Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Origins of the Slave Leia Costume

There's a lot of talk going around the intarwebs this week about the "Oh, You Sexy Geek" panel at San Diego Comic Con.  Basically, this was supposed to address the implications of the 'sexy women' in nerd culture.  Unsurprisingly, the chicks who make money by prancing around wearing teensy skimpy costumes felt that prancing around wearing teensy skimpy costumes had no negative connotations whatsoever.  (I am Jack's total lack of surprise.)  Here's an especially mind-boggling recap of how things went down.

You know what gets me, though?  This line, "Bonnie Burton and Adrianne Curry mused that women who were critical of sexy geek culture in any way were just jealous, had no confidence, and were projecting their issues with self-esteem onto the women who felt empowered by walking the Comic-Con floor in a Slave Leia costume."

Empowerment.  Really?  Let's take a look at the origins of that costume, shall we?

Princess Leia is the adoptive daughter of a very powerful man.  Bail Organa is the head of the royal family of Alderaan and one of the founding members of the Rebellion against the Empire.  Leia is a senator in her own right, and is a willing spy for the Rebellion despite the terrible personal risk.  When she is captured by Darth Vader, she has the grit to stand up to him when many lesser people would have melted into a puddle of quivering jello.  Vader has her tortured and she didn't crack.  The destruction of her entire world only pisses her off and makes her that much more determined to bring down the Empire.  

I think it's fair to say that Leia is a tough, capable, brave, kickass woman.

When Jabba the Hut captures her on Tatooine, he decides to make her one of his scantily clad slave girls.  He puts her in a revealing outfit and chains her to his couch.  He does this to humiliate her, to show that he's brought the great Princess Leia low by reducing her from all her status and accomplishments to little more than a sex toy on a chain.  This is the disempowerment of a strong woman.  That's the entire point of this costume - shame, humiliation, ownership, control.  He wants to make her less.  Do you know what Leia's reaction was to this treatment?  At the first opportunity, she took the chain that bound her and strangled Jabba with it.  

Let me reiterate that point:  Leia murdered the person who forced her into that outfit.  

All that bullshit about wearing this costume for the purpose of some bizarre kind of empowerment is just that - bullshit.  I'm not saying don't wear the costume, mind you.  By all means, do your thing.  Wear it because you love how it looks on you.  Wear it because you feel good doing it.  Wear it because it's fun or you love Star Wars or for the irony or for any reason or for no particular reason at all.  But don't ever let anyone tell you that it's about empowerment or that you're striking some blow for women's rights.  When people (men or women) see you in that costume, they aren't thinking, "Wow, she looks like a strong, capable individual.  I really respect her!"  

To those panelists who think it's jealousy or poor self-esteem or women being 'bitchy' when they are unhappy about this and other scanty little costumes, I say this:  Attention is not empowerment.  Never confuse the two.  And maybe try to refrain from being snarky to the women who can tell the difference, even if you can't.
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  1. Empowerment is being able to do the things you want against the wishes of others.

    Personally, I take a dim view of people who say others should or should not dress a certain way.

  2. Well, there's no should or shouldn't in this article. Just context around the actuality of what you're wearing and what it does - and doesn't - mean when you do wear it.

    This panel made it sound like you were practically a suffragette for busting out this outfit and anyone who said otherwise for any reason at all was a jealous, insecure bitch. That's what I take a dim view of.

  3. Geez, the panel certainly sounds disappointing. I'm proud Seth Green got up and spoke about the role media plays in the whole situation.

    I've gotta say, though, that dressing in alluring costumes is empowering in that it may give the wearer influence over the thoughts and actions of others. However (and this is a big however) THE POWER IT PROVIDES IS EXTREMELY LIMITED IN SCOPE. The problem lies in viewing sexual attractiveness as the sole way a woman may exert influence on others or that it's the most formidable tool in her arsenal. Focusing on her ability to allure can lead to devaluing the other ways she can influence those around her whether it's through her creativity, knowledge, personality, or savvy.

  4. Maybe I don't understand what the panel was about. It's kind of hard to get past the "oh hai I can puts it in u?" guy.

  5. The thing about that guy is that he brought the panel right back down to where it should have started - the idea that most men see the 'sexy geek' as merely something you put your dick in. Here's this group of women saying there's no harm in the scanty costumes, it's empowering for women, it's not sending the wrong message, it's okay if a 7 year old wants to dress like that, any woman who disapproves is just projecting her issues, etc. Then here comes Brodude all like, "Hey, chicks I'd like to ball, what up!?" It's not like it's just this one guy, either. I'd say that for every Seth Green, there's 10,000 guys like Brodude. That's the issue. That's the harm. That's who you're letting your 7 year old dress up to tantalize.

    I'm just as glad for Brodude as for Seth Green. They illustrate both the problem and the solution.

  6. Dammit... I know I responded to this.

    What exactly was the panel supposed to cover, (Media literacy? Booth Babes? Olivia Munn type Agent Provocateurs? ConAttendies in Cosplay? the "pandering" argument?) Coz it's way more of a complicated issue then it seems like it should be on the outset.

    Women forced to dress scantily for their corporate overlords, Booth Babes and the like Laurie I completely agree with your article. It's not empowering, it's the exact opposite. This was something that was completely left out of the bullshit pandering argument, the companies that pay women to prance around for their own gains. I donn't mind Olivia Munn. Game Recognizes Game and I'm not going to be mad at her for being in the niche she was. I have a problem with G4 because they don't offer nerdy girls with substance, just a pretty face and dick jokes. The Force has a strong influence on weaker minds.

    Con going cosplayers should be hands off, imho. Somebody that likes to sew or just dress up... They paid for the con, they put time, money or both into an outfit. For some folks it is what it is, just a good time to dress up and have fun, especially for roleplayers. Cons are a perfect excuse to dress up and release and an appropriate venue to dress how you want. Which leads to the bigger issue of...

    Media Literacy... It's 2011 and the powers that be over at DC are still fettering over whether Wonder Woman is going to wear pants or not. That's an issue. Slave Leia being the standard bear for how nerdy girls dress at a con... That's an issue. The fact that there still aren't enough Iconic women in SciFi to dress up as in intricate costumes or armor, that it always comes down flesh being shown... That's an issue. I didn't listen to Seth Greens spiel but I'm guessing it was something like that.

    Chris Gore needs to die in a fire. Bonnie Burton's first book was about girls getting along with girls, she should know better. And Adrienne Curry... REALLY? I don't even know where to start with that head case.

  7. I don't know if a 7 year old in slave Leia getup is ok or not, but it does send a different message from a 25 year old.

    I won't pretend I don't go to my happy place when I see an (adult) slave Leia, but it's just a bikini. I'm looking at my feet and mumbling nervously more because shes being nerdy than the skin.

    Whether that's empowering or not is up to her.

  8. YES. Yes to this. And I think it's really fascinating that the slave Leia costume is much more popular at cons than the white one. Why? I definitely don't think it's because she's more empowered as a slave than a princess.

  9. As Katie said:

    "And I think it's really fascinating that the slave Leia costume is much more popular at cons than the white one. Why? I definitely don't think it's because she's more empowered as a slave than a princess."

    Absolutely! It's a no-brainer.


  10. Worth noting: Bonnie is an employee of Lucas Arts and a public face of their company. Even if her personal opinion was otherwise (which we have no way of knowing), it's doubtful she would critique the slave Leia costume on a panel at SDCC.

  11. Just want to say that this is exactly how I feel about the Slave Leia outfit. A person can wear it because they want to, but it is in no way empowering. They miss the point that the character is the one to admire. Not the clothing.

    I love this site and hope to continue to visit. I run GamingAngels.com, and will definitely come by more in the future!

  12. I commented on the iFanboy site about this issue already, so I'll bring up a different point here:

    I think there is a double standard in comedy when it comes to vulgar jokes. Gore said he'd like to stick his d*** in every one of the panelist and it seems many women took offense to that. Yet, when Bonnie Burton joked about the 7 year old asking if she "looked hot" (in the Leia outfit) people seemed to acknowledge that as humorous. It was funny because it was unexpected, just like Gore's joke on a panel regarding feminist strength and perception. I'm not saying Gore is funny or not, I am just pointing out that people seemed to have attacked the comedy in an nonequivalent way.

  13. Re: "Yet, when Bonnie Burton joked about the 7 year old asking if she 'looked hot' (in the Leia outfit) people seemed to acknowledge that as humorous."

    I don't know the context, but, as presented, I don't find it humorous. Sexualizing seven year olds isn't funny, and for a young girl to wonder if she looks hot is sad.


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  15. I missed the first part of the panel so I'm not entirely sure what the specifics of the 7 year-old Leia conversation was, but a few days before the con I jokingly tweeted this pic to Kat of me as Slave Leia at age 12.

    I don't know for sure that's what she was talking about, but as a young girl who did dress up in that now-controversial outfit, I was certainly not interested in being sexy or even necessarily aware that it was a sexy outfit at the time. I think I just felt that Leia as a character was most active/coolest in the Jabba's Palace sequence.

  16. Also, I'm curious: I don't remember seeing a lot of haterade about the Slave Leia costume until Olivia Munn wore it (which we can all agree was desperate pandering, right?) a few years ago. Was the costume still a big deal pre-Munn?

  17. @Elle: That's a really good question and I've been pondering it all morning.

    I think it's all about the deviation in female contribution to genre that have manifested in the last five years or so.

    Olivia Munn is sort of the poster child for the mainstreaming of the 'sexy geek' trope. G4 really sells that sort of thing very hard, and Munn is their most prominent face for it. So, when she put on that costume, it made it a bigger deal than it used to be. It stopped being something that was once the purview of cons and started being more of a symbol of how 'sexy' geeks can be.

    The problem lies in the fact that Munn isn't the real deal. She's a beautiful model who puts on costumes and jumps into pies for money. This led to more beautiful models co-opting this and other scanty costumes from the fantasy, sci-fi, and superhero genres because it's lucrative. This was a niche that hadn't been filled. It's the same thing as having beautiful women selling cars or the girls on The Price is Right. It is also the next logical evolutionary step up (or down) from booth babes.

    On the other end of the spectrum, you have someone like Felicia Day who may dress in a skimpy costume now and then but it's never egregious. She's primarily creating, collaborating on, and starring in genre stuff. This critical difference is lost on a lot of people but she's someone with boobs who's adding more than just those boobs to the geek culture.

    Smack in the middle is someone like Clare Grant. Grant is undeniably beautiful and uses that as a major draw for her viewers. However, she's also creating some interesting stuff with Team Unicorn and while a lot of it works the boobs angle, some of it is quality genre stuff. Their Zombie PSA video, for example, is awesome. She's either Munn+ or Day-, I can't decide.

    So, I think it comes down to the changing role of women in geek culture and how easy it is to embrace the Munn ideal of it - all you have to be is pretty and in good shape. It's a lot harder to be a Day or a Grant, women who actually add value. Munn in that costume symbolizes that schism.

  18. I've always seen the Slave Girl outfit as it is: something that Jabba the Hutt made her wear against her will. Leia was still one of the coolest people in Star Wars. She was a princess, she was a good aim with a gun. Darth Vader threathen to blow up her planet if she didn't tell them where the rebellion was and she STILL lied! By the point of the triolgy that she was wearing the Slave Girl outfit, Leia had already proven that she was a strong, smart woman and pretty to boot. If she was a ditz who was just there for eye candy *cough* Megan Fox*cough* and walked around dressed like that, then yes, I would have problems with the outfit.

    Frankly, the first time I saw ROTJ, I wasn't thinking "Wow, she's really empowering young girls by wearing that". I was thinking "I'd kill him to if I'd have to wear that thing too" and "Do I want to marry Luke or Han".

    Also, in a world with peodophiles, no, a 7-year old slave girl outfit is not appropriate!!

  19. I feel the same way about the slave Leia costume, but I feel that there are other so called 'sexy' cosplay outfits can be be empowering. It all depends on the character.

  20. so you're saying you should judge female behaviour by how many men look at it and go "I respect her"?

    a power is just an ability. Being empowered means getting an ability. No action is solely empowering or disempowering.

    Wearing a slave costume may disempower you from getting some people's respect, but it will empower you to get positive attention and respect from some other people.

  21. I know this is an older post but I am surprised no one has pointed out that Leia also killed Jabba wearing the slave girl garb. Jabba tried to humiliate her into submission but she remained strong and used her chains to choke her captor. That seems pretty empowered.