‘The girl’ considered harmful

The new Star Wars film attempts to balance out the sexist male-as-default world of the earlier Star Wars films by having female fighter pilots and storm troopers in the background. This is great. It also has Leia using one of the phrases I associate with sexist seventies television and films (sf and otherwise): ‘the girl’.

‘The girl’ is the person the protagonist of almost every action film has to go rescue. The Doctor is forever going back to retrieve ‘the girl’ from the pit or the Daleks or whoever. To me it is a flag for lazy writing in two ways.

First, it reminds us of the fact that there is no-one else in the story of note who is female. Everyone has a job—is the safe-cracker, the pickpocket, or the cat burgular, but only one person is the girl and being the girl is her only job.

Second, it is the writer for whom she is ‘the girl’, not the the characters in the story: they would logically be expected to know plenty of women from whom the particular woman they are referring to would need to be distinguished. Only the writer knows she is a person invented purely to play the part of sole female character. It is as if the characters started referring to their missing gold falcon as a McGuffin.

So Leia should have referred to her as ‘that stick-wielding nutcase you arrived with’ or something else like that.