Cosplaying Star Wars’ Mara Jade as a Feminist at SDCC

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By Tracy Gardner

I’ve been a Star Wars fan, video game enthusiast and comic book reader since I was a young girl.  As an adult I feel as though I consistently had my credibility questioned.  I’d get quizzed on my knowledge by fanboys and even fellow fangirls on a  consistent basis.  I’d regularly get statements such as  “you don’t look like a girl who would like comics.” And in reference to my Rebel Insignia tattoo, I get the remarks “Do you actually like Star Wars?”  Or “there aren’t a lot of hot Star Wars fans.”  These statements are often meant to be compliments, but they make me feel uneasy.  Every time a guy makes a statement that infers that my nerdiness is a function of my appearance, I cringe.

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All of the women Star Wars fans  I admire, whether they be bloggers, cosplayers or internet/television personalities come to mind.  It is insulting that all their work and presence can be erased by some uninformed, misplaced, though sometimes well intentioned comments. I try to educate said perpetrators and let them know that there are plenty of women Star Wars fans and that we are equal contributors to the fandom. Personally, I felt as though cosplaying at this year’s San Diego Comic Con allowed me a certain level of visibility as a fangirl.  I was dressed as character who is not necessarily well known to the general public and for that reason I seemed to gain credibility.  Men and women alike were eager to engage in conversation with me about why I chose my character and what kinds of media I was a fan of.  Since I was a little girl, the Star Wars universe was a space for strong women.  The mere act of dressing as one of my favorite characters in this universe was empowering.

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But despite my own empirical views of what it means to cosplay, there is a very real dialogue surrounding women cosplayers that I also had to face. The idea of fake nerds, or girls who cosplay simply to elevate their modeling careers abounds. There has also been a backlash against some of the more revealing cosplays. Every year, at various conventions some of the more sexualized comic book and film characters are brought to life, and some of the more iconic characters get a sexy twist. As a feminist I have observed the dialogue surrounding women who cosplay, and I find it distressing that there is still a discussion about the validity of female fans.  Even more disappointing is the fact that some of the more harmful statements about women cosplayers and geeks come from other women.  I’ve noticed a sort of slut-shaming that has been directed towards cosplayers who choose some of the more sexier costumes from their fandoms.  The way I choose to present myself is a vital part of my feminism.  Wearing clothes that would make a pastor blush is my own personal rebellion against the conservative and controlling environment I was raised in.  My style and appearance don’t make me any less of a Star Wars fan or feminist, and any attempt at making those two aspects of my life mutually exclusive is illogical.

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My first time cosplaying,  I chose to portray a very gender specific and often sexualized character from the Exapanded Universe.  I took liberties with my costume which strayed from cannon. Mara Jade has been artistically depicted in a black. high neck, sleeveless black vest. I chose to wear a low cut vest that cut off at my midriff and admittedly showed more skin.  Essentially my choices were made based on what I had available to me in terms of clothing and materials, and how I wanted to portray the character while maintaining my own personal style.   I was still recognized consistently by fellow Star Wars fans,  I felt comfortable and I had fun.  At the end of the day I firmly believe that is what is important about cosplay. It should be an opportunity to live out your own embodiment of the characters who inspire you and indulge in fandom with like minded people. It is extremely unfortunate that women are being denied this pleasure by ignorant discourse.

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