Obligatory Post on Women in Science Fiction

First of all – credit where credit is due please check out the full comic in the feature image here. It is currently making its rounds around the internet and it really hit home with me and got me thinking about my own reactions to women in the media, and more specifically in my case, in science fiction.

I think my favorite reaction so far to this image is from Noelle Stevenson (aka gingerhaze) on her tumblr:

I’ve thought about this a lot and I think the answer is MORE, and MORE DIVERSE female characters.

We’re used to having one or two female characters in a cast of mostly men, and hold them to a higher standard because of that. So all of feminism is resting on the shoulders of one female character – and that DOESN’T WORK. Because there isn’t one right way to be a woman.


I am most guilty of overanalyzing women in shows and movies when there is only one woman portrayed. My relationship to Black Widow in the Avengers movies is very complicated  I liked her, but I had issues with her portrayal. Was she too sexualized? Am I slut shamming her by saying that? But really what the biggest problem with that movie is the Smurfette Principle. I don’t allow her to be a fully developed woman, because as the only woman I feel she has to represent ALL women, which is impossible.

Thinking about my favorite women in science fiction made me realize most of them come from universes where we see MANY women, and different examples of what it means to be a woman. Farscape, Star Trek Voyager, Warehouse 13, Firefly, Battlestar Galactica – they all have multiple women who are good at different things, pasts, which then color who they are. They are warriors, scientists, friends, lovers, leaders, team members etc. They are all people. They are each allowed to to be their own person.

Not to hate on comic book movies (because seriously, I love them) but I think this is where they go wrong a lot of the time. There aren’t enough women to accurately portray women. It is a problem of numbers. When there are half a dozen men, each with his own take on what it is to be a man, or even a person in general, why do we expect one woman can achieve the same level of representation?

(Also I realize this is SUPER cis-biased. I would love to get into bigger issues of gender and sexual identity in science fiction another time.)

Now  the examples of women I love above are all television shows and the ‘bad’ examples are movies, maybe this raises issues with the differences in medium. Earth’s Mightiest Heroes did have more women than The Avengers. But movies should not be excused from this. The Smurfette Principle is problematic. I don’t want a token female. I want to see many examples of amazing women so I have a choice in picking who I believe best represents me, or who I want to me my role model.

It is a number game. There is more than one way to be a woman. So why limit yourself to just one?


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9 responses to “Obligatory Post on Women in Science Fiction”

  1. Julia says :

    I totally agree. I recently read Dune, and afterwards I watched the TV series ‘Children of Dune’ which is based on two of the sequel novels. I loved this because of what a great job it did at portraying female characters, there is such a huge variety of important female characters that you manage to see many aspects of what it means to be a woman.
    Another thing I find very important is that we have to stop thinking about strong female characters and think more about strong characters that just happen to be female. What I mean by that is making exactly the same considerations when designing a woman character as we would a man. Make them the most interesting/complex character we can, rather than worry about how they reflect on women as a whole. Then they will have a lot more integrity regardless of whether they happen to be stunningly beautiful or the best warrior of them all.

    • claudiaeberger says :

      I agree. Especially with your second bit. We need to focus on creating fully developed characters, regardless of gender. And that can be applied to so many other aspects of characters as well – race, sexual id, etc.

      Also, I’m a huge fan of Dune. It is what got me into science fiction initially.

      • Julia says :

        Yeah it’s great! I hadn’t read it until recently and I loved it, I actually wrote a review on my blog. Now I’m trying to get my hands on some more Frank Herbert!

      • claudiaeberger says :

        You’ve reviewed some of my favorite authors. You should check out Heinlein if you haven’t yet.

      • Julia says :

        It’s on my list! Which title of his should I try to find first?

      • claudiaeberger says :

        Stranger in a Strange Land is my favorite, but Moon is a Harsh Mistress is also great.

        Gaiman’s American Gods is a good stand alone fantasy if you haven’t read it yet.

      • Julia says :

        Thanks for the suggestions, I’ve read American Gods but no other Gaiman, I’m probably going to tackle Neverwhere if I can find it.

  2. dvb-t says :

    Nice read, I just passed this onto a friend who was doing some research on that. And he just bought me lunch as I found it for him smile Thus let me rephrase that: Thank you for lunch!

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