By Alexandra Hill
Though still portrayed as a male-dominated genre, science fiction has been and still is feminist to its core. In fact, without Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein in 1818, the genre would not have formed to what we know as science fiction, or sci-fi, to this day. Shelley represents the first character to use science as the central idea in a story as well as portraying the practice in an unorthodox experiment. The protagonist, a young scientist named Victor Frankenstein, uses his alchemical knowledge from the studies at his university to attempt to put together the perfect human and bring it back from the dead. Shelley forewarns caution to the reader in her prologue that no one should make any attempt to imitate the actions she wrote. She feared that the slightest possibility of her story being reenacted would actually come to fruition as science has always deemed nearly anything to be possible.
Since Shelley’s forewarning of what science would possibly accomplish, science fiction has planted seeds to generate ideas of the inventions most people know of today. The tablet computer in the “Star Trek” universe was first seen frequently used by officer Uhrua. What they called a Personal Access Data Device (PADD) are what we now refer to simply as tablets. Another high-tech device in the popular sci-fi series is called a medical tricorder used by Dr. Beverley Crusher. It performed exactly like the currently studied device called the Sanadu Scout: it reads a patient’s key symptoms simply by being placed on the temples for up to ten seconds. Those inventions inspired by the series can be used by the general public whereas in the sci-fi universe, these devices were only qualified for people in high-ranking positions.
It’s conventional for people to assume the titles “captain” or “first mate” are pertained to masculine characters in fiction, even in 2019. Though in the sci-fi genre, women have been just as likely to accept these roles as much as men. To name a few, there’s Michelle Yeoh as Captain Georgiou in “Star Trek: Discovery”; Carrie Fisher as Princess turned General Leia Organa in the “Star Wars” franchise; and Gina Torres as First Mate Zoë Washburne in the TV series “Firefly”. Each of these characters took their roles seriously by showing others they were in charge and didn’t take anyone’s ridicule, especially the men’s, over their choices for themselves and others.
Dating as far back as the 1950s, author Judith Merril wrote a short story titled “Survival Ship” featuring Captain Melnick of Space Station One. Her sole mission is to lead a tactic to ensure survival of the human race. The story is woven purposefully to have readers believe the captain is a man. The captain’s dialogue is calculated and polished with terms of logic, and the only pronouns used until the end of the story are “them” and “they”. Captain Melnick ensures her role of power by rising before the entire crew every morning so none of the men on board can express any sort of superiority over the women. The majority of the crew are women, along with those who volunteered to help prevent the existence of humans: twenty of them to work with the four men who also volunteered for this mission.
In the midst of the 1960s through the 1980s, sci-fi became wildly popular among mainstream media to the extent that even those who weren’t fans of the genre have heard of the TV shows and movies’ titles with basic knowledge of the plots. More specifically, the original Star Trek series (1966) made huge waves starring Nichelle Nichols, a woman of color, as the communications officer Nyota Uhura. She was one of the first actors of color portrayed in a role that wasn’t a common background, sideline, or stereotyped character in an American TV series. Throughout the first two movies that developed from the series, “Star Trek the Motion Picture” (1979) and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982), Uhura rose up to being lieutenant commander, then full commander. Nichols’ role inspired Whoopie Goldberg to be an actress herself after watching her in the Star Trek series as a child. Goldberg ultimately became a recurring character herself in the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” series (1987) named Guinan, an alien who was hundreds of years old with everlasting knowledge. She was the bartender of the USS-Enterprise and gave advice to those who required help working around their problems when no one else could help them.
The iconic film “The Matrix” (1999) was directed by sisters Lana and Lilly Wachowski. Not only are the directors women, which once more speaks to the sci-fi genre being creatrix based, they indeed offered the main lead of Neo, portrayed by Keanu Reeves, to Sandra Bullock at the time. After a number of actors hadn’t been available or denied the role, the Wachowskis were willing to tweak the character enough to fit a main female lead. Bullock also declined as she wasn’t interested in the genre at the time, but has recently stated she regrets not accepting the role now, though she compliments how amazing the film turned out with actress Carrie-Ann Moss as the female lead Trinity next to Reeves. The character Trinity is the first mate of the hovership Nebuchadnezzar. She is the main go-to for hacking databases and she was one of the first computer hackers to escape the Matrix. Trinity expresses no hesitation when she follows Neo back into the Matrix to save their captain even after he was forewarned one of them must be sacrificed to sustain order in the Matrix. Her loyalty to the crew and their missions also spared Neo’s life after enemies, referred to as the Agents, ambushed him right after they saved their captain.
Despite the mainstream patriarchal viewpoint of science-fiction being a male-dominated interest, it’s comprehensible even with just these few classic examples the genre is clearly equal to women. That fundamental equality is displayed both by the strong female characters realistically portrayed in the media as well as by the creative women who design those characters and the eccentric universes they live in. Women are just as capable to be seen as role-model leaders to a crew as well as being creators of a world with ideas and inventions that have been gradually becoming our reality.