Dismissed and The War on Kids. To learn more, visit: www.LaurieACouture.com
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