Feminism is a very popular topic of discussion today. People are constantly debating about gender roles, especially as things like online dating becomes more and more popular. These issues have spilled over into popular media such as the science fiction genre.
More and more often, women are looking to science fiction to explore gender issues. Science fiction provides the perfect medium because it allows people to envision a world where there is no imbalance in power between the genders. Many science fiction stories also explore the opposite as well: societies in which women are completely subservient in which feminist movements are needed to free them.
Books and Movies
Women have been writing novels that explore feminism in science fiction for years. One of the first was the novel Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley, which told the story of a man creating new life asexually. The book’s underlying feminist message is that men in the 19th century were deeply afraid of female sexuality. The book’s main character destroys a female he creates because he had no control over her reproduction ability and men used technology to control women.
Another popular novel is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. The book is set in Massachusetts in the 21st century in a world where Christian fundamentalists control the United States. Birth rates are down so fertile women, known as Handmaids, are forced to become sexual slaves to produce children for couples who are considered “morally fit” to raise a child. Women cannot hold jobs, have money or read. The book touched on issues important at the time, when women were protesting against pornography. It emphasized that trying to repress sex in pornography opened the door for repressing sex in other aspects of life as well.
There is also the novel Like Water For Chocolate, which was turned into a movie. A young girl named Tita falls in love with a man named Pedro, but she is unable to marry him because of the traditional belief that the youngest daughter in a family must take care of her mother until her mother dies. Tita channels her feelings into cooking instead, and her emotions affect the people who eat the meals, causing magical things to happen. One of the book’s main themes involves Tita being submissive at first and then eventually being able to buck tradition and stand up to her mother.
In movie series Alien, the focus is on Lieutenant Ellen Ripley and her battle with an alien creature known as “the Alien.” Typically, the role of the tough leader goes to males in science fiction but Ellen is the one who fills that role. There is also a female character that is panicky and high-strung like typical female characters are supposed to be. In order to survive the alien attack, Ripley is forced to embrace a “masculine” point of view. In this case, she has to use a hyper-masculine nuclear bomb.
The Witches of Eastwick, another book turned into a movie, follows three witches who acquire powers after their husbands leave them. The three also encounter a character named Darryl who seduces them all; they share him for awhile until he marries a young woman, Jenny. The three decide to give Jenny cancer and she dies. Darryl flees with his new lover and the three each summon up their own “ideal man” and leave town. The book shows how women are as likely to abuse their powers as men.
The Female Man is another great example. The novels follow four women who cross over into other worlds where gender roles are different and they must adjust their view of what it means to be a woman.
One of the most well-known shows in the world is Buffy The Vampire Slayer and it carries many strong feminist messages. The main character is a young woman named Buffy who is chosen to save the world from all kinds of evil creatures such as vampires, ghouls, and other supernatural entities. Buffy and most of the other women in the show are portrayed as being just as strong, if not stronger, than the men around them. The show also looks at how men handle it when women are stronger than they are. Buffy also has female friends who become empowered throughout the series – her friend Willow in particular goes from a very shy girl to a powerful witch.
Babylon 5 is similar. It has many strong female lead characters, including one named Susan Ivanova. She is portrayed as a very real person with weaknesses but she is never written as a fragile, frail victim. In fact, she was constantly one of the strongest characters in the show until her departure.
In a world where the media is increasingly objectifying women, feminism is becoming increasingly popular in the science fiction genre, where it can freely be explored.
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