Science fiction… a feminist genre? — Day # 7

I’m working on a Beginner’s Guide to Dark Comedy, which I’m super excited about. I was hoping to have that up today, but because I’m watching a lot of movies I haven’t seen before, I don’t want to rush it. Plus, I’m going to see Sufjan Stevens tonight, and I am SO excited about it that I’m having a hard time sitting down to write. So for today, I’m posting something that I wrote for a film class this semester. I’ve made quite a few edits, added a few points that I think strengthen the argument, and made everything a little more conversational in tone, but this is close to what I turned in for class.

Basically, the argument I’m making is that science fiction is an incredibly feminist-friendly genre. Here we go:

While reading the script for Aliens, I was, of course, struck by how hardcore freaking awesome the character of Ellen Ripley was, but another thing that struck me was the realization that I could think of so many other strong, compelling, genuinely great female characters within the sci-fi genre. That led me to the realization that science fiction, as a genre, just might be the most feminist-friendly genre in film. Hear me out with this….

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Romantic comedies, though they typically feature female leads, all too often fall into common tropes, stereotypes, and gender norms regarding women. Often rom-com women who are successful in their careers are “unlucky in love,” a trope that seems to imply that it’s not possible for women to be good at both their professional and personal lives at the same time. They must choose one, until a man rides in to save the day and open their hearts to love.

Actions films, though they are getting more inclusive, almost always feature a male protagonist. If there is a major female character, she could serve as some kind of feminist icon, but she almost always also serves primarily as the protagonist’s love interest. She strengthens the protagonist, the man’s character, instead of progressing through her own narrative arc.

It doesn’t even feel worth discussing horror as a feminist-friendly genre. While there are some films with strong female characters (notably Silence of the Lambs and, obviously, Aliens), the existence of slasher films as a popular subgenre means that a lot of horror is anti-feminist.

A case might be made for drama or perhaps comedy, but because these genres are so terribly broad, I’m making the calculated choice to leave them out of the equation. (In a ten-page research paper, I might have a hard look at them, but this was definitely not a ten-page paper.)

So we arrive back with science fiction. The nature of the genre means that people — men, women, children, anyone who wants to live — must step up to dangerous challenges. It’s not a viable option for men alone to fight, so surviving female characters must be mentally and physically strong. In many sci-fi films, there simply isn’t much time for love stories, meaning that women aren’t pushed as mere love interests, existing in the stories only to drive the male heroes.

Perhaps this genre most excels from a feminist perspective because of its otherworldly elements. In sci-fi, it doesn’t matter whether characters are even human or not, so of course gender becomes less important.

Or perhaps it is because of characters such as Ellen Ripley that sci-fi is a more inclusive genre. And Sarah Connor of Terminator, Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Leia Skywalker of Star Wars, or virtually any female character on FOX’s late, great Firefly. (Joss Whedon writes unbelievably complex female characters. I am purposefully noting that right now.)

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Perhaps this is how any genre — be it romantic comedy, action, or horror — might progress: with well written, lasting characters. It’s a nice thought for an aspiring screenwriting, that the writing of a single character could make such a difference, and it’s one that demands a certain level of consciousness while writing. We must strive to represent the underrepresented, to give a voice to the voiceless, to write awesome lady characters, damn it, because every genre — not just science fiction — needs more of those.

A Beginner’s Guide to Dark Comedy should be up tomorrow. Thanks, as always, for reading!

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