Is the Future Really Female? What Fantasy and Science Fiction Tell Us

(TW: Mentions of sexual assault)

From fantasy to future, women just can’t seem to catch a break.

Photo courtesy of HBO

A pseudo-medieval fantasy, Game of Thrones defies historical fact, yet shields itself from criticism by claiming to be rooted in it. The same screen that attempts to show semi-accurate depictions of war, sex and violence is shared by images of dragons roaming the skies, pious witches resuscitating the dead, ravens that function as a form of postal service and arctic zombies that threaten our cast of characters seasonally.

Attempting to be “authentic” to the time period on which the book and show are loosely based, women in Westeros achieve power through their wit and cunning, men with their physical and sexual domination. Rape is a constant; three of the primary surviving female characters have been explicitly sexual assaulted onscreen. Cersei now sits upon the Iron Throne, Sansa is Queen in the North and Daenerys has amassed an army to claim her birthright as leader of the Seven Kingdoms. Yet none of these triumphs diminish my memory of their degradation and sexual exploitation.

Okay, so the past might not be female. But is the future? The answer, Blade Runner 2049 would contend, is a resounding no.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros

Meet Joi, an artificially intelligent projection with all the pleasant submission of a 1950’s housewife. Desperate to please, she tells K to put his feet up as she serves him his dinner, all the while clad in a retro-esque circle skirt and a smile. She loves him, the fact that she is sold to him for the purpose of his pleasure and is tethered to his side being merely coincidence. Think Her, but far more insidious in its implications. Maybe it doesn’t harken as far back as an era of swords and shields, but Blade Runner 2049 suggests a repeat of our past, never a century into the future.

Beyond the walls of K’s apartment, women can pick from a short list of fates: prostitution, slavery or death. For all its special effects boasting futuristic images of flying cars hovering high atop the crowded urban landscape of vibrant naked female holograms, the film is deceptively regressive. Given, Blade Runner’s universe isn’t exactly meant to be the beacon of hope for our hereafter that Star Trek is, but the unchallenged ubiquity of naked female bodies dressing the set do little more than augment the universe’s visual spectacle.

Desire for escapism isn’t an excuse to turn a blind eye to today’s societal issues—but it’s important to consider why misogyny is so ingrained in our cultural imagination that these reverberations of reality echo throughout the most absurd envisioning of humanity. At what point do these depictions stop becoming representative and start engendering normalization?

I chose these two pieces of media to examine not because I think they are bad—on the contrary, Game of Thrones is one of the few TV shows I keep up with and Blade Runner 2049 is without a doubt one of the best movies released in 2017. I chose them because they are emblematic of a problem that bridges the gap between genres; it’s disappointing to look back at fictionalized pasts and imagined futures alike and see the failings of the present.

Illustrating flying cars and dragons as more plausible than a society which respects women is not only distressing; it’s willfully complicit.