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Chauvinism in Early TV Sci-fi Shows
I composed and posted this elsewhere, but thought this might be a good place for it as well...
I have a lot of thoughts about science fiction, although I haven't read as much of it in recent years. So make a cup of tea because this will not be a short post!
Sci fi was important to me when I was young. The '60's and '70's were still not a great time for women. Women were often held back, held down, even ridiculed when they dared speak out on important topics (called 'hysterical' no matter how professional their delivery and no matter how factual their information). They were harrassed and tormented if they tried to train and work in "men's" fields such as engineering.
I found the stereotypical roles women played on TV or movies to be so predictable and depressing that I decided against training to be an actress, a career that would have suited me to a T. Actresses almost always played the wives, girlfriends and mothers, in the traditional jobs of secretary or nurse, often helpless weeping victims!
Science fiction became my great hope for the future. I read novels by writers like C.J. Cherryh , Marion Zimmer Bradley, and other female writers who included equality and leadership roles for female characters, such as Cherryh's rogue battleship captain, Mallory, who mutinees and takes her entire crew with her.
But on TV it was a different story. Men were still writing the scripts and although they usually portrayed a future that was gleaming, colourful and exciting with fantastic technologies, they still featured women as secondary, powerless, and in the same old traditional jobs. No progress for us, then, because apparently we were assumed to be weaker, dumber, cowardly and less worthy.
One great example of this was the cheesy Battlestar Galactica aired during the 1970's, starring Lorne Greene. The Commander's daughter, Athena, works as a crew member, but she is manning a desk. NONE of the fighter pilots were women, and in an episode where they are so desperate for pilots they begin training women, the male pilots find the idea HILARIOUS! As much as this reflected the attitude of the 1970's, it was depressing as hell for a young girl to see the chauvenistic attitude projected onto a society that was supposed to be greatly advanced and capable of space travel over great distances.
Just how advanced do people have to be, to stop being bigots?
Because of this, I became a huge fan of Space:1999 when it arrived on TV. The show only lasted two years, and the second year was embarassing and deeply flawed, because its production and directing team changed. But the characters included a lot of female scientists and doctors who were respected by their male colleagues. Often as not, the aliens they met were powerful and/or wise female leaders in their own environment, and when an alien joined the moonbase staff, she was a woman whose brilliance and poise was more unique and interesting than her ability to change form. So despite the degradation of the series quality in season two -- the weak plots and lame writing -- I hung in there, because that was the only tv sci-fi show that hinted women could have equality in the Future.
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I have to amend this post to add that Star Trek, from the early 1960's, was actually much less chauvenistic than Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers of the 25th Century, made in the 1970's. Start Trek waffled back and forth on this a bit, but they did include: a female officer on the command deck, female research scientists, and some of the female aliens held positions of power and respect. I would have to watch the series again to be sure, but I think Star Trek TOS may have had more plus than minus when it came to women and equality.
10/19/2018, 9:26 pm
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