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2nd Wave Feminism and Science

What is 2nd Wave Feminism?
Whereas 1st wave feminism was concerned with suffrage
(the right to vote) at the turn of the 20th century, 2nd wave
feminism occurred in the 60s, 70s and 80s and was
concerned with
The emancipation (liberation) of women from the
Equality in the workplace (equal opportunities and
equal pay)
Acknowledgement of womens aspirations and
ambitions beyond the domestic role of being a
mother and a wife.
Challenging the assertions of a patriarchal society.
After the end of the 2nd World War, the 1950s saw clearly
defined roles - men as workers and breadwinners, women
as mothers and housewives. These roles were further
reinforced by television which became the primary force
for influencing public opinion in the 50s. Advertising
became gender specific with household items targeted at
women and recreational items targeted at men, thus
reinforcing, normalizing and legitamising these roles as
facts and norms. Women who needed to work were
steered into secretarial jobs that served male superiors.
This was a culture in which women relied on their
husbands for an income and were limited in their ability to
live an autonomous life without a man to serve, care for,
and receive an allowance from.
In 1963, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan was
published. This book identified the disillusionment of
women and highlighted the gender inequalities in society.

It challenged popular notions that women were simple and

childlike and that their main assets were beauty and
charm. It encouraged women to realize their potential as
equal members of society who had equal ability to
contribute to as a political voice and a member of the
In 1970, Germaine Greer published The Female Eunuch
which described the way men disrespected and devalued
women and the patriarchal culture which taught women to
disrespect and devalue (hate) themselves. Reading this
book often became a secretive activity hidden from
husbands but resulted in dinner table arguments when the
behavior Greer described was exhibited in the home. The
notion that feminists were angry and irrational rather than
simply seeking social equality sprung from this
revolutionary awareness that had been awakened in
women and the inability of their husbands to comprehend
the inequality that had become so firmly entrenched in
western culture.
In 1979, Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime
Minister of Great Britain. She was the first female elected
head of state in Europe. The US has still never elected a
female president.
How did this influence female characters in Science
Female characters in 1950s Science Fiction films clearly
reflected the inequalities of the time. The character
Altaira in the 1956 film Forbidden Planet reflects a lot
of these characteristics. She is child-like, innocent, pure,
naive, obedient, subservient to men, beautiful and
charming. She is blamed for her attractiveness and
meekly changes her clothes to please the captain. She is
virtually redundant in the narrative and her role is
essentially ornamental as an object of desire for both male
characters and male audiences. The character Pat in the
1954 film Them! also reflects these societal attitudes.
She is objectified for her beauty and serves her father in

helping him with his work, despite her own status as a

doctor. She even instructs male characters to call her Pat
instead of doctor if it makes them feel uncomfortable to
do so.
Female characters in the late 60s and 70s clearly reflect
the changes caused by the feminist movement. The
titular character in the 1968 film Barbarella is not only
the central protagonist in the narrative but also holds a
position of respect and responsibility. In addition, she is
sexually empowered and (although nave and objectified)
is able to use her sexuality to achieve her goals and
ultimately defeat the antagonist (Durand Durand).
Barbarella represents both the male fantasy of the time
and also the increasing prominence and relevance of
women in society.
In the 1968 film, The Planet of the Apes the female
characters all reflect the perceptions and changes of the
time. They are as follows
Nova The male fantasy of the time. Beautiful, sexy,
sexually willing, eager to please and serve the male she is
gifted to, and most importantly, mute. In a time when
women were finding a voice, she has none.
Stewart Dies at the start of the film but we later learn
she was to be the new Eve; a walking womb that Taylor
planned to be the mother of a new colony away from
Earth. She represents the enduring role of the woman as
first and foremost the bearer of seed and the producer of
children. She has no other characteristic. Her death is not
of any great concern to the male crew.
Dr Zira She represents the changing times. She is the
voice of reason. An intelligent, inquisitive, completely unsexualised and un-objectified female character who is
central to the narrative. She is the dominant partner in her
relationship and stands up to male authority figures whose
ignorance and blindness to the truth are juxtaposed to her
reasoning and compassion. She is also proven to be
powerless in a society dominated by white men

(characterized by orangutans) and ultimately loses her

struggle to reveal the truth and instigate real progress for
the ape society. She represents the new prominence and
voice of women in the late 60s, as well as their
powerlessness in a patriarchal society.
Cornelius Ziras husband. He is dominated by her and
has a secondary role in their relationship. He represents
the changing domestic dynamics.
Dr Zaius - He represents the white patriarchal society
that abuses power by misleading and misinforming his
own people in order to service his own agenda.