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Female ‘Star Wars’ fans strike back at claim that the franchise is only for men

A comment made by a guest on a “Star Wars” fan’s YouTube channel has given female fans an opportunity to remind the fandom that the films are for everyone.
Torso of woman in cloak holding pink lightsaber
In a galaxy far, far away ... sexist comments still exist.Kelsea Petersen / NBC News

Female “Star Wars” fans have heard sexist comments before. This time, the remark — “women don’t even watch” the films — came from a popular YouTube channel that called their fandom into question.

In the last week, the words have become a rallying cry for some female fans of the franchise, who have used it as a backdrop to respond to the kind of casual sexism they say is still common in their corner of the pop culture galaxy.

“They don’t even care about it,” psychologist Sadia Khan told YouTuber Niatoos Dadbeh in a video that was posted to his Star Wars Theory channel, which has 3.3 million subscribers. “It’s a man’s little thing. Let them have it. But they want to be like, ‘Oh, there’s such a deprivation. We’ve got to be in it,’ so they can be a mini-hero.”

Nearly 1,300 TikTok videos have used Khan’s soundbite as a way to show their affinity for the films. In some videos, fans show themselves cosplaying characters within the universe. In others, they share clips of female fans at “Star Wars” premieres and conventions.

Khan’s remarks have underscored an ongoing issue that has fatigued female fans of many male-dominated franchises for decades. In 2023, dubbed the “year of the girl,” events like Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour,Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour” and the “Barbie” movie empowered women to unabashedly embrace the things they love. But fans who spoke to NBC News said there is still a long way to go in terms of accepting female fans as equal.

“I personally have lost count of the amount of times I’ve been mansplained, gatekept or belittled as a woman in this fandom,” said Sidney Newcomb, 27. “And every single ‘Star Wars’ woman that I know has experienced the same thing to some degree. And at this point, we’re fed up with it.”

Drea Letamendi, a media psychologist and lifelong “Star Wars” fan, said women have historically been underrepresented in science-fiction, despite being a significant portion of science-fiction consumers.

“‘Star Wars’ is a fixture of our popular culture, and an impressive, very successful franchise,” Letamendi said. “So it almost seems nonsensical for anyone to say that any particular group wouldn’t authentically care about this narrative or the storytelling.”

Although it is more socially acceptable for women to be fans of science-fiction, fantasy and other genres once considered “nerdy,” women in these fandoms still find the validity of their affinity for things like “Star Wars” questioned.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been put on the spot with pop quizzes from men mostly, like trying to prove my knowledge on random, obscure facts in the fandom,” said Tracie Megumi, a cosplayer and lifelong “Star Wars” fan.

She called the clip of Khan discussing women and the franchise “devastating.”

“And I couldn’t help but think, what if I had heard that when I was younger?” she said.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been put on the spot with pop quizzes from men mostly, like trying to prove my knowledge on random, obscure facts in the fandom.

-tracie megumi, 'star wars' fan and cosplayer

In a video responding to the backlash, Dadbeh said people are taking the clip out of context by not playing the whole thing. He accused “the extreme left” of twisting Khan’s words to “contort it into their own narrative so that they can play fantasy fairy tale land and stand for something that never needed to be stood for in the first place because it was not the case.”

He said he had specifically asked Khan, who has not seen any films in the franchise, about recent comments made by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, who is slated to become the first female director of a “Star Wars” film. Obaid-Chinoy had been quoted this month saying that “it’s about time that we had a woman come forward to shape a story in a galaxy far, far away.”

“As for Sadia, she was talking about how Hollywood is constantly pushing this female narrative that women can do better or it’s time a woman takes charge and shapes ‘Star Wars.’ It has nothing to do with being a misogynist or saying women can’t enjoy ‘Star Wars,’” he said.

Dadbeh did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.

In an email statement to NBC News, Khan said she takes “full accountability” for having “no understanding of the market and audience of Star Wars.”

“I was under the impression that it was reserved for Men who enjoy science-fiction,” she wrote. “The point I was trying to make is that if Star Wars is so enjoyable For women, why would we need to change Anything about it? If they are so dissatisfied with the lack of diversity, why are they watching it?”

The recent conversation around sexism comes as “Star Wars” continues to highlight many of its female characters — Jedi Knight Ahsoka Tano, for example, has a Disney+ spinoff. A spokesperson for Lucasfilm, which is behind “Star Wars” titles, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who plays Hera Syndulla in Disney+’s “Ahsoka,” has also said that gender isn’t really the point of the universe.

“‘Star Wars’ started a trend starting with Princess Leia and has continued and it has grown and it’s grown to the point where now, that sort of doesn’t really matter, gender doesn’t matter,” Winstead told The Wrap last year. “It’s ‘Star Wars.’ We’re all in this together. So there’s something really special about being a part of something like that, that we don’t really need to call attention to it. Because these characters transcend gender in that way.”

Female fans who spoke with NBC News said the solidarity and community they have built has helped them persist even in the wake of comments like Khan’s.

“Even with that misogyny and negativity, there are so many ‘Star Wars’ sisters who are there to lift you up and to defend you and just to celebrate you,” said Hannah Dove, 23, a cosplayer who predominantly dresses as Ahsoka.

Seeing so many women push back against misconceptions about women within the fandom has also served as inspiration to continue being public about their love of “Star Wars.” 

“I get so worried about people coming for me and saying mean things and whatever, but knowing that I have other females that feel the same way and that are on the same side makes it easier,” said Taya Miller, 24. “So I guess I’m just really grateful for the other women in the community.”