Star Wars' Rey is an inspiration for budding female engineers

Hannah Stubbs profiles Star Wars' intrepid female engineer Rey, who fights gender stereotypes as well as the Dark Side

Hannah Stubbs
13 January 2016

Our Girls' Attitudes survey found that only 3% of girls ages seven to ten would consider a career in engineering

But is this partly because they lack on-screen role models?


Warning: this blog contains lots of Star Wars spoilers

Having just seen the newest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, I could easily spend this blog talking about the stunning special effects, the diverse, humorous cast or the sneaky references to previous installments hidden throughout the film for us die-hard fans. However, I want to focus on the real star of the show, the self-sufficient yet caring character Rey, and how she provides a brilliant and much-needed role model for girls looking to enter engineering.

We are introduced to Rey through a series of scenes showing her surviving in a harsh desert environment, scavenging for ship parts to make a living. She is fiercely independent but shows a deep love for her missing family and a protective side when caring for BB-8, a lost droid.

Challenging expectations

What makes her character really special is her refusal to play into any of the typical romance tropes that we see in many sci-fi films today. When rogue Stormtrooper Finn attempts to hold her hand while escaping an attack on planet Jakku, she simply shakes him free and gets on with quickly fixing and piloting a ship to get them off the planet.

In fact, many of her scenes with Finn show a clear reversal of traditional gender roles, with Rey being the intelligent, savvy saviour and Finn playing her kind but naïve admirer. With so many films reducing women in the cast to one-dimensional love interests (I'm looking at you, Avengers: Age of Ultron) it was really refreshing to see a well-written female character who had such a significant role in the plot.

It's often the case that 'strong' female characters are placed in competition with other women for the affections of male characters, or that their personalities are stripped away in an effort to make them seem tough. But for Rey, her compassion was repeatedly the thing that made her strongest – caring for BB-8, saving Finn and taking on the responsibility of finding Luke Skywalker. What's more, Rey's ability to fix engines and pilot spaceships was not questioned by any of the other characters – in fact, Han Solo himself suggested taking her on as co-pilot within ten minutes of meeting her.

Visibility is vital

This representation is important. According to the most recent Girls Attitudes' Survey, fewer than one in ten girls aged seven to ten would choose a career as an engineer or scientist. Is this because girls at this age don't care about these subjects, or because they see very few examples in the media of women succeeding in these male-dominated arenas?

Even for me - a languages student with very little interest in mechanics - seeing Rey fix engines made me want to have a go at tinkering with a car. Imagine what this could do for the girls in the audience who are studying science or maths.

Recently, the organisation RoboGals visited my university's feminist society and taught us how to programme robots. While programming ours to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, I really started to wonder what I could have achieved if I'd been introduced to experiences like this at a younger age, or even if I'd simply had a role model like Rey to show me that it was okay to want to help my dad fix the car.

I can only hope that for the aspiring female engineers, mathematicians and scientists, watching Rey as a capable, strong woman and a master technician in Star Wars will inspire them to pursue their dream careers.

Image of Rey from Allstar/Disney/LucasFilm

An equal world?

Our Girls’ Attitudes survey uncovers many ways that sexism and gender stereotypes affect the lives of young women.