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Sci-Fi is a Feminist Issue

by Helen Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 07:13:01 AM EST

Mainstream entertainment media are generally failry conservative affairs. So it is not surprising that the depiction of women's roles and capabilities in television and films have generally been that of the traditional subordinate role. However, in the 60s we can see the slow beginning of the gender revolution being represented in more imaginative shows.

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob


The character Modesty Blaise, begun in 1963, from the cartoons and books of the same name is considered by many as the first modern female action heroine. Such ideas were rapidly developed in the famous Avengers TV series, initially with the character of Cathy Gale, and then the iconic Emma Peel. Although they were still nominally sidekicks to the arch-spy John Steed, there was no doubt that these were both capable self-directed women around whom whole story threads would be woven.

Mainstream screen representation, grounded in Hollywood "reality" had no place for these modern ideas. Indeed, Nichelle Nichols,who played Lieutenant Uhura in the original Star Trek series nearly left the show because she felt she was relegated to being just a glorified telephonist. It took Martin Luther King himself to persuade her that her very presence on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise was important, to show that, in the future, black men and women, would serve as equals alongside people of other races.

However, new generations of science fiction writers, were able to take such ideas further. Star Wars featured Princess Leia as a strong capable woman, who was rapidly shown to be in control of her situation in the first film. Sadly many feel that her role was never developed enough to reveal the true potential initially suggested, but that could well be because George Lucas was overwhelmed by the success of the film and never really knew where to take the characters. Certainly the subsequent films obeyed the law of diminishing returns pretty closely.

However, the breakthrough role for women was Sigourney Weaver's depiction of Ripley in Alien. No token female, instead Ripley rapidly establishes herself as the central active character in the narrative of the film, where her steely determination to survive and be in control of her situation was revelatory. There is so much to like about the film, so much iconic imagery, yet finally the image you retain is of Ripley winning in the final scene. There her terror, that which is traditionally supposed to disable women, is ignored and she calls on reserves of anger and aggression to destroy the monster.

After this, it became obvious that sci-fi was where women could be given real roles and the socially conservative nature of other fiction was held in stark contrast. And the ideas that sci-fi explored slowly began to be reflected elsewhere.

Other films tried to emulate this success, believing that any old science fiction/fantasy role could make do. But as with anything, a lousy script is a lousy script and good characters were thrown away with the bad through the 80s, the abominations of Super girl and Tank Girl feature prominently among such crass nightmares,

[UPDATE 1]

Immediately after Alien, only the Terminator series really stood out for providing a strong female character in Sarah Connor. what is interesting about her is her journey, she begins as somebody who requires saving by the man from the future. However, in the end it is her who eventually destroys the Terminator itself and then goes off to develop the skills and hone her inner strength to prepare for the dystopian future to come.

The next great character was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon's comic, largely ignored at the time, translated perfectly into a smartly scripted and intelligently plotted ensemble show that showcased the most popular female sci-fi/fantasy character of all-time. Other people have written entire books devoted to the ideas that underpinned this show, but without a doubt it was a landmark in the representation of women. Every woman  was a strong character in herself and, even if they had normal human weaknesses, they were used only to flesh out the personality and highlight the strength that each had.

The influence of Buffy can now be seen throughout the film and television world where women are being given strong, active characters. Juliette Binoche is about to appear as the lead character in a spy movie, a part that would once have gone to a man by default.

That is the power of Science Fiction and Fantasy. It doesn't take the world as it is, or was but as it could be. And sometimes it can play a part in making such things real, for ideas that come from the dream world into daily understanding can never again be relegated to mere imagination. Nowadays nobody is suprised that women are given strong parts, but without the imaginative power of sci-fi/fantasy who knows if it might ever have happened.

[UPDATE 2]

Many have criticised my focus on women who are assertive and aggressive action heroes rather than on self-directed women who manifest strength in other ways. That is entirely valid, except that I am trying to portray an influential visual science fiction media and those characters, however interesting have not yet been represented on screen. I appreciate this is disappointing, but for the general cultural view, books simply don't matter.

Display:
After this, it became obvious that sci-fi was where women could be given real roles and the socially conservative nature of other fiction was held in stark contrast. And the ideas that sci-fi explored slowly began to be reflected elsewhere.

This is because Sci-Fi is able to postulate arbitrary social structures. A lot of what makes Sci-Fi interesting is not the Science fiction but the political/philosophical fiction. The Science, actually, tends to be quite crappy.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:50:25 AM EST
Very true!  Where writers give themselves free reign to develop new structures and ways for society to be, you come across some incredibly interesting visions.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 10:01:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Some people use this distinction to define two sub-genres: soft sci-fi and hard sci-fi. I also like the "soft" approach better.

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 03:07:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmm... Hard and soft normally refers only to the quality of the science. If bothnthe science fiction and the political fiction are crap, you get Space Opera.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 03:12:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From wiki (soft sci-fi): "The term first appeared in the late 1970s and early 1980s and indicated SF based not on engineering or the "hard" sciences (for example, physics, astronomy, or chemistry) but on the "soft" sciences, and especially the social sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, and so on)."

"If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles." Sun Tzu
by Turambar (sersguenda at hotmail com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 04:56:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Star Trek New Generationa and Voyager are examples of this. The social structure they take from anthropology and sociology are introduced in foreign aliens.... and humans .. are well... somehow monolithic... You can convince americans and Europeans that travelling faster than light is no big deal.. but ei... different cultures among humans ... barely unless there is some genetic cross-breeding...

Still... it is lovely to see this social fiction... and how ideas of other cultures are injected to foreign species... it is just great...

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:25:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting that you wrote a piece on Science Fiction and Feminism without mentioning Ursula K. Le Guin or any of a number of other feminist Sci-Fi classics such as those included in this list.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 09:57:47 AM EST
Mostly cos I was concentrating on the influence of visual media, ie film and television. Books have less mass media relevance.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 10:02:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Firefly then - the women in that kick ass!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 10:11:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Firefly was never mainstream. Few people picked up on it, even tho it was a whedon.

I would have loved to have seen it, but without satellite or cable it was impossible. I'm sure that was true of most people here.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 10:24:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You have a DVD player? Get the series (and the film, Serenity!)
It's a complete shame that Firefly didn't break the mainstream audience and I really don't understand why it didn't.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 10:30:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
well it had enough support to substantially win the voting for film of the year on the BBC (So it had at least enough obsessives)

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 10:45:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I never even heard about the series until my buddy's kid gave him the boxed dvd set and he let me watch it.  It is very good, I wish they had had the funding to really work out on the concept.  The movie seems too disjointed, like they were just trying to get the loose ends tied up.  Left the last scene in a good spot for a follow up, though.  Go River!!!

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 02:17:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You'll find the series season 1 at tv-links.co.uk

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 10:40:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Impossible? Sci-Fi fans do not know the meaning of that word! (Or yes they do, but it does not stop them!)

All you need to see most sci-fi is a torrentclient and a search engine. I explained it all over at the moon a while ago. Sci-fi is very well distributed which is not odd, considering the fan base.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 12:19:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If you've got access to a dvd player You could always borrow it, I happen to know of a set of shelves not that dar from my seat where a copy is sitting.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 12:30:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd love to borrow it. Is that really your email address ?

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 12:54:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh yes it is, strangely I get that response from all sorts of people.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 12:59:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Specially River

also featured in latest xkcd (high serendipity factor here)



Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 12:07:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
it's been highly serendipitous recently  we had   This one when Migeru was off getting married.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 12:19:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yay! She rocks!
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 12:38:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good list-lots of stuff on it I'm unfamiliar with.

I'd like to suggest C.J. Cherryh as an author, I particularly liked the Morgaine series (pay no attention to the lurid covers, the books are quite different), the Chanur series.  Her other works are quite good too.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson

by NearlyNormal on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 12:20:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Cherryh was not on the list linked above, which is too bad.  Most of her novels have very strong female characters in them; not always the "central" character, not always human, but always influential.  Many of them are quite scarily competent.  Captain Signy Mallory of the battleship Norway (in several of the "company wars" series).  Bet Yaeger (in "Rimrunner").  The dowager-aiji Ilisidi (in the "Foreigner" series.  Don't drink the tea she serves you.)  And (my favorite) Jago, 8-foot tall assassin/bodyguard/lover of the human ambassador (also in the "Foreigner" series).
by NHlib on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:04:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
She only appeared in a lowly comic, but don't neglect Halo Jones.
by det on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 10:05:46 AM EST
Basically any female character written by Alan Moore

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 10:27:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Bizzarely in last weeks local paper there was a two page article about Herb Solow, the other man besides Gene Rodenbury behind Star Trek, turns out I work with his wife and didn't know it!

I heard a story that the producers in the next generation were talking about how much further they had got with the next generation series, and how womens clothing and roles were even more of a feminist nature than they were in the original series. A femeinist then got up and said, yes but you still film women in an entirely different  way to men. To demonstrate this she took the latest episode and showed two men and a woman climbing a ladder. As the men climbed the ladder, the camera stayed fixed on their faces and the ladder moved through the shot. as the woman moved up the ladder, the camera stayed fixed relative to the ladder and let her whole body move through the shot.  They changed their shooting policy after that.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 10:23:59 AM EST
Gene R had very "old-fasioned" views of women as eye-candy. It was still very very obvious in the first couple of series of ST/NG.

It got better, but it wasn't until voyager I could really say it stopped annoying me.

Sad Trekkie fact : Didja know Roddenbury's wife had three deparate roles ? In ST-1 she was Nurse Chapel and the voice of the computer. In ST/TNG she was Lwaxana Troi.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 10:30:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And then ST Enterprise reverted to formula.  It took all of two episodes to realize that the Vulcan female character was mostly just eye candy.  The show lost its interest for me soon after.  So much potential and they threw it all over for hunks in tight costumes.

We all bleed the same color.
by budr on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 03:18:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ST-E was just garbage. I barely got through the first episode.

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 03:31:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
ST-E picked up in its final season, just before it was canned.

Then the producers killed it with The Worst Final Episode Ever.

My pet theory is that both of them were mightily sick of it by then and wanted it dead. Consciously or unconsciously they did their best to undermine it.

When they handed writing and production over to a couple of old fans who loved the series - as in the final season, just before the end - the quality improved drastically.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 05:43:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Roddenbury was married to Majel Barrett, who appeared as those characters.  Even ST/TNG was doing some of the eye-candy stuff in the earlier episodes.  Deanna Troi's uniform was cut a bit differently from the other women on board.  And in a "sweeps" period they would figure out some way to get a reference to Betazoid marriage rituals into the plot.  In one funny episode Lwaxana used this to completely freak out the stuffy ambassador she had gotten trapped into marrying.
by NHlib on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:13:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ep 1 of NG they had both male and female crew members in dresses. (But not the leads.)

That idea didn't last, for some reason.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 05:25:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Majel Barrett also appeared as the widow of the Centauri emperor in Babylon 5. There was a nice blooper where she walked towards doors which were of course supposed to swoosh open smoothly in front of her. Instead, the doors stayed closed, and she bumped into them. People on the set apologized, and she said "don't worry, I'm quite used to it". I guess the same thing happened a few times at the Star Trek set..

 

You have a normal feeling for a moment, then it passes. --More--

by tzt (tzt) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 05:57:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I actually worked with the collar-twitching man from MGM myself (London early 70's). He was a cool guy.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 12:38:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Finding Herb was responsible for not just Star Trek getting to our screens but also Mission Impossible and a couple of others as well was quite a mindboggling experience.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 01:01:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For a suit, he was into all kinds of strange things. He was my first encounter with real Hollywood, though I'd met the Head people and patchoulied others on the fringes. It was a very pleasant, if distorted experience which Iater I learned to my cost did not represent the real dirty Hollywood at all - he was more of the intellectual Selznick variety.  Herb was also a supporter of Robert Altman. I got some feeling of Herb watching 'The Player'. He was a gambler on dark horses.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 01:33:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually Joss Whedon's feminist vision is quite a bit more ambivalent. Buffy is a strong character - but she also isn't, because she never gets to do what she really wants, and is always at the mercy of outside forces rather than directing her own life. Willow is a strong character - but she drifts into addiction and is so destructive she almost destroys the world.

And I think what makes Ripley strong isn't so much that she's a feminist icon, it's because she's Chuck Norris, only female. Like other Cameron heroines, it's not so much a feminist fantasy as an American survivalist/individualist one.

There certainly is a strong feminist thread in science fiction, but as a reader a lot of it seems caricatured - the female lead is long-suffering, noble and in the process of finding her inner strength. The men around her are all, without exception, worthless - usually some combination of sullen and weak, domineering or violent. If they're heroic they're impossibly larger than life. There's no middle ground between contempt and adulation - and adulation is typically followed by a nasty betrayal.

The giveaway is that the only places where men and women can even begin to be equals is in military conflict, where the highest values are patriotism and bravado (pften with a side helping of cynicism and outright sociopathy) - or in diplomacy and politics, likewise with the cynicism and bravado.

So yes, it's about politics, not about life. And also about certainty rather than more realistic ambiguities.

If you take away the politics, odern SciFi, from Alien to Buffy to Battlestar Galactica to any number of novels, seems to be mostly about bad things coming to get us, while we make a heroic and costly stand against them. It's now okay for women to do some of the shooting, but not to question the basic premise.

There are also popular side-helpings of aristocratic Family politics. It seems to be SciFi's guilty secret that many readers would apparently love to be aristos or wunderkinder of some other sort - it's a such a popular and recurring theme.

So what's missing? It's hard to find the surreally dysfunctional social insight of Philip K. Dick, the poetry of someone like RA Lafferty, or the optimism of the original Star Trek.

Oddly enough the most feminist point of view I've found is in Gwyneth Jones' Bold as Love series. The women aren't trying to be Chuck Norris, and they're not helpless swooning victims.

It's a strange mix as a series, and not to everyone's tastes - it has more in common with Michael Moorcock and William Blake than Heinlein.

But it makes a change to read something that isn't "It Came From Hollywood XI" and offers a little more in the way of local colour than the usual suspects.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 01:17:52 PM EST
Buffy is a strong character - but she also isn't, because she never gets to do what she really wants, and is always at the mercy of outside forces rather than directing her own life.

That it was makes her a tragic heroine, which is in my opinion one of the things that makes Buffy so outstanding among TV series.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 01:54:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Found Heinlein myself to gradualy transform from Science fiction writer through right wing lunatic to elderly pervert, some of his works are quite morally dubious.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 01:55:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yea, I found his politics quite scary at times. I thought that the film "Starship Troopers" did an admirable job of undermining the fascistic elements of the book.

however, there was an interesting transgender undercurrent to "The Number of the Beast" wherin he re-introduced osme of his previous characters and it certainly made me wonder if he was having a Hemingway moment.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 02:08:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well that entire series of books covered incest as well in quite a strange manner. You also have the book by him the door into summer which has strange relationships between characters which might be seen as a borderline justification of paedophilia, although nothing sexual happens.

as a literary answer to starship troopers, probably the best answer is Joe Haldemans "Forever war", although that can be taken more as applying the same ideas to the Vietnam war.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 02:20:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My take on Heinlein is that he gets an idea, produces a book on it but does not stay married to it.

For example, in the short story "Coventry" he describes a more-or-less libertarian (or is it just liberal?) utopia with an affluent, civil world with tons of respect for civil liberties. It is btw the society that comes after the revolution in "Revolt in 2100". I figured that was his utopia.

Then in "Methuselah's Children" he introduces an element that tears down the fabric and suddenly civil liberties are thrown on the dustpile of history.

I think he enjoyed toying around with ideas, building and destroying societies.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 02:48:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think he enjoyed toying around with ideas, building and destroying societies.

That is what good SF does at its best.  There was a meta movement a few years ago to replace the term science fiction with speculative fiction.  Some of the best SF has very little to do with science and everything to do with what if,  with speculation about alternatives of all kinds.  Think of Dick, leGuin, Anderson, Herbert, any of the great ones really.

We all bleed the same color.

by budr on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 03:34:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually Joss Whedon's feminist vision is quite a bit more ambivalent. Buffy is a strong character - but she also isn't, because she never gets to do what she really wants, and is always at the mercy of outside forces rather than directing her own life. Willow is a strong character - but she drifts into addiction and is so destructive she almost destroys the world.
And I think what makes Ripley strong isn't so much that she's a feminist icon, it's because she's Chuck Norris, only female. Like other Cameron heroines, it's not so much a feminist fantasy as an American survivalist/individualist one.

I'm not sure what the objection is really. Fiction has to have a narrative where people deal with events one way or another, choice in these matters is usually illusory. Practically every action and adventure film you can imagine finds the characters dealing with a sequence of events imposed upon them. Does that make the characters Bruce Willis, or Bruce Lee for that matter, weak and ineffective ? I think your complaint would be with the genre of action adventure rather than the depiction of women as being victims of circumstance.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 02:29:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Because there was a subtle gender subtext of being wedded to your identity by birth and not having the option to escape it.

This isn't a limitation that applies to male superheroes. The traditional male superhero narrative is different - it's about being special and powerful,  but having to hide that from the ignorant, while secretly smiting enemies with heroic omnipotence when no one is looking.

There's some of that in Buffy, but the difference is that Superman, Doctor Who, Spiderman and the rest can stop any time they want to. They do it because they choose to, not because they have to. So they get to define for themselves what they do, how they do it, and when they do it. There's no supervision, and no tradition.

With Buffy, she's trapped in an ancient tradition, and although she transforms it, she never quite escapes it. And she never gets the option of saying 'Okay - done now. The rest is me time.'

It's similar with River in Firefly. She has special abilities, but they've been forced on her, and she's had to pay a high price.

For all of the kick-ass empowerment, both characters are built around a victimisation narrative. It's much harder to think of male Hollywood characterisations with a similar subtext.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 05:38:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps not in Hollywood, but that's far from an uncommon theme in text.  The hero tied to an unwanted and uncontrollable destiny is not exactly an unexplored trope, and more often than not those heroes are men.

It's also a quite common theme in anime, again with male protagonists.  The original Mobile Suit Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion both feature as their main characters young men who are appalled at what they do, but whom are driven by circumstances beyond their control to keep doing it.

by Zwackus on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 11:45:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Orson Scott Card's (usually male) heroes are also not superheroes. But a recurring theme in his writing is that of the plight of the child prodigy. It's very interesting until you realise most of his best novels are about that and therefore at their core very similar.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 03:25:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The central character of Cirocco Jones in Varley's Gaea trilogy, "Titan", "Wizard", "Demon" at times feels like this.  She is trapped in her role of world supervisor / wizard and can't get out of it because she has to protect the citizens of Gaea from the increasing madness of Gaea herself.  I think without the unquestioning love from Gaby Plauget she would have never made it to the end.
by NHlib on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:28:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Probably the biggest thing I found annoying about BtVS was just that, well, the women were strong (in various ways) but most of the men were .. not, in some way or another (or they left / were really inconsistent). It was as if a strong, healthy, compassionate, etc. male would undermine the female characters. That is just a touch offensive -- as if women can't be strong and independent with too strong of men around. On the whole though, I still like it.

(As a side note, I was always really annoyed that Giles and/or Angel didn't take Xander aside and teach him to fight formally. It's not like a strong, six foot male wouldn't be useful in a fight ... look at Riley who presumably was decent before crazy-scientist-lady modified him. Granted the show was more about Buffy and the other female characters, but still...)

by R343L (reverse qw/ten.cinos@l343r/) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 04:22:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But wasn't the role reveral the point ? the guys took the supportive roles, they weren't weak as people indeed they often displayed great nobility and fortitude but they weren't up to the rough stuff like the girls were. So they did the "nurturing" the group etc etc.


keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 04:28:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh sure, which is a big reason I'm not that miffed. I'd just kind of like a series where you get strong men and women, and week men and women, and "evil" men and women. Just people, some good and some bad.
by R343L (reverse qw/ten.cinos@l343r/) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 10:13:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't forget Barbarella (comic book and movie)



"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 04:24:29 PM EST
by Nonpartisan on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 11:32:35 PM EST
Done as per request

keep to the Fen Causeway
by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 08:31:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Lest we forget Jane Vasco of the current "Painkiller Jane".

She takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin' (and kickin').

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Mon Sep 3rd, 2007 at 11:42:31 PM EST
another lest not forget

by PeWi on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 06:02:06 AM EST
well, not seriously, but I did like Udo Kier in it
by PeWi on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 06:03:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
oh and thank you for reminding me of Modesty Blaise. I cannot remember much about the stories, but in one of them, she is injected with poison (I seem to remember) and by will power alone (and muscle control) is able to stop the poison travelling up her vein, and when the baddy looks away, she reverses the muscles and the poison flows back out of the injection whole.

Talk about control and will power!

by PeWi on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 06:05:43 AM EST
I think you missed some obvious early mass media.  The Avengers reached more people than Modesty Blaise ever did.
by tjbuff (timhess@adelphia.net) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 09:58:58 AM EST
I've just thought, what about Doctor Who?  Why have we never had a female Doctor and why do all the assistants fall hopelessly in love with him?  The latter has especially annoyed me with the last series since she just turned all soppy and silly about him.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 12:49:09 PM EST
The Doctor's assistant is there to get kidnapped by the bad guy, when not falling off her platform shoes.
by NHlib on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:18:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We recently spent a couple of nights in a hotel and caught a very very bad science fiction movie on the TV. I started pretending to be the director and I would say "look pretty and dumb" and "look pretty and smart" when the female characters appeared on screen (the acting and the directing were that bad).

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:33:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I would hope that the notion of strong women in SF ("sci-fi" or skiffy tends to be reserved for audiovisual science fiction, e.g. FOUNDATION is SF, STAR WARS is sci-fi) isn't limited to characters who can kick ass à la Cathy Gale, Modesty Blaise, Lara Croft, etc., in many ways an adolescent male fantasy.

To quote Joanna Russ, "there are plenty of images of women in science fiction, there are hardly any women."

In addition to Ursula K. LeGuin, I would recommend reading any books by James Tiptree Jr (Alice Sheldon) (her short story "The Women Men Don't See" remains IMHO the best take on the subject ever) and Suzy McKee Charnas. I find Russ well meaning but unreadable. Anne McCaffrey's stuff isn't bad, but is not quite in the same league.

Long ago, Catherine L. Moore set the standard with her JIREL OF JOIRY series published in the 1930s. They're still remarkably fresh today. Amazing that she got away with it at the time. Highly recommended.  Leigh Brackett, too, but her heroes were men.

I fear that the clichés of the Timorous Virgin, the Amazon Queen, the Sexually Repressed Scientist (takes off glasses, shakes hair, voila), the Good Wife, and the Tomboyish Kid Sister will be with us for a long time.

But popular fiction (which I dearly love, write and publish) is only meant to entertain and one shouldn't read too much into it.

by Lupin on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 12:59:08 PM EST
And, of course, any overview of feminist SF would be incomplete without Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale, not because of strong or successful female characters but because it is a political dystopia constructed around patriarchal opression.

I hesitated to bring it up earlier because it doesn't resonate with the theme of science fiction providing female role models.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:04:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To quote Joanna Russ, "there are plenty of images of women in science fiction, there are hardly any women."

That's an excellent take on it.

Virago used to have a science fiction sub-label in the 80s, and some of the authors there were - unusual.

Other name checks - Julian May (the Intervention series never had the attention it deserved), Trudi Canavan, who's a sort of thinking person's Anne McCaffery and has some interesting characterisations that appear very sweet but really aren't, and Doris Lessing, whose Canopus in Argos Archives series is probably the single strangest thing I've ever read.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:19:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
what about star trek voyager!!!!!

Captain SHE!!!! Captain Katherine Hepburn on the rocks???

That'¡s the sci.fi I like!!!! I mixture of US AirfForces equalitarism and hiwerarchy blended with antrhopology and physics fiction..

who can beat that????

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:23:10 PM EST
I think the problem with Captain Janaway was that Voyager as a series took and awful long time, 2 or 3 series at least, before it began to bed down and become a good show.

So, with others mentioned, I discount it because it never had mainstream appeal. It doesn't mattter how good a show is or how strong the character is, if nobody watches it's not significant.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 03:05:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh.. I did not know it had such a low ratings in the US...

the
Fromt he 3rd season on... it was a very good show.. even soem remarkable scripts... apity!!!!

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 05:36:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How about the "Y: the last man" series?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:35:23 PM EST
I've never been interested in science fiction, so I really have little idea of what anyone is talking about here.  But the idea of Juliette Binoche leading in some Bond-esque spy flick is about the sexiest thing imaginable.  Which I suppose is not the proper feminist view to take...    

Someone posted a "Which Buffy character are you?" quiz here once, and I was really dismayed by the character descriptions given each choice.  I have never seen the show, but my personal idea of a strong woman is not one who is a selfish bitch but can stab a vampire or who is the sweet reliable friend but has boy troubles.  I mean, those are character types as much as Samantha or Charlotte from Sex and they City, which is also argued to be a feminist show.  Probably both shows have elements of feminism in them but only get away with it because the amount of fantasy they are steeped in.

It's hard, you know.  People don't watch TV to see reality, so putting strong female characters in realistic situations just doesn't sell well.  You need the escapism.  So in comes the fantasy.  Well, young girls can be inspired by strong characters, but not to become vampire or alien killers.  So options for seeing themselves as strong in the real world are still in poor supply.  I suspect women have long found ways to envision themselves as strong and independent in their fantasy lives...

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:42:22 PM EST
Sex and they City, which is also argued to be a feminist show

What!?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:44:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If this is feminism, we're in trouble, but there is certainly some merit to the argument.

They are all independent, single women in their 30's, living alone, supporting themselves financially, who consider their friends their family.  

They have frank discussions about sex, about the disturbing expectations and roles of women, esp. women their age in the city.   There is a real, "how dare you judge my decisions?" theme in the show, acknowledging everyone gets to decide how to best live their own lives.  Another theme is how to reconcile the desire to be strong and autonomous with the desire for companionship and love.  How do you pull it off?  What constitutes failure?

They are liberated.  

From everything except materialism.  To which they are slaves.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:55:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Epitomised by Carrie and her Manolos.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 01:59:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I will confess that I was deeply hostile to SATC before I ever actually watched it.  

Now I'm a fan.  So be it.

I suppose I should give Buffy a go before I judge that show too...

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 02:00:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
has a more "coming-of-age" through misery and setbacks theme - aside from the supernatural setting. I was adverse to that show in the beginning, but it was able to suck me right in. And I must confess that there were episodes that should be recorded as most original television work in history, notably the "Once More With Feeling" musical(!) episode and the shattering "The Body". Even as I type that title I get chills - a devastating hour of television.
by Nomad on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 02:12:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I thought it was superb TV. I started off thinking the name was ridiculous, but it only took a few episodes to get me completely hooked.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 05:55:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was deeply hostile to SATC before I bought Barbara the complete series shoe-box DVD set. Then I became hostile with a cause.

I have to say the only couple I find sympathetic are Miranda and Steve.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 03:20:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Smoking women with successful careers, openly talking about sex or conscientiously engaging in it, unable to live outside a city and only able to find happiness through shoes, luxury food and orgasms are apparently the modern feminist role models...

Sigh. If my girlfriend hadn't liked "Six Feet Under" I think I would've considered to give up on watching telly together.

by Nomad on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 02:02:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Smoking women with successful careers, openly talking about sex or conscientiously engaging in it, unable to live outside a city and only able to find happiness through shoes, luxury food and orgasms

Leave out the "only" and I don't see a major problem here.

Smoking: bad for you, but not anti-feminist
Successful careers: that's good
Openly talking about sex or conscientiously engaging in it: Women's lib, baby.
Unable to live outside a city: single women being able to live in a city by choice is actually a good thing.  
Shoes: Hope Izzy doesn't catch you talking like this!
Luxury food: actually, they are at a diner more often than not...
Orgasms: are a good thing.  Women being able to talk about them is a sign of progress.


"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 02:10:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The sting was in the tail I'll admit.

Most of the women I know (and I'm dating one of them!) are building up their careers faster than their contemporary men, talk openly about sex and I hear more about their sexual engagements that I'd want to know and certainly half of them are avaricious travelers and bush-wanderers. And they all watched SATC like maniacs and find Desperate Housewives mildly boring. Perfectly fine - it only shows to me that SATC wasn't pushing the beacons much further to the coming generation of women. In fact, SATC was running behind - certainly when it comes to young Dutch women.

I associated Carry's smoking as a manifestation of her self-independence. Didn't gel so well with me - couldn't they cast a strong, self-independent non-smoking woman as the lead protagonist and put the smoking business to one of her friends?

Your point on materialism is spot on, though. Hadn't considered it in that light.

by Nomad on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 02:28:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In fact, SATC was running behind
Same here.  TV is usually a decade or more behind the actual culture.

self-independent non-smoking woman
That always annoyed me.  But I should confess I just 1)got my own place for the first time in my life and 2)began smoking again.  Might be some actual connection.  Like, some implicit acknowledgement that it's more stressful than we pretend it is.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 02:41:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The 'only' is the problem.
by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 02:36:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But those aren't the only things that make them happy.  

They make each other happy.  They make themselves happy.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 02:43:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As characters that's where the emphasis was, though.

It's a very conformist show with some very conformist characters, selling the idea that they're doing something shocking by having money to spend, and shopping, and having casual sex.

Which is not edgy - it's mainstream corporate vanilla. And turning it into a glamorous lifestyle option for a generation of women was quite a coup.

Put them up against someone like Queen Mu from the Mondo 2000 collective in the late 80s and 90s, who was ferociously smart, creative, personally and professionally adventurous, wacky, bohemian and just plain weird (in a good way), and the SATC quartet start to look like something that fell out of a black and white TV in the fifties.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 05:49:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well the question was about it having some feminist aspects.  I think it does, though can do so and not be radical groundbreaking tv.

My question to you is do you think that women shopping, making money, and having casual sex are contradictory to feminism?  They may not be things you value, but I also don't think they are implicitly patriarchal...  Materialist and maybe ethically questionable, yes.  But if we are talking about strong characters, I don't how being poor, not dressing up or being celibate or monogamous are somehow more legitimate femist ideals.

I do think there IS an argument you can make to turn my statement on its head - but I am going to make you figure out what it is.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 06:22:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well my argument against that would be that by drawing female success as "shopping, making money, and having casual sex" might not be a purely patriarchal, but the allowing of the redrawing of female success in a way dictated by a patriarchal media might not be seen as a total success for femenism

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 06:39:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually the show was based on a book written by a woman, so it's not entirely about the male dominated media dictating what is success for these women.  

My answer would have been that the majority of their purchases were probably made by women in sweatshops in other parts of the world.  That their shopping habits promote an economy that depends very much on the subjugation of women in desperate situations.  It's not just that materialism is another form of enslavement, but that it depends on the very real enslavement of less fortunate women.  Which is anti-feminist.


"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Wed Sep 5th, 2007 at 05:20:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I hesitated whether to comment this sub-thread until I got to the above.

So my feeling is that "women shopping, making money, and having casual sex" is becoming a new kind of golden cage, a bigger cage, but still a self-enclosed lifestyle. (That's why "can't live outside the city" in Nomad's original list resonated in me.) Maybe it's just solidarity that't missing most from the picture? I think of solidarity as also a feminist issue.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Sep 11th, 2007 at 12:06:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How about Commander Susan Ivanova of Babylon 5?

I really liked her character, and the series, although the acting was wooden and some of the episodes really sucked. The five-year-arch story managed to keep me hooked.

You have a normal feeling for a moment, then it passes. --More--

by tzt (tzt) on Tue Sep 4th, 2007 at 06:02:19 PM EST
A belated comment: I think the anime show I diarised is a very feminist one.

In animes, there are a lot of powerful women, be them magical girls or action heroines -- that's very different from Western film and cartoon traditions. However, most are also much more eye-candy-ised, worsened with the rampant tradition of fanservice.

However, R.O.D the TV's almost female-only main cast suffers surprisingly little fanservice, and although characters and relationships are complex and not cartoonish or amazon-like, and with one exception, they have not much emotional need for (dependency on) males. Only two of the seven main characters have a love story with a male, and those are mostly only hinted at -- what's more, they happen to involve the two emotionally strongest characters. Having read TBG, I note there are also 3-5 strong male characters, who are on both sides (sometimes simultaneously).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Sep 11th, 2007 at 12:31:47 PM EST


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