In outer space, no one can hear your sexism.
As a lifelong sci-fi fan I’ve always gloried in the many rich portrayals of women in leadership roles, from captain of a starship to leader of a resistance army. Whether the constraints of the genre somehow free writers and show creators to take on gender in a new way, or whether sci-fi geeks are just more forward thinking, it works out well for the audience of female fans who want to see themselves in characters who are more than just bystanders.
To that end, here are the Top Five Feminist Sci-Fi Heroines:
1. Leia. Star Wars‘ princess took crap from no one, not even an eight-foot-tall Wookie. When she wasn’t blasting her way out of captivity on the Death Star right alongside her would-be rescuers, she was leading an underground rebel army on Hoth and strangling Jabba the Hut with her own leash. A Jedi by birth, she became a leader by virtue of difficult, secretive work, and without her there would have been no Rebel Alliance. And when she finally did hear a declaration of love from sexy Han Solo, it was prompted by her pulling a concealed weapon and killing the stormtrooper threatening them both.
2. Starbuck. While the modern iteration of space drama Battlestar Galactica had a number of fantastic female characters — flinty, courageous president Laura Roslin; conflicted Sharon Agathon, who lived a Cylon double life; strange, sexy Caprica Six — the most visible, complex and ultimately triumphant story of the series was that of Lt. Kara Thrace, the female reminagining of the original series’ kickass pilot, call sign Starbuck. This hard-drinking, high-flying, water-walking Viper jock packed a lot of punches into her petite blonde frame, and while her cockiness could grate, it was also justified by her chops in the cockpit. She spent most of the series fighting for survival, and in the end she led the fleet of what remained of humanity to its new home after a devastating nuclear attack. Her mindset is best described in recounting a scene in which she shot one enemy and then pointed a gun at another, smiling wolfishly. “Follow me,” she taunted him. “Please.”
3. Delenn. Babylon 5‘s leading female character had roots in her species’ religious community, but her badassery was not to be denied. The Minbari warrior’s army fought Earth to a standstill and then made peace, and Delenn underwent a metamorphosis to share part of herself, literally, with the human race. When her new friends on the Babylon space station were threatened, she showed up in a ship and announced that the only people who had ever survived her type of attack were behind her. “You are in front of me,” she said. “If you value your lives, be somewhere else.” Played by the stunning Mira Furlan, known to other geeks as Danielle from Lost, her courage on behalf of all of her people, human and Minbari, was an audience’s inspiration.
4. Aeryn. Viewers of Farscape first met Aeryn when she pulled off her helmet, having finished solidly kicking the ass of series hero and American astronaut John Crichton. Over the show’s four seasons, Aeryn grew from a closed-off soldier for the genocidal Peacekeepers to an ally of the prisoners she was stranded with, fighting for their right to determine their own futures. In the process, she found hers, and love with Crichton, but that didn’t diminish her strength. Pregnant with his child and going into labor in the middle of a firefight, she grabbed a gun back when he tried to take it away from her. “Shooting makes me feel better!” Oh, Aeryn, never change.
5. Zoe. Second in command of Serenity, the Firefly-class spaceship carrying a gang of thieves and mercenaries, Zoe Washburn is the strong and silent type. She met Captain Mal Reynolds while fighting for independence against the evil Alliance, and their browncoat friendship endured. Described by her pilot husband as being able to kill a man with her pinky, Zoe’s the one everyone else on the crew fears.