Editor’s note: This post includes spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story.
When Enfys Nest first appears on screen in Solo, the character is daunting: masked and threatening, with a voice-changing helmet that recalls the Darth Vaders and Boba Fetts of the Star Wars universe. Nest walks the line between rebellious anti-hero and villain throughout the film, pillaging and raiding as the head of the infamous Cloud-Riders and constantly causing problems for Han and company. But near the climax of Solo, the character removes the ornate, fierce-looking helmet. Beneath it is a game-changer: Enfys Nest (Erin Kellyman) is a young woman. Is this why she wears the mask?
Women often don masks in Star Wars to increase perceived power and decrease perceived vulnerability. Think of Captain Phasma, Leia in her Boushh disguise, Rey in her Jakku Mask, and even Queen Amidala, who wore a proverbial mask of makeup. Each of these presentations helps to hide the identities of the women or make them appear more formidable. Similarly, Nest’s mask gives her power: it is spiked and primal, with just enough chrome around the eyes to qualify as science-fiction. What’s more, it features voice-masking capabilities. When Nest speaks, her voice is deep, mechanical, and it sounds like that of a man. Add full body armor and a slew of melee weapons, and Nest’s appearance provides no hint of femininity. For most of the film, the figure projects masculine power. When she reveals her identity near the end, it causes us to reconsider our initial impression of her. Why are we surprised that she is a young woman? Can she still be perceived as strong if we now know she’s not a man?
These are not new questions. Enfys Nest is one among many characters in a litany of plays, films, and novels who dress up as men in order to be taken seriously. One of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies explores this topic. Watching Solo, I thought about how this dynamic can be seen in the Church. How does this tension between strength and influence, male and female, play out among Christians? Do we expect women to do what Nest does in Solo? Do female leaders have to have a mas(k)uline energy or don a mask to appear tough, unruffled, and influential? Or can women be faithful leaders, fully used by God, just as we are?
How does this tension between strength and influence, male and female, play out among Christians?
The women in the Bible offer some answers. Among the influential and yet feminine women made famous in the Old Testament are Queen Esther, who saved her people from slaughter, and Deborah, a prophet and judge of Israel. Neither of these women needed to project a false form of masculinity in order to be powerful. God used each as she was for his specific purpose.
Looking to the New Testament, we see that Christ accepted women first and foremost as they were, with their metaphorical masks stripped away. Consider the woman at the well. Despite her existence as a social outcast, Jesus came to her, asked her for a drink, and recounted to her her every sin. She needed no mask before him. Because of what Jesus told her, she spread his good news to her entire town. And how about the woman caught in adultery? Jesus defended her—not her sin, but her very person, her value.
Even as our movies, comic books, and television shows offer more respectful depictions of women, do we as Christians accept them as image-bearers? Do they need to be armored up like Nest in order to be influential in the Church, or can we view them as just as gifted and strong as Nest is, even without her mask? As fellow TC contributor Karen Swallow Prior has written, “women, along with men, were created to rule.” Women were created in the image of God, as powerful co-heirs of Christ. Females in Christ’s kingdom should not have to armor up to fit into socially constructed roles. There is a strength and a dignity in womanhood and in women who are leaders. Just like the maskless Nest, there is a holy power in a raw, unhidden woman.
Imagine a Church where women leaders were celebrated not for their proximity to men or their masculine traits, but for their undiluted feminine leadership. Like Nest, we women who fight for truth, we women who are imbued with the holy power of Christ, are vessels of strength when we remove the masks we wear for the sake of masculinity. We can then present ourselves as maskless ministers, representing the imago dei to the world.