Carrie Fisher died yesterday at 60 after a heart attack. Since the announcement of her death, I have become more and more acquainted with the incredible woman she was thanks to the dear, insightful and powerful remembrances and tributes shared by many women who have rightly looked up to her as a model of strength mingled with warmth and candor and creativity. I’ve been gratefully listening to these voices.
I’m afraid I have very little to add, but as often happens after the death of someone whose life connected with yours in some way, you realize too late the nature and texture of that connection.
Bear with me for a few words?
There’s something to be said for the part played by the fictional characters we grow up with.
Princess Leia, for me, was the first and definitely the most persistent strong woman character in my memory. Star Wars was always a constant in my life, and so Leia was sort of a given.
It would be much much later in my life before I would really become conscious at all of women’s issues, of my own sexism, of how patriarchy pervades fiction, but I think without me knowing it, Leia was there showing me something.
Leia is neither afraid nor weak, but strong and persistent. Never in despair.
Once the door is open in her jail cell, she promptly saves the men who came for her.
Captured and objectified as a sexual object, she overcomes her assaulter and breaks her own chains.
Faced with the destruction of her home world and with it the only family she ever knew, the loss of her son to the dark side, her partner at the hand of her own son, and abandonment by her brother, she stands as a model of perseverance in struggle without cynicism, retaining hope.
That’s… really powerful.
Carrie Fisher was and did many things besides playing the part of Princess Leia in Star Wars. She wrote novels and books, worked as a renowned script doctor, and spoke warmly and candidly as an advocate for mental health awareness as someone who lived with manic-depressive illness and overcame drug addiction.
A story she told has been circulating since her death of a time when, on the set of Star Wars: A New Hope, George Lucas told her she couldn’t wear a bra under her dress. Because… “science”. Because in space her body would expand, you see, but… not her bra…
Because… men are a failure.
She thought after this that her obituary should eventually read, “that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra.”
Carrie Fisher was strong, stronger than I ever really knew. The many remembrances on Twitter are showing me that.
I see now–too late?–that her strength breathed life into a character that I realize for me was a latent demonstration in my otherwise oblivious growing-up years that women can save themselves, are competent and strong and complex people who struggle and fight.
Drowning in moonlight, strangled by her own bra… I tend to think this is merely what could have been.
As Anne Theriault has written, it is General Organa, not Princess Leia, that we have as the greater heritage. A woman who has persevered, struggled, not without damage, but who still stands, against injustice, against hatred, against fear, against forces bent on tyranny, in spite of the blows, in spite of the chains thrown upon her.
I’m only beginning to grasp the thickness of the texture of these facts, of Fisher’s life and work.
2016 has been, in many ways, a year of difficulty and sadness and frustration. It may seem sort of trite, but a word of Fisher’s has stuck with me as I’ve reflected on her death, a simple phrase striped with the texture of a life that seems to have borne it out and that reaches me as I reflect now:
Stay afraid, but do it anyway.
I take these words with me into the new year, terrible and fascinating as it may yet unfold to be.