Carrie Fisher died today.
I’ve been able to make my peace with a lot of the deaths this year, but this one? This one fucking hurts. Carrie Fisher was the sort of kick ass woman I always wanted to meet, and the sort of brave human being I hope I can be. As a writer, she kicked a hell of a lot of ass. And maybe one day I’ll actually talk about that without spending 10k fangirling.
But as a human being? Holy hell, all the ass she kicked.
She was honest about her mental illness, rather than hiding it. She did so, so much to try and fight the stigma attached to mental illness. She stepped back when she wasn’t coping, and gave herself permission to treat her illness with compassion and kindness instead of trying to force her way through when she knew it wasn’t really possible. That takes a hell of a lot of courage. Pushing through the stigma and bullshit to maintain a career is damn near miraculous.
It can be really hard to find role models with mental illnesses, because more often than not, the media crucifies them for their ‘quirky behaviour’. When the world scrutinises the hell out of your every act, the easiest way to survive in the public eye is to hide any hint of illness from the world. And no one has the right to begrudge someone making the choice to survive instead of risk their mental health challenging the unfairness. She fought, and that makes her a big damn hero.
She was honest about her aging. When the spank-bank warriors rioted online about an actual human woman daring to age (and, y’know, apparently impact the ability for strangers to jack off to an image of her from decades ago), she gave exactly zero fucks. Seriously, go look at movies and count the older women playing dynamic, action-focused or leadership roles within the story. Go listen to actresses talking about how hard it is to get work after a certain age while men can grey and wrinkle without anyone caring overly much about it. Rocking her grey hair rather than hiding it while doing press? Kind of a big deal, y’all.
And her most iconic role, while mostly remembered for that fucking bikini, is such an amazing role model for girls and women. Leia fights on, even when everyone else runs away. Those heroes who get all the attention? They all ran the hell away. Luke runs away and hides on a freakin’ planet. Han runs away and goes back to smuggling. Chewie runs away with him. But they’re not the only runners. Ben runs away to join the enemy. Leia doesn’t run away. She loses everything, over and over, and she just keeps fucking fighting. She doesn’t wait for the heroes to get their asses back into the fray, she just gets it done without them.
But that’s not all that makes her an amazing role model.
When Rey returns after Han’s death, what does Leia do? This girl is a stranger to her, even if it’s clear Han cares for her at least a little. But Leia offers the girl comfort and company. The pair share their grief while the rest of the world celebrates the overall victory. She doesn’t begrudge the girl’s emotions, doesn’t get jealous or petty, or any of the other territorial shit that allegedly makes for interesting tension in stories around female interactions. She’s maternal, caring. She sees someone in pain, and even though she’s in so much pain herself, she tries to help ease Rey’s grief. Her love was just murdered by her son, and she’s offering support to someone else.
Leia as a General is respected, listened to. She’s not presented as trying to get the menfolk to listen and respect her- they already respect her. She’s proved her worth, and doesn’t need to keep trying to prove it in order to stay in power. She listens to her people, she acknowledges their ideas and their value as part of the team, rather than trying to do it all. And part of her strength is her compassion. She’s not closed off, not bitter and cold like so many other women in leadership roles in fiction. She cares about the safety of her people, even when she knows they’re likely going to die. She knows her people by name, and gives them the respect they’re due
You don’t respect her because she was a princess first? Look at all the fucks she gives.
You think her best days required a stupid bikini? She will choke you on the straps and jam metal and fabric down your throat, and go about her day.
You think she can’t win the war because she has lady bits? Still, not a solitary fuck available to give.
You think she’s too old to get shit done? She will stomp your throat into the dust and then get the hell back to work. Why? Because she’s not a damsel. She’s not a strong female character who falls apart as soon as the hero arrives, or who suddenly loses her ability to do her job because ooh, there’s a cute guy there! She’s focused, she’s driven, she’s passionate, and professional, and she’s capable regardless of what the men around her are doing.
And if you don’t think that means the world to women like me, you’re so, so wrong.