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Essay on The Women of Cyberpunk

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The Women of Cyberpunk


Women have always been on the fringes of the science fiction writing community. Not only have there been few female writers, but few female characters of substance have explored the universe, battled aliens, or discovered new technologies. Even in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), considered by some to be the first science fiction novel, Elizabeth, who is the major female character, does little more than decorate Victor's arm, snag his heart, and eventually contribute to his self-destruction. Women were virtually non-existent in the Golden Age SF (1938-1949) writings; except perhaps as trophies to be rescued, or smoldering, sexual beings that really didn't contribute to the overall plot other than as the hero's love interest. However, the female characters of cyberpunk are not damsels in distress; nor are they the mother earth goddesses or cyborgs of the feminist SF writings of the `70's. These characters are not quite the equals of their male counterparts; and in some cases, objectification is still blatant. But in general, there is twisting of traditional gender and sexual roles in cyberpunk writing that helps set it apart from previous SF. Two characters that particularly embody these radical differences are Molly Millions of Gibson's Neuromancer and "Johnny Mnemnonic" and Lizzie from Tom Maddox's "Snake Eyes."

Molly is not sexual trophy for Case (Neuromacer) and Johnny ("Johnny Mnemonic"). She is their bodyguard. Because of this, Molly often instigates violence while the male lead character essentially stands by and watches. This is a major transgression of a role traditionally assumed by men in previous eras of SF. Molly doesn't need the protection and saftey that men traditionally supplied to...


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...typical `damsel in distress.' Despite the fact that Pat Cardigan's story "Rock On" is told from Gina's point of view; in the end, she is not allowed to be independent of her "boyfriend" Man-O-War. However, a majority of the female characters have helped cyberpunk become the first SF movement that has portrayed women as strong and dynamic.

Works Cited


Aldiss, Brian W., and David Wingrove. Trillion Year Spree: The History of Science Fiction. New York: Avon Books, 1986.


Ben-Tov, Sharona. The Artificial Paradise: Science Fiction and American Reality. Ann Arbor: The Universtiy of Michigan Press, 1995.


Gibson, William. "Johnny Mnemonic." Writing About Cyberpunk. Ed. Tonya Browning. The University of Texas at Austin, Fall 1995.


Maddox, Tom. "Snake Eyes." Mirrorshades: The Cyberpunk Anthology. Ed. Bruce Sterling. New York: Ace Books, 1986. pp. 12-33.


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