Disney’s alleged plans to ax all Slave Leia merch from existence has had the Internet abuzz. Some argue it’s high time the most infamous bikini in pop culture history is no longer celebrated, that it’s “objectifying” or “sexist,” it “takes away her agency” or that the over-sexualization of Leia is inappropriate for Star Wars. Yada, yada, yada.
If said rumor turns out to be true, I think it’s the wrong move by Disney, and one that is not only unjustified, but also sets off a bigger issue than the imaginary one it never caused in the first place. After all is said and done, it’s the act of banning or discontinuing merchandise with Leia in a metal bikini that truly objectifies her, not the existence of it. Try to follow.
First, it’s important that everyone knows and understands the actual definition of sexual objectification. It’s the act of treating a person as an instrument of sexual pleasure instead of an individual with a complex personality or desires of their own. Objectification more broadly means treating a person as a commodity or an object without regard to their dignity.The only argument that could maybe be made for Leia being treated or viewed as a sexual object would be by saying Jabba was doing so in Return of The Jedi. But as Bonnie Burton expertly broke down in our Fangrrls Hangout (which you should view immediately), Jabba didn’t so much see her as a sex object rather than as a pet. Bonnie also revealed her in-depth knowledge about Hutt sex, but this is neither the time nor place for that.
On the slim chance Jabba did, in fact, see Leia as a sex object, within the entire context of Star Wars it was the only time that character was potentially viewed in such a manner. Throughout the rest of the trilogy, Leia was a dominant political figure and Rebellion leader. I broke down why Leia is the hero all little girls need earlier this year, and it’s those same reasons why it’s laughable to suggest she was nothing more than eye candy. Sure, that metal bikini may have made legions of young fanboys seeing the hardened princess in a different light, but the context of that scene had little to nothing to do with sex to anyone other than the viewers who chose to see it that way, which at best is an example of sexual subjectification, not objectification. The difference being that Leia’s sexuality, while clearly evident, was not what drove her story arc. It wasn’t her sole or primary function. She still had power, which she proved by taking the very chain Jabba had her on to strangle him to death before jumping on the cannon and blowing up his ship.
More importantly, if Disney does make this extreme move to wipe Leia’s metal bikini from future existence, it’s only reinforcing society’s weird hangups about sex and sexuality. It’s feeding into the misguided and unfair belief that a woman’s body should only be viewed with the intention or thought of sex. That she has to stay covered up, frumpy, unattractive, or demure in order to be taken seriously. That a woman's body, even if it is sexual to some, cannot also be strong and capable, when in reality it is all those things and more. It's that same backwards mentality that sees stricter dress codes for schoolgirls, claiming that their bare shoulders or legs are too distracting to male students, which in turn creates the dynamic of females as tormenting temptresses and males as being unable to control their hormones or sexual urges. It feeds into the exact culture that the bikini backlash is allegedly about. But like most extreme views that see censorship as a solution, they become the very thing they claim to be against. And exactly what kind of message is that sending to female fans?
It's not on Disney to make fans feel less awkward about a character's sexuality, nor is removing evidence of "Slave Leia" from the shelves going to do anything other than serve as ammo for a bunch of misguided MRAs to be a bunch of abusive d***s on social media. What has to, and should be done, is a change in how we as a culture and socitey talk about, and view, sex and women's bodies.
The important move is for fans to stop referring to her as "Slave Leia". I know it’s based on the packaging, where all toys with her in that outfit are labeled “slave outfit”. Disney could recitify a lot of this b.s. and change the narrative by removing the word “slave” from future toy packaging, calling it her “Hutt-slayer outfit” or even just “metal bikini”. But the derogatory connotation is the real problem, not the scene in the movie. It’s how adult fans are reacting, crying in outrage over something that isn’t very outrageous to begin with.
As a little girl, I never thought twice about Leia in that bikini. All I knew was that Leia was my favorite because she was a total boss. And young female fans feel the same way now. A friend recently showed the original trilogy to his nine year old daughter. She was completely unfazed by Leia’s outfit in that scene, only focusing on how badass she was for killing Jabba single-handedly. Even when asked again today about that scene and Leia's outfit, she seemed more put out that she was being asked such a dumb question than by a character's choice of wardrobe in a fictional movie. So really, if the big concern is what that imagery of Leia in a golden bikini is teaching young girls, maybe it should start with teaching the parents of young girls to stop being so afraid of female sexuality.