This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Katherine J C Sang

Abstract 

During the Women’s March of 2017, a prominent image could be seen across many of the international marches. This image was of Princess Leia from the Star Wars franchise with the quote ‘a woman’s place is in the resistance’. As Carrie Fisher herself stated, Leia and Carrie were inextricably intertwined. Even after her early death, Carrie Fisher was leading the women’s movement. This abstract adopts an interdisciplinary approach to considering what we can learn about what feminist styles of leadership may look like. Leadership is historically understood to be gendered in its conceptualization and enactment, with leadership closely tied to forms of masculinity. Previous research has suggested that leadership is not a series of traits, but is performative and can be understood through a Butlerian lens of gender performativity. Further extant work has demonstrated the benefit of analysing texts such as autobiographies and fiction to understand how leadership is both performative and gendered. This chapter will extend that argument, through analyses of cultural artefacts including Carrie Fisher’s memoirs and performances in the Star Wars series to imagine what a feminist vision of leadership might look like. Drawing on General Organa/Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher’s own life I suggest that a feminist style of leadership cannot only be imagined in the Star Wars universe but also enacted in day-to-day life. The chapter will conclude by considering what we may learn about the performance of feminist leadership, particularly in the context of contemporary resistance movements. 

Page BreakCarrie Fisher 

As Manning and Adams (2015) assert, as researchers we are not distinct from the cultural texts we analyse. Instead our personal experiences are key to our analyses. This is absolutely the case in this chapter, where my own appreciation of the Star Wars films, especially the character of Leia, sits alongside an affection for Carrie Fisher. Similarly to LeBlanc (2017), I have watched Princess Leia/General Organa and Carrie Fisher, making mental notes of their feminism for much of my life, since my own feminism emerged. As such this chapter is as much a labour of love as it is an academic exploration of what feminist leadership might look like and how Carrie Fisher’s legacy has extended beyond her early death in December, 2016. The chapter begins by setting out a brief introduction to Carrie Fisher and the blurring of Fisher the actress and Leia the character. It then moves to a discussion of feminist leadership, as the theoretical framing for this chapter. I note that the concept of feminist leadership remains sparsely researched, in part due to a history of masculine domination of both leadership and leadership scholarship. The chapter then considers how Fisher’s life and Leia’s character arc intertwine to demonstrate key aspects of feminist leadership. Throughout the chapter I draw on Fisher’s own words (from autobiographies and interviews), the growing academic literature on Carrie Fisher’s life and excerpts from media, popular culture and social media. The chapter concludes by considering how feminist leadership emerges in the Star Wars universe, and is moving into contemporary women’s activism.  

Carrie fisher or Leia? 

‘I like to quote fictional characters, because I’m something of a fictional character myself!’ (Fisher, 2009: 155).  

When writing or thinking about Carrie Fisher, I find it very difficult, if not impossible, to separate Fisher the Actress from Leia, to the extent that I sometimes forget that Marie Fisher in When Harry Met Sally, is the same actress as Princess Leia. Fisher herself, articulated similar confusion between herself and her most famous character. ‘Am I Princess Leia, or is she me?’ (Fisher, 2017:6). Widmayer’s (2017) analysis of social media posts in the months after Carrie’s death, noted that for many fans on social media, Carrie Fisher and Princess Leia were inextricably entangled. Indeed, Fisher herself noted that she was unable from a young age to distinguish between her mother’s fictional live in film and television and ‘real life’ (Fisher, 2009).  For the purposes of this chapter, I do not try to draw a distinction between the actress and the character, at least not a sharp distinction. Instead, it is acknowledged and perhaps even celebrated as part of both Fisher’s and Leia’s reach and legacy. 

Feminist leadership 

Despite a small body of academic literature exploring leadership within the Star Wars universe, there is a paucity of work that examines the leadership demonstrated by Princess Leia. Perhaps this is due to George Lucas’ own presentation of Leia as a character who moves from rebel leader to being a ‘drag’ and a ‘nuisance’ to the Rebellion (Henthorn, 2013:80). However, this presentation is at stark odds with the popular media’s presentation of Leia as a leader, where there are numerous blogs and magazine articles that explore Leia’s leadership style and traits. It is not possible to present all of these pieces as they number into the hundreds. Instead, below, I have selected a few which have clearly articulated why the authors feel Leia is a leader and how that leadership is demonstrated. In the online leadership magazine ‘Leaderonomics’ Naidu (2017) argues that Princess Leia challenges the idea that ‘females should be seen but not heard’ (no page number). An anonymous (2019) www.starwars.com review of a new Star Wars animation series, states that Leia is, above all else, a leader with her ability to inspire and persevere through challenging times. The anonymous author argues that Leia’s legacy extends beyond the immediacy of engagement with the animation into those children’s adult lives as parents will find that Leia’s character offers the opportunity for them to discuss leadership with their children. Despite the political nature of Leia’s leadership in the Star Wars universe, where she is fighting against Imperialism, many of the popular accounts present this leadership (and leadership more generally) as politically neutral.  Rosenberg (2015) challenges this, by suggesting that Leia is an explicitly political character who manages to persuade the apolitical men in her life, particularly Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, to join the resistance and become political actors. More interestingly, while many of the popular media pieces deny Leia’s political activism, they also deny her gendered position as an often lone female leader in a male universe.   Naidu (2017) further states that Leia demonstrates the pragmatism, empathy, decisiveness and bravery required of a leader, while arguing that leadership is not a gendered concept.  In contrast, there is a wealth of academic literature going back to the 1990s (Eagly and Johnson, 1990) which clearly articulates that leadership is a gendered issue. A recent special issue editorial from Leith and Stead (2016) sets out the history of the close association between leadership and masculinity and the power structures which underpin leadership and how it is understood. Leadership has historically been understood as an essentially masculine trait, with the examinations of the relatively rare women leaders based on essentialist views of femininities (Stead and Elliot, 2009). Although much of the extant literature on women’s leadership assumes that women leader differently to men, this is rarely born out in the literature (Bierema, 2016), although some evidence suggests that women are more likely to adopt a transformative leadership style (Eagly, 2015). Transformative leadership is a leadership style committed to an ethical and moral approach that is shared by leader and followers (Caldwell et al., 2012; Sheilds, 2010). Put simply, transformative leadership is orientated towards changing and ending inequitable practices. Turning back to Leia, and Carrie Fisher, there are numerous examples where we can see a commitment to overcoming inequity. Leia’s existence throughout all her films is closely tied to fighting oppressive imperialist forces. In her own life Carrie was committed to raising awareness of mental health conditions, and the sexualisation of women’s bodies in the media (Loughrey, 2017). However, presenting this as transformative leadership, without acknowledging the explicitly feminist position adopted by Fisher in challenging how women are treated within the media and associated employment misses the opportunity to explore both leadership and Fisher’s legacy for women. One route to understanding this is to turn our attention away from the masculine trait-based approaches to leadership towards two newly developing areas of leadership theory, that of performativity and feminist leadership.  

The literature on feminist leadership is sparse, with a few notable exceptions. This section sets out extant understandings of leadership and gender, with specific emphasis on Butlerian understandings of performativity, moving to feminist leadership. Noting the lack of literature on feminist leadership, the chapter draws on distributed leadership which shares a similar emphasis on social justice.  

Galloway et al (2015) revealed the importance of moving away from understandings of leadership which rely on masculine models of leadership traits which promote a heroic lone male leader.   One area where such efforts have been focussed is distributed leadership, which is defined in a variety of ways within the literature (Tian et al., 2016). A key element of distributed leadership is that leadership is not solely located within the senior levels of a hierarchy (Spillane, 2005), with leadership acts enacted by followers (Collinson, 2005). Distributed leadership is a focus on the process of leadership, rather than its end goals (Spillane, 2005) which links with recent debates that leadership should be viewed as what leaders do, rather than innate traits. Moving further away from understanding leadership as an innate trait or traits, recent work has seen leadership through a poststructuralist lens, drawing on performativity. Butler (1988) argues that gender is performative, in that gender is the resulted of repeated acts and continual doing. These acts do not precede the doing, rather gender is ‘performed into being’ (Windmayer, 2017:64). What does it then mean for leadership to be performative?  Galloway et al (2015) suggest that leadership can be understood through a Butlerian feminist lens of performativity which allows leadership to be seen, not as innate, but as something which is enacted. As such, leadership, like gender, does not exist prior to its enactment or performance. Conceptualising leadership as a trait based approach requires an essentialist perspective, however, a performativity approach creates the space to explore leadership as it is done and its construction through that doing. A focus on the ongoing performativity of gender also opens avenues for novel research approaches which are more sensitive to the ongoing (re)constitution of both gender and leadership.   

There remain debates on how leadership can be empirically understood and researched. Galloway et al (2015) suggest that cultural artefacts are helpful for understanding leadership, particularly to reveal gendered performativity in relation to leadership. Kapasi et al (2016) analysed cultural artefacts, in this case autobiographies of women leaders, to reveal that women’s leadership is constructed to mirror societally preferred feminine attributes e.g. familial concerns. Clover et al (2017) suggest it is important to move away from the idea of feminine leadership which is rooted in socially constructed ideals of femininity, towards a feminist leadership which they state is post-heroic. As such, it is important to draw a distinction between women leaders, and feminist leadership (Chin, 2004).  

Chin (2004) identified four components of feminist leadership, as linked to leadership as a form of empowerment.  

  1. Creating a feminist agenda 
     
  1. Promoting feminist policies 
     
  1. Changing organisational cultures to be more gender equitable 
     
  1. Empowering women as feminist leaders.  
     

In addition, Cover and McGregor (2016) argue that feminist leaders disrupt accepted norms, sometimes disobeying authority. Similarly to distributed leadership, feminist leadership forces an examination of the processes of leadership not its end goal (Clover et al.2017). This is contra to Chin’s (2004) definition where the end goal of feminist leadership, a shift in organisational cultures towards gender equality, is explicitly stated. Further Clover et al (2017) argue that feminist leadership is committed to working across oppressed social groups, acting as allies to oppressed groups.  

While transformative leadership has the goal of overcoming inequalities, feminist leadership could be seen as a form of distributed leadership with the specific goals of ending gender based oppression, with the empowerment of future women leaders a desired outcome. The chapter now turns to a consideration of feminism, feminist leadership and Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia.  

Leia/Fisher as feminist leader 

The four elements of feminist leadership set out by Chin (2004) overlap to the extent that it is difficult to discuss each in turn. However the following sections set out how Leia and Fisher can be seen to be performing leadership in ways which correspond with Chin’s (2004) and Clover and McGregor’s (2016) conceptualisation of feminist leadership. I focus specifically on the aspects of setting a feminist agenda, empowering women as feminist leaders, and disrupting norms and disobedience.  

Setting a feminist agenda 

If we look at Princess Leia/General Organa, it is not straightforward to suggest that a feminist leadership style is enacted. Leia/Organa does not actively pursue an agenda of gender equality. However, if we understand feminist leadership to be concerned with an examination and undoing of patriarchal power structures (Chin, 2004), a different perspective can be taken. For LeBlanc (2017) Princess Leia was the first feminist in the Star Wars universe, moving to introduce Leia Feminism whose adherents ‘want the adventure, equal power, but also autonomy, and then love.’ (p. 7). However, as Doctor (2017) points out, the Star Wars universe has historically relied on a traditional view of a hero’s journey, one which is implicitly male. The male hero’s journey is subverted in The Force Awakens, away from one of a personal quest for inner development, towards one which is motivated by a desire to support others in overcoming oppression (Doctor, 2017). As such we can see that Leia’s life’s purpose has become leading The Resistance to defeat the oppressive Empire, the relics of which form The First Order in the more recent films.  

Empowering women as feminist leaders 

Within the Star Wars universe we can see in the more recent film the emergence of a number of women leaders who are orientated towards dismantling the oppression of the The First Order (the resurgence of the Empire defeated in The Return of the Jedi). Leia is not the only woman leader in the Star Wars franchise who may perform feminist leadership, especially if we turn to The Last Jedi.  

In the The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, the viewers are exposed for the first time to women within the Resistance who are inspired by Leia. General Hordo, Rose Tico and Rey as the main character in both films. One example is the newly introduced character of Admiral Holdo who is Organa’s Vice Admiral and hinted to have led Resistance fighters in previous battles. During The Last Jedi, the remaining Resistance fleet face the First Order under the leadership of Holdo after the rest of the High Command are either killed or left incapacity.  

Admiral Holdo addresses the remaining Resistance fighters: 

We’re the very last of the Resistance But we’re not alone. In every corner of the galaxy… the downtrodden and oppressed know our symbol… and they put their hope in it. We are the spark that will ignite the fire that will restore the Republic. That spark… this Resistance, must survive.  

Here we see Admiral Holdo, who is inspired by Leia, express an explicit agenda to overcome oppression.  Holdo eventually sacrifices her own life not only to protect the Resistance fighters, but to ensure that the fight against oppression can continue. Collinson (2005) reflects that distributed leadership, as understood by post-structuralist feminist scholars, helps us to understand the blurring of leader/follower, power/resistance dialectics. We can see this within The Last Jedi, as Leia and Holdo are both leaders, although Holdo is Leia’s follower. Further, they blur the boundaries of power and resistance, as both hold positions of hierarchical power within The Resistance. However, neither resist the power dynamics of the Resistance, instead embracing their senior positions and exerting the power they hold through the militaristic Resistance’s hierarchy. This illustrates the tensions, which are evident within feminist leadership, or distributed leadership; namely that of occupying a position of power while working to disrupt power relations. This is particularly evident for Holdo and Organa as they are senior within a militarily organised hierarchy. Sasson-Levy (2003) in her analysis of women serving in the Israeli armed forces demonstrated that similar tensions could be found in these ‘real-life’ experiences. Women in serving in the armed forces simultaneously challenge the masculine norms of military service with their presence, while reinforcing and complying with the power structures which underpin their position in the hierarchy. So, while Fisher’s character of Leia, and Laura Dern’s character of Holdo may be seen as challenging militaristic norms by their presence as women, their authority is rooted in their position within what viewers may code as a masculine hierarchy. Neither women challenge those hierarchies per se, rather they exert power and influence through them. Such tensions may suggest that Leia’s leadership cannot be seen as feminist as those empowered, such as Holdo, are empowered through existing power structures. However, we also see Leia empowering Rey who is a woman whose efforts to dismantle the First Order lie outside of the militaristic hierarchies seen within The Resistance. Further, Rey unlike Leia, is not a member of a societal elite. In contrast to Leia’s position at the pinnacle of military hierarchy, Fisher’s leadership was far less formalised albeit linked to her family’s prestige within the film industry. This is discussed in more detail later in the chapter.  

Feminist leaders may need to adapt their leadership styles to accommodate men who are intimidated by women leaders (Chin, 2004). Neither Carrie Fisher nor General Organa do this. We see in all the films that Leia is confident in her position and as suggested earlier not only does she not change her style or position to accommodate men, she is able to persuade men to her position. Fisher’s uncompromising and public lifelong battle and relationship with Bipolar disorder. As Loughrey (2017) reminds us, Fisher wanted us to embrace our full selves, and not pretend to be something we are not. In contrast to Leia,  Fisher may not have articulated herself as a leader, it is clear she was read as a leader by her ‘followers’ and that through her open discussion of her life and its challenges she did not compromise herself (in later years at least) to accommodate men who were intimidated by her.  

Feminist leadership is diverse, with race, ethnicity, disability and other sources of (dis)advantage intersecting with gender (Chin, 2004). How does Carrie Fisher’s bipolar disorder intersect with gender for feminist leadership? As discussed above, Fisher’s relationship with bipolar disorder was a complex one, and a relationship she did not conceal or shy away from discussing. In 2016 Fisher became an Agony Aunt for the British newspaper, the Guardian. In this column Fisher shared her own experiences from across an, at times, turbulent life marked by public success and also addictions. On the 30th November, 2016 a column was published where a member of the public and written to Fisher asking for advice on how to find peace after a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Fisher responds, setting out her own dual diagnosis of alcoholism and bipolar disorder and the usefulness of support groups. Later in the response we can see a hint towards a more explicit idea of leadership.  

Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not “I survived living in Mosul during an attack” heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.’ (Fisher, 2016 online).  

Here Fisher explicitly articulates that she views (or encourages others to view) a difficulty as an opportunity to be heroic and to inspire others to follow. We can see evidence that, for Fisher, leadership was not held, or from a performative standpoint, enacted by one lone heroic person. Rather, she espoused a desire to empower others to enact leadership as well.  

We see that in The Last Jedi, heroism is not the work of a lone man, rather, heroism is a team effort led by women (King, 2017). For example, General Organa (Leia) and Admiral Holdo have to collaborate in order to provide the resistance with its only hope for survival. As such we see that leadership is not the act of one person, rather it is collaborative.  

As Windmayer (2017)  notes, for many feminists, General Organa became the symbol associated with the feminist leadership of Leia, and in turn, Fisher. It was the ‘older’ image of General Organa was seen to reflect agency and resilience. Further, it was this image that was seen to move both Fisher and Leia from sexual object, to feminist resistance leader. On social media, Windmayer (2017), a call to arms was issued for all to enact Fisher’s/Organa’s feminist leadership in their own lives to secure Fisher’s legacy.  

Fisher’s openness about her mental health condition forms an integral aspect of her legacy (Windmayer, 2017). Fisher’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder, coupled with her global profile resulted in her featuring as an example of the disorder an in abnormal psychology textbook, albeit with a picture of Princess Leia rather than Fisher herself (Fisher, 2009) remarking ‘So I’m not crazy, that bitch is. Anyone who would wear a hairstyle like that has to be nuts! Right?’ (p116).  

In this sense, engaging with Fisher’s legacy allows Fisher herself to stick around a little longer, reminding fans over and over again to stand up, fight and ‘take not shit.’ (Windmayer, 2017:73).  

Audience participation in the Star Wars universe is a vital aspect of its sustainability and appeal (Doctor, 2017). We see this participation in a range of formats, including the appropriation of images and phrases from Star Wars used in contemporary resistance movements, interspersed with the disruption of traditional gendered phrases. As an example, ‘a woman’s place is in the home’ becomes ‘a woman’s place is in the resistance’. Although Carrie Fisher died at the end of 2016, she and Leia were in the minds of many who took part in the Women’s March on the 21st January, 2017 following the inauguration of Donald Trump as the President of the United States.  

Disrupting norms and disobedience.  

Clover and McGregor (2016) expand Chin’s (2004) conceptualisation of feminist leadership, suggesting that feminist leaders also disrupt (masculine) norms and engage in disobedience. Both Fisher and Leia can be seen as disrupting norms, including social norms and being disobedient.  

As Henthorn (2013) recounts, Leia is introduced to the audience as a rebel and a leader. In A New Hope, we are introduced to Princess Leia who does not exhibit the daintiness expected of a princess, instead she answers back to power (LeBlanc, 2017): 

‘Governor Tarkin, I should have expected to find you holding Vader’s leash. I recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board’ (Lucas, 1976).  

From our first meeting with Leia (at least in the order of the films as they were released, rather than in order in the story arc), our first engagement with Leia in person is one of rebellion. Depsite her position as a ‘princess’ we see her challenging power and soon after Leia is defending herself and her male ‘rescuers’ from danger. This challenging of traditional (in the viewers’ minds) gender roles continues in later films. In The Empire Strikes Back, Leia excels in her leadership skills (LeBlanc, 2017:16): 

Therefore, Leia Feminism incorporates self-sufficiency, an authoritative tone, equality, and leadership skills without being bitchy, along with the previous mentioned qualities of liberated, strong, and not sexually objectified.’ 

For LeBlanc (2017) Leia does not exhibit stereotypical gender norms for women, particularly ‘bitchiness’ and despite Fisher’s, and Leia’s subsequent sexualised position she is not objectified.  As such we can see leadership moving away from the lone heroic male leader and away from socially constructed feminine norms (Clover et al., 2017). However, Fisher herself was notably uncomfortable with the objectification she experienced as Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back. Notably the scene where Leia is held prisoner by Jabba the Hut. Subsequently Fisher warned incoming Star Wars actor Daisy Ridley “Don’t be a slave like I was… You keep fighting against that slave outfit.” (quoted by Hibberd, 2015 no page number). However, Fisher’s relationship to the iconic gold bikini costume was complex, with her also defending the costume when it was criticised by parents’ groups (ibid). As such we see Fisher both empowering a younger actor in the Star Wars universe to avoid the objectification associated with Leia, but also defending the costume and possibly herself from criticisms which emerged years after The Empire Strikes Back was released. Thus, both Fisher and Leia simultaneously challenge and reinforce certain gendered norms.  

In the more recent films, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, Leia has become General Organa and is no longer a sexualised character although the challenging of gendered norms is sustained. Leia as Organa continues to openly challenge male authority. This is exemplified when Poe challenges General Organa’s leadership following a failed attack on the First Order: 

LEIA: Poe, get your head out of your cockpit. There are things you cannot solve… By jumping into an X-wing and blowing something up! I need you to learn that. 

POE: There were heroes on that mission. 

LEIA: Dead heroes, No leaders. (Johnson, 2017) 

We see Leia’s influence in challenging traditionally male leadership models of the lone hero (Galloway et al., 2015) extending to other characters who not white or male. There are characters within The Last Jedi who exhibit forms of heroism, for example, Paige Tico who pilots a bombardier on what becomes a suicide mission. This is in sharp contrast to Poe who leads others to their deaths. As Leia says ‘Dead heroes’. 

We see that Poe continues in his attempt to assert authority over a woman who has hierarchal seniority when he encounters General Hordo who takes over from General Organa after her injuries sustained following a First Order attack on the Resistance Fleet.  

POE: “Captain.” “Commander.” You can call me whatever you like. I just want to know what’s going on. 

AMILYN HOLDO: Of course you do. I understand. I’ve dealt with plenty of trigger happy flyboys like you… You are impulsive. Dangerous. And the last thing we need right now. So stick to your post… and follow my orders. (Johnson, 2017).  

Leia subverts patriarchal norms throughout the original Star Wars trilogy, by mocking her male captors and rescuers, with her independence, outspoken behaviour and active participation in The Resistance (Dominguez, 2007). However, as Kondo (1990) notes, conformity and resistance are not distinct categories, and we should not expect anyone engage in resistance to be 100% authentic, as resistance and conformity with vary across time and space. As already argued both Leia and Fisher simultaneously resist and conform gendered norms.   

As suggested earlier, Fisher’s position within the film industry was facilitated by her family’s prestigious positions. Fisher was a Hollywood insider, the child of two famous parents Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (Fisher, 2009). Unlike Leia who could be argued to disrupt power relations by her presence as a woman in masculinised military hierarchy (admittedly as a Princess),  Fisher was part of the establishment from birth, as such her presence was not in itself the disruption Clover and McGregor (2016) argue is part of feminist leadership.  

Fisher’s relationship with feminism and subsequent disrupting of power structures within Hollywood is not straightforward. In Wishful Drinking (Fisher, 2009), we learn that Fisher went along with powerful gender norms in her early career: 

Shortly after I arrived [on set for Star Wars: A New Hope], George [Lucas] gave me this unbelievably idiotic hairstyle, and I’m brought before him like some sacrificial asshole and he says in his little voice. “Well what do you think of it?” And I say – because I’m terrified I’m going to be fired for being too fat – I say, “ I love it”…Because see, there was this horrible fat thing going on!…when I got this job they told me I had to lose 10 pounds. Well I weighed about 105 at the time, but to be fair, I carried about fifty of those pounds on my face!’ (Fisher, 2009: 83-84).  

Here we can see that Fisher, at the time did not feel she was able to challenge a powerful male figure in part due to her perceived precarious employment position related to her weight. This was despite her social position as a member of the Hollywood establishment.  

Later in her life, Fisher actively challenged powerful men in Hollywood. Screenwriter Heather Robinson recounted her experience when she informed Fisher that a powerful Hollywood executive had engaged in sexual misconduct. Reported in The Guardian (Mumford, 2017), Fisher sent the producer a Tiffany’s jewellery box with a cow’s tongue inside and a covering note of what would happen should he touch Robinson or another woman again. Here we can see Fisher engaging in multiple features of feminist leadership including working to eradicate power structures which marginalise women.  

As discussed earlier, while the presentation of Princess Leia was, at times, sexualised for example during her imprisonment by Jabba the Hut in The Empire Strikes back, Duchesne (2010) suggests Fisher’s portrayal has been empowering for women. Specifically, Duchesne (2010) argues that the iconic bikini scenes have been subverted not only by Leia when she overpowers her captor, but by subsequent cos-player women.  

For some heterosexual men, Widmayer (2017) notes, Leia and Fisher were associated with early sexual awakenings. In contrast, for ‘other men and women mourned a feminist and a mental health activist, a ‘mouthy woman’ woman who pushed back against the sexism of Hollywood and a character who literally fought the patriarch’ (p51).  We can see here that both Fisher and Leia are perceived to enact aspects of feminist leadership relating to challenging of patriarchal power structures (Chin, 2004) and disobeying and disrupting leadership norms (Clover and McGregor, 2016).  

Conclusions 

Leadership theory is moving beyond a trait based approach exemplified by the lone heroic male. In this chapter I have drawn on Butler’s (1988) theory of performativity to consider feminist leadership as conceptualised by Chin (2004) and Clover and McGregor (2016). It is clear that although Carrie Fisher played a number of different characters in films, she is mostly closely associated with (and most closely associated herself) with Princess Leia/General Organa. This association is so close that the lines between the person (Fisher) and the character (Leia) are blurred and at times they may be impossible to disentangle. By considering drawing on Fisher’s own words, the story arc of Star Wars and fan responses to both, this chapter has demonstrated that although Fisher and Leia do both enact feminist leadership, this is at times in tension with conforming the gender norms and other power structures. We can see then that feminist leadership is not straightforward. As with both Leia and Fisher, their potential to be feminist leaders stems at least in part from their privileged positions within their relative worlds (Star Wars and Hollywood). At times the both resist gender norms, but also comply. As with many engaged in social justice work, resistance and conformity do not exist in opposition with each other in either Fisher or Leia. Rather, as Kondo (1990) shows us both exist simultaneously and resistance and conformity may occur at different times and in different ways across a person’s life.  

In the introduction I established that I am not a neutral or apolitical observer for the purposes of this chapter. I am a feminist academic and activist, working to overcome gendered inequalities. I am inspired in this work by many women, including both Leia and Carrie Fisher. While I have pointed out the tensions in both Leia and Fisher’s life between conformity and resistance, this is meant in no way to undermine the importance or legacy of either women. Rather, as Fisher herself argued, we must be the entirety of ourselves and embrace who we are. Many of us will recognise Fisher’s pain at the criticism of our appearance, while recognising that as feminists this should not be something we are concerned with or complicit in. I hope this chapter has helped to show Fisher and Leia to be the feminist leaders many of us see them to be. Despite Carrie Fisher’s death, her influence and her leadership continue to empower and inspire. As Fisher said, shortly before her death in 2016 Now get out there and show me and you what you can do.’ (Fisher, 2016 no page numbers).  

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