Making the Dream Team: 9 Bad-Ass Ladies Who Were the Only Woman in Their Sci-Fi/Fantasy Stories
The Smurfette Principle, also known as the trope that involves adding just one female character to a male-dominated story, obviously gets its name from the lone lady on the TV show The Smurfs. Typically, this lone feminine influence will be cast apart as the Other of the group; the story will draw constant attention to the fact that she’s a woman, either by ensuring that she’s a love interest for a male character (or several), or by making her extra-femme in her presentation and mannerisms, or both. Since this one female character has to stand in for all women everywhere, she often ends up being an amalgamation of stereotypically feminine traits. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s inherently limiting.
In sci-fi and fantasy, I’ve noticed that the Smurfette Principle often combines with Trinity Syndrome. That is to say, usually the lone Smurfette will also be super bad-ass, although she’ll still be in second place compared to the male hero. Or, maybe she’s actually more competent than he is, but she’ll either be kidnapped or otherwise unavailable during a climactic moment, at which point he’ll rise to the occasion and save the day. Except, since she’s also the only girl on the team, she’ll often still have feminine traits as well — which means she ends up being more of a fully realized character who has an interesting blend of different characteristics.
This results in a strange phenomenon whereby the coolest character in a lot of sci-fi and fantasy fiction will be the lone female character. For example, sometimes the fact that she’s a girl who’s had to push back against institutional sexism will be a big part of her backstory, which makes her journey stand out in comparison to her run-of-the-mill colleagues. She’s had to become exceptional in order to make it to where she is today – twice as good, twice as hot, and twice as funny with a one-liner. None of her peers have had that same pressure; they’ve been allowed to be mediocre, and it shows, because she can outsmart all of them.
If only all of these exceptional Trinity Smurfettes could come together to form an unstoppable super-team of well-rounded heroines, built upon mutual respect and admiration. That’s what we’re here to do today!
1. Princess Allura from Voltron
(image via Voltron Wiki)
Netflix has just rebooted Voltron, so the show’s back in the news again (although, spoilers, Netflix has changed the gender breakdown of the original team a bit). In the original version of the show, Princess Allura was the epitome of both the Smurfette and the Trinity of the group. When she was in “princess” mode, she maxed out on a classic femme presentation with a pink dress reminiscent of Disney’s Aurora in Sleeping Beauty. But she’s also so smart and so amazing that when a pilot falls in battle, she’s able to strap into a suit and fill his place, while also executing her royal duties. That’s pretty damn exceptional. But, yes, her name is “Allura” … which makes it clear what sort of role the writers expected her to serve: an “alluring” one. Seems a shame that the writers of the show didn’t name her after any of her other remarkable qualities.
2. Trillian from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
(image via Film Cine)
Trillian is an intentional twist on the tropes at hand here, since she doesn’t actually end up dating the book’s protagonist, although this did get changed for the sake of the film adaptation, presumably because the writers figured that the audience would be confused enough as it is. Still, even within the context of Hitchhiker, Trillian is spelled out to be way smarter than any of the guys in the room. Even though she’s from Earth and should theoretically be unfamiliar with the ins and outs of intergalactic travel, she’s a very quick study when it comes to flying a spaceship. How does she learn how to do that so quickly, and so well? It’s not just that she seems smart in comparison to Arthur Dent. She would seem smart in comparison to anyone. It’s no wonder that Arthur is so star-struck by her, but she’s seriously out of his league. She’s also out of Zaphod’s league, but she knows that. She might be out of the league of the entire universe.
3. Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek: The Original Series
(image via Tor)
I will defend the corniness of Star Trek: The Original Series to the end, and Lieutenant Uhura is one of the big reasons why. Sure, she’s The Only Woman (and the ladies’ uniforms don’t exactly look futuristic – more like retrograde), but Nichelle Nichols’ charming performance makes up for the limitations of the show. Her famous line “Sorry, neither” was an ad-lib, and it might just be the funniest line in the entire Original Series. The latter-day Star Trek movies don’t make Uhura as funny as she used to be, but in Zoe Saldana’s iteration, she’s more of an action superstar who gets to go on actual missions and even go on dates (unlike the original show, in which the network had to constantly push back against the racial politics of the time).
4. Arcee from Transformers
(image via Allspark)
Much like Princess Allura in Voltron and the Pink Ranger in the original Power Rangers, Arcee was The Pink One and also The Only Girl. Technically, Arcee was never the “only” girl, but she’s definitely the best-known of the female autobots. Further iterations on Arcee have attempted to give her more of a personality beyond being pink and being a woman, and she’s even gotten some other colors (purple and blue—not that there’s really anything wrong with being pink). But even in her original iteration, she was still cool as heck, depicted as a gunner with an incredible eye for shooting; she’s a robot so you know she’s gonna be precise and deadly. She could serve as the sniper on this all-female super team, although she might want to pick a color other than pink, since Allura has dibs. In later iterations, Arcee can also emit an “attraction field” that causes other robots to overheat, because, uh, someone thought that was a good idea for the only female robot to be able to do, I guess? Still a useful power, no matter how corny the idea may be.
5. Gamora from Guardians of the Galaxy
(image via Comicvine)
Both in the comics and the movie adaptation, Gamora is the lean, mean, and green scene-stealing warrior with impeccable fighting skills. She’s known as The Deadliest Woman in the Universe, which is a credit to how many kills she’s earned as a galactic assassin. If our party needed a “rogue” class, well, Gamora is the best possible fit for that.
6. Mina Harker from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
(image via Titan vs Titan Comics)
The name of this team has “gentlemen” in it, so I guess it’s no surprise that there’s only one woman there, if any at all. But like every other lady on this list, Mina isn’t just any woman. She’s the team leader, for one thing. She’s also an immortal vampire, and her sire is Dracula, who was notoriously difficult to kill even by typical vampire standards. The main complaint that the original comic’s illustrator had about the movie adaptation was that it reduced Mina’s powers, making her more like other vampires as opposed to a super-powerful force with which to be reckoned. That’s definitely not the only problem with that movie, but it’s a fair complaint, since Mina should be terrifying in her own right … all while rocking that Victorian femme fashion, of course.
7. Princess Leia in Star Wars
(image via StarWars.com)
We live in a post-Rey world now, with The Force Awakens actually featuring both Rey and Leia kicking ass, taking names, and so on. But back in the day, Leia had a lot in common with the rest of the ladies on this list; she stood out for being the only woman in sight, but mostly for being an ice cold bad-ass. In addition to being a political leader, she also handles military strategy, carries a blaster of her own, and is as quick with a one-liner as the guys around her. She was also short and wore a pretty dress or two, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t still willing to stand up to the leaders of the Galactic Empire. She literally tells Grand Moff Tarkin that he stinks, to his face, and sounds classy while doing it. It takes a certain something to pull that off.
8. Kerrigan from StarCraft
(image via Pinterest)
Let’s just ignore the ending of StarCraft II, since that’s what Heroes of the Storm has done by offering us all the chance to play as the Queen of Blades version of Kerrigan. Here’s what you need to know, if you aren’t familiar with this series: Kerrigan starts out as a human woman and an exceptionally bad-ass fighter, with psionic abilities that were so powerful that her teachers had to re-adjust the scales to account for her talents. In other words, she’s so exceptional that she’s literally off the charts.
She’s eventually cast as the love interest to the games’ hero Raynor, a.k.a. the most boring space marine ever. Then she gets captured by the Zerg and encased in a cocoon, after which she emerges as the Queen of Blades, a super-powered alien queen. Post-cocoon Kerrigan is technically not the same person as the original Kerrigan, what with the transformation and all, but nonetheless, she’s cool as hell (at least, until Raynor “rescues” her and returns her to a naked human woman form at the end of StarCraft II, but like I said, we’re ignoring that bogus ending). There are a lot of video game examples I could put on this list, but I chose Kerrigan because she really had to work double-overtime when it came to representation. She was the Smurfette love interest, the bad-ass Trinity Syndrome character, and then also the Sexy Villainess (usually Sexy Villainess is the opportunity for a sci-fi/fantasy story to introduce at least one other female character, but StarCraft didn’t even bother). Kerrigan had to play both the Madonna and the Whore, and she’s cooler than every other character in both iterations.
9. Wonder Woman
(image via Movie Pilot)
These days,Wonder Woman definitely isn’t the only woman who’s part of the Justice League. But in the early days, she was, and she’s still one of the most recognizable female heroes that DC has to offer, which means she faces a whole lot of unique pressures—and pretty soon, she’ll be facing the pressure of the movie box office, once Gal Gadot’s feature film comes out. In the 1960s Justice League of America comic, Diana was all on her own until Black Canary showed up, and that wasn’t until a decade later. In the Superfriends TV show, Wondy was by herself yet again, until the net Justice League animated show, where Hawkgirl got added specifically to rectify that gender imbalance. But even when she was the only woman, Wonder Woman could always hold it down, since her strength has never been in question.
Really, this list could go on a lot longer, even if I continue to limit myself only to sci-fi and fantasy properties. Putting nine women on a team is a pretty long line-up — I wanted to just do six, but it was too hard to limit myself. And, oh, how many names got left in the audition room!
What about Chun-Li, or Princess Peach, or Princess Zelda? What about Silk Spectre in Watchmen, or Jean Grey in the early days of X-Men, or The Wasp in the early days of The Avengers, or Sue Storm from Fantastic Four? Or Cheetara from Thundercats? What if we need to call someone to do a TV segment on this super-cool fighting team – who better to ask than April O’Neil from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? If all of these women decided to start, uh, playing basketball, then why not ask Lola Bunny from Space Jam to take point?
Feel free to re-cast your own Dream Team in the comments. The only rules? Every member has to be from a previously all-male team in sci-fi and fantasy, and she’s got to be able to bring something to the table. The hardest part: deciding which of these women should be the leader. Good luck!
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