Growing up, there weren’t really a great deal of female role models that represented the type of women that most of our parents wanted us to grow up to be. As children, we were inundated with the fight to be the greatest pop princess, or the girl in the movie who got the guy and the cheerleading scholarship; mainstream media barely gave us a chance. Yet, for other young girls, underneath the mainstream lay an underworld (or several) that encouraged them to aspire to greatness beyond a hair do or handsome boyfriend. So, without further ado, here is a list of some of the very best female role models Sci-Fi has to offer.
Greatest female role models Sci-Fi has to offer
Eleanor Arroway – Contact
In Carl Sagan’s novel and movie, Contact, Ellie Arroway is a woman who is passionate about science. As an astrophysicist and radio telescope engineer, she is in charge of the Argus project, searching for extra-terrestrial life. In the novel, she is described as ‘stubborn’ and is depicted as such in the movie, but instead of being that, I would argue that Ellie Arroway is an independent, passionate woman.
Instead of following expectations, she eschews tradition and pursues her passion, regardless of success rate. Her determination pays off when she makes contact with an alien species and receives blueprints for a machine – which she deciphers herself – then further using her passion, staunch belief and dedication to her work and science, she convinces the government to build her machine – eventually achieving her dream of seeing exactly what this machine has to offer; returning as a changed woman for having seen beyond the stars.
She’s an inspiration to any woman who has been told that they can’t do something, or that they should do something a certain way; a definitive Sci-Fi role model.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
For any 90s girl, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a true female role model. She was the chosen one; the girl destined to save Sunnydale – and the world – as well embodying traditional roles young girls were to aspire to – such as good looks, relative popularity and she was a cheerleader – except she also had secret martial arts skills and killed vampires after dark.
She had a sassy and confident attitude that transcended the traditional roles reserved for beautiful, blonde women within the horror genre; instead of being intimidated, scared and ultimately killed, she met her foes with a quick, humorous quip and a swift stake to the heart.
As far as role models go, Buffy remains high on the list of truly awesome women: she portrayed herself in a traditionally masculine role, but maintained her overt femininity, something that women in this genre have been unable to do – they can either have one or the other. She taught a lot of young girls that it’s okay to be beautiful and stylish, as well as funny and kick ass.
Being the leading lady in one of the most iconic movies of all time, Princess Leia has perpetually been a top contender for bad ass movie heroine, since Star Wars was first released in 1977.
When first introduced to her in A New Hope, she is shooting a laser gun at enemies in a fight for her freedom, and even though she’s captured, she refuses to go down with a fight. She remains defiant and refuses to allow herself to be intimidated by Darth Vader – the most intimidating and fearsome villain in the galaxy at this point.
Throughout the Star Wars trilogy, she remains encouragingly independent; she is sassy and always has a one liner, or sarcastic quip to negate an otherwise sexist environment. Even in spite of her own feelings, she doesn’t allow herself to be condescended to by Han Solo, and challenges his arrogance with fantastic aplomb.
Even though the Star Wars trilogy sees her being captured a lot, she doesn’t simply sit around and wait to be rescued; she takes matters into her own hands and assists in her own liberation from evil, every time. Given the time in which she was kicking ass, Princess Leia is definitely a role model, and certainly worthy of being on any list featuring Sci-Fi heroines.
Colonel Samantha Carter – Stargate SG-1
For ten years, Samantha Carter was one of America’s ‘natural resources, if not national treasures’, and lit up our screens as the brilliant female member of the SG-1 team in Stargate SG-1. She is a brilliant mind; an astrophysicist, engineer, pilot and member of the US Air Force – a force to be reckoned with in the Stargate universe.
She played an imperative role in initially establishing the Stargate programme, before being assigned to the flagship team in Stargate SG-1, where she served for eight years as the second in command, before becoming the commanding officer for a year – afterwards, she was transferred onto the Stargate Atlantis team.
In the Stargate universe, she is considered to be earth’s leading expert on the gate, as well as other alien technologies, and is relied upon by her male team members often, as a result of her massive wealth of knowledge and amazing mind – in the same vain as Ellie Arroway – she’s an expert in her field and is rewarded and respected for her refusal to let herself be held back for being the only woman in a male dominated industry.
Sarah Conner – Terminator
The brilliance of Sarah Conner lies in the legend she doesn’t even know exists in Terminator in 1984. As a college student and waitress, she is unaware of the legacy that awaits her; mother of John Conner, leader of the army fighting against the Terminator machines. She is worshipped by many, including her son’s right hand man, Kyle Reese – who also happens to be her baby daddy.
As the Terminator series progresses, namely in Judgement Day, we see Sarah Conner transform from meek, mild waitress, into a muscle-bound, ferocious warrior mama. She understands and takes the words of Kyle Reese seriously and becomes unwaveringly duty bound to protecting the future, at the cost of her own sanity, but remains resolute in her role as protect of her son.
Not only that, but Terminator’s Sarah Conner is an example that women in film can indeed by mothers, wives and love interests, both protected by men, but able to look after themselves, as well as kick ass and become a hero in her own right, through sheer determination. You go, Sarah Conner!
Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace – Battlestar Galactica
Starbuck loves guitars, alcohol and sex – as well as questioning Battlestar Galactica on a regular basis. She has a devil may care attitude, and gains some level of thrill from defying people’s expectations of who they believe she should be.
What’s more, in the original Battlestar Galactica series, she was played by a man – so in the reprise, Starbuck, may have inherited these characteristics, but she makes them entirely her own. She evolves continually throughout the progression of Battlestar Galactica and is a fantastic mixture of vulnerability, along with her more masculine attributes.
She is another woman who acts as a role model for women who want to explore their masculinity, without eschewing their femininity, in a very similar vain to Buffy the Vampire Slayer before her.
Susan Ivonava – Babylon 5
“Who am I? I am Susan Ivanova. Commander. Daughter of Andrei and Sofie Ivanov. I am the right hand of vengeance and the boot that is gonna kick your sorry ass all the way back to Earth, sweetheart. I am Death Incarnate, and the last living thing you’re ever going to see. God sent me” – Commander Susan Ivanova.
Need I say more? Serving as second in command aboard Babylon 5, Susan Ivonava is a brave, intense and brilliant military strategist – which may be attributed to her eidetic memory. She is a consummate soldier, dedicated to her role as second in command aboard Babylon 5, and even more so when she becomes Ranger One, assuming the office of missing Captain Sheridan.
She is an inspirational woman, who has managed extreme success in a life steeped in loss and tragedy – she is the epitome of a woman who can do anything she puts her mind to.
Captain Katherine Janeway – Star Trek: Voyager
The fact that Janeway is the first – and only thus far – female captain of a Starfleet ship in Star Trek: Voyager, should be the only reason needed to include her as an inspiration. However, luckily, she is the type of woman who just keeps given reasons to name her as one of the greatest role models that the Sci-Fi genre has to offer, regardless of gender.
Firstly, even though Star Trek: Voyager saw her catapulted across the galaxy and forced into a 75 year mission; she completed this in a mere seven years – which is pretty good going. She even travelled back in time to help get her team back to earth more quickly, which not only shows dedication to her crew, but her sheer ingenuity.
Another amazing accolade is, of course, that she is the only captain in the history of Star Trek to become an admirable – after Kirk, of course.
Moreover, Captain Janeway is the only captain to face the largest Borg threat, with the least amount of resources. Remember, Captain Picard only ever faced on Borg cube at a time in Star Trek: Enterprise, whereas Janeway faced hundreds – potentially thousands – during the last Voyager episode.
Captain Janeway is the type of woman who inspired many geeky children to in the nineties to play Voyager and dream of one day being a lady captain of their own ship, and even 15 years later, Captain Janeway remains one of the best captains in Star Trek history.
Ellen Ripley – Alien
It’s safe to say that, with its gritty and tense atmosphere, Alien was always going to be a ground-breaking film within the Sci-Fi and horror genres. Yet, it could be argued that it is actually because of female protagonists, Ellen Ripley that Alien still remains at the forefront of the aforementioned genres, almost 40 years on.
Ripley plays an imperative role in challenging gender roles within the Sci-Fi, horror and action genres, and is, as a result, often heralded as the best female protagonist of all time.
An undoubted heroine, she is a survivor in a genre that traditionally casts young women as victims, and is the individual in Alien who makes the – correct – decision, not to let the alien aboard the ship; noting potential dangers, only to be overruled by her male colleagues.
As Alien concludes, Ellen Ripley is the sole survivor and is an excellent role model to women and film makers alike, and it could be argued that Alien may not have had the same impact then, or now, if a man had assumed the role of Ripley.