I have something I should confess. I, Amy McCarthy, am an affront to geek girls everywhere. Maybe a disgrace. Either way, I feel like it’s finally time that I come out and say it: I really hate all of the science-fiction and fantasy entertainment all my fellow geek girls seem to love so very much.
I don’t really talk about my disdain for sci-fi and fantasy much. I know how much people love the genre, and I am not interested in listening to people defend their favorite superheroes and sci-fi characters. I also try to stay away from the topic because, until recently, I haven’t really been able to put my finger on why I roll my eyes every time someone talks about how “amazing!!” the new Thor movie is.
I think my first problem is, as a feminist, pretty obvious. There aren’t a lot of female superheroes or fantasy superstars that are remotely interesting or relatable to me. The vast majority of these characters are thin, hyper-sexual, and drawn to suit the male gaze. These characters may be “badasses,” but they’re often based on what men think a badass woman should be.
Take Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, for example. This video game (and subsequent film series starring Angelina Jolie) is extremely popular with both male and female gamers, but was obviously targeted at drooling teenage boys. When the series first debuted, protagonist Lara Croft was “Jessica Rabbit with a gun” -– big-breasted and scantily clad.
Female gamers were rightfully outraged, and that likely prompted a 2013 redesign of the Lara Croft character. Croft’s boobs shrank a few sizes, the shorty shorts were exchanged for much more practical cargo pants, and the character overall looked much less like a millenial’s reboot of "Weird Science." The updated game also passes the Bechdel test, which most media can’t even come close to.
That feels like such an epic victory in the genre, but those wins are very few and far between. Comic book superhero movies like Batman are dominated by very muscular white men. There are just a few female heroes that I can think of, based on my very mainstream knowledge of superhero movies. Wonder Woman and Storm from X-Men are really all that come to mind. If anything, women get to be the cool villains, like Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy in the terribad 90s cheese-fest, Batman & Robin.
Maybe I’m missing out on great female characters in sci-fi, fantasy, and superhero content, but it isn’t for lack of trying. I’ve turned on "Doctor Who" and "Lord of the Rings" and "Battlestar Galactica" what feels like one hundred times each. Every time, I ended up turning off the TV and doing something more interesting like dusting the baseboards or tedious data entry.
"Doctor Who" is a particularly touchy subject with me. I spent all kinds of money renting full seasons of the show to spend a sick day with, and couldn’t even make it past one episode. I was pretty furious, so that could be coloring my judgment. I get so tired of seeing stupid Daleks and time-traveling telephone booths on everything from cell phone cases to delicious cakes that I could just die. Even worse is the expression “wibbly wobbly timey wimey.” When I see smart people using that term like it is actually meaningful, I want to curl up into a ball and cry.
It’s worth noting that every time I try to watch one of these shows or movies, it’s based on a recommendation from someone I really like or respect. People who generally have good taste in movies. I’m almost always disappointed. Of course, there are a few major exceptions that always take me by surprise. I never really go into a science fiction or fantasy story with high expectations, but sometimes my mind is blown in a really good way.
The Hunger Games trilogy is really my only major exception. I’ll watch "The Avengers" to see cute boys in tight pants, but I never enjoy the actual movie. I typically sit around and play on my phone until there’s a handsome guy back on the screen, and go back to my texting as soon as they’re replaced with some ridiculous gadget or an unnecessarily long (and violent) fight scene.
Any one of The Hunger Games books or movies, though? I am eternally here for Katniss Everdeen. And Rue. And Cinna. Everything about those books speaks to me, and I think it’s because of the very overt political themes. It’s obvious from page one that these books are about revolution against an oppressive system that values money and power over people.
There is diversity in these books, and there are certainly deeper themes. I bought all three of The Hunger Games books when I first got an e-reader, and I devoured them in as many days. I was so excited for the first film to come out. When I finally got around to watching it, I was deeply disappointed. It was awful, and everything I hate aesthetically about the genre.
"The Hunger Games" was jerky and difficult to watch. The focus was much more on the star-crossed romance between Peeta and Katniss than the tragic circumstances that center the film. Basically, it had all the problems I find in every other movie in the genre -- it was boring, and it missed the point.
But then came "Catching Fire," the film adaptation of the second book in the series. A new director brought new vision, successfully and beautifully conveying the story of Katniss Everdeen rejecting the role given to her by society and becoming The Mockingjay. The film isn’t out on DVD yet, so I’ll spare you the spoilers. Suffice it to say that this sci-fi/futuristic film hater clapped, cried, and cheered more than once in the movie theater.
There are a few things that set this series apart from other works in the genre. The protagonist is a “regular girl,” and not a set of boobs attached to a murderous woman. Katniss kills, and that is certainly something that can be critiqued, but she is truly a victim of circumstances who is fighting to survive. There is a feeling of power in this film, and that power isn’t derived from sexuality.
I am not suggesting that female sexuality is in any way unhealthy, but it does become problematic when men are the ones telling the story. Over 80% of the video game and sci-fi industry is dominated by men, and it is these men who assign agency to female characters. The Hunger Games trilogy is written by a woman, and I think that makes Katniss Everdeen’s empowerment much more believable.
I know how much so many other women enjoy science-fiction, and I’m not trying to shit all over their entertainment choices. I’m a devoted watcher of "The Carrie Diaries," so I probably don’t have much place to tell people what is “good” or “bad” TV. All I can say is that I absolutely, deeply, cannot stand science-fiction, fantasy, or anything else that comes remotely close to the fantastic.
I will hand my Geek Girl Membership Card back in if I need to, but I’d prefer to keep it. I’ll do whatever kind of geek girl penance I need (maybe a few hours learning how to code a feminist website?), but I won’t be turning on Syfy any time soon. I’ll leave the wacky costumes, ill-conceived storylines, and over-the-top special effects to you ladies who seem to truly enjoy them.