I Embrace My Female Nerd (and So Can You)

There's something I want to go ahead and put out there: I am a nerd. Many of my female role models live in alternate universes, fight aliens in space, are spies or witches, and are, well, fictional. As this is my first official post as a contributor to Her Blueprint, I feel it is important to get that admission out of the way.

There's been a lot of social commentary written about calling oneself a nerd (or a geek) as nerd-culture has become increasingly popular with rise of Comic-Con International, shows like The Big Bang Theory and Game of Thrones, and Marvel Studio's super-secret plan for world domina... I mean, modestly successful franchises—it's become popular to be a nerd, and self-proclaimed "real nerds" don't like that people are jumping on their Battlestar Galactica or throwing on a Browncoat at this stage in the game.

Any discussion about who gets to call themselves a "real nerd" belongs on another blog (or better yet, on no blogs, as personally, I think it's a ridiculous conversation to have in the first place) — I bring it up as something of an introduction to myself (because I'll bring nerd things into a conversation whenever possible) and as a segue into the actual point of this post: the rising popularity of women in sci-fi.

It’s a broad topic, I know, as well-written female protagonists are hard to come by in any genre, and despite valiant attempts by comic book and fiction writers, female characters rarely translate into box-office dollars and second season pick-ups—until recently, that is. More and more, we're seeing films like Maleficent and Lucy, starring Angelina Jolie and Scarlet Johansson, respectively, put into production; both films are currently in the top 25 grossing films of 2014, with Jolie's Maleficent sitting in the #2 spot, with $747.6 million earned so far, 68% of which is from overseas markets.

Science fiction, and its sister genre fantasy, has always been the refuge of counter-culture; time travel, space exploration, dystopian futures wrought at the hands of despots and the revolutionaries that overthrow them—science fiction is where we look for change and hope. As the boom of nerd-culture sweeps Hollywood, the reach of the sci-fi genre is increasing as well. So far in 2014, seven of the top grossing films in South Africa are sci-fi, already tying 2013's numbers. In Argentina, eight of the top 20 grossing films are from the genre, up from six in 2013. Similar increases can be seen in Peru and Lebanon, with 11 and nine films so far in 2014, compared to nine and six in 2013, respectively.

And there's no lack of science fiction productions on the horizon, with films like The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, Cinderella, and Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron, all coming out in the next year. And each of these films features at least one lead female character.

In 2013, the top ten grossing films earned an average of 64% of their total revenues from overseas markets; as Hollywood's sci-fi moves toward more equal gender representation, that representation can be seen reaching into international markets as well.

The landscape of television is seeing similar movements, as was evident at this year's International Comic-Con in San Diego. From events with the casts of BBC's Orphan Black and HBO's Game of Thrones, and Entertainment Weekly's Women Who Kick Ass panel, women took the lead with more than ten panels solely dedicated to female representation across mediums. Women also ruled the convention floor with gender-bent cosplay and a nerd-themed fashion show.

Katey Sagal, Sarah Paulson, Tatiana Maslany, Nicole Beharie, Maisie Williams and Natalie Dormer speaking at the 2014 San Diego Comic Con International, for "Entertainment Weekly: Women Who Kick Ass", at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. Photo by Gage Skidmore.
There was a time in my life when I wanted to work for the CIA—I wanted to be like Sydney Bristow, Jennifer Garner's character in Alias, traveling around the world in disguises, stealing computer chips and taking out the bad guys. That's a lie, actually, I still want to be like Sydney Bristow, despite every one of my fiercely liberal bones telling me otherwise. Young women—all women—need positive role models, and the amazing thing about the human imagination is that the person inspiring you doesn't need to be real. For better or worse, the reach of popular culture cannot be denied; it is imperative that we continue to move toward and support more female lead characters. And science fiction is a great place to start.

Doctor Who-a threat to the political and social order? [The Guardian]
Women Totally Dominated This Year's Comic-Con International [Nerdist.com]
Yearly Box Office [BoxOfficeMojo]