When I was growing up, way back in the mists of the Nineteen Seventies there weren’t that many cool role models for girls.
I say that. There were. Really there were, but not ones a small girl growing up in the East Midlands was likely to find out about until she was in her late teens and life got a bit more metropolitan. People like Frida Kahlo and Sylvia Plath didn’t really permeate my consciousness in the Seventies.
Film stars did, though.
Grease came out in 1978. I was six years old. I wasn’t allowed to go and see it at the cinema. All my friends did. It was all we talked about in the school playground for weeks. We played Grease every play time, and naturally every girl wanted to be Sandy, and big fights would erupt over who got the honour.
I never got to be Sandy. I was a bit sad about this until I actually got to see the film some years later when it was on television and I realised I preferred Rizzo.
And as I grew up I realised how sad it was that anyone wanted to be Sandy. Including Sandy herself. Her options? Virgin or whore. End of. Grease lost its shine.
In 1977 a very different film came out. It was called Star Wars. Just like Grease after it, Star Wars was something we played every play time. Just like Grease I wasn’t allowed to see it at the cinema and all the girls fought over who would be Princess Leia. I never got to be Leia, but unlike my later relief that I never got to be Sandy, I’m still a bit chewed up over never having gotten to be Leia.
It turned out when I finally got to watch it, that Leia was the coolest girl in the world. In fact, she was the coolest girl in the galaxy. At the time I just worshipped her blindly. Over the years I realised why I worshipped, and continue to worship her. Leia kicked intergalactic ass. Leia was tough. She was resourceful. She was brave. She was as good as the boys (if not better). She was defiant and edgy and angry. She looked death in the eye. She kicked evil in the bollocks. She had a really big gun and she actually knew how to use it and didn’t spend her time squealing and hiding behind star fighters while the boys did the best stuff.
She was also as sexy as hell. AND she got to snog Han Solo. These two things cannot be overlooked.
These things might seem trivial in the light of everything that preceded them, but they weren’t. They showed girls that you could look fabulous and still blow shit up. They showed girls that you could be strong and brave and angry and still fuck the hottest boy on the intergalactic craft of your choice, and if that boy was worth his salt, he’d be pleased and not intimidated and not demand that his woman bow before him when she could fight next to him.
Leia was and remains an icon of female power. I still aspire to be her. She left Sandy choking in the dust.
You can only imagine how utterly amazing it was to find out that not only was Leia the best, Carrie Fisher was better. That’s right. The real life Princess Leia was an absolute legend. She was funny and witty and brilliant. She was a warrior for mental health for being yourself, for doing things your own way, for being unapologetic and frank. She was a brilliant writer. She was a fantastic campaigner. Her acting went from strength to strength and she never, ever gave up, no matter what life threw at her.
A couple of days ago, when she had a heart attack, I actually prayed, and I am a godless woman. I prayed that she would pull through. The news was good in the hours after it happened and I rejoiced that she was doing her thing, being her righteous, kickass self and telling death where to get off.
Today, she died.
Drowned in the moonlight. Strangled by her own bra.
Just the way she would have wanted to go.