Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Still Stormtrooping

In 2010 Katie, a 7-year-old girl, took a Star Wars water bottle to school everyday until she suddenly asked for a pink one. Katie is adopted and had a special admiration for Princess Leia (also adopted) but the kids at school were harassing her because Star Wars is for boys. 

Are you kidding!?! I was in Junior High when Star Wars came out (yes, I'm that old) and it was absolutely enthralling. Princess Leia was a school wide hero. 

Jen, who had been a young Star Trek fan, found out about Katie. "We've all had those kinds of experiences, if you call yourself a geek. It was about Katie, but it was about every girl out there, every geek out there. It transcended gender, it transcended age." She turned to her "fellow geeks" for help. 

Actress Catherine Taber got involved. "The whole theme of the 'Star Wars' universe is an anti-bullying theme. It's good versus evil, standing side by side with your friends, doing what's right. One of the most important things to stopping bullies in their tracks is to empower kids to stand up for themselves." 

She also sent a message for Katie. "I am [the] actress who has the great honor of being Padme Amidala on Star Wars: the Clone Wars! I just wanted to tell Katie that she is in VERY good company being a female Star Wars fans. I know that Padme would tell you to be proud of who YOU are and know that you are not ALONE! THE FORCE is with you Katie!"

Katie with a gift from other Star Wars fans
Lots of good stuff resulted. The school responded with an anti-bullying program and her mom wrote a book about bullying. The online community formed support for Katie and dubbed her The Littlest Jedi. 

Members of the 501st Legion and Katie
Then the 501st Legion (a worldwide Star Wars costuming organization comprised of and operated by Star Wars fans) made a fantastic gift. Katie had saved money to buy a Stormtrooper costume. The 501st Legion made her a mini replica of proper Stormtrooper armor and Katie passed on the $5 she had saved.

Thanks from Katie 
How completely fantastic and it gets even better! 

In 2014 Allison, another little girl with a love of Star Wars, became the target of school bullying. 

Just to take a quick detour, what the hell is wrong with our culture? We are built on an ideal of freedom, individualism and civil liberties but heaven help those that express variation from gender specific behavior or what is considered gender specific. 

Like I've pointed out, during my childhood, Star Wars was a heroic story for both genders and even if it wasn't, why is gender specific behavior the paragon of meaning? I can think of hundreds of other behaviors with more importance.

In Allison's case the school failed to implement any change or protection. The bullying became relentless and escalated to physical assaults. 

Layla and a member of the 501st Legion 
The 501st Legion found out and a member sent Katie's mom an email, “I wonder if K might be ready to pass along her Stormtrooper armor to another little girl who has been bullied and who needs a little love and a reminder that she shouldn't ever need to hide who she is.”

Katie and a gift from a fellow fan

Katie's response? “Yes! Of course.” Katie, her sisters and some friends also wrote notes of support. 

Allison and Stormtrooper Armor 

The report back from the 501st Legion representative after giving Allison the gift, “I think perhaps the letters from the girls meant more to her than the armor itself, and has made her feel like she has ‘yet-to-be-met’ friends out there in the world. . . something she had forgotten for a while.”

The story isn't over yet! 

Layla and Boba Fett

This year, Star Wars fan Layla was bullied after she moved to a new school. 

Her mom explained, "Layla started coming home more quiet and less of herself, and started asking not to wear her shirts or R2-D2 jacket. . . She was asked if she was turning into a boy.” 

Layla and Weird Al 

This time “Weird Al” Yankovic, a big fan of Star Wars, also got involved. He had hired the 501st Legion for a concert so “Weird Al” and 501st representatives presented Layla with the Stormtrooper armor. 

After she wore the armor a few times, she reported that the best part was when people, who assume a little boy was under the helmet, find out it was a little girl. 

Layla and a 501st Legion Vader

Layla's mother expressed her gratitude, "We are a military family that moves often, so having these people come and act as a family for us -- it's amazing! Layla is just loving the armor! Yesterday she came home from her troop and put on her Stormtrooper pajamas and said, 'I'm still trooping!'"

During one of my practicum placements for grad school, a family therapist had a great technique for working with younger kids who were being bullied. In addition to other interventions, she had them bring in tee shirts to transform them into Personal Power Shirts. The kids would write words and symbols on the shirt that had positive meaning and then the shirt could be worn as an undershirt during times when the kid was likely to feel venerable. The idea of wearing psychological armor is genius!

Katie's mom summed it up. "That this is still happening isn’t the takeaway that should be pulled from this, however. The takeaway here is that despite instances of bullying, there’s a larger community of people who are willing to lend a hand of support. . . .

Katie and her new armor 
More importantly, seeing this suit of armor passed from girl to girl is just awesome, and each one learns that they’re not alone in what they enjoy. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Armor." 

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