Posted by: Andrea | January 23, 2009

I really just want to be a superhero

I have a little secret for all you sci-fi network execs.  Guess what?  Women like science fiction too.

I know, shocking, right?  But it seems like whenever I read any articles about science fiction movies or television, there has to be some sort of caveat saying ‘well you know, this isn’t really popular with women…’  It makes me want to scream or start swearing in gibberish that nobody else would understand.  Frak!  Frell!  Stupid network people.

Believe me, I know that not all women like science fiction.  But you know, just like not all men are glued to their couches every time the next Stargate television series comes on, there is nothing that all women like either.  I personally would pick up a book by a sci-fi writer 99% of the time over something with a picture of a pink high-heeled shoe on the cover.  I loathe books with pictures of shoes, or shopping bags, or lingerie or diamond rings (or diamond rings WITH high heeled shoes UGH).  I’d rather get a wax where each hair was plucked out one by one than be forced to sit through Bride Wars (just as an aside, how heinously awful does that movie look?!).  I don’t particularly like shopping, I don’t wear high heels most of the time because I actually like to be able to WALK NORMALLY and yes, I read and watch science fiction.

And guess what?  There are a lot of other women out there just like me (Essaytch, I’m looking at you here).  But here’s the big message that I suspect isn’t really getting across to people who doubt that women like science fiction: women don’t always like watching other women doing stupid, stereotypical things.  Like dancing in a music montage in their gigantic closets stuffed with clothes and shoes they can’t afford.  Or chasing after men.  Or having sleepovers where they drink wine and talk about their feelings.  Women enjoy watching a bit of harmless fantasy just like men do, but why do the only fantasies that are presented to us as acceptable involve securing a romantic relationship?

For quite a few of us, the best escapist entertainment isn’t about a big white wedding, it’s about fighting evil as a superhero or about being the best viper pilot in the fleet.  I adore movies with lots of awesome fight scenes and cool special effects, because I love imagining that I could do that too.  That I could be the one up there with the adamantium claws or the superpowers.  That woman in the corner screaming to be rescued?  She’s just boring.  And annoying.  And isn’t going to inspire any woman to want to watch more movies with characters just like her.

The problem is that there are very few women characters that I find relatable in any sort of way.  I haven’t read a comic book in my life, but I lamented how stupid so many of the women in the X-Men movies turned out to be.  Where’s the fire, the life, the PERSONALITY of any of these women?  I mean Mystique didn’t even speak!  (Does she speak in the comic books?  I sure hope so.)  Maybe the problem with so much mainstream science fiction is that there are so few female characters to look up to.  Maybe women would like to watch some movies and television where females are represented as strong, independent, intelligent women instead of just secondary characters.  Most of these shows ARE in the future after all.  I’d hope that we would have moved on at least a little bit.

I wish I could just tell those network execs at the Sci-Fi channel, don’t worry about your new show Caprica.  As long as it has characters in it like Starbuck or President Roslin, you’ll be fine.  (Though yes, granted, dodging your responsibilities to curl up on the floor clutching some weeds was a little bit melodramatic.  Get it together Laura.)  One of the many things that kept me coming back to Battlestar Galactica week after week (other than its complete and total AWESOMENESS) was Starbuck.  I find her character fascinating and I love the fact that she exists on this show.  They took a male character, essentially changed almost nothing except gender (I’m assuming from what I’ve read anyway, I never watched the original show) and she turned into such an interesting and engaging person.  I LOVE that Starbuck has a temper, gets into fights, has inappropriate sex and drinks too much.  I LOVE that she has all the characteristics so typical of a male anti-hero and yet embodies them so amazingly.  I LOVE that she is so incredibly bad-ass and yes is also feminine.  This is the type of character I want to see more of.  Someone with flaws who makes mistakes but who is also deeply female, deeply human.

Interestingly, it’s often those little television shows that produce the best characters.  Big budget movies?  Not so much.  How is it that the more money you throw at a production, the worse off the characters tend to get?  Here’s hoping there will continue to be more characters to come that will allow me my little escapist fantasies.  After Buffy and Faith (not to mention Aeryn Sun, she who makes black leather look GOOD) were taken off the air, I’ve missed my ass-kicking heroines.

(I’ve also realised while writing this that I may have a hidden violent streak, considering all the women I love spend the majority of their time fighting people.  Of course, I used to like going to box-fit so that I could pretend to be Buffy, so maybe it’s not so hidden.  There was no mirror at the class so I could totally picture myself in my head with perfect form, looking like a superhero.  Then we were moved to a smaller room with a mirrored wall.  OH THE HORROR.  I look like THAT when I’m kicking and punching?  I am not automatically imbued with skill and grace?  How can this be?!  Well at least I have the heart of a superhero, if not yet the body.)



  1. Amen, sister! I will join you in your letter-writing campaign to the Sci-Fi Channel.

    And I must say, when you said “I LOVE that [Starbuck] is so incredibly bad-ass and yet is also feminine…with flaws who makes mistakes but who is also deeply female, deeply human.”–that is not only the type of woman I want to see on TV, but the type of woman that I want to BE. (Teyla on SGA was another one of those bad-ass characters.)

    I also like to see INTELLIGENT women in charge, like Colonel Carter or Dr. Wier on SGA. These are brilliant woman who are not only leaders, but also tend to put their male counterparts to shame every once in awhile (can you say, Rodney McKay?).

    I’ll admit, the main reason I love Sci-Fi is the escapeism. I love to be submerged in a world that I hope the human race will one day be living in–especially since the chances of me being around to see it are practically nill.

  2. Actually, I was thinking of Colonel Carter and Dr. Wier when I was writing this! SGA does a pretty good job most of the time of writing strong, interesting female characters. I’m still slightly disappointed of their treatment of Teyla though, she always seemed to be lacking a bit of personality for me. I mean did the woman have any flaws?

    I liked the episode with Dr. Keller though, when Teyla and Jennifer got stuck on the planet with all those people who were trying to kill them. Jennifer totally freaked out and Teyla was getting mad at her for being so weak but in the end Jennifer managed to get them saved, even though she was still scared through the whole thing. In a way I liked that even more, that they showed that not all people react to things the same and some people DO get scared and it’s ok, it just means we’re all unique.

    I have to say though, I’ve read quite a few sci-fi novels where the whole world has been destroyed because we humans are too lazy and self-absorbed to save it. That’s one kind of world where I hope the changes of me seeing it ARE nil! But yes, science fiction is the best for escapism!

  3. I agree with everything you wrote. Bride Wars DOES look like the worst movie ever conceived. But LOST is pretty good this season.

  4. I’m so excited about new Lost! After being endlessly confused for quite a long time, it’d nice to think that some of these mysteries are going to be answered. I’m also excited that Lost has finally thrown its hat into the sci-fi ring. We’ve all known for a long time that it’s sci-fi, but it’s finally out and proud! Hooray for time travel!

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