“This Looks Like a Job for Aisha!” – Female Tokenism in Science Fiction

‘Outlaw Star’ is undeniably my favorite of the three 90’s ‘Space Western’ anime that populated US airwaves in the early 2000’s. I have strong affection for ‘Trigun’ and ‘Cowboy Bebop’, but while those shows’ great world building and dynamic tonal shifts caught my attention, they largely didn’t share ‘Star’s’ adventurous flair, nor its deep bench of charismatic and colorful characters.

Not to say that I don’t adore Vash the Stampede’s lunatic facade and insurance sales girls Meryl and Milly’s wonderful friendship.  Nor do I wish to claim that Spike Spiegel’s pensive persona and Faye Valentine’s honky-tonk charm aren’t enough to make me a fan. Rather, I simply want to point my focus to ‘Star’s’ Aisha Clan Clan, once proud member of the C’tarl C’tarl and all around walking disaster.

When we first meet the cat girl from space, she is a woman who lacks even basic self-awareness, has no tact, and through a series of misfortunes, quickly becomes a victim of her own incompetence. Saddled with debt, she is forced into temporary service jobs on more than one occasion and must constantly sacrifice her dignity just to keep food in her stomach.

Aisha provides two purposes on the show, neither which are usually filled by women in any genre, let alone science fiction. She gets to be both the strong ‘man’ AND the comic relief.

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And had an insatiable appetite

She’s also kind of dumb.

She isn’t dizzy, or clumsy, or dorky – she’s just sort of dumb. She is arguably the least intelligent of her peers, and yet is still an important member of the team and also quite endearing. To me this is a pleasant contrast to the usual strong woman archetype found in science fiction. Normally the ‘girl’ is either completely marginalized or is the best at almost everything she does. The latter isn’t automatically a negative, girls obviously need good role models, but either way we shouldn’t be forcing one person into the unreasonable position of representing an entire gender on-screen all by herself.

While ‘Star’s’ lead is male, the main cast is mostly made up of women, thus allowing the show a better opportunity to avoid suffering the effects of tokenism.  As seen in more recent American fiction like ‘Game of Thrones’, adding more women to your story for whatever reason doesn’t diminish the importance of their roles, (even if they are there for sex appeal), nor promote unfair portraits of women in reality. Instead it provides opportunity to make each character more relatable, interesting and unique. And if you do think that every woman on-screen should be strong and inspiring, then you may have a narrow view of what those terms suggest.

Aisha IS inspiring, because she gets to unapologetically be herself. She also gets to share the spotlight with the meek and insecure android Melfina, and the deadly, stoic assassin Suzuke. Not to mention the entire plot was set in motion by Hilda, an outlaw who has her own dream completely devoid of any male influence, yet is still stubborn and capable of making her own mistakes.

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Lets not forget Fred Lou, a gay character in a position of power on a cartoon from the 90’s

Now, there have been several prominant examples of female leads in Hollywood science fiction, most recently in ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ and even ‘Star Wars’. However, at least in the example of Katniss and Rey, they don’t really get to share the screen with many other women, and as a result have drawn criticism for lacking agency, or being too readily talented.

I personally find the debate silly. Even if there is earnest reason to suggest that Katniss or Rey aren’t compelling protagonists, the argument shouldn’t have anything to do with gender. What makes a good female character is what makes a good character, and creating more dynamic and varied roles for women should eliminate gender based criticism from the discussion. However, with regards to ‘Game of Thrones’, the treatment of its female cast, despite the fact that they dominate the show and are arguably the best characters, is still for some reason surrounded by controversy, so maybe I’m being too idealistic.

Whatever the case, I hope more creators of speculative fiction will embrace the diversity found in twenty-year old foreign cartoons. Perhaps it won’t be long before Hollywood gives us a female Rocket Raccoon, a female Ruby Rhod, or any space heroine who is as great and fun and as flawed as Aisha Clan Clan.


 

Who are some of your favorite space heroines? Let me know in the comments

 

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