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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCD chapter.

Although receiving mixed reviews upon its release, the iconic 1982 sci-fi film, Blade Runner, starring Harrison Ford, is now one of the most well-known and critically acclaimed science fiction movies today. Based off of Philip K. Dick’s famous novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where very humanistic androids live among humans, posing many philosophical questions on what it means to be human.

Many aspects of the film, including the score, characters, design, and meaning are studied frequently in universities today. Personally, I’ve studied this film in twice in one quarter, in both my costume design and English classes. However, there’s just one aspect that hasn’t been discussed that I think needs to be addressed: the women in Blade Runner, as in most science fiction films, are poorly represented. Instead of being placed on an equal scale next to men, in this futuristic setting, women are only seen as subordinates to men and only there for the eyes and bodies of men in desire.

In this post-apocalyptic 2019, the main plot is that a group of androids, or “replicants”, rebelled and killed a bunch of human passengers on a ship and escaped onto Earth. Harrison Ford’s character, Rick Deckard, is a bounty hunter, or blade runner as it is called in the film, and his job is to find these replicants and kill or “retire” them.

Two of these female androids, Zhora and Pris, were among those who escaped and are in hiding on earth. Rachael, the third replicant, was a more special android with implanted memories to make her believe that she was actually a real human as opposed to an experiment. All three of these female characters, although they have so much potential, are unfortunately reduced to objects of attraction or desire in this male-dominated future and experience sexism in different ways throughout the film.

For instance, Zhora hides in plain sight as an exotic snake dancer. She gets bombarded in her dressing room by Deckard, who’s pretending to be a guy who wants to check for holes in her dressing room in case other men were looking through to see her change. She catches onto his act pretty quickly, attacks him, then flees the building and is mercilessly shot in the back multiple times. While it may be part of the job as a bounty hunter, or blade runner to kill or retire the illegal replicants, but was it really necessary to go into her dressing room and give that creepy, sexist excuse?

Pris, the other escapee replicant, meets the sweet J.R. Sebastian, a 25-year-old genetic designer with a glandular condition that makes his glands “grow old too fast,” who gives her shelter after discovering her amongst a pile of trash. In this relationship, she plays the helpless lost girl in need of help.

However, she defies this stereotype with those crazy acrobatic fighting skills near the end of the movie right before she dies. She, wearing a skin tight leotard, fights and almost kills Deckard by locking his head between her thighs and smacking his head. He escapes and she comes after him again, screaming and jumping acrobatically before getting shot in the stomach.

Her moves are very impressive, but there is still this “femme-fatale” style about them, which is a stock character who is mysterious and seductive, using these elements to lure her male prey into danger. With J.R. Sebastian, she uses her charm to get him to trust her and her other replicant companion Roy, which ultimately led up to his death. With Deckard, she doesn’t necessarily use seduction to lure him, but the choice to have his head in a thigh lock near her crotch was unnecessarily sexual.

Then there’s Rachael Tyrell, a perfect, “virginal” female replicant who believes she is human based off of the false memories implanted in her by the CEO of the Tyrell Association, Eldon Tyrell, as an experiment. As Deckard’s love-interest in the film, their relationship is kind of… well… weird. Philip K Dick, the author, initially wrote Deckard to be in his mid-30s or early-40s in the book. Rachael explicitly says that she’s 18, and Harrison Ford was a decade and a half older than Sean Young, who portrayed Rachael in the film, which already makes their relationship look weird.

But there’s also that scene where Deckard literally slams on the door, preventing Rachael from leaving after she was visibly uncomfortable after he kissed her. Then he proceeds to back her up against the wall, telling her to say that she wants him. Eek! Talk about creepy…

According to some other articles about their relationship, Rachael was supposedly a comfort to Deckard, and she helped him understand what it means to be human. In other words, her main purpose in the film was to be of service to him. And of course, the fact that she’s a replicant only makes that statement even more true.

Not only are these women treated terribly by the other male characters in the movie and given such blatant sexist roles, but these issues go completely unnoticed! Within the two classes where we studied this movie, discussion about te blatant sexism these female characters face was practically non-existent.

This is a huge issue in the science fiction genre in general. In these male dominated sci-fi fantasy worlds, female characters seem to only be created as love interests, femme fatales, or just to be eye-candy for horny teenage boys.

Girls dig science fiction too! And as we are progressing in different areas of society, my only hope is that the future of this beloved genre can progress as well.

Katie is a third year English and Theatre/Dance major. She enjoys writing fiction, performing in musicals, and binge-watching episodes of Doctor Who. With her writing, she hopes to inspire laughter, tears, and everything in between.
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