Top 5 Feminist Sci-Fi Heroines

In outer space, no one can hear your sexism.

As a lifelong sci-fi fan I’ve always gloried in the many rich portrayals of women in leadership roles, from captain of a starship to leader of a resistance army. Whether the constraints of the genre somehow free writers and show creators to take on gender in a new way, or whether sci-fi geeks are just more forward thinking, it works out well for the audience of female fans who want to see themselves in characters who are more than just bystanders.

To that end, here are the Top Five Feminist Sci-Fi Heroines:

1. Leia. Star Wars‘ princess took crap from no one, not even an eight-foot-tall Wookie. When she wasn’t blasting her way out of captivity on the Death Star right alongside her would-be rescuers, she was leading an underground rebel army on Hoth and strangling Jabba the Hut with her own leash. A Jedi by birth, she became a leader by virtue of difficult, secretive work, and without her there would have been no Rebel Alliance. And when she finally did hear a declaration of love from sexy Han Solo, it was prompted by her pulling a concealed weapon and killing the stormtrooper threatening them both.

2. Starbuck. While the modern iteration of space drama Battlestar Galactica had a number of fantastic female characters — flinty, courageous president Laura Roslin; conflicted Sharon Agathon, who lived a Cylon double life; strange, sexy Caprica Six — the most visible, complex and ultimately triumphant story of the series was that of Lt. Kara Thrace, the female reminagining of the original series’ kickass pilot, call sign Starbuck. This hard-drinking, high-flying, water-walking Viper jock packed a lot of punches into her petite blonde frame, and while her cockiness could grate, it was also justified by her chops in the cockpit. She spent most of the series fighting for survival, and in the end she led the fleet of what remained of humanity to its new home after a devastating nuclear attack. Her mindset is best described in recounting a scene in which she shot one enemy and then pointed a gun at another, smiling wolfishly. “Follow me,” she taunted him. “Please.”

3. Delenn. Babylon 5‘s leading female character had roots in her species’ religious community, but her badassery was not to be denied. The Minbari warrior’s army fought Earth to a standstill and then made peace, and Delenn underwent a metamorphosis to share part of herself, literally, with the human race. When her new friends on the Babylon space station were threatened, she showed up in a ship and announced that the only people who had ever survived her type of attack were behind her. “You are in front of me,” she said. “If you value your lives, be somewhere else.” Played by the stunning Mira Furlan, known to other geeks as Danielle from Lost, her courage on behalf of all of her people, human and Minbari, was an audience’s inspiration.

4. Aeryn. Viewers of Farscape first met Aeryn when she pulled off her helmet, having finished solidly kicking the ass of series hero and American astronaut John Crichton. Over the show’s four seasons, Aeryn grew from a closed-off soldier for the genocidal Peacekeepers to an ally of the prisoners she was stranded with, fighting for their right to determine their own futures. In the process, she found hers, and love with Crichton, but that didn’t diminish her strength. Pregnant with his child and going into labor in the middle of a firefight, she grabbed a gun back when he tried to take it away from her. “Shooting makes me feel better!” Oh, Aeryn, never change.

5. Zoe. Second in command of Serenity, the Firefly-class spaceship carrying a gang of thieves and mercenaries, Zoe Washburn is the strong and silent type. She met Captain Mal Reynolds while fighting for independence against the evil Alliance, and their browncoat friendship endured. Described by her pilot husband as being able to kill a man with her pinky, Zoe’s the one everyone else on the crew fears.


Author: Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a journalism and politics blog, with her partners Adrastos and Jude. She is the author of It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal (2008, Heritage Books) and the forthcoming Chicago’s Historic Irish Pubs (with Mike Danahey) (2011, Arcadia Books). She also edited the anthology Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War (2005, William, James & Co.). Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three pet ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.


  1. jonathan osman says:

    Im not sure whats feminist about being violent, but you seem to be cheering these characters level of ruthlessness and warmongering as being a great advancement in the portrayal of women in television.So it suprised me to see you edited a book on the fake intelligence that led to the Iraq invasion.

    Why cant you cover womens roles in shows without taking pleasure in how violent they are, for instance cover their leadership skills or problem solving abilitys?.

    • Colleen Segale says:

      Jonathan, it’s fiction. We human beings enjoy action and adventure stories, and yes, I’m sorry, that involves some violence. I’m sure people who have viewed Full Metal Jacket, Terminator 2, and The Shining would say the violence in these sci fi shows don’t hold a candle to what goes on in those disturbing movies. The violence in those movies is mostly perpetrated by men. Why don’t you go to their websites and harp on them? Is it easier for you to criticize women, because you don’t take us seriously and think we won’t retaliate?

      Why should we exclude women from adventure stories with a sci fi background? Are you saying that women shouldn’t engage in combat, that it’s unfeminist because it’s not feminine? Are you saying that women are morally superior to men? How very Victorian of you.

      These shows exhibit one way of promoting strong women characters, but there are many others. The movies and television we watch just happen to have often some violence in them. Are you living in a dream world? I would like to visit this place where there’s no violence, where you live, but I wouldn’t want to live there, because it sounds too boring. Oh, and it sounds condescending and preachy, too.

      Do you know how hard it is to “sell” a show with no conflict in it? As far as sci fi goes, these shows are pretty non-violent compared to others such as Event Horizon and Alien. Speaking of Alien, Sigourney Weaver’s character was fighting to save her life. Are you suggesting that she should have just whimpered and gotten killed? That’s a short movie. Plus, it’s sad that you might think that. It’s sadly ’80s. I don’t expect you to read Backlash by Susan Faludi, but there’s a lot of violence done to women on television, and there has been for a long time. I’ll take women doing the violence and protecting themselves over that any day. Furthermore, Ms. Weaver was saving other people’s lives, as well. Are you saying women can’t be heroes?

      While you’re dragging this author’s unrelated work into your attack, I would like to mention that it adds nothing to your argument. Nor does your spelling of “abilitys”. If you would like to have the last word, please at least have the intelligence to spell yours correctly.

      This is 2011. Charlie’s Angels has been around for about 30 years. Women are serving in the armed forces. We don’t have wings and halos. We are human beings.

      • Rien says:

        I think you may have missed the point of Jonathons Osmans statement. He did not say that women should not engage in combat or that such behaviour was unfeminist because its not feminine.

        He was just, accurately imho, commenting that this particular list of sci fi heroines seems to have been chosen more upon their combat ability and capacity for violence rather than the many other qualities that serve to make them strong feminist heroines.

        An example being Delenn whose compassion and courage, willingness to sacrifice herself for the good of all, the strength of her beliefs and her ability to remain true to those beliefs and also her willingness to question those beliefs, all contribute to her being a strong female heroine and are important facets of her character.

        Yet her entry in this list focuses upon her badass military might which is kinda ironic when you consider that the character spent much of the series in conflicts of opinion with the Minbari warrior caste and was always the voice of reason calling for violence only as a last resort.

  2. Lori says:

    What about Sarah Connor?

  3. Therese says:

    Star Trek has so many good female characters in all of its series. Really, no mention at all?

  4. Mike says:

    Where is Ellen Ripley?

  5. Serena says:

    LOVE that you included Zoe from Firefly – and I would also put Kaylee on the list, since she can fix a space ship engine with the best of them.

    Would you be interested in cross-posting this on Feminists for Choice in our Women’s History Month series? We’d love to include it.

  6. Kevin says:

    I find the inclusion of Starbuck interesting. Yes, she’s shown as a warrior and a leader, but she’s also shown to be a complete basket case with a screwed up childhood. Anglo women are rarely shown to be capable warrior leaders. Contrast with the later addition of Kat to BSG. As a Latina her warrior and leadership attributes seemed more natural, part of her female identity. Within your own list, contrast Starbuck to Zoe. Which one would you rather be like? Just meant as food for thought. I find Starbuck over rated. :D


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