As I’ve alluded to in earlier posts, I didn’t have many female role models while I was growing up. Feminism was a bad word in our home. Women were expected to be supportive to their husbands, good mothers, and take care of the home. Wives were told by God to obey their husbands. My dad was most definitely the head of the household. To him, feminism was a weapon of the devil to destroy families and marriages. This was actually a common view among American Christians in the 1980’s.
“Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” -- Pat Robertson
(Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Can you imagine anyone saying that? Out loud? The whole sentence is absurd.)
My father was very strict about what kind of secular influences we were exposed to, but he loved science fiction. Star Wars: A New Hope was the first movie I remember watching. I was in awe of the visuals of outer space, the music that stirred my sense of adventure, and the lead heroine, an intelligent, passionate, and courageous woman, who didn’t take orders from anyone.
When I saw Princess Leia’s courage in the face of Darth Vader, I was in awe. Every single time I watched it, which was about once a year. I identified with this woman who was struggling for freedom in an oppressive environment. She stood up to her father (obviously, she didn’t know Vader was her father, but still…) and refused to betray her beliefs. She wasn’t afraid of anything. Princess Leia wasn’t the normal damsel in distress. She wasn’t just a beautiful woman. She had tenacity and grit. At the climax of the movie, I was a little disappointed that she stayed behind while the men went out in their fighters to destroy the Death Star. I vowed to never be the one to stay behind. I wanted to be right in the middle of the action.
I was one of the nerds that went to see all three original films when they came out in the theater again in the 90’s. I was one of the nerds that was crushed by Episode I: The Phantom Menace. It didn’t have the same raw energy, the wonderful characters, and the sense of awe that the original three films contained.
Later, I learned more about Carrie Fisher, the woman who has had to live in the shadow of her most famous role. Carrie Fisher is bipolar and—for those of you who aren’t familiar with this mental condition (I don’t like calling it an illness)—being bipolar is a very difficult challenge to overcome. I describe it as being emotionally acute. Being bipolar is a daily struggle and it makes relationships even more difficult to maintain. Her marriage with her soul mate, Paul Simon, ended after several years and her second husband (with whom she had a daughter) left her and came out of the closet.
Carrie Fisher never gave up though. In the years since her iconic performance as Princess Leia, she wrote several best-selling books, fiction and nonfiction, and has had cameo roles in film and TV. Carrie Fisher has a brilliant sense of humor and received an Emmy nomination for her cameo in the second season of 30 Rock. Currently, she is performing in the one-woman Broadway show Wishful Drinking, which is based on her best selling novel.*
I know that for many, Princess Leia is a sex symbol. The unattainable and perfect woman. For me, Princess Leia is my feminist icon. She was my first (and pretty much only) female role model for feminism until Lois Lane. (Yes, I realize that they’re both fictional characters.) In a male-dominated universe, she stood out as a force to be reckoned with. Tough, smart, and outspoken, she typified everything that I wanted to be.
photos borrowed from carriefisher.com, www.astro.ufl.edu, jorusfett.com.