Sometimes it’s really hard being a girl.
From a young age, we’re told that we can be anything we want to be. We’re encouraged to try new things and left with the thought that when we get older everything we were spoon fed will be true. And then we grow up and discover that, yes, we can be anything we want to be, so long as it conforms nicely into a very restricted set of expectations.
There are limitations too, ones that we ignored as children but get faced with on an almost daily basis as we grow up. We can’t like science-fiction; or sports. It’s okay to do well in math and science in school, but don’t think about pursuing a career in those fields. And owning a successful business? Good luck with that.
Yes, there are some exceptions to these. Women who ignore what society tells us and break the mold. But they’re still few and far in between, even today. And that is why it is so important to have positive female role models; something that can be hard to find in the age of Jersey Shore and other reality TV.
So, my mission over the next few months is to find those women. The women who have succeeded in areas that are still predominantly strongholds for men. The women who are exceptional role models for girls young and old.
The first featured role model is Ashley Eckstein. Known as the voice of Ahsoka Tano in the animated Clone Wars series, Ashley is also the founder and owner of Her Universe. Spurred on by her own experiences and seeing the lack of science fiction shirts for female fans, Ashley created Her Universe. It is the first fashion line to produce science fiction themed shirts just for women. The initial designs were all Star Wars, but now the line includes such hits as Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who. They even have a line of children’s clothing for the younger geeks.
Ashley has done something quite amazing. She’s into science fiction and owns a successful business all without having to sacrifice her femininity, a challenge that many women who venture into fields dominated by men face. She makes it okay for female geeks to be both female and geeks. Or, as she put it during our interview: Flaunt your world- We’re girls and we can be cute, we can show off our passion and our fandom and look cute while doing it.
You list Disney as your first love- when and how did you first get interested in sci-fi (particularly Star Wars)?
Honestly I got started in to the whole sci-fi/fantasy world before I can even remember because my dad started working for Disney when I was just two years old. I just remember a childhood full of not only watching every single Disney Movie that came out and sometimes getting advance screenings because my dad was an employee, but I grew up watching Star Wars and the Hobbit cartoons and the Never Ending Story. It was a childhood full of a lot of sci-fi and fantasy so I don’t even remember exactly what age because it goes back as far as my memory goes back.
My first memory of Star Wars is the shot of R2-D2 and C3PO in the desert of Tatooine. I remember the scene vividly as a little girl. My favorite character has always been R2-D2, still to this day. Instead of playing Princess Leia I would play R2-D2.
With my dad working for Disney I got to go what is now Hollywood Studios when it first opened, but more importantly Star Tours when it first opened. I remember being a part of that and that ride opening and how big of a deal it was. Posing on the Star Speeder, and the Ewoks and it’s just a big part of my memories as a kid.
How did you get the role of voicing Ahsoka?
I got the role of voice Ahsoka similar to how most actors in L.A. get a job. I got a call from my agent. I got a call the night before, that’s usually how it works- you find out the night before about your auditions the next day. He called me the night before and said you have an audition tomorrow for the voice of Padme on the Clone Wars. Usually I’m a pretty positive person and I remember telling him, look, I just don’t think I sound like Natalie Portman from Star Wars, but I’ll give it my best shot. I wasn’t too optimistic about it because no matter how hard I tried I just didn’t feel I sounded like her.
Sure enough I went to the audition and the first line out of my mouth they stopped me and said I didn’t sound anything like Padme, I sounded too young. But, there’s this new character, a fourteen year old girl we’re auditioning for that we’d like you to try out for that part. Because it was so top secret they weren’t announcing the auditions for that character. They were keeping it very secretive and private.
Luckily I went in anyway for Padme and they had me audition for Ahsoka. I found out I got the part but I didn’t know who I was playing until after I got the part because it was so top secret. All I knew was that I got the part of a new girl in the new SW cartoon. I found out on my first day of work actually. I went in and they explained who I was going to be playing. It’s one of those moments where you pinch yourself and I’m like really? How did I get here? How did I get this part? Are you really trusting me to help originate a new character- especially Anakin Skywalker’s padawan? And I didn’t believe it for a while and I was so nervous that they were going to recast me and find somebody new because it was such a big deal. I’m just so thankful and honored that they gave me the opportunity.
How do you come up with the designs for Her Universe?
That’s one of my favorite parts. Every design has a story, an inspiration or a person behind it. Every single genre, every single universe is so large especially Star Wars, Star Trek and Doctor Who. All three franchises are so massive- where do you even start?
I start with stories, either from personal friends or fans or castmates. Stories from people or events that happened, or my favorite moments. Sometimes it selfishly comes from what I’ve always want to see. But every design has a story.
The “I Know” shirt actually came from Catherine Taber who does the voice of Padme. We once recorded a show on Valentine’s Day. The cast had a little celebration because we were all working most of the day together. She brought in heart shaped cookies and half of them said ‘I love you’ and half of them said ‘I know’. And that was always one of her favorite moments and my favorite moments and so we did a shirt inspired by it.
The “I’ve Got a Crush on Crusher” shirt came from my head designer for Her Universe. She was a Star Trek fan growing up and her crush was Wesley Crusher. She spoke up about it and absolutely had to do the design and brought it to me. She had such a connection to the shirt and design. I love that.
There’s so much thought and compassion and care for each design.
Who were some of your role models while you were growing up?
I was definitely an odd kid. Growing up before I decided I wanted to be an actress, my uncle was a lawyer and he showed me all of his law books. I knew I wanted to get into law- in third grade. I didn’t want to be a lawyer; I wanted to be a judge. Around the same time I did a book report on the first female Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O’Connor. I was fascinated by her because of what she stood for. She was the first. She was the first female Supreme Court Justice. She paved the way and now it’s common. I was so inspired by that. She really struck a chord with me.
When I decided I wanted to be an actress and no longer pursue law school she was still an inspiration to me because she represented that just because something hasn’t been done before doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it or make it happen. I’ve always had her in the back of my mind. If she could gain a seat on the highest court in the United States then I can achieve anything. If that’s possible, then I can do it too.
I’ve always been one of those people that when you tell me I can’t achieve something I’m going to find a way to make it happen to prove you wrong. I was turned down twice for Her Universe. It was the third time that I re-approached the notion and the idea that we were actually able to make it happen. I knew there was a need for it. Just because it’s never been done before, just because people believed girls wouldn’t buy sci-fi merchandise doesn’t mean that’s the case. The numbers spoke otherwise; close to all sc-fi fans are women. I just needed to figure out the right way to go about it. If I did that, I knew it could be a success because the fans are there and they want to be recognized.
Who are some of your role models now?
I think it’s all sorts of people around me. I think a true role model should be someone in a person’s life on a regular basis whether it’s a family member or a close friend or someone you can interact with on a regular basis.
With being an actress and a personality and also with my husband being a sports figure I take it very seriously because I know that when you’re a public figure you are a role model whether you like it or not. When athletes and actors or actresses say that they don’t want to be role models that is unfortunately not the reality. Just because you don’t want to be a role model doesn’t mean that you aren’t. If you are in the public eye, you are going to be a role model to someone. People look up to you, especially kids.
Being in that position is something I don’t take lightly; I take it very seriously. Once I got the role of Ahsoka, I hoped that her character would be a role model for girls. I knew that being the voice of such a strong female character and being associated with the Lucasfilm franchise, that I would also be in the position to be a role model. I knew it was going to be a big responsibility and I was going to do right by it. I was going to make the most of that opportunity.
My role models now are family members, people I work with. I have several close friends that I work with on Clone Wars that are my role models. I have several people I work with on Her Universe that have guided me to work on the business. It’s very important to develop a team of trusted people that bring out the best in you and that you can learn from and can be role models to you.
First and foremost my number one role model is my husband. He’s my best friend and I look up to him, and he helps me in always doing the right thing and always making the right decision. We work together as a team.
What message do you have for the young girls of today? What about young women and grown women?
I would have to say that it would be Her Universe’s new tagline: Dream Your world. Be Your World. Flaunt Your World.
Dream your world represents the little girl that has dreams of being a superhero or Ahsoka Tano or a Jedi or a fantastical character and doing great things. But as a little kid you have your parents that control your destiny, so they’re essentially just dreams because you don’t know at that point that you can actually achieve them.
Be your world comes in as we get older and we realize that we do control our own destiny and we can be a real life superhero. I look at the 501st and Rebel Legion. They have these amazing costumes, but they do things for good. They’re always at charity events. They’re always making kids smile and doing positive things. That shows that you can change the world, you can be that superhero. So that world you dreamed of as a little kid- you can go live that world now.
Flaunt your world is where the term “geek chic” comes in. You can show off your fandom with pride. You don’t have to hide it anymore. Be proud of it, flaunt your world.
We all remember Katie- the 7 year old who was teased for liking Star Wars. What do you think about the fact that this sort of attitude (girls can’t like sci-fi) still exists today?
We definitely have a long way to go- I’ll be the first to say that. I feel that we’ve made huge strides but it’s such a major stereotype that it’s going to take a long time. I would just say, and ask, not just female fans but male fans as they are some of our most passionate fans in speaking up for the women in their lives- to speak up about it. That’s the way we’re going to change it. That will debunk the stereotype and make sci-fi a more accepting place for both genders. Sci-fi is for everyone. Also rally around the young kids, bringing awareness to the fact that this genre we love is not gender specific.
It’s a big task to take on. Carrie Goldman launched her book this week, called Bullied, based on her experience from a year of research on bullying. She brought up some great points on things we need to learn and how we can fix it and how to end this cycle of fear.
Doing whatever possible to get the word out to change the perception. The more that we speak up about it, the more it will change. I think that it is changing, but we still have a long way to go.