The Physical Evolution of Men and Women in Speculative Fiction By

December 28,2017

Regardless of the genre you favor, reading holds countless benefits and brings immense pleasure to those that indulge in it. It is, however, hard to dispute that speculative fiction, and more specifically, science fiction has become one of the most dominant genres of our times. While it has been popular throughout the last half-century or so, it did not have as significant an influence on pop culture as it does today. Though it is often brushed aside as being too fantastical, it does represent the cultural movement of the 21st century much better than some of the other fictional genres.

Countless themes have been explored in speculative fiction with gender being one of them. In additional to the traditional genders sci-fi has extended, the idea of gender to include transgender humans as well as hypothetical alien species and robots. Even without the introduction of non-human life forms, the traditional human characters have undergone a significant transformation over the years to coincide with the way the male and female appearance has changed over time in reality.

The Portrayal of Women

Female-identified women in speculative genres have changed tremendously over time. Two types of women usually exist within a sci-fi context: the villainness and the damsel in distress. These characters are usually physically attractive and require the validation of a male hero. In modern-day speculative fiction, female characters are portrayed as significantly stronger physically than the typical character from the 1980s or 90s for example. Apart from the changes in physical appearance, current leading women are more independent and forward-thinking they have ever been and are often being cast as the lead in the story. During the 1930s, female sci-fi characters all boasted huge bosoms and pouting lips which thankfully made way for more streamlined characters with flowing hair and killer attitudes by the 1970s. In a 1932 screen adaptation of the HG Wells novel 'The Island of Doctor Moreau', Kathleen Burke played a very sexy and sultry Lota in 'The Island of Lost Souls'. In 2011 the first book in the 'Divergent' series, penned by Veronica Roth, became an overnight sensation with the protagonist of the novel being 16-year old Beatrice "Tris" Prior. Unlike the leading ladies of yesteryears, Tris is very much your 'girl next door' as far as appearance is concerned.

The Portrayal of Men

Most male protagonists in sci-fi are reflections of a single heroic stereotype. Strong jawlines have always been a standard physical trait with the biggest shift in appearance coming courtesy of the hair styles of the leading men. Where the leading men of the 1940s through to the 1980s all sported abnormally large biceps and long hair today’s heroes present themselves in many shapes and sizes. Body shapes are no longer limited to those resembling action figurines and the long flowing locks of yesteryears have made way for buzz-cuts, fades and even man-buns.

As styles and trends evolve in reality so too do the characters we get to know in love in our favorite books, TV series and movies. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or the reader in this case, and as long as authors are able to provide us with enough detail to fuel our fantasies we will continue to fall in love with the heroes and heroines in our favorite books.