A year ago my commentary was on The Force Awakens for a New Feminist Generation. After my annual holiday viewing of Rogue One with my son, I thought that I might continue the tradition of a Star Wars review, but then something happened. One of my childhood Star Wars heroes died suddenly and I have been trying to fully express what that passing means for me. So instead of a review of Rogue One, my commentary is a review of Carrie Fisher and the life of a feminist princess.
On my office door hangs a sign with a picture of Princess Leia that reads “51% Rebel, 49% Princess.” The iconic image of Fisher as Leia was my first introduction to being a princess and exactly how I wanted to defend my world—a little more rebel than princess.
I have loved Leia for as long as I can remember, dreaming of being able to take my thin hair and put it into Leia buns, when the best I could hope for was Laura Ingalls pigtail braids. Yet, it is the adult Carrie Fisher and the feminist that she was throughout her life that I will miss the most.
I found a different Fisher in high school when I first read Postcards from the Edge. I was excited to see what Princess Leia wrote about and fell in love with Fisher’s humor, her multi-genre approach and use of the epistolary form through journals and postcards. It was beautiful and timeless and before it’s time. The novel still haunts me. Fisher was able to capture a world that, although as a 16-year-old I was not part of, I still was able to relate to as I read.
She continued to write books that I wanted to read, including Surrender the Pink and Delusions of Grandma, both of which made me laugh the whole way through. Then there was the first memoir/one-act play, Wishful Drinking, “which wasn’t all sweetness and light sabers.” In total, she wrote seven books (the last of which is in my TBR pile). She is the kind of writer I want to be. Honest, capable, witty, and one that can capture what it means to be human in this crazy world.
Fisher’s advocacy for mental health and her openness about her own mental illness was also admirable. She was vocal about her addiction and mental illness. “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that. I am still surviving it, but bring it on.” She openly shared her experiences being bi-polar in very public ways, claiming that it was more important for her story to be heard the way she chose to present it rather than having someone assume what she was going through.
She was a strong, feminist role model throughout her career. When people started to criticize her appearance and her aging in The Force Awakens, she stood up and defended herself. She advocated for herself in humorous and honest ways. In her memoir, Shockaholic, she wrote, “What I didn’t realize, back when I was this 25-year-old pinup for geeks… was that I had signed an invisible contract to stay looking the exact same way for the next 30 to 40 years. Well, clearly I’ve broken that contract.”
Fisher was a strong advocate for women and showed what it meant to grow and change as we get older. She was not afraid to share her struggles and be open about her fears. She continually encouraged women to stand up for themselves and be proactive. “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
When people who are famous die it’s sometimes difficult to decide how to feel. As I grow older, I watch many of the people who I admired and found connections to in popular culture die. Recently, I have thought more about what it means when someone who was a part of my childhood and adolescence but was not someone I met in person, passes. I have realized that these connections are important. That the lives the individuals I connect with through art, film, literature, music, and pop culture are important aspects of my life. They are part of who I am and have been influential in defining who I have become.
Carrie Fisher helped define what it meant for me to be a young woman. She gave me something to look up to as I navigated what it means to love the geeky side of myself. And, as I grew older, and watched Fisher grow older, I continued to watch her redefine herself and her life, and in all of it be authentic. Her determination and the way in which she lived on and off-screen, helped me to see how to navigate being me. “I haven’t ever changed who I am. I’ve just gotten more accepting of it. Being happy isn’t getting what you want, it’s wanting what you have.”
For me, Carrie Fisher will always be my first, and one of my most influential, feminist role models. It started as a love affair with Star Wars and Leia, but as I became more aware of how I want to exist in the world, it also became an admiration for the woman she was. And, for Carrie Fisher, I will always I truly believe that she drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra.
Rebekah Buchanan is an Assistant Professor of English at Western Illinois University.
The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcome and encouraged.