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Dystopian/Scifi stuff with strong female characters?

This is an Ask a Geek Feminist question for our readers:

I watch a lot of dystopian/post-apocalyptic movies, and one RECURRING theme is “once there are no laws, women are cattle” in one form or another. I find it a. ridiculous, and b. a sad commentary that it is just assumed that with no one to stop them, men will just rape and enslave women to their heart’s content.

I really want to see a (non-sketchy or “omg they rule by being sexy”) matriarchal dystopian/post-apocalyptic setup, just for a change of pace, or a “hey, even though things got crappy, there is still a shred of humanity in more than JUST the protagonist of the movie”

The friend who forwarded me this question said someone else had mentioned Octavia Butler and Ursula K LeGuin, but feel free to explain why they fit below for those who aren’t familiar with their work. Still, they can’t be the only people to have explored this type of dystopia. Does anyone have any suggestions of movies, books, games or other media that fit the bill?

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Terri has a PhD in horribleness, assuming we can all agree that web security is kind of horrible. She stopped working on skynet (err, automated program repair and AI) before robots from the future came to kill her and got a job in open source, which at least sounds safer. Now, she gets paid to break things and tell people they're wrong, and maybe help fix things so that people won't agree so readily with the first sentence of this bio in the future. Terri writes/tweets under the name terriko, enjoys making things and mentoring others and has a plain ol' home page at http://terri.toybox.ca.

66 thoughts on “Dystopian/Scifi stuff with strong female characters?

  1. Katherine O'Kelly

    “A Brother’s Price” by Wen Spencer is basically a gender-flip where women are warriors and queens and men (due to an extremely low birthrate of males) are the ones dolled up and married off. It’s light and readable, and a refreshing change from the “women are cattle” phenomenon you describe. If anything, it errs on the side of turning men into cattle, which opens up some interesting grounds for discussion with readers who are upset by the idea.

  2. Kim Curry

    S.M. Stirling’s “Dies the Fire” series, and it’s flip-side about Nantucket, “Island in the Sea of Time” both have strong female characters. In the “Dies the Fire” series, Juniper Mackenzie and her coven found Clan Mackenzie, one of the new states to arise on the Pacific coast following their particular apocalypse.

    Starhawk wrote a novel, “The Fifth Sacred Thing,” that sort of follows the concepts in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” but with a group near San Francisco resisting the Stewards and forming a collective.

    I’ve read a LOT of dystopian literature, and these are the two that come to mind as showing the most female-friendly societies.

  3. EmilyBites

    Nicola Griffith’s Ammonite is set on the colony planet Jeep, where all the men died from a virus and the women were changed by it (they now reproduce by parthenogenesis). It’s got a great and varied cast of female characters.

  4. xenu01

    I also highly recommend Year of the Flood if you haven’t read it already. You don’t have to have read Oryx and Crake, but if you do, you’ll get some of the references. I liked this one better because it was entirely woman-driven, and Margaret Atwood did a lot of what she does best, namely write about the complex relationships women have with themselves, each other, and the world.

  5. kiki

    To be honest, as a far less well-read geek than others here, the first thing that came to my mind was Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. Although we don’t really see anything specific about the status of women in the movie’s mis-en-scene, and the cast is overwhelmingly male, both societies in the film (Bartertown and the Kargo Kult Kidz) are led by women. Of course, it’s ultimately a man that saves the day, but at least he manages to do it without calling anyone “sugar tits.”

  6. kiki

    In terms of badass women characters, I must recommend the criminally under-read manga Battle Angel Alita (in Japanese, Gunnm, ‘Gun Dreams’). Alita, the titular character, is near-godlike in her awesomeness, but unlike is so often the case in manga, she does not derive her powers from a magic amulet that makes half of her clothes fall off. She is a full-body cyborg, which means she is a human brain inside an entirely artificial body; her current body is made of morphable bio-plasticky stuff that is shaped by the user’s subconscious, and so requires an extremely strong and centred mind to control. She is the greatest exponent of the solar system’s deadliest martial art. Her brain has been described as ‘the most powerful substance in the universe’. Her power cell is a miniature, localised black hole. In short, when she punches someone, they get vaporised and the building behind them falls down.In one episode she defeats a hundred-foot-tall cyborg while she is unconscious, as her will cannot be stopped by mere lack of activity in her brain. She’s also quite a nice person.

    Interestingly, the story also features a transgendered cyborg; he begins life as a replica of Alita (an artificial copy of her brain, installed in a similar female body), but decides to get himself installed in a male body as he feels it better suits his martial arts style.

  7. AMM

    The City, Not Long After, by Pat Murphy.

    It’s an “after the apocalypse” story, not sure if you’d call it dystopian. The main character is a woman born after the apocalypse. She’s no superhero, but does more or less lead a successful attempt to defend San Fransisco from a military dictator.

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