A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
…Cole Horton, co-author of the upcoming Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need To Know, and I sat at the DK Publishing booth at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim after watching BB-8 roll out on stage during The Force Awakens panel and pondered how the droid worked. I guess this is my contribution to #ILookLikeAnEngineer, a viral online campaign to combat STEM stereotypes. The above picture is my contribution, because I really am a licensed engineer, in addition to an award-winning author, blogger, podcaster, dancer, and equestrian who has competed at the national level.
The founder of the #ILookLikeAnEngineer talked about the inspiration behind the movement in the Washington Post:
Gender diversity challenges seem to be what mainstream media has picked up on the most. While I think that it is absolutely wonderful that this has sparked so many positive discussions about the way that women are treated in STEM, I want to clarify that #iLookLikeAnEngineer is intentionally radically inclusive.
It’s not just about me and it’s not just about women.
#iLookLikeAnEngineer is about anyone and everyone who wants to pursue STEM, regardless of their external appearances.
Labeling this as a “campaign for women” is very limiting, and will only further separate us from everyone else in the community.
We see ourselves as equals, so we must also recognize others as equals, starting with our own actions and words.
From the moment I first saw BB-8, I thought the droid was amazing. In fact, if you follow my Twitter stream I will deliver #BB8 awesomeness during the day. Over at StarWars.com, Dan Brooks wrote a fantastic piece on the challenges of getting BB-8 ready for the big screen. The Entertainment Weekly image of Rey rescuing BB-8 kicked my speculating mind into overdrive. On a recent episode of FANgirl’s storytelling and speculation podcast Hyperspace Theories, we talked about the characters’ resources being critical to a story. While we’re used to kind-hearted Disney princesses befriending furry companions, scavenger Rey strikes me as someone who has to tinker, whether she is tearing something apart to salvage or keeping her own vehicles in working order.
“She repurposes the [stormtrooper] googles. She does things for herself. She is self-sufficient.”
~ Daisy Ridley speaking about Rey to Meredith Woerner, L.A. Times Hero Complex
So what if BB-8 is a resource she needs and not just a hapless robot in need of rescue? It is quite possible Rey will be more than an action heroine in a Star Wars movie, but also a STEM-inclined heroine too. Wouldn’t that be an incredible message for young women to see onscreen? That message would be as powerful as #ILookLikeAnEngineer.
Fanboy or fangirl, BB-8 seems like a tool that will inspire children to learn. There is a lot of discussion about intersectionality in discrimination. Whether it is film and storytelling mediums or science and technology, young women face an uphill battle. Simply raising a fearless daughter isn’t enough. Young women are battling entrenched cultural stereotypes that limit their ability to enter these fields on even footing. Thankfully more and more women are providing a strong base for the next generation with tools like the successful Kickstarter STEM Box for girls and the powerful voices, such as rising star Amandla Stenberg, advocating for young women in STEM. Hopefully, Rey will be another positive role model showing girls all the possibilities available to them in life.
Everyone should be able to shoot for the stars, whether it be as an astronaut, an astrophysicist, or directing their own Star Wars movie.
This Force Friday, a global The Force Awakens merchandise launch event, everyone will be able to get their hands on a little BB-8 awesome courtesy of Sphero, LEGO, and Hasbro and tinker using their own imagination.
Tricia Barr graduated from Duke University with a degree in Civil Engineering. She is a licensed Professional Engineer in Florida and specializes in traffic signal design.
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