Evil blondes from the future

Since the inception of film as a visual medium, blonde women have played important signifying roles. Femme fatales of film noir, the victim in horror films, the highly sexualised dangerous  woman – it has often been easy to chart the path of the character by one of her key signifiers, her hair colour. There are notable differences – Hitchcock made Grace Kelly a very different blonde in his films and she was never a victim while Joss Whedon chose to deliberately subvert horror tropes by making Buffy small and blonde. Nonetheless, there is generally a consistent archetype to the televisual blonde.

An interesting new archetype I have noticed in a number of science fiction films recently is the powerful, older,  evil blonde. Dr Ava Paige in The Maze Runner, Secretary Delacourt in Elysium and Jeanine in Divergent all exemplify this archetype. Powerful, manipulative and indifferent to the fate of others not of their caste. Willing to sacrifice anyone, Delacourt and Jeanine, in particular, aim to support and improve their own hegemonic privilege while Paige tortures children for apparently scientific purposes. Both Jeanine and Paige are closely aligned with science, while Delacourt is enmeshed in the use of technology. These women are technocrats, using science and technology for evil purposes and using need to be overcome by “good hearted” people with access to lower or no tech approaches.

These depictions are ideological from a number of viewpoints. Firstly, they posit the political and hegemonic power in the hands of women, concealing the general reality that these levers tend to be held by men. The societies in which they operate do not seem to have radically overturned gender norms to achieve this position where women are placed with power, in fact most of the gender relations within the films seem to indicate the reverse, that in general relations are not much further advance. All three of the women (and noticeably two seem to dress primarily in white), wear the feminised clothing, and, if anything, their privilege and separation from those required to do actual work is symbolised by their impractical shoes and tight skirts. In the world of Insurgent Jeanine’s main political rivals are men, and the leaders of the Factions she has assist her are also men – she is unusual in being a woman.  Similarly Delacourt is chastised by a male President and deals with a male CEO. These women are still exceptions, but they are the powerful evil centre. Inherent is an implication that women with power exploit it to maintain their own power and privilege, which, it could be argued is what male powers structures actually do.

Their close alignment with science and technological advance also serves to undermine the importance of scientific progress . In these films the heroes are all on the side of the low tech, with limited access to anything other than their own resources and ability. It is technology which serves to enslave in both Elysium and Divergent and the characters in the Maze Runner are trapped apparently in the service of science. The dystopic futures all three are set in seem to make the power of science enslaving and dividing, something the human spirit must fight against. The idea of the immaculate blonde serves to reinforce the rigidity of science and its danger. In Divergent this science-based approach is directly contrasted with the “humanism” of Abnegation, whose selflessness, low tech public service is pitted against the science-based command-and-control approach of Jeanine and her allies.

Whether this depiction of the middle-aged blonde as dystopian killer technocrat will continue remains to be seen, but it is interesting that it has emerged in three different movies made within a year of each other. As much as I like to see women in science fiction films, and older women who are smart and powerful is doubly terrific, it would be nice if they weren’t the evil one from time to time.

 

100 sci fi women #85: Nadia Cherneshevsky

Nadezhda Francine Cherneshevsky Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars Kim Stanley Robinson

Nadia is not the most glamourous of the women who make up the First 100 on Mars.  She is a practical woman, a calm woman, someone who gets on and does. In the early days of colonisation of Mars she is described as “the universal solvent” and she remains this throughout, quietly and industriously working to bring people together. Trained working on power stations in Siberia, Nadia loves to build, to create, to solve problems. While she would rather be driving a bulldozer, she comes to build other things as well – a constitution, a political coalition, a government and even a family. Describing herself of sturdy, Russian peasant stock, she does not see herself as beautiful, but others around her find her beauty and she has two strong relationships. She is able to use sense and reason and compassion to counter and soothe some of her passionate and emotional companions. Nadia builds Underhill while helping everyone else solve all the engineering process, she builds the constitution of the free Mars and then is its first President. But Nadia also knows that sometimes you need to destroy things to build and she is not without her passions. She is distraught by the death of her first partner, the revolutionary Arkady Bogdanov during the uprisings on Mars. She faces danger during the uprisings on Mars trying to save valuable infrastructure but when the revolution calls for it, she is willing to cause the destruction of Phobos, an entire moon. Nadia is the strongest woman on Mars, she survives, she builds, and she eventually has her own daughter to pass her strength onto. And she loves jazz.

I’ve got too much work to do, you know.

100 sci fi women #84: Gamora

Gamora Guardians of the Galaxy (film version)

guardians-of-the-galaxy-gamora-101682-101718Gamora is the last of her species, adopted by the evil Thanos, responsible for the deaths of her family and race. She has superhuman strength and agility and is a highly skilled warrior and martial artist, but more importantly she is enormously clever and patient. She is willing to wait a long time to take her revenge on Thanos and his lieutenant Ronan, who she hates but masks this hatred in the role of the dutiful daughter and warrior. Having spent so much time amongst people she does not like, Gamora is slow to trust and to form friendships. Nonetheless, once made, she is a loyal friend with a strong sense of righteousness. She cannot let Ronan and Thanos destroy an entire world, and is willing to fight this even if the odds are hugely against her. When she sees Peter being affected by the Infinity Stone, she does not let him die alone; she is the first to take his home. She may be a warrior and assassin, but eventually she is willing to learn to dance.

I have lived most of my life surrounded by my enemies. I would be grateful to die surrounded by my friends.

I am going to die surrounded by the biggest idiots in the galaxy.

100 sci fi women #83: Ginevra Weasley

Because I couldn’t say it better myself, this is taken entirely from Feministing. Thanks to Misha for the link.

Ginny Weasley Harry Potter series JK Rowling

18171450px-Ginny_weasley

An unabashed love letter to Ginny Weasley

Dear Ginny,

Last week the first installment of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, and that’s given me an opportunity to think even more than usual about how much I love the series. And as I was thinking about that, I realized that you, Ginny Weasley, are more awesome than Viktor Krum is surly. You are more excellent than Peter Pettigrew is cowardly. You are a badass feminist witch and I am so glad that you are around as a heroine for young women reading the Potter series.

Let’s start from the beginning. When you first got to Hogwarts, you had a huge crush on Harry Potter. You even sent him a singing valentine. Remember, “I wish he were mine, he’s really divine, the hero who conquered the Dark Lord?” Yeah, that was embarrassing. And he wasn’t interested because he was, like, 12, and despite being a hero, he’s actually kind of socially inept. Then, you were possessed by a bit of Voldemort’s soul and started petrifying people, and when that bit of soul realized it could use you as bait to get to Harry, it nearly killed you. But Harry saved you, and made sure you didn’t get expelled from Hogwarts, and things got even more awkward because that’s what happens when the boy you have a crush on saves your life but doesn’t like-like you back. Hermione noticed you were mooning over Harry and advised you to go out with some other guys, partly because she thought you might be able to loosen up around Harry if you weren’t constantly thinking about how into him you were.

 

So you went out with other guys. Lots of them. You even went out with one of Harry’s classmates, Dean Thomas, in your fifth year. Your older brothers gave you a hard time about dating so many guys, but you refused to let them slut-shame you. When two of them tried to hint that you were “moving through boyfriends a bit fast, don’t you think?” you told them that it was none of their business who you went out with. When Harry and Ron walked in on you kissing Dean it was a huge to-do – Harry was jealous because he’d developed a thing for you, and Ron was jealous because he’d never kissed a girl at that point. Ron said some really slut-shamey things and you were having none of it. You told him that there was nothing wrong with sexuality (well, I think the word you used was “snogging” but personally I think that sounds like a Scandinavian winter sport). When you and Harry finally got together later that year and Ron said that he could revoke his “permission” for you to date him at any time, you set him straight: you don’t need anyone’s permission to date, or to snog. And all those guys you dated, you broke with for really good reasons. You broke up with Michael Corner because he was a bad loser, and you broke up with Dean because he was always treating you like you couldn’t do things for yourself.

You’re also a great athlete. In your fourth year, you tried out for the Gryffindor quidditch team after training in secret because you were afraid your brothers would laugh at you (by the way, it must be really tough being the only daughter in a family with six brothers. I don’t know how you managed that). And it turned out that you were really good at quidditch. You even subbed in for Harry when he got kicked off the team just before the tournament final, and you led the team to victory!

You’re politically aware, too, and a bit of a rebel. In your fourth year, when the Ministry of Magic was interfering at Hogwarts and students weren’t learning how to defend themselves against dark magic, you joined Harry’s secret Defense Against the Dark Arts study group, where you learned to cast some seriously good spells. When Harry left Hogwarts, you were one of the students who kept that group going, trying to sabotage the people who were trying to take over Hogwarts, and risking punishment by torture to do it.

Finally, you’re really courageous. You weren’t afraid to stand up to the Ministry when it interfered at Hogwarts, and you threw yourself headfirst into battle with dark wizards on several occasions. Hell, when you were 16, you took on Bellatrix Lestrange, the fiercest and most deadly of Voldemort’s supporters. Well, you would have if your mother hadn’t stepped in at the last minute to finish Bellatrix off herself with that unforgettable line: “Not my daughter, you bitch!”

All that said, I’m not thrilled with the way you’ve been depicted on screen. I think they make you out to be way less self-reliant and way less gutsy than you are in the book. And I don’t know why they had you tie Harry’s shoes in the sixth movie; it was really out of place. Maybe they meant it as a fellatio metaphor, but let’s be honest: you’re Ginny Weasley. You probably give real blowjobs, not metaphorical ones.

In the books, though, you are an inspiration. Ginny, I am so glad that I got to read about you and your adventures when I was growing up. I am so glad that other girls and young women will have you as a fictional heroine, as well as Hermione and Professor McGonagall and Luna Lovegood and all the other great women that Rowling created over the course of this series. And I’m glad that Harry ends up with you; it’s nice to see the smart, brave, unashamedly sexual, athletic girl chosen for a change.

In conclusion, Ginevra Weasley, you are a badass.

Yours, with undying love and nerdy affection,

Chloe Angyal.

 

*image from Harry Potter Wiki

100 sci fi women #82: Captain Curtana

Captain Curtana Terminal World Alastair Reynolds

Curtana is a tall, dark-skinned woman who is self-possessed, smart and not afraid of action. She is the captain of the Painted Lady, a dirigible which floats above a post-apocalyptic landscape filled with dangerous raiders who think nothing of launching themselves from their own craft onto hers intent on destruction and mayhem. While she inherited her captaincy in part from her father, she is an exceptional pilot and captain, possibly the best of the dirigible city called the Swarm. She is comfortable both out alone with her craft scouting the world for goods and enemies, or back in the fleet dealing with its complex politics – though she would always rather just be flying her ship. She is extremely loyal to her godfather, the leader of the Swarm, but not blindly so – she tells him what she thinks, calls him on his mistakes and challenges his decisions if she disagrees.She is a person of deep integrity who is willing to put aside historical differences and risk her life and her ship to save the lives of people to whom she owes nothing. She is brave – both in her convictions and in her actions and will stay aboard a burning airship if it means the possibility of saving other lives – and she keeps a cool calm head when faced with danger. Her decisions are made from a place of consideration – she listens to those she trusts and weighs their information. While she has a partner who she loves very much, she neither sacrifices her captaincy or asks him to put his aside for them to be together – instead enjoying the time they can be together while both living their own lives and carrying out their own missions. Curtana is a woman you would want beside you in a tricky situation and whose judgement you would trust every time.

“I’m a good captain,” he confessed to Quillon once, “but she’s better than me. Always will be. That’s no condemnation of my own abilities, though. It’s just that she’s Curtana and the rest of us aren’t. There’s only one Mother Goddess, and there’s only one Curtana…”

100 sci fi women #81: Professor River Song

Doctor Who has always had a spotty kind of relationship with gender – women are usually secondary, companions, often in need of saving. But, Doctor Who has always had female characters present, and many of those women have had clear story arcs of their own. They haven’t only been a foil for the Doctor, they have changed and grown and often become quite different people. Many of his companions have had strength and determination, as well as compassion and along the way they have taught the Doctor a few lessons. Companions like Leela and Romana have defied many female sidekick approaches, while at other times the Doctor has had more than one woman hanging out with him – such as when Nyssa and Tegan were haunting the TARDIS. But River Song was a very different kind of woman for the Doctor to meet. So in honour of 50 years of the Doctor, here she is.

River Song Doctor Who

471493-river_songRiver Song is smart. Not only does she end up becoming a professor of archeology, but she is also able to think her way out of pretty much any situation. Beyond brave, she has a willingness to throw herself into adventure and danger. She has a well developed sense of fun and whimsy. Growing up separated from her parents, turned into a psychopathic killer does stop her becoming a woman of compassion, great love and humanity – if just a bit of a troublemaker. River is equally as comfortable with a gun or a book, with technology and old fashioned secrets. She wants to be a partner for the Doctor, but she has her own life to live and won’t just give it up to follow him anywhere. She can fly the TARDIS better than he can and is a fellow traveller through time and space, but she does it on her own terms. Not conventionally beautiful with her wild curls, she is charismatic,  compelling and deeply sensual. All of space and time is much more fun with her in it.

Doctor Can I trust you, River Song?
River If you like. But where’s the fun in that?

100 sci fi women #79: Phedre no Delaunay de Montreve

Phèdre no Delaunay de Montrève Kushiel’s Dart, Kushiel’s Chosen, Kushiel’s Avatar Jacqueline Carey

 

from Hot Cute Girly Geek

Phèdre no Delaunay de Montrève is a beautiful woman is was sold by her parents to a brothel (albeit a high class and reputable one) as a young child. Her intelligence, determination and compassion, as much as her beauty allow her to rise from these humble beginnings to become a trusted adviser of her queen and save her homeland over and over again. Phèdre also has the special gift of being an anguissette, someone who genuinely feels pain as pleasure, and sexually this makes her a formidable courtesan, in a country where this is a respectable profession. SHe is marked by the gods with a scarlet mote in her eye, signalling her role as an anguissette. However, there is much much more to Phèdre than her capacity to sexually enjoy pain. The patron who buys her from the place of her initial training ensures she is educated and teaches her the other skills which make her a valuable ally or formidable opponent. She speaks a number of languages, is observant, is excellent at deductive reasoning, inspires loyalty and can think her way out of many situations. She is also incredibly brave – willing to risk herself, her body, her sanity and her love for what she thinks is right. She has found her way through frozen wilderness and jungle, charmed the Master of the Sea with a song, devised and uncovered cunning plans, endured hideous prisons and horrible tortures and been kidnapped by pirates. She does not forget her debts or her friends, and is absolutely loyal to her Queen. She has a well of strength and determination which make her formidable. She also loves her partner deeply and has to learn how to make their relationship work. Phèdre is the kind of friend you would always want on your side.

Let the warriors clamour after the gods of blood and thunder. Love is hard, harder than steel and thrice as cruel.

100 sci fi women #77: Mako Mori

[yes these are out of order. But life isn’t always a straight line!]

Mako Mori Pacific Rim

Mako_Mori_3Mako is Japanese. She is intelligent and respectful, but not blindly obedient or arrogant. She has exceptional physical skills in addition to her formidable intelligence, and knows how to pilot a giant jaegar as well as anyone else. She is haunted by the traumas of the past, but can overcome these to ultimately use her abilities to serve the greater good. She is also unstintingly brave, whether it is standing up to giant alien monsters or to a man she deeply respects. While she is beautiful, her beauty is irrelevant to her strengths. When she makes a mistake, she does not flinch from its consequences, but does not let it stand in her way of successfully smashing some kaiju later. Mako is the type of pilot you ultimately do want to take into the drift with you.

It is not obedience, it is respect.