Macquarie University
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The woman who saved the world: re-imagining the female hero in 1950s science fiction films

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posted on 2022-03-28, 13:57 authored by Cathryn Carol Hawkins
In this thesis I propose that an appropriation of the hero narrative is important for feministcriticism, and that it is time to explore a new interpretation of the female hero. In popular aswell as classical texts the position of the hero is clearly gendered as male. The narrative spaceremaining is left to the passive heroine, a female figure who is concerned with romantic ratherthat heroic outcomes. The acceptance of this critical position can be seen in many worksdedicated to science fiction criticism, texts that construct a set of canonical phallocentricreadings in which females are rendered invisible, unimportant, or relegated to the role of 'sexinterest'. There is no better example of this practice than the science fiction film texts of the1950s. In these films female characters are seen as marginal, existing to highlight the heroismand heterosexuality of the successful male hero. In order to arrive at a new understanding of the female hero, we need to develop a viewingpractice that sees gendered transgression taking place beyond a binary oppositional nexus.The female hero must challenge the way in which heroic values are traditionally applied towomen. To do so, this thesis employs tactical reading practices developed through a feministpost-structuralist framework, informed by both postcolonial and queer theory. While focusingon an in-depth examination of 1950s science fiction films, it draws upon a range of academicworks as well as popular cultural texts from cinematic, literary and television sources. Inorder to focus these analyses, I loosely divide the female heroes being considered into twogroups; Housewife Heroes and Lady Scientists. This is not done in order to delineate discretecategories, but to suggest that different kinds of female characters attract their own cluster ofissues and embodiments. This thesis thus offers in-depth discussion of gender, sexuality and colonialism in a number ofscience fiction films of the 1950s. These include Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I Married aMonster from Outer Space, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Incredible Shrinking Man, ItCame from Beneath the Sea, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Them! By re-imagining thefigure of the female hero, the Lady Scientist and the Housewife Hero become much more than the embodiment of sexuality in a male-centred story. These characters allow us to examinetransgressive corporeality, and witness technological and physical competencies beyond thepurview of the traditional heroine. Once imagined, such characters can take us out of therealm of oppositional binary logic and fracture the Oedipal narrative, turning docile heroinesinto disruptive, transgressive and dangerous female heroes.



Typescript. Bibliography: leaves 307-318

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (Ph.D.), Macquarie University

Department, Centre or School

The Institute for Women's Studies

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Wendy Waring

Additional Supervisor 1

Anne Cranny-Francis

Additional Supervisor 2

Nick Mansfield


Copyright Cathryn Carol Hawkins 2001. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (ix, 318 leaves, bound)

Former Identifiers

mq:72013 (AuNrM)291187-macqdb-Voyager