Nerd.Vomit: Feminism & Firefly
(This post is a part of my Nerd.Vomit series, which will analyze popular television shows from a feminist perspective and analyze the portrayal of female characters in terms of character development and plot device.)
**SPOILER ALERT**((seriously, don’t read this and then leave angry comments like you didn’t know. I put asterisks so my warning’s legit.))
Writer & Director: Joss Whedon
I was a late-bloomer Firefly fan. I saw a photo of Gina Torres’s character Zoe in a Facebook meme about strong female characters in sci-fi. I was so shocked to see a dark-skinned woman on this list. I was seriously captivated by it–because you don’t see a lot of strong dark-skinned women characters outside of Black films.
My friend immediately referred me to NetFlix and a 2-day Firefly marathon ensued.
What I love most about Firefly is its strong female characters. They were independent, intelligent and could fight with the best of them without necessarily calling themselves feminists. The female characters are not just there to look pretty, they are essential to the story and the survival of Serenity. Seriously, if all of the female characters were removed from the show, the show would simply not exist.
Whedon has repeatedly been praised for his presentation of strong female characters in his work, i.e. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. His praise is extremely well-deserved. I think what makes Firefly so awesome is that all of the characters can stand on their own two feet. Most television shows that feature a large female cast only have that individuality and power as an illusion.
So, without further ado:
Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres)
image by Fox
Zoe is absolutely my favorite character from Firefly. I mean, how can she not be? She’s such a badass. Zoe is Mal’s second-in-command and has helped Mal get out of a few tight situations. She is able to be strong and independent while also remaining vulnerable. A lot of female characters in pop-culture can only have one or the other.
In Episode 10, when Mal and her husband Wash are captured and repeatedly tortured by the sadistic Adelei Niska, Zoe gets the rest of the crew in line to free them. She’s brutally honest, witty and has a big heart. Mal often has a hard time showing that he cares and usually does so by insulting his crew members. Zoe has no problem keeping it real while also showing that she has feelings too–as seen in her heated conversations with Wash over his jealously on her and Mal’s relationship.
In the shows feature film Serenity, Wash falls unconscious after the ship crashes on Mr. Universe’s planet and is soon killed by Reavers. Despite literally just losing her husband, Zoe still takes control of the crew and gets them to safety.
And of course, I also love the fact that she is played by a dark-skinned Cuban woman. What’s not to love about diversity? It’s simply amazing.
I don’t what I’ll be when I grow up, but if I ever work on a spaceship, stealing from the Alliance and second-in-command to Nathan Fillion–I know my inspiration will be Zoe Washburne.
Inara Sera (Morena Baccarin)
image by Fox
I like Inara because she is an example of a woman who has control over her sexuality–and doesn’t apologize for it. In our culture, women are almost always the subject of scrutiny when it comes to the very thing that makes them human–which is unfortunate really.
As a companion, Inara is a future-version of an escort. Despite Mal always giving her a hard time about it, she quickly insults him back about his thievery.
In our culture, women who are beautiful, sexy and soft-spoken are often seen as weak and easily bent–Inarra proves that stereotype wrong. Inarra chooses her male and female clients and is quick to tell them when they’re out of line. She is quick to blacklist any client that disrespects her or the crew.
She is skilled in swordsmanship and knows how to make a bomb out of incense, as seen in Episode 4 and Serenity, respectively. In Episode 6, when the crew and Serenity are left to float in space thanks to “Saffron” (Christina Hendricks), Inara doesn’t let her go without a few punches to the face.
Inara and all of Firefly’s characters perhaps, pay homage to Whedon’s willingness to create female characters who don’t fit the gender scripts women are so often handed without question. It’s refreshing.
Kaylee Fryre (Jewel Slaite)
image by Fox
Seriously, what’s not to love about Kaylee? She’s freakin’ amazing. I’m always happy to see women in engineering, mathematics and science oriented-fields because so few women ever are–and are rarely encouraged to be.
Kaylee is super girly and gets excited about just anything, like strawberries for instance. She’s vulnerable and very sensitive. Most female characters in her positions are often given the muscles and brains without the heart and humanity.
As seen in Episode 8, Kaylee replaced Serenity’s original mechanic because she was able to see the problem with the engine while on her back, literally. Mal then offers her the job in front of his current no-good mechanic and the rest is history.
In Episode 4, when Mal buys her a pretty dress and takes her to a ball, she is quickly made an outcast by all of the popular and wealthy women. However, she quickly finds her place discussing ships and engines with a group of older men. She’s funny, smart and not afraid to get engine grease all over her–we need more women like her!
River Tam (Summer Glau)
image by Fox
River. What’s there to say? She can kill you with her mind, her arm, leg and a gun, all without even looking at you! What I love about River is that despite the fact that she is suffering severe mental psychosis from work done at the hands of the Alliance, she is very much in control.
Whedon creates this female character who is very vulnerable but doesn’t let her use it as a crutch. She is aware of her unbalanced mental state and the affect t it has on the crew. She is extremely loyal, extremely intelligent and able to fight with and better than the best of them. At the end of Serenity, River replaces Wash as the ship’s co-pilot.
She is a woman who is out of control, yet, in control enough to kick your ass and maybe kill some Reavers, too.
There’s been a lot of talk recently about Game of Thrones and it’s presentation of feminism. I’ve even talked about it on my blog. GOT is an amazing show, it is. But it’s hard to find empowering female characters in a show where the power they hold is simply an illusion. All of their lives, despite whatever feminist qualities they may embody–are ultimately defined and and controlled by men.
In Firefly, the presence of female empowerment is apparent without question. The crew is equally balanced with 4 male and 4 female characters in the lead roles.
Although the women are employed by Mal (except for Inarra), they are not bound by his rules. They do their own thing. What makes this even more awesome is that Mal supports that– in his own, “I’m literally always angry and unable to express my feelings” sort of way.
That is the true meaning of feminism–women who love equality, do what they want without question and men who appreciate it. The world needs more of it in real life than on the TV screen.
Empowering Female Characters: A+++
Worth Watching: Hell yeah!