Nina Cromeyer Dieke | Contributor | Monday, 15 December 2014

Why 2014 Was The Year That Women In Sci Fi Kicked Ass

The Debrief: Film critic and sci-fi expert Sophie Mayer gives us five reasons 2014 was the year women owned science fiction. And about time

I was 10 years old and on a family holiday to Los Angeles. We went to the Walk Of Fame and I knew exactly whose handprints I was looking for: George Lucas, C3-PO and R2-D2 (droid leg prints for the latter). Decked out in my Return Of The Jedi T-shirt and Star Wars cap, I was beaming as I crouched down for a thousand photos next to the names of my heroes. My younger sister, going through a Spice Girls phase at the time, still posed with me in solidarity, and my parents snapped away under the lovely LA sun. It’s a great memory and I wish it ended there, but after I moved away to let others take photos, I bumped into a couple of girls around the same age who I realised had been staring and snickering. I remember like it was yesterday making seconds-long eye contact with one of them and hearing her mutter to her friend, 'she’s so weird.' I was suddenly embarrassed and sad, but I didn’t understand why.

I am so tired of having to explain why I like Star Wars. It is an unquestionably awesome classic treat to the imagination and the senses, so what I’m really having to explain is why, as a girl, I like Star Wars. Most guys like space-y, sci-fi stuff, no questions asked, but when I say the original trilogy are my all-time favourites and that if I ever walk down the aisle it will be to the Star Wars theme, I get puzzled looks. Granted, that last bit is extreme, but the first part shouldn't be that weird – it’s one of the most popular franchises ever.

Sadly, science fiction is yet another arena where pernicious assumptions of what girls should like and what boys should like come to light. Technology, imagined futures, action and science-derived fun remain, tragically, tied to boys’ interests. If in doubt, visit any toy shop or watch The Big Bang Theory.

The worst part is that the film industry itself isn’t doing much to help. Women are still massively under-represented in filmmaking, in the stories being made into films, and as film critics. But despite the testosterone-y selections on shelves and in cinemas, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Let us count the ways in which 2014 was actually a kick-ass year for women in sci-fi.

We spoke to renowned film critic, poet, sci-fi expert and all-around female extraordinaire Sophie Mayer and asked her to curate a list of 2014 examples from this year that show that better female representation in science fiction is maybe, just maybe, not that far, far away.

Box office success – again – of The Hunger Games’ latest installment

We all know Katniss can kick some serious arse. Common crush J-Law has done an awesome job of bringing Suzanne Collins’ character to life as the protagonist of the first Hollywood adaptation of a major science fiction work by a female writer with a female protagonist since Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in 1990.

‘For me, Katniss is a heroine for “the other 99%”, a working-class daughter of a single mother, a protective and loving sister, and someone who knows and loves the living world,’ says Mayer. 'Her fighting skills emerge out of these characteristics rather than being a magical superpower: she is an expert archer because that’s how she feeds and defends her family.’

We heart Katniss.

Wonder Woman film announced for 2017, with lady at the helm

Wonder Woman is an Amazonian warrior princess with incredible strength and remarkable mental and psychic abilities. She can speak every known language and breathe in outer space. Basically you don’t mess with her. After countless Superman, Spider-Man and Batman films, we’re thrilled for Wonder Woman to get her own blockbuster. It’s a double win with renowned filmmaker Michelle MacLaren directing and co-writing. 

The film’s success will still depend on getting the story right and not forgetting the fans, all the fans. To the filmmakers, Sophie says, ‘It would be incredibly refreshing to feel that a Hollywood studio was open to acknowledging other, not default male, fan communities: we are equally vocal, equally excited and equally likely to see the film.’

Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice swept every major sci-fi book prize this year

The first novel in the American writer’s space opera trilogy follows Breq, the sole survivor of a destroyed spaceship, who is also that ship’s trapped consciousness. Sold! Leckie chose not to distinguish people by gender and uses female pronouns for all the characters. Seriously, get your copy now. All major book recognitions went to Leckie this year (a first for any author): Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C Clarke awards for Best Novel. Go Ann!  

Sophie says, ‘Leckie’s book is a reminder of the history of thought experiments with gender in sci-fi, something that’s been completely unrepresented in sci-fi cinema. Carrying out the thought experiment by reading the book changes your perception of gender powerfully.’

Acclaimed Doctor Who finale made by third female director since 2009

The stakes were high for the series finale: a new Doctor, rumours of a departing companion and mystery surrounding recurring character Missy. Enter director Rachel Talalay, who blew our minds with the twisting, heart wrenching end to Series 8. Also – spoilers – Missy was revealed as longtime foe The Master, for the first time in female form. Showrunner Steven Moffat is warming up to the idea of a woman steering the TARDIS: he recently admitted it is ‘within the logic of the show’ for a woman to play The Doctor. We love Peter Capaldi, but it’s about time (and space!) for a female regeneration.

#gamergate: the world wants you to grow up

It all kicked off when indie games developer Zoe Quinn received a positive review for her new game, Depression Quest. It was all too much for her ex-boyfriend, who wrote a blog post attributing the positive news to Quinn having slept with the journalist. The hashtag became the war cry for that sad, little fringe that likes to harass successful women. But resistance is futile: Zoe herself has said that they’re a rapidly-shrinking segment. The good news is the gaming industry, and its fanbase, is becoming increasingly diverse. ‘If #gamergate has shown us anything, it’s that there’s no one genre or fandom community,’ says Mayer, adding that she reckons controversies like #gamergate are, in the end, just self-sabotage by a bunch of wimpy saddos. ‘Bullies are afraid and lack self-confidence, so they hear anything about equality as something that will take from them, rather than give to everyone,’ Preach!

Despite these great success stories, equality in film still eludes us. According to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the ratio of male to female filmmakers – directors, writers, producers – in Hollywood today is 4.8 to 1. Between 2010 and 2013, only 23% of speaking characters in action/adventure films were female. Of the 30 Grandmasters of Science Fiction literary awards given out since 1975, only four have gone to women, which understandably results in less women relating to or liking certain genres. In other words, gender job disparity and lack of female representation are no different in the film sector.

But that doesn’t change the fact that this year was transformative for women in sci-fi – and that’s always going to be great news. Like Sophie says, science fiction is about making it better and other worlds being possible. ‘For me it’s the genre of intelligent curiosity and the transformative. The X-Files, Tank Girl and Buffy The Vampire Slayer were big – huge! – deals for me as a teenager, and continue to be today.’

The Force is strong with Sophie.

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Tags: Film, Tech