Regina de Búrca shares her role models from the world of science fiction and fantasy…
From Penelope Pitstop screaming “Help! Help!” to the girls in Captain Caveman cooing “Ooooh Cavey!” I can’t say feminist role models featured highly during my early childhood. And even before I was old enough to understand how highly sexualised Barbie was, I still preferred my Sindy doll. I thought she was less… flashy.
But as I grew older I found that most images of women either made me feel fat and ugly or wildly embarrassed; as though I had stumbled upon them doing something that was normally kept private!
That’s why the introduction to the sci-fi genre from my uncle was such a relief. I was fourteen and I finally found a form of entertainment that I could feel comfortable with. And as I became more familiar with it, I discovered a whole host of female role models whose strength I could aspire to. Here are my top kick-ass sci-fi heroines who inspired me as a teenager:
Ripley in the Alien movies is my number one action hero. Not only did she go postal on the aliens but she also fought corruption and incompetence among her shipmates. She comes to the fore in Aliens, where she has to face the psychological fallout she suffered during the previous movie when the ship gets attacked by aliens again. In one scene she screams at Lieutenant Gorman to “do something!” and when he doesn’t, she has to. She was braver than she thought she was because she had to be, and so still inspires me when the going gets tough.
Of all my sci-fi heroines, Buffy Summers is the most relatable. Teenage years are a time when you find out things about the world you rather didn’t, but for Buffy, not only was the world was a more dangerous place than she realised, but she was also responsible for keeping the danger at bay! Having to accept her destiny, while foregoing so many things that ‘normal’ girls got to do made Buffy a strong role model. And she also had the last word in unsuitable boyfriends… Whatever you were struggling with as a teen, you could be sure Buffy suffered the same thing, only worse.
Agent Dana Scully
Agent Scully was the first female character I became aware of who took the rational role in a TV programme’s male / female partnership ‒ in other shows that was the ‘man’s job.’ Her logical and scientific approach to Mulder’s conspiracy theories and her gradual acceptance of the supernatural phenomena made her a respected and trustworthy force to be reckoned with. Although she was involved in plenty of shoot-outs, it was her mind that proved to be her greatest defence. In the series she overcame cancer, the murder of her sister and alien abduction, without falling to pieces. I have always thought of Agent Scully as an emblem of resilience and survival, just like the ouroboros she had tattooed in Season Four… and like the one I got a tattoo of years later.
I was blown away by Terminator 2, due in no small part to the strength that the character Sarah Connor had developed ‒ physically and mentally ‒ since the first movie. The change in her physique inspired me to quit the dodgy very low calorie diet I had been subsisting on for the six months prior to seeing the film and embark on a sensible exercise plan instead. Thanks to the movie, I changed from wanting to look like a waif to being strong and toned. These days I really see the consequences of how I’ve treated my body in the past, so I feel I owe this movie a lot.
Lady Jessica Atreides
Staying true to myself was a big challenge for me when I was a teenager, so Lady Jessica was my heroine because she followed her own path, even when it meant turning against the epic power structures in Frank Herbert’s Dune universe. Disobeying the Bene Gesserit order for love, she committed the eponymous “Jessica crime,” an offense my sixteen year-old self thought was the most romantic thing in the world! She fought hard for her children and went against tradition to train her son in the Bene Gesserit skills, that were usually only practiced by females, giving him the upper hand against the opponents in his military career.
Dr. Susan Calvin
The main character in many of Isaac Asimov’s Robot series, Dr. Calvin had the best job title ever: chief robopsychologist! And like Agent Scully, her intellect made her a force to be reckoned with in the male-dominated world of the stories. My favourite part of her role was her ability to solve the logic puzzles that no-one else was able to, while her integrity and adherence to the Three Laws led her to uphold her values, often in the face of strong opposition. To this day, I still admire her character for realising her potential professionally while championing her personal beliefs, so she is still a big influence on me.
Other awesome science fiction characters such as Kathryn Janeway or Trinity from ‘The Matrix’ came after my teenage years but that made them no less inspiring. It’s wonderful that sci-fi continues to champion strong female characters, such as River from Firefly, Alice in Resident Evil or Storm or Phoenix in X-Men so that the teenagers of today can draw strength from these women. May the archetype of sci-fi heroine live long and prosper!