Every time I interview an actor from a sci-fi/fantasy TV show, I always ask the same question: Do you feel like there are more empowered female characters in fantastical genres than in more traditional genres? And without fail, they answer yes.
Why? Because speculative fiction doesn’t reimagine our planet as it is; it imagines a whole new world that could be. When cylons are chasing the few surviving humans through space, when the Hellmouth is spitting out murderous beasts every week, when your ragtag band of space cowboys/girls is forced to live on the fringe of the star system, when zombies are taking over and aliens are attacking and the Joker has broken out of Arkham Asylum again, nobody’s got time to pause and consider whether or not female ass-kickers should only make 67 cents on the dollar compared to their male ass-kicking counterparts.
There is a certain sense of queerness about geek culture, an otherness that comes from knowing as much about RPG character classes as you do about how a bill becomes a law. (Or maybe that’s just me; I used to study D&D game books while my classmates watched Schoolhouse Rock.) But for all the ways nerdworld is set apart; for all the opportunities it affords women to fly as fast as Superman, fight as fiercely as Conan, or face-down demons from the underworld; for all the strides society made since Nichelle Nichols sat down in the cockpit of the USS Enterprise in 1966, geekdom is still as mired in sexist rhetoric and harmful stereotypes as pop culture at large.
In the days since Elliot Rodger revealed psychotic levels of misogyny as the motivation behind his Southern Californian murder spree, women all over the world have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #YesAllWomen to reveal the barrage of sexism and sexual aggression that they face on the regular. As I have watched the tweets fill up my timeline, I’ve felt profoundly lucky to not have encountered so many of the emotional and physical assaults that my friends and family have endured—but at the same time I have been reminded of the deeply entrenched misogyny I face every day, simply by existing in a subsector of pop culture that—according to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction—is created “by men for men.”
There is power in counter-testimony, and so here is my contribution to the truth:
Please add your own observations in the comments, or tweet them to to me (@hhoagie). We need to have this conversation, in perpetuity, until we see the change we deserve in nerdworld.