Is science fiction a closed shop for women? A Scyfilove guest blog from Alison Gow, with vote

In the second guest blog of guest blog week, Alison Gow (@alisongow on Twitter) who is usually to be found blogging on the future of Journalism on Headlines and Deadlines, shares her thoughts on girls in science fiction …

SPACE. It’s not just the final frontier, it’s also one of the biggest glass ceilings a girl can knock her head against.

In the pantheon of those hallowed Space Cowboys whose names echo down the decades, it’s very hard to find an inspirational cowgal, as recent events on Stargate Universe have shown.

Now, unlike Blogfather Neil, who has kindly invited me into his roomy new gaff at WordPress Towers with this guest post, I am not a sci-fi expert – I respect the genre greatly, I’ve seen most of the Star Wars films (I lost interest halfway through the last batch but I doubt anyone’s going to hold that against me) I’m looking forward to Avatar (even if they are really Elves, people, open your eyes!) but I tend to be more of a reader and film-goer than TV series follower.

I got lost way before Lost moved to take the Murdoch shilling, and had read Fast Forward a couple of years ago – it wasn’t much shakes and I can’t be bothered to invest in the show.

So you see where I’m coming from: I like sci-fi, and I will defend it against all naysayers but, for me, Starbuck is and for ever will be the bloke from the A Team, however many times you tell me he was a she.

And I wonder if it’s because there just weren’t that many female role models around when I was growing up. The be-girdled Captain James T. Kirk wore enough eye make-up, true, and there was always the glamorous First Mate Piggy from the seminal Pigs In Space, but other than that it was a pretty poor show.

Nb. Before you proffer me Uhuru I don’t count her: those fingernails were just way too long for anything other pushing buttons on her console, and no one with hair that carefully-styled would risk mussing it by kicking intergalactic butt in a fight.

Saturday nights in the 1970s meant Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. It featured crack starfighter pilot Colonel Wilma Deering, played by Erin Grey, an actress who apparently chose the right to look good in Lycra over the ability to conceive.

Nowadays the Daily Mail would be shoehorning ‘real-size’ women into Wilma’s suits to show you exactly where the bulges should be.

Alien offered some hope in the form of Ripley, once I’d got over the absolute, paralysing horror of the thing bursting out John Hurt’s chest (I swear Stephen King later nicked this idea wholesale, while using a different orifice, for his shit-weasels in Dreamcatcher – one of the more wretched contributions to the horror/sci-fi cannon).

Sigourney Weaver is much touted for her portrayal of a strong female character but you know what? She still ends up having to fight the monster in her kecks. After rescuing the ship’s cat.

So, maybe there’s another sci-fi rule to live by: Keep your overalls on and never, no matter how safe you think you are, strip down to a vest and boyshorts to relax.

Despite this I love Ripley, and all the Alien films (even the ill-advised 4th one featuring Winona), and I applaud Weaver for her gently-mocking turn in Galaxy Quest .

Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia was argumentative and indpendent but ruined it all by wearing a bedsheet and having chelsea buns stuck to the side of her head. And for wearing that gold bikini…(I’ll leave a space for Neil to insert the inevitable ‘Leia in gold bikini’ image here. Possibly even the video if you’re lucky.)

Ever the innovator, I put in this slideshow instead – just as good though!

Back with me? Slightly misty-eyed now? Good, cos we’re going to consider the Feminist Principles of Star Trek.

The Next Generation attempted to address the imbalance by appointing a female security officer who was feisty, determined, slept with an android and… got killed by a puddle of goo at the first opportunity.

And there was Troy, the empath whose main talent was wearing wigs and – for a few series at least – really bad pink catsuits.

Thankfully, Star Trek also brought us Voyager, with its female captain who didn’t sleep with anybody really, drank lots of black coffee and piloted the crew home through untold difficulties over several series, despite a crippling addiction to helium.

What? Do you think anybody really talks like that without some sort of chemical aid? No way – that ready room was stocked with helium cylinders so she could have a quick toot before issuing Donald Duckesque orders.

Deep Space Nine may have have female role models but I can’t comment. I never watched it and I don’t actually know anyone who ever has.

So who else is there? Nowadays I guess you could point to Trinity in the Matrix series, Sarah Connor, all sorts of Hero-ettes, Firefly, even Lara Croft…  but they were pretty thin on the ground (and pretty thin generally) when I was growing up.

So I’ll throw the question open here: Who are the greatest female sci-fi role models of all time?

10 thoughts on “Is science fiction a closed shop for women? A Scyfilove guest blog from Alison Gow, with vote

  • DS9 *is* the best series, but you can skip the first four seasons. You’ll have only missed four mainly-bad series of crap TNG-style episodes and Sisko’s hair.

  • You know what? I forgot all about B7 – although I now have only vague memories of it I remember having a serious I-Want-To-Be-Cally obsession for a while.
    @Roj, a couple of other friends have since remonstrated with me over my DS9 ignorance; they say it is the best of the lot.
    But, I gotta tell you, I think the days of my deep abiding commitment to a TV series are no more. I was really flagging by the last series of The Wire – an admission that will probably lead to a six-month ban from The Guardian website.
    Btw, my husband says that given the opportunity he would have voted for Leela, off Dr Who. Bah!

  • @Roj. Duh! In my smug haste I forgot Servalan! Yes, an undoubted ball-breaker there. personally I’d like to imagine what would have happened had Cally and Servalan had a fight, preferably phsycial and without weapons. In a swamp. Um, where was I?

  • @Robin Brown

    I was so distracted by the DS9 omission that I neglected B7, you are right. How about a mention for Servalan? She may not be able to personally kick Ripley’s butt but she could almost certainly make it happen.

  • Curiously Roj Blake has missed one of the most obvious kick-ass women in sci-fi – B7’s lovely Cally. Telepathic, spiky and smart. And a terrorist as it goes. You could arguably throw in the others too, but Cally was the best-drawn character.

    There are plenty of Who companions to choose from too. Sarah-Jane (freelance hack), Leela (savage in leathers) Romana (Time Lord, bit dominatrix-y. The list goes on.

    Though, admittedly, Who did have its flip side. Jo Grant, for example, the stupidest women in all television. And, if you’re not at work, you could even type in ‘katy manning’ and ‘dalek’ into Google Images to see how emancipated she was.

  • You missed some cracking stories on Deep Space 9. I’m fairly certain I wasn’t the only person to watch it even though you don’t know anyone personally. If you had watched it you would have seen Kira Nerys – Major in the Bajoran Militia and Jadzia Dax – Science Officer and host to a symbiont life form.

    Complex and interesting characters, what more could you want in a female sci-fi character? Plus you get some girl on girl action with Jadzia Dax in season 4 episode 6…not that I’ve made notes or anything. Seriously, DS9 has it all.

  • Well, Janeway of Voyager did sleep with Tom Paris and have babies. But they were lizards at the time. Not sure if that counts.

    The problem with female role models in science fiction is that they tend to be a reaction to what’s gone before, which results, if you’re going to go the way of feminist film theory in what amounts to a castrated male figure. That even happens, confusingly, when the character is a mother and what you tend to find in sci-fi is that when the father of the child dies, the mother essentially takes on masculine traits in order to defend their child.

    In the very worse cases, a female character is allowed to be strong and independent until the climax at which point they find themselves in a really tight spot and bloke comes in to rescue them. One of the more annoying examples of this is Tomorrow Never Dies, where Michelle Yeoh is allowed to do her thing for most of the film and then is put in an insane position she could easily break out from but somehow becomes a girly girl so that Bond can rescue her. He might be the main character, but it’s ludicrous.

  • I have always loved sci-fi, partially blamed on conditioning from a young age by the dad, who loves all things sci-fi. I definitely agree that the female roles in most sci-fi films/series are severely lacking in anything substantial, except great hair and close fitting garments

    The fact that you have to rack your brains for a good one is a bad sign already.

    X-Files, with Dana Scully is one that I love and more recently I love Fringe with Olivia Dunham.

    Great post!

    I voted for Zoe out of Serenity, before remembering Dana Scully.

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