Musings on Princess Leia’s Bikini
I’ve been reflecting on Carrie Fisher’s legacy since her death hit the internet. Her role as Princess Leia was an early mixing of feminine strength and sexuality which never quite sat comfortably. One of her most remembered, and iconic, scenes was — of course — the gold bikini scene where she was enslaved to Jabba the Hutt (who will forever remind me of Pizza the Hutt since I watched Spaceballs.)
Fisher herself was no huge fan of the costume, telling Daisy Ridley (aka Rey) “Well, you should fight for your outfit. Don’t be a slave like I was … You keep fighting against that slave outfit.”
She also talks, in an interview with Ridley, about being a masturbation fantasy and relates a story where some boy she meets at a store tells her “I thought about you every day from when I was 12 to when I was 22.” and she goes “every day?” and he responds “well, 4 times a day.”
But… Fisher wasn’t always so down on that bikini. She was apparently happy to do a smiling, water shoot for rolling stone in the 80s:
And, you know, I’m not sure she gave Ridley very good advice. She made her own career and her own name, in part, by using her sexuality and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
I remember reading an eye opening passage of Jenna Jameson’s biography which detailed her long career in porn:
Though watching porn may seem degrading to some women, the fact is that it’s one of the few jobs for women where you can get to a certain level, look around, and feel so powerful, not just in the work environment but as a sexual being.
How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale by Jenna Jameson and Neil Strauss
It was an eye opening line, because for me as a woman in tech, my sexuality had always weakened me. Sure, it left me vulnerable to sexual predation (which I have experienced) but more than that, my being a sexual person led to my perception as a less competent person. To be taken seriously at work I had to play up a certain asexuality which was not natural for me.
When I read that, I understood what my life was missing: I was missing the experience of being related to and respected as a sexual human. The nerdy men around me, they may not have been “good with women,” but they did respect each other as sexual beings. They were allowed to find women hot, it was sort of socially accepted for them to flirt with me a little bit or for, say, the young new intern to have a little bit of an open crush on me.
Had I openly returned any such sexual feelings, however, it would have been very bad for me professionally. I won’t lie, I did occasionally get hella laid at conferences, but I had to keep any attractions to my coworkers under tight control (with varying degrees of success.) Also, I’m not sure that my sexual exploits early on didn’t negatively affect my career; the only job I ever got fired from was one where I was more open about my sexuality.
My role, as a woman, was to be the rejector of male advances. For me to get seduced by a colleague would have been fine for them (maybe made them look like a bit of a badass) but would have made my judgement look suspect. But, like, I was horny! I wanted to fuck people! And there were people around everywhere who were willing to fuck me, and I was expected to just act like a dead stone and turn it all down because that was the respectable thing to do.
Getting sexually assaulted, while terrible for my mental health, was one of the best things for my career because it turned me into a legitimately asexual person for a number of years. Once my human sexual desire was destroyed, I was seen as serious, I was seen as respectable.
But, most importantly, I was seen as safe. Women who are willing to fuck in the corporate world are loose cannons who cannot be trusted. Because we allow male sexual desire to run rampant, any woman who wants to get laid risks ruining the order of things. She’s scary.
We enforce this order by pretending that women are “worth more” than men. My coworkers would probably have thought that any colleague I fucked would have been lucky as hell to get with me, but I would have been “lowering myself” to hook up with him. This sounds like putting women on a pedestal, but it’s not. It’s a way of keeping us down. It’s a way of punishing our sexual desire, and it’s also a way of rewarding “high status” men. The only men it wouldn’t have been humiliating for me to fuck would have been men higher up on the totem pole than I was. The only way for a man to be my sexual equal is to be my societal superior.
This is why ladies fuck their bosses. I never have, I have too much resentment for hierarchy, but I get why women do it. No judgies.
But, back to princes Leia. As a lady in a golden bikini, she became a sex symbol for a generation of nerdy men, but what was the message these men internalized about themselves? Who was the in movie representation of their male sexual desire?
Jabba the Hutt.
As Leia represents the epitome of feminine sexuality (beautiful but enslaved) Jabba represents the epitome of masculine sexuality. As Leia is weakened yet beautified, Jabba is strong yet disgusting. Although men are strengthened via their sexuality, seen “powerful” and “virile,” they are also seen as somewhat horrific and worthy of contempt. Women are worthy of saving for their sexuality, men deserve being destroyed for theirs.
Every man who was turned on by Leia in a golden bikini had to, to some degree, identify with the monster who put her in one. Every guy who jacked off to her had to, on some level, feel a little bit cretinous because he liked who she was when she was enslaved.
But, we don’t see sexual women who aren’t enslaved.
We treat men as so repulsive that any woman would need to be “enslaved” to be sexual with one, but that’s just not true. Straight women get horny and like to fuck men and don’t find them repulsive at all. I’m pretty sure this is also why homophobia against gay men and gay women has two very different tones. Gay men are seen as disgusting (for being men and for wanting to be sexual with other “vile” men) and gay women are seen as invisible — or rather, not seen — because as a society, we don’t know what female sexual desire *is* except as enslavement to male sexual desire. Gay men may be “vile” but gay women shouldn’t exist.
My experience with dating women is the experience of having my relationships repeatedly ignored by society unless we are both femme and can both be sexualized by men. If I kiss another femme women in public, strange men will ask for threesomes. But, when I had a long term relationship with a “masculine of center” woman, people would completely ignore us. Even our friends sometimes did fucked up shit like forget that we were dating or crash our anniversary trip as if we had issued a larger invite for our whole friend group. It was weird. It was super weird, and I had no idea how to deal with it.
The problem with princes Leia wasn’t that she was sexual, it was that we had no way of portraying female sexuality except as enslavement to a man. The only way we had to make a powerful women sexual was to make her a slave. And, people seem to be really kind of not getting this point.
Upon Fisher’s death, Steve Martin tweeted “When I was a young man, Carrie Fisher she was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She turned out to be bright and witty as well.” He then deleted it, because people got outraged and said she wouldn’t have wanted to be remembered as being “just a sex symbol” and whatever, but many of them missed the point.
The problem with that tweet isn’t that he called her beautiful, it’s that he called her a creature. It’s that, for a woman, to be sexualized in American society is to be dehumanized. It’s that we call being a sex symbol being “just” a sex symbol.
As if human sexuality was simple, as if human sexuality was dismissible. As if human sexuality didn’t point to some deep, fundamental things about what it means to be alive.
As it turned out, a lot of nerdy girls liked slave Leia too:
Apparently, it’s a very popular cosplay costume. Why is that? Why would women voluntarily dress like slaves?
Because they want to be sexy! Why do we see a proliferation of sluts on Halloween? Because women like being sexy! Because we have cut off so many avenues of female sexual expression all that’s left to many women is costume playing where at least they can be like “lolz! I’m just goofing around” if anyone takes their sexuality too seriously.
And you know what? I’ll bet a lot of men would like to be sexy too and probably would dress in ways that heightened their sexuality if we gave them any model for their sexuality other than this:
If the only model we have of female sexuality is enslavement, then the only model available for straight male sexuality is monstrosity.
We don’t need to get rid of sex symbols, we need to get rid of slaves. We need to get some horny bitches up on that silver screen, some forward women who go after what they want. We need women who hit on men, or women, or people of non binary gender. We need women with provocative sexual interests, we need women who are weird. We need women who aren’t traditionally attractive but are horny as hell. Thank you Tina, from Bob’s Burgers — you are worthy of a whole separate piece on your own.
If we change our conception of female sexuality, the conception of straight masculine sexuality will naturally change too. What will men look like when we imagine them as creatures that women want to fuck?
Anyway — thank you for your legacy, Carrie Fisher. I’ve benefitted from 30 years of feminism you didn’t have, and you were part of making it.