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The Stigma of Jupiter’s Red Spot} ?> The plot hole that bothers me the most in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith is the lack of health care. No, I’m not kidding. Bear with me.
I recently read this fantastic article, “Did Inadequate Women’s Healthcare Destroy Star Wars’ Old Republic?” that suggests most, if not all, of Anakin’s fear for Padmé’s life could have been avoided if she had seen an obstetrician. For those of you who have no desire to relive the prequels, here’s a refresher: Anakin has a dream in which Padmé dies from childbirth. In an effort to save her life, he turns to Emperor Palpatine, all but solidifying his move to the Dark Side.
How do I know Padmé didn’t receive any prenatal health care? When she confronts Anakin towards the end of the movie, she asks him to help her raise their “child” ‒ not their “children.” Padmé doesn’t know she’s going to have twins, which means she didn’t get so much as an ultrasound.
How is it possible that Anakin lives after losing three limbs and nearly burning to death, while his wife dies from childbirth? (And, please, read the article mentioned above before you bring up how Padmé simply lost the will to live.) How is it possible that the Star Wars universe, which is scientifically advanced, doesn’t have proper reproductive health care?
In this case, I don’t think it’s a problem of the Star Wars universe itself, but rather an oversight by the movie’s creators that resulted in lazy writing. When it comes to fantasy and sci-fi, female characters are often still an after-thought. I’m sure proper reproductive care wasn’t even on the radar when the writers thought out Padmé’s storyline; they just knew she needed to die because she wasn’t in the later movies.
Women’s health has been misunderstood for centuries, back to when the Greeks blamed hysteria in women on their “wandering wombs.” In the Bible, Leviticus tells us that menstruation makes a woman “ceremonially unclean” and that anything she touches becomes unclean as well. And, while we know the medical reasons for menstruation now—that it is simply the uterus shedding the inner lining, caused by hormonal fluctuations ‒ those notions of hysteria, being “dirty,” and being slaves to our hormones persist. We laugh at Michael Scott asking the women in The Office if they are PMSing so that he knows if he should take their anger seriously or not, but these notions still continually hold women back.
There’s a well-known story about how, before the first female American astronaut, Sally Ride, went into space in 1983, the male NASA engineers asked her if 100 tampons would be enough for her six-day trip.
But, even before Sally, NASA did not understand menstruation. In 1959, 32 men underwent rigorous physical testing to see how they would fare in space: of the 18 men who passed, seven went on to become NASA’s first class of astronauts. A year later, NASA invited pilot Geraldine “Jerrie” Cobb to undergo the same testing. She passed and by 1961, another 18 female pilots had taken the same tests; 13 of those women passed. To compare the numbers, that’s 56% for men and 68% for women. Clearly, women were just as suited to space flight as men, if not more so. But NASA didn’t send a woman into space for another 22 years because of fears about menstruating in space.
In 1964, the authors of a study came to the conclusion that hormonal women weren’t capable of handling a complex spacecraft. And, by 1970, NASA knew that space affects the cardiovascular system, which has to fight gravity to pump blood from the lower extremities back to the heart. In space, there is no gravity and, therefore, the risk that the heart won’t work as hard and blood and fluids will pool in the upper body and head. Scientists were worried that the lack of gravity would affect the menstrual system as well by causing retrograde menstrual flow, which can lead to peritonitis: the inflammation of the membrane lining the abdominal wall. The only problem was that the menstrual system does not rely on gravity the same way that the cardiovascular system does. As it turns out, menstruating in space is the same as menstruating on earth.
If we are going to send women to Mars, or beyond, we need to encourage an understanding of women’s health in our culture. We need to do away with the worries that PMS makes women weak, and the ideas that women are slaves to their hormones. That speaks to nothing but distrust that women can’t be professional in their work spaces.
Back on earth, the persisting stigma around menstruation is harmful to women and girls. In developing countries, girls often don’t have access to sanitary products like pads or tampons, or even a change of underwear. This leads to them missing school one week out of every month; they fall behind in their studies and drop out of school altogether.
And in the Western world, high taxes on sanitary products make it difficult for low-income earners to afford them, often leaving women with the choice of going to work and being extremely uncomfortable, or staying home with the risk of losing their jobs (when one sneeze can set off a big rush of blood, the thought of going out without protection is incredibly unappealing).
Women’s health needs to be more openly discussed in space science, fantasy, and sci-fi. The ignorance surrounding women’s health doesn’t just result in movie plot holes, it contributes to the misogynist attitudes that harm women in their schools, work places, and relationships, not to mention legislation that strips women of their rights. Talking openly about menstruation and women’s health can only lead to more acceptance in our society and better representation in our stories—and that’s better for everyone.