5 Weirdly Sexist Sci-fi/Fantasy Tropes That Just Won't Die
In fantasy, anything can happen. You can have two crab friends fall in love over their mutual passion for cosplay and then team up to stop an evil cat emperor from destroying Japan, and that's only the first act of The Last Jedi, if my sources were correct. And all this diversity of possibility means it's so much more disappointing that fantasy and science fiction writers keep using the same bizarrely sexist tropes over and over. Like how ...
Only Monsters And Sex Workers Have Unnatural Breasts
Boobs are magical. They're so magical, in fact, that even the word "boob" looks like two boobs flanked by side-boobs. But according to too many screenwriters, that magic immediately turns dark if you're dealing with three breasts or more. Check out the villain Celaeno from The Last Unicorn:
Celaeno is an immortal killer harpy whose three ginormous breasts play absolutely no crucial role. They don't squirt cursed harpy milk or whatever. They're mainly there because a) multi-breasts are unnatural and therefore horrifying, and b) this was a Japanese co-production. Metalocalypse and Angel didn't really have an excuse for showing female monsters/demons with at least 50% more chance of developing breast cancer either, but they did it anyway in the episodes "Girlfriendklok" and "Couplet," respectively.
So this fear of multiple breasts must be because they're "unnatural." And you know what else is unnatural in Hollywood, where most sex boils down to stale missionary between Instagram celebrities? Sex work and stripping, as any prostitute or stripper in a fantasy movie is apparently legally required to spend a fortune on bras.
That's the memorable sex worker from Total Recall. And if you think that this kind of thing is relegated to cult classics from 1990 and couldn't possibly show up in, I don't know, the most popular science fiction thing in the history of ever, may I remind you of Jabba's dancing slave Yarna d'al' Gargan from Return Of The Jedi. On the other side of the aisle, Trekkies got their fix with the cat girl dancer from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
My point is that whenever the option for three (or more) boobs becomes available, Hollywood will either fetishize it or (quite literally) demonize it.
Fake Breasts Are Evil And Need To Be Punished
After months of online research, I concluded that people like big breasts. But in Hollywood, that volume must come from nature. Otherwise it's a lie, and lies are bad, which is a weird stance for fictional stories to take, but here we are. Anyway, a lot of fantasy movies seem to have a problem with breast enlargement.
In Bruce Almighty, the point of the movie is that humans could never handle the power of God, as seen by what happens when that power is given to one regular guy. And what's one of the first ways Jim Carrey "misuses" this power? Making his lady's boobs bigger. In the Woody Allen movie Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), there's even a mad scientist who enlarges a woman's breasts so much that she becomes an actual breast monster.
And remember Back To The Future Part II? In the bad alternate timeline, Marty's mom gets breast implants as a visual shorthand for how awful life has become thanks to Biff's piggish ways. Some women want to get implants, and that's fine, but Hollywood seems convinced that they're only around because a formerly nice woman has been sullied and corrupted somehow.
This trope happens in non-fantasy stuff a lot too (American Dad, Scary Movie, Mean Girls). But typically, the more "fantastical" the movie, the more outlandish the violence against women is. Like Leprechaun 3, in which a woman wishes for bigger breasts and then grows so big that her body pops, or Crank 2, in which a prostitute gets a bullet through the breasts that destroys her implants and causes them to leak silicone. Hilarious?
In A Male/Female Pairing, Math And Physics Will Be Handled By The Man
Whenever you get a male and a female scientist together in a movie or TV show, chances are the man will be an expert in math, physics, engineering, and whatever other real sciences there are that create awesome stuff. Women, on the other hand, will be medical doctors, biologists, or humanists. You know, because wombs, nature, nurture, the Moon, unicorns, etc.
Take The Incredible Hulk, the MCU movie that Disney seems most embarrassed by. Bruce Banner is a physicist, while his ex-girlfriend Betty is a cellular biologist. The O'Briens from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are similarly a team of a male engineer and a female botanist. But the almost textbook example of this are Fitz and Simmons from Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., which has possibly the most annoying show title to type out properly. Fitz, the guy, is the smartest engineer in the world and could build an Iron Man suit out of an old Casio watch, while Simmons, his female partner, is the greatest biochemist in the world. Two geniuses, two very predictable science specializations.
Of course, you have other sci-fi films where men specialize in a STEM field while women study something that isn't so left-brain. In Spider-Man 2, Doc Ock's wife studies literature, and in 3rd Rock From The Sun, the alien Dick is a physicist and his love interest Mary is a professor of anthropology. It's very weird to insist that "MEN AND WOMEN MUST SCIENCE DIFFERENTLY."
Evil Women Just Need Some Love To Turn Good
Philosophers (female ones, with male engineer partners) have been debating the true meaning of good and evil for centuries, but Hollywood has that shit all figured out. Evil is a temporary state that women succumb to when they don't have enough penis in their system. The king of this trope is old-school James Bond movies -- Pussy Galore (Goldfinger), Tiffany Case (Diamonds Are Forever), Candy Cane (Live To Kill), and Solitaire (Live And Let Die) are but a few examples, only one of which I made up.
On the Daredevil Netflix series, we are introduced to the lawyer Marci Stahl, who is helping a sleazebag kick an elderly woman out of her apartment. She's career-oriented, cold, and generally without empathy. But one injection of Sexadrine from Matt Murdock's partner Foggy Nelson, and she's ready to risk getting disbarred by blowing the whistle on her own company.
Ygritte from Game Of Thrones struggles between the cause she's been fighting for and her love for Jon Snow, despite only knowing the guy for a few days. Selene from Underworld is even worse -- she's spent 600 years despising werewolves, but when Scott Speedman becomes one, she's like "Well it'd be a shame to just kill him, because have you seen that ass?" Then she goes off and betrays her entire kind. Hell, Athena on Battlestar Galactica is a genocidal robot literally programmed to not fall in love with a human and become good, but guess what she eventually ends up doing?
I get that these movies and shows are trying to say that love is the most powerful weapon. But first, that's actually a nuke with a sharp stick tied to it. And second, this makes women look like they don't really care about their causes in the first place, at least not compared to an average-or-better penis.
Using Rape To Humble And Humanize A Character
Sometimes, when a movie or TV show has an "asshole" character and they want to soften their image, they will have them raped or sexually humiliated in some way. And it doesn't just happen to women. So yes, you have examples like Cersei on Game Of Thrones being raped (even if the producers really don't like using that word) in front of her child's corpse by her brother, or a Number Six on Battlestar Galactica being gang-raped. But you also have Jason Stackhouse on True Blood. In Season 4, he's fed Viagra and raped by a werepanther hoping to get pregnant. To the show's credit, this wasn't one of those typical "alien/monster lady fantasy" type hookups we see way too often, where a man is ravaged by a fantasy creature but mostly enjoys how mind-blowing it is. Instead it's pretty gruesome.
But my overall point is that these awful things happened to those characters because the producers wanted to "humanize" them. Cersei has done some heinous shit over the years, but no one enjoyed seeing her forcibly taken in front of her dead child. Same for Number Six and Jason, who REALLY mellowed out after his ordeal. But here's the thing: Is there no other way to achieve similar results? I bet there is, but pressing the "rape" button and hoping that we're shocked into mustering sympathy for them requires so much less effort.
Of course, this also happens outside of science fiction and fantasy. Ed Norton stops being a full-on Nazi in American History X after being raped in prison. Pennsatucky in Orange Is The New Black started out as a psychopathic villain, but undergoes a full-on redemption arc after a guard rapes her. Sexual assault can and does change a person, but using something so vile to score a character sympathy points is beyond overkill. It's like giving them cancer because you want them to cut their hair.
Cezary is a freelance writer and editor. You should follow him on Twitter.
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