by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky
Today, I’m launching a dystopian anthology with eleven other indie authors. On the Brink features some amazing stories and most of them feature protagonists that are female, flawed, and ferocious. It got me thinking about my own posts on the subject of gender in speculative fiction and I realised that I never posted the guest post I published on Amid the Imaginary. So here it is in all its glory for you to read:
Challenging the Collective Identity
Just a little while ago, on 14 July, I released the second book in my Divided Elements series, Rebellion. I thought it was kind of fitting that Rebellion was published on Bastille Day, since it is a dystopian tale of revolution set in a post-apocalyptic Paris. Interestingly, 14 July is also celebrated as International Non-binary Day – which similarly held a nice symmetry, since my book is centered on challenging the identity stereotypes society imposes.
As someone who has always strongly identified as female and as a feminist, but not particularly feminine, Non-binary Day got me thinking about how gendered identity – like all types of identity – is both a deeply personal and a deeply cultural concept. And that authentic identity is forged in the way we both embrace and challenge the cultural stereotypes of that collective identity.
Collective identity is a tricky thing – by its very nature it is a generalisation; a broad-brushed characterisation of a shared experience, perspective, and values-system. Changing the way we view that characterisation (and opening up opportunities for challenging it), requires changing the narrative…
And what better vehicle for doing that than actual narratives?
Science fiction has been creating mind-bending narratives for decades and there are likely hundreds of examples that show stereotypes being challenged and reimagined. Today I want to share with you my favourite examples of gendered stereotypes turned on their heads by scifi books and movies:
Sarah Connor (Terminator) – ‘Mother’. Sarah Connor is not the kind of mother you’d find in a Norman Rockwell painting and yet she is nothing if not fiercely maternal. Sarah debunks all concepts of passive, gentle motherhood and instead gives us a mother lioness.
Ellen Ripley (Alien) – ‘Damsel in Distress’. Ellen Ripley is on a distant, unfamiliar planet when her entire crew is decimated by a really freaking scary alien. Ellen is not a kick-ass, alien-killing ninja (a la Emily Blunt’s Angel of Verdun in Edge of Tomorrow) – she is just a woman who is left alone and who must survive with the skills, knowledge and resources available to her. She is not super-human, but she finds a super-human strength within her to win her battle with a formidable foe and make it out alive.
Ann Burden (Z is for Zacahariah) – ‘Dreamy Schoolgirl’. Ann, a teenage girl who is left alone on her family’s farm in the wake of a nuclear fallout, undergoes a rite of passage when her isolation is interrupted by the arrival of Loomis – an older man who appears with a radiation safe-suit and ideas on how to survive. Desperate for company and impressed by his confidence and credentials, Ann nurses him to health and fantasizes about eventually marrying him, falling into line with his ideas and directions. Over time, she starts to harbor doubts about the man and his ideas and when he turns aggressive and violent, rather than capitulate to submission, Ann takes control of her life and claws back her own agency.
YT (Snowcrash) – ‘Sweet Sidekick’. YT (Yours Truly) is a savvy, self-assured skateboarding courier who is more the reluctant hero than the book’s actual protagonist, Hiro. YT is a world-weary fifteen year old, who wears a dentata (anti-rape device), frequently thinks about sex, throws herself into the path of danger, and still loves her mum.
Nyx (God’s War) – ‘Pure Warrior’. There are many stories about women warriors who are righteous and just and almost Madonna-like (holy, not musical) in their pure quest for victory. Not Nyx. Nyx is a ruthless mercenary who kills for money, not morals and not loyalty. She is not the one to save the cat, she is one to save herself.
Each of these examples show how good science fiction can challenge what we think we know about a shared experience and collective identity. I see aspects of myself, my sister, my mother, and my friends in all of these characters – and I love that they broaden my understanding of what being female is and can be.
Challenging gender stereotypes creates a more dynamic and fluid understanding of identity and allows us to create more personal reflections of the cultural stereotypes that have previously limited us.
I hope to read, and create!, more amazing and interesting and unique female characters that continue to challenge and inspire me.
What about you? What stories, tv series or movies have challenged gender (or other) stereotypes for you? Tell me in the comments!
Click here to start reading now!
For a limited time, you can also grab your copy of On the Brink – a dystopian anthology from twelve best-selling and award-winning indie authors, featuring Revelation: A Divided Elements origin story.