Laissez Faire

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Musings #34: Nonsensical Depiction of Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy (#amwriting)

As I continue to write in my book and developing my female lead, I have been more hyper aware lately of when I fall into writing my female into a gender trap, and I’ve become more disillusioned by the women I’m seeing on television and movies.    On top of there being a lack of diversity in both ethnicity, age, and sexuality there is the decided lack of sensible depictions of women in general.

For one example, let’s look at Rosita from the television series The Walking Dead.    I am aware, that comic book females are often drawn in impossible poses with a general lack of practical outfits (the male characters are far more diverse even though they, too, have their own gender traps).    That said, many things are adapted for television for realism in a visual format, and that’s my focus.


Consider Rosita the first time we meet her on-screen.

Keep in mind the world of The Walking Dead.  Shit has hit the fan.   The Undead rule.    A bite on anything but an extremity is a death sentence.    Get bit on an arm or a leg and you might live if you survive the massive blood loss of a timely battlefield amputation.   Though no one has died from a scratch, it is safe to presume that an injury of any sort in a world where you can’t just go to the drugstore and pick up some penicillin has a high chance of turning into an infection.   Since everyone is infected with “the thing that makes you un-dead after you die,” it is safe to presume that you’d want to protect yourself from even the most minor injuries.

When we are first introduced to Rosita on TV she’s half-naked (she is drawn this way in the comics).   She isn’t just waking up and getting out of a tent.  No.  Half-dressed is her every day battle attire.

My first thought was: “Well, look at that.  A Red-shirt.”

I was convinced she was either going to get a leg chewed on or disemboweled within two or three episodes.   She might as well have had a tattoo on her mid-section that said, “Eat me”.     It isn’t beyond me that “eat me” has a double meaning here.  I can hear the boy-men chuckling.

Here’s the point.   She’s a long-term survivor during the Zombie Apocalypse and she’s running around in hot pants, half-shirt, and sleeveless over-shirt.   Not only that, but she found the time to scavenge a bag of Bic razors to maintain her hair-free legs and armpits (some of us women just aren’t that hairy on our legs or elsewhere, true, but that doesn’t change the point).   I don’t have an issue with her pig-tails per se on its own.   However,  pig-tails together with the state-of-not-really-dressed-for-the-occasion is a confounding image.

I’m going to be fair here.

There’s nothing wrong with a woman showing skin any more than it is wrong for a man to do the same thing.    As a matter of fact, if she had been introduced in a state-of-undress after just waking up, spit-bathing, or relaxing in a tent in a safe area where you are afforded the luxury of doing so, I wouldn’t have a problem.    That’s the reasonable, sensible way if you want to show a male or female character without clothes.

The problem is that the outfit was supposed to be Rosita’s daily battle gear.    She is supposed to be a survivor.    Is she that stupid?

I didn’t see her male partner in shorty-shorts.

Hell, no.  He doesn’t want to have his bare thighs sticking to the degraded, filthy covering of the military vehicle seat or risk road rash on his bare legs when a Walker grabs him and knocks him down.  He’s not going to run through bramble and brush and come out covered in abrasions because he was too stupid to remember to put pants on.    I’m being equal in my criticism.  Some of the male characters in sleeveless shirts and no protective jackets really need to rethink that type of fashion statement.   It makes their arms look like drum-stick advertisements.

The sleeve-challenged men, at least, can put on another layer easily.  It’s not that easy to put on a pair of pants over combat boots when you decide your Daisy-Dukes aren’t cutting the mustard at the last minute.

I am aware that I wouldn’t last that long in a Zombie Apocalypse.    But, you can be damn sure that I’d be wearing long denim pants, army surplus, and any leather clothing I could steal or liberate from a brain-piked-corpse.    I might even fashion myself some extra protection with an under layer of cotton and duct tape.   A chain-mail shirt would be on my wish list, but that’s not practical unless I knew someone with a basement full of reenactment costumes.      I might be raiding the adult-stores for studded collars to protect my throat and anything spiky I could wrap around my wrists and waist to buy me some time against being made a snack.


This is closer to what Rosita should have been wearing.

I might have my hair in pigtails or pony tails.   But, I sure as hell wouldn’t be taking out precious time between finding water, food, and killing Walkers to pause to groom my pits and legs.     The men shouldn’t be running for the razor either.    No one is going to care if you die with an unruly beard.  Better to be a live hairy mammal than un-dead from an ill-timed razor nick.   After Rick Grimes arrives at a Safe-Zone looking like a hot-mess Grizzly Adams and then he shaves his beard.  That had meaning.  He was trying civilization on for size.  Clean, groomed, and behind a facade.  The contrast was stark with a purpose.

Even when writers try to create a strong, powerful woman they fall into the trap of having to overly-emphasize that she’s soft and feminine by showing off her curves for no reason.    It says that a woman isn’t really a woman if she’s strong and powerful unless she can throw off that power-mantle and be vulnerable and sexy with clearly defined lady lumps.    It says that sex-appeal is the most important thing even in the middle of a shit-storm.   It says that she still needs to be weak enough to be saved by any man.  She is written in terms of a male view — of her gender — rather than in terms of a practical human one.   Too many women have stories written in terms of their relationship to the male characters.

We need to challenge societal conditioning and its ideas of what femininity and masculinity looks like.     Not all men need to be muscle-bound and always in power to be men, nor do women always need to be meek and second.    Where is this woman and this woman in these worlds?  How about this woman?  Or this one?

We need to see people in terms of their skill sets and personalities rather than always having to establish them by gender stereotypes first.








12 comments on “Musings #34: Nonsensical Depiction of Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy (#amwriting)

  1. C.S. Wilde
    August 29, 2016


    Liked by 1 person

  2. K.L. Allendoerfer
    August 29, 2016

    I couldn’t agree more!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bun Karyudo
    August 29, 2016

    You make a good point! I think anyone — man or woman — living in a world full of zombies wouldn’t leave home without being wrapped up to the maximum.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. c2avilez
    August 29, 2016

    So many good points here. (Although I confess I’d probably wear shorts if I had to endure the zombie apocalypse in the hot and humid South.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laissez Faire
      August 29, 2016

      At least until you saw some have their thighs become lunch for the undead. Then a wardrobe change would be in order. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Canuck Carl
    September 11, 2016

    Other than some sports and documentaries I could not be bothered wasteing the time with a lot of other shows. I have never seen The Walking Dead.

    What you shared about provocative dress (which is pretty much the norm) is found in so many shows. We have such a long way to go in television show productions to give the female gender the respect they deserve.


  6. pauljgies
    September 19, 2016

    If I can only get my %&$! novel in print… “The Road to Bluehorse,” which was sort of provisionally accepted for publication, is about a project to colonize another star system. No one expects to meet any aliens, of course, so no one is assigned anything like a combat role. But there are 22 single-crew explorer pods going with, just, you know, to explore, and since mass is an issue at relativistic speeds, these are mostly crewed by women. Come to find out… there really are aliens out there and some of them are hostile, and this bunch of mostly women winds up having to fight their way through to the promised land.


  7. pauljgies
    September 19, 2016

    Reblogged this on The realm of Jacky Clothilde and her friends and commented:
    I’m putting this out there not because it hasn’t been said, but because it hasn’t been said nearly enough.


  8. Anonymous
    February 9, 2018

    I found this article while Googling for an image of “post-apocalyptic scientist female”.

    Weird search? I play RPGs. It started with Dungeons and Dragons when I was 12 (a longer time ago than I care to mention) and at that time, I wouldn’t have noticed anything out of the ordinary about the ridiculously inappropriate treatment of women in fantasy/sci fi fiction and games. All of the other gamers I knew were guys.

    A closed system won’t notice it own defects.

    Flash forward to 2018 and I now play video, board games, and RPGs with my two daughters (ages 13 and 15). I cringe at the sort of pervasive women-depicted-from-the-perspective-of-male-hetero-sexuality weltanschauung that can, at times, feel inescapable.

    For instance, my youngest used to play DC Universe Online and, no matter what she wanted in terms of a female character, they always came with extra large breasts. There is no choice here. You can change all sorts of other aspects of the character’s appearance, but you must…MUST have unusually large breasts AND…as if that wasn’t cringe-worthy enough…they must always be prominently exposed. It’s as if the character design team started at chest level and worked outward.

    Seriously…WTF? You don’t see any male characters who wear outfits that appear to be designed with the thought process of, “I want a latex suit that will provide freedom of movement while I battle super-villains, but I also want it to really perfectly accentuate the shape of my penis and testicles.” Can you imagine?

    My daughters and I have a term for this situation: “bikini mail”. It’s taken from the indie film “Dorkness Rising” about a group of guys who are playing D&D with a woman for the first time and, particularly, a scene depicting their expectations for how she should be equipped (in bikini style chain mail) versus her own (the same utilitarian adventuring gear her male companions are wearing). In my family, it is pronounced with a sense of disdain, as in seeing the pic of Rosita above and uttering, “Ugh…bikini mail”.

    I see more diverse gamers these days and some…some indication that their voices are being heard above the din of the male-white-hetero masses. A ray of hope that things are changing was the protagonist of the game “Horizon: Zero Dawn”. It was a game we all played without a single “Ugh…bikini mail”. Like…finally…FINALLY a game somebody else made (as opposed to dad’s home-brew) that doesn’t come with some really twisted barbie-doll-Disney-princess message about how my kids are supposed to see themselves or who they are supposed to be. It was such a different ambiance that I would find myself periodically feeling choked up as they played.

    I’ll be adding the latter image from your page for depiction of the “post-apocalyptic scientist female” NPC in our game (so, thanks for that). Now, because all of the images in our online gaming software are WHITE, I need to begin my search for “afro-cyberpunk hacker”.

    Wish me luck.


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