Carrie Fisher was a feminist hero in fiction and real life, and was a major inspirations for millions of young people, including Swara Salih.
Carrie Fisher has passed to the grief of millions worldwide. She inspired, and will continue to inspire, audiences through her portrayal of a rebel leading Princess, astute political leader, General of a brave Resistance against galactic terror, and compassionate friend. She also inspired through sharing details of her personal life with the world. Carrie conveyed to millions that embracing what others perceive to be your “flaws” is one of the best ways to be happy. And for millions of girls and boys watching A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi from a young age, she showed them what a driven, courageous, smart, and compassionate heroine was. She set the bar for all heroes to follow, whether in the Star Wars saga or elsewhere. And she, along with the courageous women in my family, made me a feminist.
A Princess’s Determination
I was nine when I saw A New Hope for the first time. Princess Leia instantly became one of my favorite heroes. Seeing her stand up to the obelisk of Darth Vader excited me and drew me to this fascinating princess. She was was so unlike the other (mainly Disney) princesses I saw on screen. She showed me, any young boy, what a female hero should be. Leia was brave, smart, shrewd, and passionately devoted to her cause. Leia taught me about feminism before I even knew the word. Yes she was a prisoner, but she was never a passive victim.
Watching her active resistance to Vader’s interrogation and Tarkin’s intimidation, I was scared for her. But I was also intrigued to see someone steadfastly refuse to give up hope or give up in the face of seeming defeat. I felt a deep admiration for her resolute demeanor. She continued this demeanor even when Tarkin blew up her entire PLANET. (For those who might be disappointed with Leia’s grief for Alderaan being seemingly omitted from the film, I highly recommend you read the five issue Princess Leia comic from Marvel). Her steadfast resolution, combined with her palpable vulnerability, made her one of my favorites.
I knew Leia was someone who knew how to take care of herself. I wasn’t surprised at all when she took charge of her own rescue. Luke and Han botched the effort by cutting off their only escape, and she had to improvise. She also showed she was the best shooter of the trio. She took out the Stormtroopers who had imprisoned her handily. Though appreciative of the others’ efforts, she couldn’t waste a second getting Artoo back to the Alliance. She completed her mission and hailed one of the Alliance’s biggest victories. In many ways, A New Hope was her story from the start. Leia was the one who instigated the story and brought it full circle (with Han’s, Luke’s, Chewie’s, Obi-Wan’s, Threepio’s, and Artoo’s help of course).
A Role Model
Carrie Fisher provided an example of serene determination in the face of insurmountable odds in A New Hope. She continued to convey this in her riveting performances in The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, and recently in The Force Awakens. She conveyed to millions of viewers that women in leadership and action roles should be a normal thing. Carrie showed that they could be just as, if not more competent than, the men they shared the screen with. And she became a feminist icon because of it.
Her performance made me a feminist, before I even knew there was a word for it. Since childhood, I’ve known that the equality of men and women should be a normal thing. Princess Leia helped made me appreciate the depths and nuances of a fleshed out female character, and made me want to see more from them. The fact I barely saw any other prominent heroines like Leia frustrated me constantly. I hated, for one childhood example, that Supergirl appeared in only three episodes of Superman The Animated Series. Why did popular media have to portray almost solely male characters in protagonist roles? Why did these stories always relegate women to supporting or romantic roles? Basically, I was asking “Why couldn’t we have more Leias?” I’m grateful for this frustration. It has made me demand as a consumer to see powerful women displayed on screen. It enriches and expands storytelling, and conveys a wider range of human experience. When I do see a strong heroine, I always thank Carrie and Leia for their example.
Other Feminist Examples
Perhaps one of the reasons I’m been a big fan of DC Comics is because of the strong and prominent protagonists of Supergirl, Batgirl, Lois Lane, and Wonder Woman. But that’s only four characters. Carrie and Leia taught me to never settle for a simple quota, whether in popular media or life in general. Thankfully the Star Wars franchise has a new leading heroine protagonist. Rey played by Daisy Ridley, followed in Leia’s footsteps, and gave us another feminist icon. Even DC, Marvel, and other franchises have more prominent leading female characters. But they are still not at the height of prominence they should be. They can push the bar even further.
Inspiring in Real Life
In real life, Carrie was no less courageous and outspoken and became a feminist icon. She spoke out against Hollywood sexism and was candid about her experience filming the Star Wars films. In this, she refused to play by the rules of artificial propriety, and set standards for dealing with sexism. For A New Hope, she noted that as a 19 year old weighing just 105 pounds, the filmmakers demanded that she lose 10 pounds. While people called her a “sex symbol,” she constantly undercut that interpretation, noting her looks were not “achievements” in any sense. She pointed out, for example, the ridiculousness of her metal bikini in Return of the Jedi. Carrie refused to become another typical Hollywood actress who would be preoccupied with looks and fame. Even during the filming and release of The Force Awakens, trolls continued to attack her online for not meeting their “expectations” of beauty. She would continue to call them down for their sexist harassment on Twitter and in other media, shutting down the frivolous conversation of whether she “aged well.” Her achievements were in her acting, writing, and other accomplishments of her mind and wit. She never let anyone forget that.
Staying True to Oneself
Carrie Fisher (ABC News)
As I got older I learned of Carrie’s bipolar disorder and drug addiction. I first felt pity for her as the stigma against mental illness was pervasive. However, I did more research on bipolar disorder and read up on what Carrie had been through and how she wrote lengthily about her struggles. I understood how courageous she was to lay plain her experiences to the public. I learned how to admire her in real life as well as in Star Wars. She didn’t have to “apologize” for her drug use during the 70s and the 80s, or other ways in which she lived her life. Thankfully she never did. Carrie dealt with her disorder in a way she felt was good for her. She later sought other forms of treatment. And she would never allow herself to be ashamed of something she couldn’t control.
She once said, “At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.” Damn straight. Carrie conveyed a message to her fans embrace their own flaws, to accept them, and live life more happily as a result. She actively took on the highs and the lows, and lived a richer life for it. She refused to live her life by anyone’s terms but her own.
On the day of her passing, author K O’Shea tweeted out, “Be Princess Leia in 2017. Fight on the front lines. Strangle fascists with the chains they would have you wear. Be a mother******’ general.” Don’t let anyone dictate how you should live your life. Be happy and kind to others. Call out injustice when you see it and stand up to it. Be the General, Princess, and writer of your own life. Thank you Carrie Fisher, for everything.
Carrie Fisher passed away December 27th, 2016, drowned in moonlight and strangled by her own bra.