Women, men & minorities in geek culture and pop culture
Despite considering myself a pretty huge nerd, I never got around to watching Joss Whedon’s doomed television series Firefly until my sister gave me the entire series on DVD this past Christmas. I’d been told many times to watch the show, that I’d absolutely love it, but never had a chance to do so until I found myself without internet or, really, anything else to do this winter.
I finally brought myself to watch the show and found myself entranced. Quite apart from the overall concept of the series, the characters were interesting and the plot fascinating.
Yet something about the show touched me differently than other shows ever had, and it took me a while to realize what that was: though the show focused on Captain Mal Reynolds, the character I felt the strongest for and the most identification with was his right-hand woman, Zoe Washburne.
Zoe, played by Gina Torres, is a sharpshooter, natural commander, hardened war veteran, and overall badass who saves Captain Mal’s behind more often than he’d probably care to admit. She’s not just the typical stoic warrior type, either, which is unfortunately common with female fighter characters: aside from her duties on the ship Serenity, Zoe is also married to the ship’s navigator, who goes by Wash, and their relationship is a sweet and healthy one – probably the healthiest relationship between two people portrayed on the show.
The thing I find so entrancing about science fiction is that being set in a different world – or, in the case of Firefly and the sequel-esque movie Serenity, in the future – makes it somehow timeless. Stepping out of our world and our present time allows science fiction greater scope and can allow the story and characters to have meaning for readers and viewers beyond what its creator originally intended.
On January 23, 2013, CNN reported the U.S. military would allow women in combat roles. It’s never been especially clear to me how the U.S. military allowed women to enlist, yet barred them from combat roles – especially as modern warfare has changed from the sort with “front lines” to a much more guerilla style. As Trevor over at Dead Heat Politics pointed out,
Women have already been dying and getting severely injured in wars for years now. Tammy Duckworth, a disabled veteran currently serving in the House is great proof of that, and proof what kind of a hero a woman can be. The helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket propelled grenade in Iraq. Tammy was in the air, though, and a lot of the ban was on ground troops. Still, that proves that devotion and strength of character of women aren’t in question, nor should they ever have been. After all, there are plenty of women buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Reading the post at Dead Heat Politics sent chills through me – and it made me think, inexplicably, of Zoe Washburne. The woman went through a war – a real war, fought with guns and rockets, in which people died horrifically – and no one in the world of Firefly seemed to find it strange.
The are many things about women’s roles in Firefly that seem out of sorts with our current culture, but as I considered the change the U.S. military would make going forward, it occurred to me that no one in Firefly accused Zoe of incompetence or unworthiness in any kind of combat role – in fact, Mal tells her husband not to come on missions because Zoe would be better to have at his side. Serenity also focuses on another woman warrior, River Tam – but that’s a letter for another day.
Zoe Washburne is an example of a woman worth just as much on the battlefield as a man. While other Firefly women wouldn’t be great on the battlefield, Zoe’s skills and attitudes make her perfect. Not all women can be warriors – but those who train for it, those who are born to it, deserve the chance to do so themselves.
Feliza is the founder and editor in chief of Girls in Capes. She writes for all sections of the web magazine.