I’ve been on a big sci-fi rampage lately, and whilst doing some research on gender studies and what have you not, I came across these thoughts I want to share with you guys today. I have always been really happy with the positive and active portrayal of women in sci-fi and fantasy which fall outside your usual girly girl stereotype. Particularly, I like how science fiction has that ability to bring women back into the scientific/technological environment which is not commonly represented in ordinary TV shows, movies, books, comics, and hey even society. I mean you all may not a nurse or a doctor who is a woman, but how many female engineers, chemists, mathematicians have you met in your life? The point is this is still a fairly uncommon site. I remember in the last year or so the BBC has produced several programmes such as “Girls Can Code”, and other documentaries about women in science.
Now, we commonly make this mistake with science fiction where we just assume that because a girl has some involvement with high-tech, cables, cybernetics and what not this makes them more tuned to science, and science is part of themselves, but this is not really the case. In addition, the value of their participation in any scientific or technological activity is usually undermined by their active portrayal as badassess with guns, explosions, or ridiculous combat skills. For example, take the classic Ghost in the Shell: the Major is essentially the coolest hacker in the universe, but who remember that is one of her main character traits after she spends half her life shooting people and commanding her team? Or Ripley. Sent out to space on a mission to find Alien life. Which is the first image that comes to your mind about her, the space suit and nerdy sciency talk or any of the multiple moments of “me-and-my-flame-thrower-are-gonna-say-hi-to-you-pretty-ugly-space-parasite”? Even most people end up forgetting that our beloved Willow was a nerd who Giles took on board for her brainiac skills, particularly science and computer knowledge. So, I have picked a few examples of how the science women do exist in science fiction series, and how their importance to the narrative does not actually come from anything else but the fact that “them girls can maths”:
-Firefly: starting with an obvious one here. We all know how River is the genius, I mean in every single way, shape or form, science included. But River’s character is defined mostly by her trauma and her otherworldliness. The character Joss Whedon gave the power of science was Kayleigh. The sunny,always happy and cheerful member of the Serenity’s crew is the one person in charge of keeping Mal and the rest flying! She is a mechanic, engineer, always covered in grease, with her adorkable dungarees. That is her role, and we are constantly reminded of this. Moreover, Kayleigh’s personality and otherwise very gentle and polite manners almost seem to oppose her job, which many could consider it to be hard labour, not particularly glamorous, and from a traditional point of view “a man’s job”. Well, no. In fact, we know that Mal kicked out the Serenity’s supposed engineer for her due to her amazing knowledge of the ship, and the set of skills required for the task.
-Orphan Black: in case you weren’t aware of the clones, well, now you are. And Cosima is the nerdiest clone, and her importance in the team is purely due to the fact that she is an experimental evolutionary biologist. I do not think Cos grabs a gun in the entirety of the series. Her input is always thanks to the “crazy science”. If the clones did not have Cosima they would struggle to even understand the very nature of what they are, needless to say attempt to fathom half of the things they deal with. From testing blood samples to developing cures, and working out impossible equations, Cosima is a great example of what 21st century society could achieve if more women would get involved in science. And her brilliance comes from her utter and selfless dedication, to the point of even putting herself at risk for the sake of the team. Cosima is that member you wished you had in your DnD party, even though you know she’d never hold a sword.
-Killjoys: you obviously have heard us talking about this here: https://manaburnt.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/killjoys-the-warrant-is-all/
But we hardly talked about my favourite redhead: Dr Illenore Pawter Simms. Yeah she may be an exiled princess, yeah she may have issues, but without her medical knowledge, Pawter would just be like any other nameless secondary character in the background. But no, her way is that of science. Okay, she isn’t Dutch, but she doesn’t have to. The Killjoys need her. Old Town needs her. Whether you need surgery, some drugs or just a generic lecture in biochemistry, that is what makes her Pawter. She is a RAC certified doctor. You need to have a certain degree of skill to get that accreditation. Funny enough, throughout the 2 seasons, every time she has been in danger or in need to save herself by radical means, these have always come from her scientific knowledge: exploding devices, pinching nerves, you named it. She made it look cool and effortless.
-Video Game High School: okay, this may be a bit unexpected, but it did take me by surprise too. If you’re not aware of this series, it is available in YouTube and Netflix (currently). There are 4 main characters in here: Jenny Matrix (the badass FPS girl), Brian (the happy-go-lucky gaming nerd), Ted (the mandatory asian-looking member of the cast who sadly must fulfill a stereotype by being an asian and playing video games, who is just a nice person), and Ki. Now Ki is a very subtle character and often forgotten. She is not hardcore like Matrix, she isn’t any of the guys with their active bromance. She is the nerdy girl who goes out with Ted. But what we forget is that, although Ki is an amazing fighter (as in video game fighting player!), she is in the school not to be a professional player, but because she can code. And she codes pretty and good. This helped creating her as a more logical, calm and mature personality in comparison with the others. That’s her thing. She uses her abilities with computers and technology to help her friends, and uses the same methodological approach to life to get her through her troubles and always come on top of things.
I could carry on, but I must leave it there for today. Of course, these are just mere examples that meant something to me, mostly because they felt real. Sometimes it is difficult to identify with the heroine that just overcomes everything and is a bit of a Mary Sue. Therefore, it is always pleasant to find characters like these, which not only represent a very current issue within our societal structure, but also demonstrate that to be part of the main narrative you don’t need to always come in guns blazing. You can also be relevant, crucial even with some brains and a little experimenting.