Portrayal of Women in Science Fiction


Have you noticed how the supporting females roles in science fiction television and movies have been portrayed, especially over the last 60 years? I found myself wondering what was going on. Female characters like T’Pol in Star Trek: Enterprise, and Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager were rendered as highly sexualized but with limited emotional range. T’Pol was a member of the famously emotionally controlled Vulcans, and Seven of Nine had her human emotions stripped away by the Borg. It seems that science fiction liked to portray females as nearly unattainable beauties with limited gender socialization.

This treatment, of female characters, has existed since the early days. In the movie Forbidden Planet (1956), the alluring Altaira is naive and inexperienced with gender relationships. She does not know what a kiss is, and must be taught by the male crew of the spaceship. Mission Stardust (1967), introduced the story of Perry Rhodan, a long-running science fiction series of books from Germany. Having sold approximately two billion copies of the books, in novella format, worldwide, it is the most successful science fiction book series ever written. In the book and movie, Thora is an advanced alien female who becomes the love interest for Perry Rhodan. She is, at first, cold and distant, with no thought of romantic connection to a primitive Earth being. Perry must show her what primitive relations are like. These type of portrayals continued over the following decades on TV and in movies.

I delayed writing my thoughts down about what I had noticed. I thought it was a social trait of the past, and less likely to be found in the future. But, 2016 saw the Suicide Squad movie, and Harley Quinn. She is shown at the beginning to be dressed in conservative clothing, with librarian glasses, and a hair bun. Afterwards, she will do anything, dressed as male fetish eye-candy, all for love of Joker. And don’t get me started on Enchantress! She shares a gorgeous model body with an innocent scientist, controlled by love. The Enchantress is controlled because her heart, is literally locked in a box. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) has a character Jadis, the White Witch who is beautiful, but is only evil and enslaves others. She turns people into statues in her palace of ice.

I think we have not seen the end of these alien ice princesses. We will see what happens with The Major’s role in Ghost in the Shell this year. I suspect a gorgeous cyborg woman will have similar traits to those I’ve discussed above. While I enjoyed all the shows I’ve mentioned, it is finally time to explore more rounded roles for females in science fiction, and we have to encourage the writers, directors, and producers to insist on them.

4 thoughts on “Portrayal of Women in Science Fiction

  1. So… we’re cherry-picking, right? No pun intended. For every example given of an “ice princess”, I could probably name a dozen in SF and Fantasy movies and/or TV that weren’t. And the author probably could, too.


  2. Part of the problem with female characters that “aren’t well rounded” is that women aren’t always seen as well-rounded no matter what they are. Perception is part of it. Is it that a woman is really cold and wakes up to emotion at the hands of a man or is it that she’s always had passion that he didn’t notice until it was turned on him?

    I have an unusual “ingenue” type character in that she’s lived 400 years in a virtual prison where people came to her for fortune telling but she couldn’t leave. I’d love her to be kick-butt, but, let’s face it, that wouldn’t be realistic. However, she learns quickly that she’s more intrepid than she thinks, finds her temper and turns out to be nobody’s doormat. Not emotionless by any measure. Other characters might appear to be emotionless (as many women are often told – I’ve had actual terms like being a “robot”, a “machine”, a “rock” in my performance evaluations, intended as compliments to my work efficiency but still…) but often work through things that might prostrate someone else because they have to. I can’t afford hysterics if I find out my son has poisoned himself with tylenol. I am not allowed to get angry when I’m dismissed or I’ll immediately be accused of unprofessionalism. The rules for women are not the same and fiction can help bring those double standards to the fore.

    That’s one of the things I try to do in my own work.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Diane Morrison and commented:
    Just today, Emma Watson was called a “hypocrite” about her feminism because she chose to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair in a revealing (but tasteful) image. There seems to be a conception in popular culture that women must give up their sexuality to be a strong person who is a match for a man, and this trope is perpetuated by right wing traditionalists and second wave feminists both.

    One of the most potent ways in which women have been subjugated in history is by means of controlling their sexuality. If feminism were about equality and opportunity, shouldn’t a woman’s sexual choices be celebrated?

    Instead, we must make women into “ice princesses” before we’ll take them seriously. We still slut-shame in our culture, but now, we claim that women who choose to celebrate their sexuality can be neither strong, nor actually a feminist.

    As this author points out, this trope has carried into modern science fiction and continues to be a staple. Women do not have to be one or the other. Perhaps it’s time we gave it a sharply-pointed stiletto boot.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Don’t get me started on the GITS remake. I just hope it’s good. But if not, we always have the amazing source material to go back to. The manga as well as SACs 1 & 2. And Motoko Kusanagi has always been a subtle yet emotionally complex heroine. I doubt a 2 or even 3 hour movie will capture that subtlety that defines her essence and makes her such a unique fixture in the science fiction pantheon.

    Liked by 2 people

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