The Portrayal of Women in Science Fiction Cinema

Dean's 2018 book builds on research work undertaken for his 1998 PhD thesis plus 20 years writing about women in science fiction cinema. It updates the material and presents it for a wider, general readership.

Published by McFarland and Co., 2018
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6927-4 / eISBN: 978-1-4766-3271-1
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From the book...

"We are living in a science fiction cinema age. This is the genre that delivers the grandest visions with the latest effects in the biggest blockbusters – and women are now at the center of many of its stories. But it hasn't always been this way.
In a unique survey of more than 650 films produced across 120 years, Dean Conrad charts a history of highs and lows, in which women have struggled to be seen and heard in a genre traditionally regarded as being of men, by men and for men.
This is the story of female characters in science fiction cinema, from their absence and token presence in the silent pictures of the 19th century, through their roles as assistants, pulp princesses, sexy robots, scientists, soldiers, academics and more, up to their prominent place in the 21st century's established franchises. World wars, social upheavals, cultural changes and advances in film technology have all had their effect on the development of the genre – and there is no better barometer for this than its female roles.
Placed in context and supported by theory, these are the fabulous, furious, funny, fragile and frustrating women of science fiction cinema."
  Introduction: CAPTIVE WOMEN  
Frau im Mond Chapter I: SCIENCE FICTION ...examines the foundations of the genre as they emerged during the silent period, 1895-1929. Many recognizable female roles – robots, mothers, mediators – appeared during this time, but emphasis is placed for now on the basic female functions within the narrative, along with her relationship with male characters. Absence, token presence and support for men (especially during World War One) are representations that will follow female characters through the entire history of science fiction cinema.
Silents and the Establishment of Female Roles
1. Stereotypical Foundations
2. Narrative Traditions
3. Genre Inventions
Bride of Frankenstein Chapter II: SCIENCE FANTASY ...picks up the baton at the beginning of the sound era, when women were largely confined to convention again – losing the gains made after WWI and through the 1920s. Female roles were fairly static during the 1930s and ‘40s, as the genre consolidated its audience and its aesthetics. Therefore, the opportunity is taken here to discuss central elements of female representation: sex and sexuality, along with some of the theory that underpins their use in the genre.
Sound, Technology and the Service of Male Desires
1. Creative Contradictions
2. Fantastic Sex
3. Frankenstein Syndrome
Rocketship X-M Chapter III: SCIENCE FACT ...recognizes the effect that emerging post-WWII sciences and technologies had on the genre – and their impact on female representation. The Atomic Age, the Space Race and the Cold War would each play a part in women’s development as professionals, especially within the sciences. It was a period of oscillating fortunes though, as female characters bumped against the “glass ceiling” that protected roles still reserved for men.
Peace and the Emergence of Female Professionals
1. Social Earth
2. Professional Space
3. Narrative Place
Barbarella Chapter IV: INTERMISSION ...bridges the gap between the period of exponential growth experienced by American science fiction cinema in the 1950s and the worldwide genre explosion that came in the wake of Star Wars. This is a period of two halves: the shifting Sixties are characterized by sexual and social revolutions and the move to color film; the Seventies witnessed a retreat towards serious tales about “men and machines”. Between these two decades sits a watershed year for the genre: 1968.
Watershed Years
1. Shifting Sixties
2. Annus Mirabilis
3. Serious Seventies
Terminator 2: Judgment Day Chapter V: GOLDEN ERA ...begins with the release of Star Wars in 1977 and charts its impact on the genre’s female roles. This period would develop into the “golden era” for female representation, as characters not only took the lead, but, crucially, drove the narratives and made decisions in their own heroes’ journeys. Through the second half of the 1980s and most of the ‘90s, some female characters developed a “masculinity” and robustness that continues to affect the genre today.
Blockbusters and the Development of Female Heroes
1. First Steps
2. Hero(ine)’s Journey
3. A Thousand Faces
The Matrix Chapter VI: DANGEROUS TIMES ...begins by returning to the 1980s to examine the familiar elements of female representation that had continued to run alongside the radical female character revolution. These were the elements of tradition and stereotype that would begin to return once the genre became tired of its “masculinized” women. But female representation had come too far to allow a return entirely to convention. The result was a mixed-bag of characters, as the genre reached a postmodern phase – and the world approached the new millennium.
Identity Crises and a Millennial Mélange
1. Familiar Undercurrents
2. Alien Resurrection
3. Fin de Siècle
Carrie Fisher Chapter VII: 21ST CENTURY ...brings this history up-to-date with a reflection on cinema’s widespread adoption of digital technologies. The millennium began uneasily for women, as the genre reverted again to telling stories about “men and machines”; however, enough influence from the Golden Era had trickled down to keep female roles ticking over. The huge success of Avatar in 2009 placed women close to the center of commercial science fiction narratives once again and kick-started a new revolution.
Computers, Corporations and Consumers
1. Solid State of the Art
2. Déjà Vu
3. A New New Hope for the Future...?
  Conclusion: INVISIBLE WOMAN  
Female Representation in Science Fiction Cinema:
A Selection
...provides short commentaries on fifty or so films that may prove useful to anyone interested in the history of female representation in science fiction cinema – especially those who have not yet had time to read the entire text of Space Sirens, Scientists and Princesses
  Literature Cited  
  Media Cited  
  [138,000 words] Publisher page here