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Sarah Connor Chronicles and Strong Women
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brown_betty
I'm not saying it's hot feminism on toast, but I think it's got some interestingly feminist things going on.

One of the interesting thing about the Sarah Connor Chronicles is that it makes fairly explicit the problematic designation of "Strong Woman," or "strong female character". I've read some critiques here and there, which unfortunately I cannot remember the locations of to link to, and I'm not claiming these are my original thoughts, just that I think SCC provides a good example.



This is Sarah Connor.  She's trying to stop ruthless cyborgs from the future from killing her son.

It's a second season promo poster1 and presents her only slightly more sexified than she generally is in the show.  (She doesn't tend to arch her back for no reason in the show, or wear inexplicable belts.)


This is Cameron.  She's a ruthless cyborg from the future, except she's been reprogrammed (shoddily, on which I have thoughts, but they're  not relevant here) to protect John Connor.  She's only slightly more sexified than she is in the show, since she doesn't tend to wear inexplicable belts in the show, and the all leather look isn't typical for her.

Both are obviously "strong women."2  Both are physically strong.  Linda Hamilton does the iconic Sarah Connor chin-ups, and is portrayed as a woman who trains at every opportunity, honing herself into a weapon for her son's protection, and is one of the few TV women with muscle definition in her arms.  Cameron, at one point, punches her way through a cinder-block wall.

Both demonstrate strength of will.  Sarah has gone outside the law and accepted that she will never be part of society while her son is at risk.  Cameron, obviously, cannot be dissuaded from her course of action unless a better one is presented to her.

Neither of them are particularly susceptible to emotion; Sarah allows herself affection for her son, but distrusts most emotional entanglements.  Emotion is literally foreign to Cameron.

But Cameron, while a "strong woman" is obviously not any particular kind of feminist role-model.  She's literally a fembot whose sole purpose is to preserve the life of one particular man.  While she shows occasional tiny flashes of volition, she cannot conceive of making any choices which do not serve her prime directive.  She was programmed by the John Connor of the future, and serves him single-mindedly.

Sarah Connor, on the other hand, is the decision maker on the show.  John, her son, doesn't like the fact that her word is law, and occasionally challenges her authority, but he's not stupid enough that he can't recognize her experience is vaster than his own.  You might critique the fact that her primary purpose is to bring John Connor, humanity's messiah into the world, but you have to acknowledge she hasn't faded into the background after the womb-work was done.  It's her name on the opening title, and her story.

The difference is, obviously, agency.

1. Look at this lolarious season one promo poster I saw at WisCon. Talk about Market Research Fail.
 

2.  Well, you could argue that Cameron is not precisely a woman: she's a cyborg, in that she has organic parts, but those organic parts seem to consist mostly of a skin covering grown over her metallic frame.  Her adoption of female self-identification and presentation would seem to be mostly a matter of passing in society.  But let us say for the moment that she is a woman.

ETA: Unrelated, but rather than spamming, have you noticed how many vids seem to have as their theme "random hilarious ways people can be smacked in the face"?

Man, those belts are inexplicable.

I know! I think I saw those on a video game once?

Undoubtedly in something by Square Enix.

Hey, have you seen the River vid "The Girl or the Weapon"? I think it's pretty good as an 'inside-River's-head' sorta thing.

Nope! Link pls? I have a deep love of vids.

http://kiki-miserychic.livejournal.com/105656.html If you decide you want to download it, look at the end of the comment page. :p

I kind of like the promo poster, but that's more for the freaky horror bit. >_>

I kind of like it too, because I'm partial to cyborgs. But really, at a feminist SF con, maybe a slightly less dismember-tastic approach?

It's the makeup and carefully styled hair that really makes that one weird for me. Takes it beyond "ooh, cyborg!" straight into "wut? dismembered girl?"

And coy lady godiva staging, too. The modest cyborg sounds like some kind of Germane Greer text.

...And now I want to write The Modest Cyborg.

God damn you, Betty!

Yeah, that's definitely an example of "Did Not Do the Research" there. :/

I mean, I probably wouldn't watch the show based on that picture. But I'd save the picture to my "creepies" image folder.

Belts are handy, though. You can use them for so many things (carrying stuff, clipping things onto, tying things up, and so on), they're not as obvious as carrying bungy cords, and they don't weigh much.

I wear scarves a lot, for the same reason (even more versatile, actually).

Sorry, I'm spamming you.

One thing I thought fabulous about the show is that not only does it meet the Bechdel test pretty regularly -- Sarah and Cameron talking about plotting and strategy and tactics and also John but not John's relationships necessarily -- but it also meets what veejane described as the "Reverse Bechdel test". Derek and John and Charlie often talk together about Sarah, and again it's not in the context of who gets into her pants, but in the context of her being the boss and how will they fulfill or refuse her orders? I like that a lot.

::cough:: Sarah is actually played by Lena Headey in the show; Linda Hamilton was in the movies. And I don't think Headey is all that buff: she needs more muscle on her to actually pull off the stuff they have her doing, but it's Hollywood yada yada yada. She's lean but not strong-looking. Anyway.

Still, I continue to be enthusiastic about a show that has lots of women doing things, and that one of the things they do is blow shit up and give orders. This is good.

*facepalm* Right, I even meant that, or at least that Lena Headley is making a nod to the Linda Hamilton chin-ups, but apparently I am bad at to talk words together writing thing.

One of the things I'm enjoying about SCC is that generally, for a woman to be allowed to kick ass, she needs to wear a corset and high heels, and Lena Headley does it, often as not, in an old plaid shirt. Seriously, I didn't know that was allowed.

Yay! SCC post!

I... go back and forth about the show's strong women. But I do agree with all of your points here. I think what's really interesting is how much it's Sarah In Charge, rather than, say, Derek, or even John. Sarah's the one who makes all the major decisions.

Great post. I'm a huge fan of the idea of TSCC, but haven't been able to get into the actual show. I know that seems weird. I guess I really want to like it because I love both Lena Headey and Summer Glau, think the concept is interesting and love the tough-woman characterizations, but I've found the plots of the individual episodes themselves a bit lackluster. That said, I probably should give it more of a chance and watch more than five episodes...