Gwendolyn Glover

Gwendolyn Glover
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Westerville, Ohio,
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June 19
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writer
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“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * "Remember, remember, this is now, and now, and now. Live it, feel it, cling to it. I want to become acutely aware of all I’ve taken for granted." ~Sylvia Plath

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OCTOBER 8, 2009 1:02PM

Princess Leia, Feminist Icon?

Rate: 33 Flag

 

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.

 

 princess_leia_lg 

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.

 

carrie_fisher 

 

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.

 

 ANH_Han_Leia_Luke  

 

http://carriefisher.com/?p=14

 http://www.usatoday.com/life/television/televisionawards/emmys/2008-09-15-carrie-fisher_N.htm 

photos borrowed from carriefisher.com, www.astro.ufl.edu, jorusfett.com. 

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oh, gwen, i just love you. and i loved leia, too. i wanted -- still do -- a light saber. she's my hero. this is a great great post.

the fact that you came to be who you are after the christian insanity of your childhood gives me hope for humanity ... and for women specifically.

i read the recent review of fisher's new show. she's amazing. i wish i were there to see it.

A++
Thanks for this excellent post, Gwen.
I loved her first because we basically had the same name (then again, so does Lois Lane). But as I find out more about her I admire her brains and bravery and honesty. She is now considered older and overweight and just as feisty about the stereotypes surrounding that.
I was raised in the sixties in a small mid western rural area village. Somehow, I missed the stain of racism and sexism. For me she was a hero just like everyone else in the rebel alliance. Not everybody fights the enemy directly and other tasks while different are just as heroic. I am not perfect, and for most of my life I assumed that everyone more or less felt the same. I wish they did. Then we could concentrate on making things better for everyone. I enjoyed this post too Gwen. I like to think that these revelations make me know you more on a human level.
I remember being pretty riveted by Princess L. Once again, I'm so glad to have found your writing.
Interesting piece. I never made that connection before -- probably because I'm not a woman -- but I see your point. You picked an excellent role model. Well done.

R
I loved Leia because she was feisty. (I'm reminded of Lou Grant's line to Mary [Tyler Moore] Richards: "I hate spunk." I guess I love spunk.) But my first feminist heroine was my mother. Leia's not a bad choice, though!
Femme, thank you so much. I do have hope for humanity. If I can see the light, others can too. I would love to see Fisher's show. I also plan on buying her recent book.

Lea, you're so lucky to have such an awesome name. I also love how feisty Fisher is.

Bob, thanks for reading. I love to have readers and writers that bring different experiences to the table. I think sharing our stories gives us a wider and more hopeful worldview.

Caroline, thank you! I'm glad to have found your writing as well.

John, thank you very much!
AtHomePilgrim, you're lucky! I think I might be my mom's feminist heroine. Although she probably wouldn't use that word.
As always, beautiful commentary! And, naturally, I appreciate the bi-polar comment. ;) Knowing you as I do, I feel like you have far surpassed any of your heroines and are truly much stronger than you give yourself credit for.
I was a Princess Leia fan too, but due to my age, Emma Peel came first - talk about kick ass! If you can see The Avengers on any of the repeat channels - do. So glad you were able to find a 'role model' amongst all that negative atmosphere re women. Right on! Rated.
Red Star, Awwwwww. You're too much.

Madcelt, I will see if I can find The Avengers on Netflix. I love kickass superheroines!
Carrie Fisher rocks. Leia let Carrie step out of her parents' shadows and eventually find her own voice.
Any post that relate real issues to Star Wars is most definitely a rated post :)
Stim, wouldn't it be cool if the character of Leia was a feminist icon for Fisher too?

Thanks, Shaggy.

Wanderer, thank you. I agree. Please tell others. ;P
Great post, Gwen, and, yes, Leia was most definitely a feminist icon for me, especially in the very first Star Wars movie. The fact that she became a kind of goofy retro sex goddess for so many guys made sense to me, too, but somehow that idea has held sway.

Two years ago, my son and all his kindergarten buddies were obsessed with the Star Wars movies, and I forced my guy to watch the original first (rather than the dreadful "Phantom Menace"). My guy liked Leia's spunk. But then my feminist indoctrination pretty much went out the window when he got a Lego set that included Leia in her gold slave-girl outfit. Sigh.
That darn STIM---he made my comment first! Carrie Fisher was just interviewed recently and she was hilarious, funny, tough, vulnerable, smart and kind all rolled up into one---she brought ALL of that to Leia. Her book is an inspiration. Great piece Gwen!
oh, Gwendolyn, i LOVE this!!!! shit, i was a major geek, well maybe i was somewhat hip. i saw star wars stoned, on mescaline, on whatever substance was cool at the time. all three of them!!!! and i LOVED them all and still do. Princess Leia was the most empowering character ever for those of us who experienced her as kids and teens and as young adults, well, stoned ones. i've met Carrie Fisher a few times. just in passing, at writers' conferences. she is brilliantly funny. she is also in recovery from self-medicating her bipolar disorder. it is an illness, love. it's fine to call it that. it's a mental illness jsut like diabetes is a physical one. she has suffered hugely, as most of us do. she has the immense courage and also compulsive need to share to be completley open about her disorder and about the ECT treatments that wiped out some of her memory. (i had those too back in the day when i was clinically depressed. they can work wonders but are not pleasant at all. )

thank you for this fabulous post, girl! thank you for sharing your search for role models and your finding of one in Princess Leia! love love love and gratitude for making me so happy.
Martha, I'm glad that your son liked the original films. I think they're sooo much better. Oh, and I think it's totally possible to be a feminist and still think that Leia looks hot in the gold bikini. I just wish that Lucas hadn't forced Fisher to lose weight. Jerk!

Chicago Guy, thank you! I think I'm going to ask for her book for Christmas.

Theodora, thank you! You are always so generous with your compliments. It's great to have such a witty and courageous woman speaking publicly about being bipolar. It's not something that anyone should be ashamed of. (Yes, I know you shouldn't end a sentence in a preposition.) :P
I frankly think there should be a lot more tough women roles in action/sci-fi movies.

In Alien/Aliens, the character of Ripley, in theory, could have been a man and I bet they still would have been good movies - but they were made great by Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of that character.

And although it didn't get much acclaim, I really liked Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight.

...and Linda Hamilton in T2? No commentary necessary.

and I wonder to what degree, if anything, the character of Princess Leia inspired these other roles?
Very, very cool post. Princess Leia? Awesome. So much more interesting than the boys - much tougher, in many ways. I couldn't stand to watch the crap that came out later - the "first three" will always have the magic.

I heard Carrie Fisher interviewed on NPR some time ago, and saw her on "Dinner for Five;" fascinating human being. And still hot, as well.
Gwen...
Wonderful piece. I especially love the description
of bipolar disorder--- indeed, not disease, unless
we get literal here and say "dis"- "EASE"...i.e. no ease...
as being "emotionally acute"...

I was about 10 when the first Star Wars came out...
The good princess went into my pantheon of
sex symbols, I admit it...she reigned over my heart until the divine
Brooke Shields came upon the scene...don't get me started on
"blue lagoon", etc...another beautiful,
dignified, strong,
kind woman
who
also happened to be tremendously...um...
worthy of a young male's devotion...


I actually like the fact they left Leia behind as they destroyed the death star...
that was all silly man-stuff---evil empires, domination,etc--- that men came up with
and it was their responsibility to clean up...

Chauvinistic? Maybe...
Women in mortal combat just doesn't sit right with me...

Jim, old school male chauvinist
Great post, Gwen! Another interesting take on your feminist role models.
“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

Is that what did it? I'm queer because of Princess Leia? How cool is THAT!!!! W00t! :D
fins, I really loved Geena Davis in the Long Kiss Goodnight too. I actually think that SciFi/Fantasy allows for more strong female characters than other genres. I would, of course, love to see more.

Owl, I think Carrie Fisher is such a fascinating person and, yes, still very beautiful.

Jim, I struggle with my feelings towards combat. Philosophically, I am a pacifist and believe in peaceful nonviolence. But I was raised to think that fighting is really cool. I love to watch swashbuckling and martial arts. It always feels good to see a female character kick some bad guy butt. So, as you can see, I'm very conflicted.

Nora, thank you! Recognizing my female role models is a rather new thing for me and so I'm spending a lot of time thinking and writing about them.

Safe_Bet, I can totally see the arguement that Princess Leia "made" you lesbian. Makes perfectly good sense to me. :P
I was never a big Carrie Fisher fan until I saw her on 30 Rock. Funniest role ever! Just imagine if she hadn't been typecast as Princess Leia . . . I think she could have been the top female comedic actress of generation.
Travis, I would love to see Fisher in more roles. She's hilarious.

Thanks to all of you that rated this. This is my best rated post so far! You all rock!
I'm really old but I took my kids to SW I etc when they were pretty small so besides rating, I'll just tell you this: I went to see Phantom Menace with a total SW geek who got very angry if I played Paul Simon music or even mentioned him positively because he was bad to Carrie Fisher.

(I think Simon is a genius and love his work but Carrie is a real live goddess.)
Oh, p.s. Gwen - didn't have your fundie background, I was raised by progressive catholics, but my big role model as a child, one of them, anyway, was Maria Goretti. Look her up. Sad stuff. Hooray for all of you who had Leia.
nerd cred, Paul Simon is a genius. On Fisher's website, she still says he's her soulmate. Which is sweet and sad. I've never heard of Maria Goretti, but I will look her up. Thanks!!!
He's a genius, she's every bit his match and my friend was so in love with Leia that he didn't care if Simon was a cross between Jesus Christ and Albert Einstein and Beethoven - he was just going to hate him. There was no talking to him about it. It was a little sweet.

You can get all you need to know about MG from wiki in about 5 seconds, then feel all sorry for me. ;) Meanwhile, I have to read Wishful Drinking.
I was a teenager when the original Star Wars movies came out, and I loved Leia's strength too. I wasn't too thrilled with her scantily clad and in need of rescue from the corpulent Jabba, but she got the opportunity to kick some butt.

BTW - Vanity Fair has a tiny write up about Carrie in the latest issue. Here's the link:

http://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/features/2009/11/carrie-fisher-200911

Maybe an OS meet-up to see her one woman show? Woo-hoo!! Rated.
You've picked a good role model. In spite of her fame from "Star Wars", I really think of her first as a brilliant writer. Great post. And no, I can't believe that Pat Robertson statement coming out of anyone's mouth. But I guess it did. I'm curious to know what your father thinks of his very smart daughter...?
CK, thanks for the link!

Cartouche, needless to say, my dad and I don't see eye to eye. I see him about once a year when I visit the rest of the family.
I must admit that I wasn't a big fan of the Star Wars movies, even before Phantom Menace, but I did think that Leia's character rocked, and I've loved Carrie Fisher's writing for years. I didn't know she was bipolar; wow, hard to believe she accomplished everything she has with that weighing on her.

As for Pat Robertson, he also claimed that 9-11 was god's retribution for our permissive society. (So he was pretty much right in accord with the actual terrorists.) If you ever need an answer to the saccharine assertion that "it's sad when anyone dies," just mention a) that if no one died, we'd all be drowning in human flesh, and b) Pat Robertson.
Jolly good job! And right there with you, sister. Carrie Fisher has, as you put it, a "brilliant sense of humor." Its very fine-tuned and very advanced, as far as humor goes.

I love her evolution and I love who she is and who she represents. Kudos for acknowledging this wild woman.
Floyd, Pat Robertson can always be counted on for a good, crazy quote about anything happening in our world. He's insane.

Beth, thank you! I love featuring wild women who inspire us.
just seeing that first photo again makes my heart race with glee. thanks for the memories and the post. knew carrie had problems with the bottle, but didn't know she was bipolar. wow.
All-round great post. Funny -- I was just reading some interviews with Carrie Fisher for research I was doing on bi-polar people.
butt-0n-the-cushion, pics of Star Wars make me happy too.

emma, glad you liked it. Research on bipolar people? Very interesting. I hope to hear more about it.
What fathers miss!!!
I loved her energy in the three original Star Wars movies. I don't think Princess Leia could have been as strong a heroic figure with someone else in the role. She also added a distinctive, under-appreciated zip to the Blues Brothers. She was on a 30 Rock episode where she played an older writer with a bit of a wacky edge. Postcards from the Edge made me howl with laughter.

I'm glad she's still out there doing her thing.