Believe it or not, women love science fiction just as much as their male counterparts. To celebrate the diversity of fans and provide a space to talk about feminism in fandoms, SyFy hosted a panel called “The Badass Women of Sci-fi”. Featuring Frankie Adams (The Expanse), Emily Andras (creator, Wynonna Earp), Yetide Badaki (American Gods), Fiona Dourif (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency), Sera Gamble (co-creator, The Magicians), and Gail Simone (comics author, Birds of Prey), the panel was a celebration of fierce females and all the things they love.
Breaking Down “Badass”
Panel moderator Cher Martinetti began the conversation by talking about the word “badass”, and what it meant to each of the women on the panel.
“I like that it’s a gender-neutral term, that it’s not about appearance. Sometimes I feel like women get patted on the head for stuff we just do,” The Magicians co-creator, Sera Gamble said. “It’s not that incredible to do a roundhouse kick or run for president. Don’t call me a badass, of course we can do that stuff.”
While the “badass female” stereotype can be a problem, Dourif points out that things are changing for the better.
“I would say the idea of a strong woman seems to be a bit of a trope. I think there is a movement now where women are being written more and more as fully formed, vulnerable, strong, interesting, independent people and we’re moving towards that and it’s wonderful,” she said.
Including the Outsiders
One thing that draws people to genre fiction is that they feel a connection to characters who are often outsiders trying to find their way in a strange world.
“I think genre is the realm of the outsider,” said Wynonna Earp creator, Emily Andras. “I think that’s what speaks to a lot of people who aren’t liked, or women, or LGBT. There’s a natural kind of marriage between genre and understanding what it is to be an outsider and still find their place in the world. I think the best genre really carves space for everybody and that’s why it speaks to so many people.”
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American Gods star Yetide Badaki emphatically agreed. “I’m seeing on more and more levels, representation matters,” she said. “I think in this present day, we seem to be getting further and further away from each other a little bit. People are feeling very isolated. Sometimes all it takes is seeing someone go through something on that screen and you go, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m not alone. Somebody else knows what I’m going through.’ Representation absolutely matters.”
While the ladies on the panel are doing everything they can to be role models and empower diversity in media, they admit that we still have quite a ways to go. Kiwi actress Frankie Adams who is of Samoan heritage tried to come up with another famous Polynesian actor and could only think of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“To me, that waves a huge flag that there’s not enough representation. One person cannot represent an entire group of people. If anything, I bring it up because it’s on us, the show creators,” Gamble said. “It’s on the studios and networks to make sure diversity’s real, that there’s such a diversity of voices. There’s no such thing as one kind of Polynesian woman.”
Tackling Tough Topics
One topic that the entertainment industry and creators frequently shy away from is unwanted pregnancies. However, Andras and Gamble have each recently addressed the topic on their respective shows, each from a different perspective.
On Wynnona Earp, Wynnona discovered she was pregnant after a drunken fling and decided to give the baby up for adoption. The story wasn’t originally part of the series’ plan, but lead actress Melanie Scrofano got pregnant during shooting. (She gave birth four days after her last shoot for the season. Now that’s badass.)
“I think Wynnona, like many women, [had] so many choices taken away from her with her own body. What I love about Wynnona and the women on my show is they get up every day and fight,” Andras said. “[Wynonna] got pregnant under circumstances that were not ideal. The best gift she could give was to give the baby a fighting chance and give it up for adoption. It’s not a wrong choice to make sure your child is going to have a better life, but not really be in their life. It’s a story that’s very personal to me.”
While Wynnona chose to carry her baby to term and give it up for adoption, that wasn’t such an easy task for Julia on The Magicians, who was raped by a fox-god and became pregnant.
“We wanted to get as inside her experience as we could,” Gamble said. “I guess when I’m approaching these dark fantasy stories, I do it with the mind and heart of a horror writer. What scares me? What would be the most terrifying outcome of this or that? The most terrifying outcome of that rape would be pregnancy.”
As if pregnancy from a rape wasn’t painful or scary enough, Gamble wanted to tackle the problem of women who aren’t able to safely access abortions.
“On one hand, we want to tell an enthralling, captivating version of this dark, difficult story. We wanted to make sure we weren’t saying something we don’t believe in. We wanted to tell a story about abortions that aren’t easy to get,” Gamble said. “[Julia] had a backroom abortion, with a witch doctor who was really a butcher. When it’s hard to get abortions, women pay a price. It’s a human story, that affects men and women. We can go as deep and dark and truthful as we can possibly be.”
While stories about abortion or adoption in a modern, realistic setting would likely drive many viewers away, the showrunners found that their fantasy settings allowed them to make deeper connections.
“I love doing this kind of thing in fantasy settings,” said comic book writer Gail Simone, “because I think it raises awareness in a way that something set in a real world story might not.”