Today on the blog, sci-fi author S.C. Jensen talks about creating cyberpunk fiction with relatable female characters. She also has a new novel coming out on December 13, 2021. I must declare, the Bubbles in Space series sounds intriguing!
Cyber-Femmes: Female Representation in Cyberpunk Science Fiction
by S.C. Jensen
It sometimes seems like there’s not a lot of room in science fiction for real, relatable women. Pulp sci-fi novels and blockbuster films love strong, competent female protagonists – all big guns and badass attitudes – just as long as there’s at least one scene where they walk around naked and the rest of the time they dress in something with lots of holes in it. Essentially this is the same character as the male action heroes they’re subbing in for, except they have breasts and look a lot better tight leather pants. When we aren’t kicking ass in high-tech bodysuits, we’re all “I demand to be taken seriously” in lab coats and power suits. These characters could be swapped out for a man and nobody would notice. This happens when creators add female characters for the sake of diversity without actually putting the effort in to develop the character beyond her job description. I suspect a lot of science fiction with female protagonists is still created by men with a male audience in mind. And while I appreciate women being included more regularly in the genre, it would be nice to see a bit of variety.
What about science fiction by women and for women? There is a lot of great sci-fi by female authors from the 1970s and onward, which has been critically acclaimed and beloved by readers the world over, regardless of gender. In fact, all of my favourite female characters in sci-fi novels have been written by women. But my favourite sub-genre to read and write in is Cyberpunk, which has a ton of female characters (yay!) and a dearth of female creators (boo!). As an author, I am trying to bridge this gap. I know there are other Cyberpunk fans out there who would like to see more nuanced female characters in the genre. I’d love to create a subculture within the Cyberpunk genre where women can feel seen as more than objects of beauty and badassery.
Why Cyberpunk? Cyberpunk – a primarily visual subgenre with more graphic novels, films, and games than literature – sometimes gets a bad rep from female sci-fi enthusiasts. Its fan base is largely male, and fan spaces can feel uninviting, for one thing. For another, the genre is known for some of the most gritty, hyper-sexualized depictions of women in modern science fiction. Blade Runner (1982) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), two of my favourite films ever, are also brutal examples of the commodification and exploitation of female bodies in futurism. However, Cyberpunk is also where I see the greatest potential of any sci-fi genre to create truly ground-breaking, insightful fiction that explores humanity in a meaningful and relevant way. Including what it means to be a woman. Transhumanism, and the blurring of lines between human and machine, is one of the major themes of the genre. Cybernetic augmentation has a lot of possible benefits, but Cyberpunk warns us about the dangers of allowing governments and corporations to have such intimate access and control over our bodies. If that’s not something women can commiserate with, I don’t know what is.
Cyber-Femmes and the women of the future
Academics have explored the idea that “cyborgs enable a productive blurring of the binaries such as male/female, self/other, and culture/nature that have sustained Western cultural hierarchies.”[i]
It’s hard to imagine a more relevant theme in today’s world, as we actively work to deconstruct past notions of gender, sexuality, race, and culture.
It’s also true that, despite its sexiness, Cyberpunk has some of the most deeply layered female characters in sci-fi, primarily because of its fascination with what makes us human.
It all comes down to the question, what is a woman?
Major Motoko Kusanagi perfectly embodies the dissonance between the mind and the female body in The Ghost in the Shell.
Trinity in The Matrix is both brutally efficient and emotionally complex, with the bonus of not having a tragic rape/torture backstory like Molly Millions, the inspiration for her character from William Gibson’s Neuromancer.
Alita in Alita: Battle Angel starts off trapped in the body of a young woman but goes on to discover she is a warrior class cyborg and must learn to live with both her human mind and her weaponized body.
Who are we beyond our bodies?
At what point does a cyborg stop being a man or a woman, male or female, and become something else entirely?
These are the ideas that Cyberpunk is ripe to explore.
(Leather pants, optional.)
[i] WOMAN AND TECHNOLOGY: A STUDY ON GENDER PORTRAYAL OF A FEMALE CYBORG IN GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) MOVIE Lire Journal (Journal of Linguistics and Literature) P-ISSN: 2598-1803 E-ISSN: 2581-2130 Volume 4 Number 1 March 2020