I’m not ancient, but I am old enough to remember a time when there weren’t many strong female role models. Seventies’ and 80’s pop culture wasn’t exactly rife with women who were a beacon of hope for girls who were deciding what to be when they grew up. We had plenty of Tawny Kitaen writhing on top of a car, but not many fully-clothed women we could look up to.
I was very lucky because I was raised in a house where my parents let me believe I could be anything I wanted, regardless of whether there had been any women trailblazing a path for it. Paleontologist? Sure! Astronaut? Go for it! They were immensely supportive, and so I grew up with the confidence that I could be anything. At the time it WAS daring to think that a woman could tackle any role she chose. Now, of course, things are much better (ahem, about time, US military) but we can talk about that 70 cents on the dollar thing another day).
Girls my age did, however, have one woman we could look up to. She was brave, smart, well-traveled, and unafraid of complicated and perplexing hairstyles. Princess Leia.
Before you write me off as another nerd, let’s sift through the evidence, shall we?
- Never gave up the location of the secret rebel base, even when being poked by the scary, floating robot needle that her own father sicced on her.
- Didn’t abandon her career goals to overthrow the empire, even when heavily pursued by a hunky Han Solo.
- Didn’t get skeeved out after realizing she had once made out with her twin brother.
- Led the rebellion to victory with decisive confidence and intelligence.
- Bravely took up arms against stormtroopers so Luke could get that grappling hook ready.
- Saved her man after he had been frozen in carbonite.
- Cool and sarcastic under pressure.
Okay, so maybe I AM another nerd, but my point is true. Princess Leia was never a Disney princess, and for that I’m totally thankful. She was a take-charge princess, leader of men, unafraid of getting her hands dirty, leaping over any obstacle in her path. Her attitude spoke to me in a way that Queen Amidala’s never did (sidebar: is that the fault of Natalie Portman or George Lucas? Discuss).
I had my own “holy crap” moment the first time I saw her in the gold bikini, but for a very different reason than my male nerd counterparts. In the first two movies, I had only seen her as a powerful force that got shit done. She wasn’t decorative. She wasn’t waiting for anyone to save her. In that bikini, as iconic as it was, she still wasn’t decorative. In Fisher’s own words, “the character is wearing that outfit not because she’s chosen to wear it. She’s been forced to wear it. She’s a prisoner of a giant testicle who has a lot of saliva going on and she does not want to wear that thing and it’s ultimately that chain…that is used to kill the giant saliva testicle.” That’s kinda hard to argue with.
I hear she’s a general now, and rightly so. My dreams have gotten bigger since childhood – hers should have, too. To have her come back to the big screen this year is such a gift. I’m willing to battle a horde of stuck up, half-witted, scruffy-looking nerf herders for a front-row seat on opening night.
May the Star Wars universe continue to promote and celebrate women who get it done. Although I don’t have daughters who can appreciate all that Leia has done for princessdom, I do have sons who can. I’ll tell them that if they want a true partner, they should find a woman like Leia. And when they say, “I love you,” she’ll smile back and say, “I know.”