Is Sci-Fi still sexist?
Does the genre of Sci-Fi remain an inherently sexist institution? Conor Thompson-Plant offers his opinion…
Sci-Fi has often been held as a stalwart of sexism in cinema, literature and video gaming; sexualised and objectified women, damsels in distress and deeply flawed ‘heroines’ (a defective term in itself, implying only the female ‘version’ of a hero), being icons of 20th century entertainment. Has this trope evolved from the days of women being used only as nameless props, prizes or objects to be saved, as seen in classics such as ‘Star Wars’ and ‘King Kong’?
This sexism is often said to have dissolved from Sci-Fi to make way for stronger female leads such as Katniss Everdeen in ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy or superheroes such as ‘Catwoman’ or ‘Elektra’. However it must be noted that when ‘Wonder Woman’ reaches cinemas in 2017, it will be the first superhero movie with a female lead since 2005 amongst a cornucopia of ‘Captain America’ and ‘Thor’ lookalikes.
When women are included in Sci-Fi today, they are still consistently portrayed as shallow, with attractiveness being their only trait. In ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’, although at first it may appear that Gamora is a strong female lead character, suggestive camera angles abound and her character only seems to exist to provide Quill with a love interest. The damsel in distress trope is also utilised in ‘Guardians’ in a prison scene, showing even this unquestionably sexist notion is still apparently pertinent today.
Of course, one example of sexism cannot epitomise an entire genre, but it would be laughable to state that there is only one example. The Invisible Woman in ‘Fantastic Four’ at first can only be invisible if she strips off. Mystique in the X-Men films is perpetually and unnecessarily nude. Women in ‘Avatar’ are either love interests for men or die. Women’s roles have not even changed in re-makes of sexist classics such as ‘King Kong’ or ‘Duke Nukem’. It is true that women have occasionally gained a more central role in Sci-Fi plots, but this role is just a facade so that creators can say they aren’t sexists; women are still being included simply for their looks or as a plot device.
Most Sci-Fi authors and comic book writers are still middle-aged white men, comic book covers still flaunt ridiculously objectified women, used as tools to try and sell the comics to teenage boys (Starfire’s reboot comic anyone?). This is one more way in which women are rejected in the Sci-Fi community, and one more possible reason as to why young male teens feel that ‘geek culture’ doesn’t apply to women.
It is true that some stronger female leads have appeared in movies such as ‘Gravity’, but there are always exceptions to every rule, such as Ripley in ‘Alien’ in older Sci-Fi. This should be seen as what it is, an exception and not a commonality. The prevalence of sexism in sci-fi still reflects the systematic oppression and dismissal of women in society still going on today.