Pop-Culture | Posted by Maxine FG on 12/29/2010

Feminist Sci-Fi TV

women in sci-fi: not always feminist friendly

women in sci-fi: not always feminist friendly

Science fiction is not known for being entirely female-friendly. If you enter any video storeor search the genre on netflix, many movie covers show picture of skantly clad women clinging to brawny men for security. As a young woman, this has made calling myself a feminist and a sci-fi geek difficult. However, when I find myself disapointed by the lack of female representation in a Sci-Fi film or television series, there are two shows that I can revert back to in order to fufil my feminist and nerd void.

Battlestar Galactica:

In the original series, Starbuck, the hooligan star piolt, was played by a male. The directors of the latest series decided that they wanted to change that. They indroduced us to a new Starbuck, Kara Thrace. Not only does Starbuck fly circles around male piolts, but she also holds her own in any boxing ring. When Starbuck is not shooting cylons out of the sky, she spends her time drinking and beating the shit out of her male peers.

Starbuck does not represent the only positively bad ass female role in BSG. The president of the colonies Laura Roslin is also a women. Laura takes on one of most important roles left in the post-appcolyptic world the characters of BSG are living in. Laura calmly and wisely makes many decisions for the betterment of what’s left of humanity. Not only does she out-smart male leaders, but she does this all while dealing with a spiritual quest and breast cancer.

So that’s a president and a top notch piolt in one Sci-Fi series, but there are so many more positive female roles. Sharon Valarie/Boomer/Number 8 is a cylon model who embodies 3 different female characters in one role. Number 6/ Caprica 6 is a very powerful figure in the cylon world. Not only does she haunt Gius Batlers everyday life, but she also can kick ass and take names. Dee, works on deck right next to commander Adama punching numbers and saving the human race. As the series goes on there are many minor powerful female roles. Whether they’re evil robotic cylons or humans, all the female charcters have just as much power if not more than male characters.

Many would say that the female characters are hypersexualized, Number 6 being the main victim of the scurtiny. However, as you watch the series you realize that it isn’t an over abdunt sexuality with out pleasure from the females like in many other female roles. The women of Battlestar Galactica are sexy and sexual. They do not let the men of the world dominate their sex lifes and explore their sexuality freely. Number 6 may be a hyper-sexual character, but in this role it’s a positive thing. She finds the balance between being sexy being powerful. She remains very feminie in fashion and apperance whilst remaining in a powerful posistion. The show lasted for 6 seasons, and besides begin female friendly, it is also filled with action, humor, fear and so much more. I reccomend this show to any science fiction fan out there, or even a fan of top notch television with a positive message.


Although the show was banned after just one EPIC season, what it covers in terms of feminism in it’s short life span is worth discussing. Firefly follows people living on a space shuttle called Serenity. Four out of the nine main characters are powerful women.

Zoe was a fighter in the rebellion against the allance and now works as Captain Reynolds right hand women. She is also married to Walsh, the ship’s piolt. They do not have the typical marriage often portrayed in the media, Zoe is not in any way submissive. The two often joke about their sexual exploits and are completely open about it with the rest of the crew. Their relationship remains totally balanced.

Kaylee is a sweet young women who happens to be in charge of the ship’s engine. Kaylee is often depicted with a dirty face wearing the average enginers clothing. Kaylee, like other characters, jokes about her lack of a sex life on the ship and often remarks about how close she has become with her “toys.” Her personality remains both adorable and incredably genius. Kaylee works the engine room better than any other engineer shown in the series.

River is the only female character that is portrayed as mentally unstable. But with good reason: the government has been experimenting on her brain, only because she was considered to be a genius. River may be completely insane, but she also is the smartest character on the show. She often will randomly know things that the other characters won’t understand, and will catch on to just about anything with no practice at all.

Inara is the final female character and possilby the most controversial. Inara is a companion, or prostitute. In this world becoming a companion takes training and much schooling and Inara is the best at her job. There are many differences between the modern prostitutes and Inara’s compainionship. The main one being that Inara chooses her clients. She says that she tries to find out who the person is and lets that guide her to her decision. She is also her own boss: in this world the word pimp is meaningless. Inara’s work is not degrading but regarded as a respectable profession. She does not feel guit for her work but it is obvious that she enjoys her job and is good at what she does.

Firefly is really easy to get through, considering its one season life span. The female characters drive the plot along, it is also filled with much action and invigirating conflict.

So for all of the sci-fi fans out there, and for everybody who is dying to see women portrayed well in the media, check out Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. You won’t be disappointed.

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  • jeff @ at 11:55 am, December 29th, 2010

    Whether Laura Roslyn was “wise” is up for debate, but I agree it was really enjoyable to see a woman leader who was more Margret Thatcher than Benevolent Mother.

    In the middle run of the show Roslyn is practically a tyrant. And it is awesome.

  • Lolita @ at 1:55 pm, December 29th, 2010

    Don’t forget Startrek, the Clingon women, Janeway, Seven of Nine..

  • jeff @ at 3:15 pm, December 29th, 2010

    Eh, 7of9 always struck me as being a version of Data for horny 14 year olds. Why does she need a form fitting catsuit?

    Voyager was better than Star Trek or TNG, for women, though. Torres and Janeway were smooth, capable leaders without being overtly sexual. Torres was openly aggressve, if I remember correctly.

    Also: Klingon.

  • Hannah @ at 4:19 pm, December 29th, 2010

    I also would like to say that Doctor Who has some feminist elements too, and many of the companions are surprisingly kickass.

  • Cora @ at 7:51 pm, December 29th, 2010

    I’ve never watched much sci-fi, but lately I’ve gotten very attached to Fringe and Eureka. I like the mystery elements of these shows, but also the strong female characters. On Fringe, I feel that the male and female characters work well as a team, with Olivia often being shown as the point person and leader. Eureka’s main character is a male sheriff, but the female characters are usually depicted as intelligent, courageous, and ambitious; often they are successful scientists. Both shows still have some gender issues (why is Fringe’s Astrid such an after thought?), but I think they’ve also done a good job writing interesting, multi-dimensional women.
    Anyway, reading this post has made me really interested in watching Firefly. Love hearing about new feminist-friendly shows I can try out!

  • Zoe @ at 10:02 pm, December 29th, 2010

    I’m not very knowledgeable of sci-fi but I can definitely say that Firefly was an awesome show :)

    @Hannah I’m thinking of looking into Doctor Who! Managed to watch a bit over Christmas and it’s drawing me in.

  • Ann @ at 2:01 am, December 30th, 2010

    Don’t forget Doctor Who!

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 9:34 pm, December 30th, 2010

    Not the most well-written article in the world, but very interesting – thanks for sharing!

  • Emily @ at 6:02 pm, January 2nd, 2011

    I’d also recommend Fringe, as it completely flips the emotional woman/emotionless men stereotype on its head. In addition, Olivia Dunham kicks more ass than all the other male characters put together. Astrid has a minor role, but she strikes me as the most level-headed, reasonable character and if you pay attention she’s clearly smarter than she lets on. Then there’s Nina Sharp, who is cleary very intelligent, the female CEO of a powerful company and completely no-nonsense about it.

    Doctor Who… I don’t know, most of the female companions are pretty awesome in their own ways at one point or another (especially Martha – she was smart and strong and independent. And Rose at the end of season 1? Wow). Currently, the female companion Amy is what I’d say is a less than a great feminist character, but there’s the recurring character of River Song who is 100% bad-ass and also is more in control of her own sexuality than anyone else in the show (except possibly Captain Jack, but that’s another thing).

    I like Torchwood, the adult-oriented Doctor Who spin-off. Gwen doesn’t put up with shit from any of her male co-workers and isn’t afraid to stand up to her male boss, and most characters are very in charge of their own sexuality and open-minded about things, and the series has a reputation of being very LGBT-friendly.

    I also liked Stargate Atlantis – the female characters in general are just as strong and awesome and complex (or not complex, depending on your opinion) as the men – in fact, it seems like for each male character there’s a similar female character, or vice versa. And it’s got Jewel Staite, who plays Kaylee on Firefly, too =)

  • typhonatemybaby @ at 12:04 pm, January 4th, 2011

    dr who only passes the bechdel test on an episode by episode basis and then only on rare occasions.

    try cold lazarus. 4 part sci fi television play about a bunch of scientists working in a cryogenics lab. three of the main characters are female, and two of those are are part of the 4 that compose the core of the show

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