A Force, A Cosmic Certainty

Photo of Princess Leia

Trapped in quarantine purgatory, my partner and I, like two stereotypical GenXers, decided to escape to a galaxy far, far away. As we watched all three Star Wars trilogies, I was transported to the mellow days of the 70s in fog-drenched Monterey when my hair shone naturally golden and my sister and I frolicked in the ice-plant, climbing twisted scrub oaks in our front yard, part of the army base where my helicopter-flying father was stationed. I was five-years-old when George Lucas released his space odyssey Star Wars — that lightning in a bottle of space dust forever entwined in my consciousness. Though I was too young to remember viewing the first film, at some point, I developed my first girl-crush on an intergalactic princess with cinnamon buns for hair.

For Halloween in 1977, my mom sewed the only handmade costume I ever wore, winding my hair into two blonde swirls. We argued then about space-princess fashion. I could not recall Princess Leia having a hood, but later I realized mom was right. The hood shielded her identity as she skulked in space shuttle corridors, protecting top-secret rebel plans to destroy the evil Empire. This princess was righteous. With her chic 70s white gown and cocked blaster, was it any wonder that I was instantly smitten?              

In those early days, Star Wars meant playing in a backyard with a sensitive, tow-headed boy named Timmy. I liked Timmy’s house because he had just about every Star Wars action figure imaginable along with Han Solo’s notorious spaceship, the Millenium Falcon. He also owned Luke Skywalker’s Tatooine land speeder, my favorite space vehicle. Because I was a girl, I had to go to Timmy’s to indulge my fixation; Star Wars toys were meant for boys. But Timmy would often cry, growing weary and bored with this abundance long before I would. He would disappear inside the house, my imagination stretching solo in his backyard, lost and whizzing through the universe among dusty planets with Leia, my chosen avatar.

When I had my tonsils removed, my parents presented me with my very own Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia action figures, quickly followed by a 12-inch Leia doll that appeared under the Christmas tree. She was built like a tank with bright red lipsticked lips. It didn’t take long for her coiled hair to unravel in the violence of play.

Dim in memory’s fractured sense of time, my great-grandmother passed away and we departed on a long flight to New York for the funeral. Emerging from the mourning, what lingered from that trip was a brief outing to see the just released sequel, The Empire Strikes Back. We stood in a snaking line around the theater. Waiting, I stared up at the looming movie poster at Luke riding an Arctic alien creature and in the foreground, dashing Han Solo clutched – in a classic Hollywood romantic embrace – a relenting Leia in wending braids. I left the film dazzled, transformed in the wake of this tragic space spectacle.

After my parents split up briefly and I moved with my mom and sister to my grandmother’s in the South, someone gave me a tiny Yoda action figure for my birthday party at a roller rink. The little green guru came complete with a robe and plastic orange snake draped around his neck. Though I had new jeans wound with a stretchy gold belt, which made me feel older and cooler, I thrilled in secret at this nod to my Star Wars affinity, gone dormant. I found unlikely comfort in a reptilian talisman. It accompanied me to Germany soon afterward, where I existed as a military dependent, a child alien in a foreign land, reunited with my dad.

Returning to the states three years later, I re-entered my homeland in the early 80s an awkward tween complete with bad hair, braces, and spindly legs that had outgrown my body. Stuck in a sweltering summer in tidewater Virginia, my father’s last military assignment, I found temporary relief in a packed theater escape to the Redwood-forested planet of Endor. I was old enough then to realize the jokes were corny and those cuddly Ewok creatures were gratuitous. But there again was that princess, blasting away Imperial Storm Troopers on a speedy hot-rod before the enemy gave away the rebels’ daring plans to dismantle a deflector shield. And, how vile that this clever woman, who could pass as a bounty hunter and rescue Han Solo encased in carbonite, should wind up in a gold bikini enslaved to a slobbery alien slug. Again, after the credits rolled through a darkened theater, I blinked into the bright sun.

And then at some point, I lost the braces, headed to college and graduate studies, moved away, and settled into a career. In short, I grew up. The Star Wars trilogy had concluded and Princess Leia faded away with other childish things.           

Then I turned thirty. Once George Lucas released the highly anticipated three films of the Star Wars prequels, my resistance loosened, and I duly made my way back to the theater. Inferior films all, they failed to move me. Critics cited the overabundant CGI effects and clunky writing, but for me it came down to this:  the lack of a wise-cracking, blaster-packing princess.

But, as chance would have it, I also happened upon Postcards from the Edge, the early writing of Carrie Fisher, the actor forever chained to the iconic Princess Leia role. Her biting wit captivated me, so I followed its unrelenting circles over the years through her subsequent semi-autobiographical books. Vicious and wry in self-deprecation, her writing spared no ugly truth. She was simply brilliant. Surviving drug addiction and electric shock therapy, she endured the vicissitudes of bipolar disorder. Truly, the actor’s life proved as difficult as being outmanned and outgunned in an intergalactic war against a fascist regime.

But the past, especially when it’s a nostalgia-tinged cash cow, has a way of staying unburied. After getting married, we had just moved into our first apartment in a hippie neighborhood on Cleveland’s east side. Standing on a stepladder to store shoes on the top shelf of a closet one day, I noticed a child-sized shoebox stuffed in the far dusty reaches, I assumed accidentally left by the former tenants. Opening the box, I expected to see Buster Brown’s. Instead, a treasure trove of Star Wars action figures from all three original films lay crammed together. The thrill of childhood coursed through me. They were all here:  R2D2, Lando Calrissian, C3P0, Chewbacca, Darth Vader, Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, Yoda, the Ewoks. And the best part? Not one, but three different versions of Princess Leia:  I could not believe my luck.

So, why exactly does a space princess still take up space in a grown woman’s mind? Sure, the heroine withstood torture and strangled her oppressor. She kept her sights on something bigger than herself:  a mission, a Force binding us all, even when she didn’t understand it. But she was so much less than this, too. She was not good. She had a temper; she refused to follow orders; she barked quips at the man who presumed to rescue her; she emasculated her brother, noting his short stature. She never armored her heart, allowing herself to fall for the n’er-do-well smuggler, believing in his goodness, all the while knowing it was unwise. And when a primitive race of teddy bear-creatures welcomed her into their tribe, she let down her hair and joined them. This cinematic messiness just feels truthful in all its weirdness.

Princess Leia — but really, Carrie Fisher, who breathed her to life on screen — showed us the contradictions within which women coexist in both their inner world and outer space. The outward show of it might suggest capitulation to expectations:  a virginal, sexy damsel in distress. But Carrie Fisher’s secret weapon remained, always, hard-bitten truth-telling. The gold bikini awakened all her feminine nightmares but, as she made clear in subsequent interviews, she didn’t like it. She enjoyed killing the mobster that enslaved her. As she herself said, then she went backstage and took off the bikini. And sometimes, when asked to shill for the franchise, she delivered unabashed profanity-laden resistance. She refused to stay within the archetypal lines on or off stage.

It was glorious to see Carrie Fisher in the recently released final Star Wars trilogy, back in the role that birthed her in our collective imagination. But it also unsettled me. It became her swan song. A silver-haired military general and grieving mother, she rolled her eyes and heaved sighs in the direction of impulsive fly-boys. Although she embodied an earth-mother knowingness, this too felt like a let-down, another type to entrap her. What do you do with a confounding woman who refuses to lay down her weapons? Perhaps pin her with the star of a general, but only if she remains unsexed and maternal.  

I’m sure women from other generations don’t see Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia with the same fervor and reverence I do. Maybe it’s the timing. A young, impressionable girl, I grew up in an era when women were either idolized as sex objects or glorified as mothers. In my life, I have felt pressured to embody both and came out neither. I can’t remember anything in between. We did not see women on the big screen then as heroes, particularly if they were going to crack wise and refuse to stay within the confines of feminine constructs. Nowadays, young girls see ample examples of the female warrior in comic book movies and no shortage of foul-mouthed, messy figures of pop female empowerment. Then again, there’s a whole industry dedicated to fame, broadcasting nothing more than materialism and heavily filtered sexiness. Maybe we have not come all that far from a galaxy far, far away.

Carrie Fisher’s untimely passing meant we never got to see the version of the final film’s chapter that would have placed Leia’s narrative front and center, the ultimate hero. Instead, she dies a martyr of the Resistance. This perplexed me. But as I had just rewatched this final installment of the saga, the world tilted on its axis in our parallel universe when resolute jurist Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away. On the fateful day the news broke, a bereft stranger posted something on social media that stopped me cold. “We’ve lost our General Organa,” she wrote. Her cry echoed in chambers deep within me, too. Our rights as we know them hang a mystery between the scales. But mortality does not snuff the stuff of legend. It was Carrie Fisher, after all, who had quipped: “Take your broken heart, make it into art.”Justice remains a moving target, a constant revolution, even when evident only in celluloid science fiction planets, dimly lit and distant.                                                                                                                                                                                 

I read once that J.J. Abrams, director of two films from the most recently released final trilogy, named in an interview his favorite Star Wars image:  a melancholic vision of the boy hero, Luke, early in the first film. Drenched in the fading light of two setting Tatooine suns, he surveys the horizon, longing for an elusive future yet awaiting him.

When trapped sheltering in place, I revisited the films and chose my own favorite. At the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo has been captured, his fate uncertain; and Luke has lost his hand and his innocence, having reckoned with the evil in his father as also himself. But the figure that transfixes me here in this scene is Leia gazing out a window, not at the stars but — as I imagine — into darkness. Though standing next to Luke and their loyal droids, Leia looks small, alone, aggrieved.                                                                                                                                                           

As women, we navigate traps real and imagined, resurfacing, tempting, even manacling us if we’re not vigilant. Sometimes the attempt is downright comical or alternately unspeakable and grim.                                                                                                                                                              

But even enveloped in a bombastic space opera, this woman appears calm, elevated in her yearning. While she might seem lost, something else is at play here: a mature, hard-fought awareness — it, too, a force, a cosmic certainty all its own, surrounded though it may be by nothing but seeming endless emptiness.


Photo at the top of the page is of late actress Carrie Fisher in her role as Princess Leia. Photo from: https://i.imgur.com  

The Truth About Tampons

Standing in aisle eight of The Dollar Store—­labeled “Ladies”—I was balancing reindeer-patterned Christmas boxes, curled red and green bows, a plastic tree-topper and two tubes of metallic-trimmed wrapping paper. With around $10 in my wallet, I had almost reached my spending limit for this shopping trip.

But I needed one more thing: tampons. If you didn’t know, The Dollar Store does not carry tampons. Not even the cheapest, hardest cardboard applicator ones. So I was in trouble. I didn’t have the money to go next door to Target for a $10 box of Tampax, nor did I need thirty; I was really hoping to buy a dollar box of five or so.

The average American woman is estimated to use more than 16,000 tampons in her lifetime, according to a report by The Atlantic. I know I’m complaining about cardboard applicators, but women in ancient Rome fashioned their own tampons out of wool. Indonesian women are believed to have used vegetable fibers, and African women have used rolls of grass. Gross. Ancient Japanese women, according to Qualifying Times: Points of Change in U.S. Women’s Sport, made tampons from paper and secured them with bandages. They had to change the dressings between 10 and 12 times a day—so it could be worse.

A few years ago, I went from needing a new tampon every hour, because it was filled with dark, red blood more often than not, to needing one or two for one day every six months. The best decision I’ve ever made was finally making an appointment at the ob-gyn and telling her that the pain and discomfort I was feeling for seven out of the thirty days a month was unbearable. The female doctor, indifferent about my agony, put me on lo loestrin fe, a low-dose birth control pill that decreases most women’s periods to two days per cycle and creates a lighter flow—a fairly new drug at the time. It changed my life, very much for the better. My period stopped almost completely. A little disconcerting because I was sexually active but nonetheless, a blessing. I still received my visiting friend twice a year, and that December was her winter vacation—and she was ready to party.

Searching for any sign of life of the cotton plugs, the fifth time I made my way down the “hallway for women” at the Dollar Tree, I found a neon-pink plastic-wrapped and bulbous pack of panty liners.

Bingo, I thought.

Let’s just take a look at the reasoning behind my thoughts. A twenty-something-year-old woman is standing in front of a white wire basket in a discount store searching for something to stop the flow of blood from her uterus, to tell her that she is not pregnant this month. She cannot spend more than one dollar for something that goes up and into her body because she is buying holiday wrapping. Instead, she searches through her purse for a payment method to check out mostly gifts for other people and napkins that will, in fact, not stop the flow of blood. She will probably have blood stains on her underwear and will have to toss them in the garbage by the toilet.

But hey! She only spent one dollar on herself. Score.

Legend has it that in the 1920s, a Kimberly-Clark employee poked some holes in a condom, stuffed it with the absorbent filling used in Kotex pads and pitched it to his medical consultant father as a menstrual solution, according to The Atlantic. But it wouldn’t be until a decade later that a Colorado-based general practitioner introduced the first commercial applicator tampon, according to Tampax.


In the sixth grade, I was, like many other girls, underdeveloped. Gangly body, no boobs and no period. I carried a guide to putting on a pad in my Vera Bradley wallet, anticipating the beginning of womanhood. The guide wasn’t needed for another year, but I prayed every day to find spatter in my panties. God answered my prayers when I was thirteen, and I jumped up and down yelling for my mom. She was honestly surprised that I had gotten it so early, and apparently, my body was too. It wasn’t real; my period stopped for another three years.

With my parents divorced, every other weekend was spent with my single dad who was clueless about teenage girls and women in general. When I got my period for the first time, I was at his house, and I had demanded that he take me to the store.

“But, why?” he said. He was the type to spend more on a six-pack of beer than food or hygiene products for his daughter.

“Dad, I can’t tell you. I just need a couple dollars,” I told him. The conversation was excruciating.

“We will not be going for no reason! Just tell me what you need,” he said.

“Pads, Dad! Pads,” I replied.

“Well, why can’t your mom get you those?”

“I need them now. You don’t understand,” I told him. Why was I about to cry?

We drove to the store, my dad huffing and puffing the whole way. He refused to leave the car and handed me two dollars as we parked at The Dollar General.

Two dollars? I thought. What is this going to get me? A roll of paper towels?

When I entered the store with the crumpled two dollars in hand, a girl I vaguely recognized from my high school was working the check-out counter. She was reading a US Weekly (cell phones weren’t popular yet). Could this get any more embarrassing? Like a Charlie’s Angel, I crept past her and power walked through the aisles looking for the feminine products.

“Can I help you?” the dark-haired, older girl said, coming up behind me. God, she was stealthy.

“Um…no! I’m okay, thanks,”

“Whatever,” she said and turned. Did she think I was trying to steal something?

Up and down the aisles once more, I found the Holy Grail. A whole row held tampons and pads, all that I could ever imagine. With no guidance, I looked at the two dollars in a ball in my right hand, and then looked up at the shelves. Everything was five dollars and above! I couldn’t go back out and ask my dad for more. That was not an option. So my eyes darted up and down the shelves once more. Finally, I saw pads for one dollar.


For a second, I thought about putting the pads, that I would later realize were panty liners, in my coat, but I knew that my Dad would kill me. Instead, I took the package up to the counter, where the older girl, I swear, gave a knowing nod. I handed her my dad’s two dollars, got ninety-four cents back and walked out the push door.

“Did you get it?” Dad asked as I climbed into the front seat.

“Uh, yeah,” I said.

“OK. Change?” he said. And I handed him the quarters, dimes and pennies.


Tampax first arrived on the shelves in the mid-1930s, but a 1942 survey found that 37 percent of tampon users still used remedies like store-bought sponges, according to The Atlantic. By the 1970s, tampons had changed a lot, mostly to emphasize the secrecy they could offer a woman on her period. Before then, the period was cursed with obviousness because of thick pads that were clearly visible under shorts. Popular brands were Lillettes, Meds, Pursettes and a Kotex tampon called Fibs. Playtex also adopted a “deodorant” tampon in 1971. In 1978, The Berkeley Women’s Health Collective accused manufacturers of withholding information about the substances used in tampons, and by early 1980, 55 cases of toxic-shock syndrome (TSS) were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seven of those cases were fatal. Later that same year, a total of 812 menstruation-related TSS cases were reported—38 fatal. It wasn’t until 1989 that research found a link between synthetic materials, such as polyester and rayon, and the deaths. Between 1987 and 1996, 636 cases of menstrual TSS were reported—51 of them fatal.

The Atlantic wrote that by 1990, a better tampon was being developed with changes including better fit, a newly-designed withdrawal cord and leak-guard protection. With these characteristics, Tampax Pearl became a hit in 2001. To prevent TSS, the current Robin Danielson Act, aka the Tampon Safety and Research Act, was introduced to create more transparency between manufacturers and consumers. But according to The Atlantic, the latest go-around marks the 10th time a bill will have been considered in Congress. This time, the bill is being given a two percent chance of being enacted, according to GovTrack.


I’d like to tell you that when I got to the front of the line at the Dollar Store, I decided against the flimsy panty liners and bought the frivolous menstrual napkins or tampons at Target, but I’d be lying. Yes, I make way more money now than I did at thirteen and in sixth grade, but I guess I’m still really the same girl. I’m still willing to ruin underwear like I was as a teenager, so it turns out; I guess my vagina isn’t worth much to me. I’m not sure why; maybe it’s because I’ve been told so many times by the media and men in my life that it isn’t. My vagina deserves more than one layer of cotton on the curves of my underwear to hold the lining of my woman parts. One dollar is all that my vagina is worth, apparently, but in reality, it’s worth so much more.

My vagina is worth hordes of one hundred percent organic cotton tampons with no weird chemicals added.

My vagina is worth Super Absorbency and a Gentle Glide.

My vagina is worth twelve-hour Midol, not the generic stuff, three times a day.

My vagina is worth substituting Christmas presents for a brand-name product going up it.

And finally, my vagina is worth my time and money.



Peters A. 2015. The tampon: a history. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/06/history-of-the-tampon/394334/. Accessed March 7, 2018.

H.R. 2379: Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act of 2017. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/115/hr2379. Accessed March 7, 2018.

Shultz J. 2014. Qualifying Times: Points of Change in U.S. Women’s Sport. Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

Toying with Identity: The Importance of Play

When I was a child, one of my fondest Christmas pastimes was sitting down with my brother to “ooo and ahh” over the Toys R Us Holiday Catalog (known also as “The Big Book”). This was no weekly circular ad: this baby clocked in at eighty to a hundred pages filled with ads for toys. The latest and greatest, newest, shiniest, coolest toys were found in The Big Book. I remember circling and placing stars next to what I wanted that year, or what I thought looked cool: Barbies, art supplies, board games, video games for the Playstation 2. My brother was always after video games too, but in a higher capacity than I was. He also wanted science kits, Hot Wheels, and K-Nex building sets.

Why was this so important to us? Why was it so important that I have that exact Barbie doll or that my brother have that exact K-Nex building set? Why couldn’t I settle for an off-brand fashion doll, and why couldn’t my brother be happy with Legos?

While adults may see their children as being picky (and that might be true to some degree), another large element in choosing toys is the intended outcome of said toy. In the twenty-first century, goods are marketed not necessarily based on their practical purpose, but on the feeling or emotion we will receive by purchasing and using them. This is further compounded by the way toys are marketed to children. For example, if I received a Baking Fun Barbie for Christmas, I would expect to experience the same amount of fun that the girls in the advertisement were having. I would expect to feel happy and carefree baking with Barbie (or pretending to bake, anyway).

In addition to this, toys and play are crucial parts of a child’s development. Especially in our materialistic society, we expect children to learn social cues and norms through play. This is not limited to educational toys either. Play socializes children to interact with the adult world in the ways that we as a society have deemed acceptable and normal. From play, children learn to share and work together to accomplish goals, whether they be building the tallest block tower or making the tastiest pretend cake. This might seem trivial, but these skills will later grow into those that are used in the adult world (building a tall skyscraper and cooking a meal for one’s family, for example).

Children are especially keen on imitating adults. When I acted out scenes with Barbie and Ken, I went off of what I knew from social scripts I had learned. Barbie and Ken went on dates together; Barbie and Ken kissed. Barbie and her friends went shopping because that was what girls did together. Girls were not romantically interested in one another. Barbie cooked for Ken and took care of her younger sisters Kelly and Skipper. Thus, I learned social standards of femininity and heterosexuality at a young age through play.

On some level, my brother and I gravitated toward the toys that we did because they addressed the gender identities we were expected to perform. He, as a boy, was expected to build, construct, and experiment while I, as a girl, was expected to learn to take care of others and care deeply about my physical appearance. While I remember truly having fun playing with Barbie, my brother, of course, was never given the option to have dolls. (He did have a GI Joe action figure very briefly, but he didn’t find Joe very interesting, so I captured him to use as a friend for Ken.)

Now, of course, all children have their own preferences, and these often cross gendered lines. In addition to video games, one of my brother’s favorite toys was a cooking playset. And although I loved dolls, I also enjoyed running cars down my brother’s Hot Wheels track. Does this mean we were feminists or subverting radical gender norms at a young age? Not necessarily. In fact, I would argue that when children choose toys, they select them because the objects resonate with the identity they see themselves as possessing. By asking for art supplies, I announced (either consciously or unconsciously) that I saw myself as a creative person. This is also true of gender. I rejected toys like fake make-up and purses because I did not see myself (or my gender) as aligned with that kind of femininity.

Especially in our age of materialism, toys (rightly or wrongly) mean a lot to children and their sense of identity. I’m not advocating that toys are the be-all and end-all of a child’s development (because they aren’t), but it would be unwise to overlook their importance. Certainly, there is much more to a toy— and a child’s process for choosing a toy—than its price tag.