You’re My Only Hope: Leia, The Third Wave, and Princesses

I was a women’s studies minor in college. Just about everyone who met me knows this because I love talking about it. In fact I understand that I can be quite obnoxious about it. I consider it an imperative to explain my particular brand of feminism to people. I’m what’s called a cultural and academic feminist. Meaning I love to study all of the different kinds (militant, political, historical, I love it all) but I really believe that political and legal equality have been achieved in Western society. All that’s left now is social and cultural equality which has to happen by changing attitudes, which is neither easy nor simple.

But this post isn’t about that. It’s about one of the women who I feel really set me down the path to becoming a feminist early in my life. I’m not talking about my mother, although she was instrumental in it. No I’m talking about Princess Leia Organa, the daughter of Anakin Skywalker and Padme Amidala.

See, Star Wars came out during the end of what scholars call The Second Wave of feminism. All of the things that are generally associated with the feminist movement come from the second wave. You know what I’m talking about, Gloria Steinem, the rallies, the bra burning (that’s a myth, by the way. No one burned bras, they burned girdles and it only happened once.) And yes, by second wave standards, Leia is a terrible feminist icon. She’s a shrewish yelly damsel in distress. Also there’s this:

Not exactly screaming “empowerment” in this shot

But she was also written and created during the cusp of the third wave. Third Wave Feminism, focuses almost entirely on the individual. From a third wave perspective Leia is an awesome feminist icon. She’s a sovereign of a planet, a member of the galactic senate (before it’s disintegrated by the Emperor obviously), is a key leader of the rebel alliance, orchestrates a plan to save the man she loves, and has the FORCE.

But to me, the thing that stands out the most, is that Leia defined what a “princess,” was for me. One of the big problems I’ve always had with the third wave is the way that they demonize the word. I see nothing wrong with saying that “Every girl is a princess.” Because in my head the churns up really positive images, you know, like a red haired mermaid who follows her heart instead of living up to societal expectations (and got a really hot guy), or a bookish French girl who learns to look past appearances to fall in love (and it turns out that he’s actually a really hot guy), or you know an intergalactic diplomat who has a way with a blaster and a one liner and a weird flirty vibe with her secret brother. (Who also ends up with a really hot guy, who is not her brother.)

This Guy!

I did of course, take more away from Star Wars than the fact that being a Princess means you get to marry Harrison Ford. I understand that one also has to be sassy, and probably a brunette. And it would be completely ridiculous to say that part of what makes Leia so deeply feminist is her relationship with Han, right?


The love story that develops between Leia and Han is among one of my favorites because it treats both characters as equals. The simple fact of the matter is that neither of them is the hero in the overall story (that credit goes to Luke, who had little impact on me as a child.) so they are afforded that chance. These are two people that grow to care about one another through mutual experience. Because of this, even my earliest relationship fantasy was based on the belief that two people should be together for logical reasons, based on trust and love and the fact that they were on the run from an evil space wizard together.  And that is hugely feminist.

One thought on “You’re My Only Hope: Leia, The Third Wave, and Princesses

  1. Pingback: I know.: RIP Carrie Fisher | The Fangirl's Dilemma

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s