In light of the first sneak preview of the lovely Jodie Whittaker in her new role in the longest running science fiction TV show, Doctor Who, I and many others have noticed the re-surfacing of complaints about her gender. It seems that a lot of people just aren’t happy about a woman being cast as the star of the show.
“But the Doctor just isn’t a woman!” they cry out.
“The Doctor is an alien and is bloody fictional!” I cry back.
And it’s not just Doctor Who that is subject to this sort of complaint. Some (largely male) fans of science fiction really seem to have a problem with letting the ladies into ‘their’ genre. It may come across as a surprise to these fanboys, but science fiction has never been a male-exclusive genre. They also seem to conveniently forget that a little book called Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, written by Mary Shelley, pioneered the establishment of the genre in the 19th century.
It’s also not just the actresses in sci-fi that have to deal with this nonsense – it’s the millions of female fans who are told they “just like it for attention” and constantly have to prove their ‘nerdiness’ to their male counterparts.
As a female fan of science fiction, I want to take some time to celebrate the women of science fiction and remind the snivelling fanboys that they’re wrong.
1. Ellen Ripley (Alien)
You simply cannot discuss women in science fiction without talking about Ellen Ripley. Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien franchise has proved to be one of the big screen’s greatest characters. Determined, courageous and the most capable of the Nostromo’s crew, it’s hard to ignore that Ripley helped cement women’s rightful place in the genre.
2. The Women of Star Wars (Star Wars Universe)
Star Wars is arguably the greatest work of science fiction of all time, and boy, do some of the fanboys want to protect this from women. But how they manage to gate-keep like this when the franchise stars some of the Galaxy’s strongest ladies is beyond me. Whether it’s the old-school Princess (now General) Leia or the ‘next generation’ Rey, there’s no denying that Star Wars has brought us some A+ female characters.
3. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
Let’s skip forward to recent years and talk about The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins’ hit trilogy about the fightback of one Miss Katniss Everdeen has captivated us both in print and in the cinemas. The shift from science fiction being a predominately ‘adult’ literary genre to young-adult works of sci-fi cannot be better encapsulated than with the trilogy’s protagonist. Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss has become the face of ‘new’ YA sci-fi and the rise of ‘out’ female sci-fi fans. Collins’ ability to portray a balance between female strength (both physical and mental) and valid emotional vulnerability is to be commended, along with the wide-range of unique female characters that feature in her works.
4. Captain Kathryn Janeway (Star Trek: Voyager)
We need to talk about Captain Janeway, the first female captain in the iconic Star Trek franchise. Amongst the claims of her being “the worst captain” and her consistently ranking low in fan-polls, let’s take a second to really talk about Kate Mulgrew’s character. Janeway was strong, intelligent and compassionate, all served with a side of dry humour. And I will continuously fight to defend her.
5. Zoë Alleyne Washburne (Firefly)
The only word that can adequately describe Zoë Washburne, from Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity, is ‘badass’. A Corporal Browncoat with a strong will and a level head, Zoë is one powerful woman. I was going to pick a quote from her, but there are too many good ones to list. I would urge all of you to watch Firefly simply for Zoë’s smart mouth.
6. Dana Scully (The X-Files)
Ladies’ suits, an auburn bob and freaking aliens. Dana Scully in The X-Files cannot be omitted from this list. A sharp mind, logical approach and female ambition can take you a long way; but add this to the other endless intricacies of Scully’s character and you’ve got yourself a kick-ass sci-fi character.
7. The Companions (Doctor Who)
Where else is a better place to end than with what we started with? From Sarah Jane Smith to Amy Pond, Doctor Who has always been a show where women hold their own. The best thing about the companions is the variety in personality and background, and I would particularly like to commend writers for casting Pearl Mackie as the perfect Bill Potts. I could write a novel about the greatest companions in Doctor Who but today is not that day. I just want people to reflect on how these strong women have shaped the series. No doubt Jodie Whittaker, as the new Doctor, will do the same.
Honourable mentions to Turunga Leela (Futurama), Samantha Carter (Stargate SG-1) and Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace (Battlestar Galactica). Trinity (The Matrix) and Clarke Griffin (The 100).
I’m definitely not saying that sci-fi is perfect in its representation of women (you will notice that there is certainly not a long list of women of colour in sci-fi), but I think it is worth remembering that the genre has always had female stars and the move towards greater representation can only be a good thing.
This ‘boys club’ gate-keeping perpetuated by some male sci-fi fans is not ‘protecting the genre’ – it is misogyny and categorically should not represent science fiction.