The Female Audience & Battlestar Galactica

October 26th, 2006

Today’s New York Times carries a sympathetic overview of the latest Battlestar Galactica series.

Included was this bit of trivia:

“Audience sympathies are generally with Laura, a middle-aged woman and a seeming softie who may be a stand-in for the new sci-fi viewers, who are increasingly women …”

This declaration by the NY Times television critic is of particular interest since the received wisdom about Science Fiction, particularly television SF, is that the audience is predominantly that O-So-Worshipped-Demographic of Young Males.

What do you all think?

Love, C.

20 Responses to “The Female Audience & Battlestar Galactica”

  1. Mark Tiedemannon 26 Oct 2006 at 1:00 pm

    Battlestar Galactic runs so counter to so many “traditional” models for television SF that it’s hard to point to any one thing as “significant.” My take is that it is the flowering of a trend in tv SF of producers, writers, directors, etc who understand that “far future” “high tech” “aliens” and so forth do not automatically mean stilted, artificial, or homogenized in terms of emotion and human drama. If BSG is connecting with a wider audience it’s because there is an all-important frisson of truthful depiction of people interacting under stress. Mature drama wins out over special effects (though they ain’t bad in this instance, either).

    But also, I note a distinct lack of “traditional” gender inequity on screen. Not so much that it’s absent, but that it seems to be a given that it was never there. The female characters are people first, women next, and the relationships possess an egalitarianism that in the past has been difficult to achieve. It’s very attractive.

  2. Muneravenon 26 Oct 2006 at 2:06 pm

    I think:

    Woman have always been receptive to good science fiction. Good science fiction is maybe twenty percent of the genre. However, the sins of most mediocre and bad science fiction (macho stereotypes, lack of character development, extended techno-babble) have historically been particularly unattractive to women; so much so that many of them were driven off by the weight of said sins. The same (with cosmetic changes) can be said for crime fiction and westerns.

    Fantasy novels also are 80% not-so-good, but women have been more apt to forgive the sins of that genre (cute animal companions, studly, sensitive elf-guys, the young girl alone who must find her place in life) . The same can be said of chick lit, romances, and “Oprah books.” The sins of lesser specimens in these genres somehow don’t grate on most women as hard as those in traditionally male-dominated genres do. Guys, however, traditionally have had little tolerance for THESE genres. Again I think men have always liked the really stellar fantasy novels but they have been less apt to forgive the common sins of the genre.

    Of course these are generalizations, and some women have always preferred the sins of a truly bad western or sci-fi novel to even a mediocre romance or Oprah book. And some guys have always preferred a vampire romance to a great sci-fi read. I am just talking gross generalities here.

    However, I think think there is a lot more cross-genre reading and a lot less “girls read this and boys read that” than there ever has been before. And I think a lot of the traditional gender/genre biases come from TRAINING, not from biological differences. So there are now more women who like science fiction generally, and lots more guys who can enjoy a tasty romantic-fantasy novel now and again. I think readers these days are better trained to go beyond traditional genre boundaries in what they read and what they watch.

    The sins of particular genres are less odious to a particular gender these days and have become just plain old odious across the board, lol.

  3. Alasseon 26 Oct 2006 at 2:12 pm

    Yay for BSG! It’s very refreshing to have a scifi series with several intelligent, fully clothed females characters. Laura Rolin, Kara Thrace, and the many incarnations of Sharon are deep, interesting characters. The Stargate series also helped to lead the way with Samantha Carter and Elizabeth Weir. (Ok so Atlantis has Teyla’s cleavage and midriff, we get Ronon’s arms so fair’s fair!) Scifi on television has certainly come a long way, and is finally recognizing that there are many many women with brains in the audience.

  4. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 26 Oct 2006 at 3:36 pm

    I think it’s a case of finally admitting the demographics. There’s also an odd thing of finding your demographics.

    I remember years ago going to a “Beauty and the Beast” panel at WorldCon or Westercon, since George R.R. Martin was on it, and I enjoyed the show, and good god, I think I was about the only guy in the audience, there seemed to be nothing but women in their thirties to fifties who were practically holding a tent revival meeting to try to get an extra season.

    Contrawise, the demographics of Charmed, which was I believe first created to go for the fantasy chick-flick audience (after Practical Magic, a movie that wanted us to sympathize with a bloodline of powerful but incompetent witches) but later morphed into fantasy cheesecake land with more excuses to put the trio in crazy outfits, which then had a much larger male audience than originally designed.

    Of course I’m talking fantasy here, but it wasn’t the male fans who were protesting dropping Daniel Jackson from the Stargate line-up or replacing him with Tok-ra Barbie (though since he acting was wooden and the chemistry wasn’t there, no one objected much when it was switched back).

    I need to watch Battlestar from the beginning to catch up.

  5. Laurieon 26 Oct 2006 at 4:15 pm

    I have many female friends who love BSG. Personally, I’ve never seen it – the idea of Starbuck being female rocks my world – but I suppose I ought to give it a shot. I’ll add it to ye olde Tivo. (I discovered Buffy through this blog, so I’m open to your excellent suggestions.)

    It’s funny you mention that about guys enjoying a romantic-fantasy novel, Muneraven. I’m the only woman on the engineering team at work and I heard the guys talking enthusiastically about some TV show the other day. I thought they must be discussing BSG, Heroes, Nine, or Lost. I wandered over and they were talking about Desperate Housewives! Gosh. They also watch Grey’s Anatomy, and were peeved to discover that I don’t. “But you’re a girl!” Mmhmm. ;)

  6. beesharpon 26 Oct 2006 at 7:08 pm

    I’m a chick, and I despised the Beauty and the Beast series. Babylon 5 was so much better.

  7. Jellyn Andrewson 26 Oct 2006 at 10:44 pm

    I couldn’t get into BSG. About the only thing the SciFi Channel is doing right these days, imo, is showing Doctor Who and Dead Like Me. Of course they stuck the latter in a horrid timeslot(s).

    The problem of demographics is one reason I watched very few episodes of Enterprise. A half-naked sweaty Vulcan chick, well, she should just have a better reason than decontamination.

  8. Kevin Andrew Murphyon 26 Oct 2006 at 11:00 pm

    I think that was one of the problems of the show, but imagine them trying to a have a Ferenghi ladies’ tea party. Which would have been a better excuse for nakedness, but still not have gone over well.

  9. Kathleen Rettersonon 26 Oct 2006 at 11:54 pm

    BSG is my favorite show (another girl raising her hand here).

    I agree with several points above.

    1) BSG is good drama that happens to have a sci fi backdrop.

    2) It’s refreshing to have women act like responsibile people with significant responsiblities who make non-sentimental decisions, and ocassionally punch someone out.

    3) It’s refreshing to have men make mistakes sometimes, too, and shed an ocassional manly tear.

    Good story has transcendent power.

    (FWIW, I much prefer BSG to Stargate — SG-1 had become too much Team Mary Sue for my taste.)

  10. Evanon 27 Oct 2006 at 3:34 am

    Laura “throw ‘em out the airlock” Roslin is a softie? Are they watching the same show I am?

  11. Laurieon 27 Oct 2006 at 10:12 am

    Hah, Jellyn, I see you and I were turned off of Enterprise for the same reason. That decontamination scene was gratuitous indeed.

  12. Marie Brennanon 27 Oct 2006 at 12:08 pm

    The female characters are people first, women next, and the relationships possess an egalitarianism that in the past has been difficult to achieve. It’s very attractive.

    Bingo. I had a writer friend ask once whether I thought he was writing female characters well, and I told him that they came across as people first, soldiers/empresses/prostitutes/whatever second, and women third, and that while this approach might occasionally lead him into trouble, it would do so far less often than the “women first, everything else second” approach I sense far too often.

    BSG’s gender setup works for me because they DON’T make a big deal out of it. I’ve watched a season and a half so far, and I don’t think I’ve yet heard a single character bring up Starbuck’s sex or gender as being somehow worth commenting on in the context of being a pilot.

  13. Kate Elliotton 27 Oct 2006 at 6:56 pm

    Another fan of BSG here for the reasons listed above. Indeed, that egalitarianism is very attractive.

    I have only watched the miniseries, and then the first season and half the second. The one thing that I found bothersome is the ‘traditional’ use of rape to humble and humiliate and torture the (attractive) female Cylons that have been captured. it seemed to go against the rest of the cultural set up. I haven’t seen the second half of the second season, so don’t know how that was ultimately dealt with.

  14. Constance Ashon 27 Oct 2006 at 7:12 pm

    That quote from the NY Times article seems to this reader, at least, declared the this new, most numerous demographic for science fiction (at least television sf, anyway — that wasn’t entirely clear within the context) was women. Not just for Battlestar Galactica, but across the board.

    Which made the cognitive brain cells hum loudly, coz, it’s supposed to be young males, yanno? This is the received wisdom across the field in whichever form it be — print, media, game, comix, etc.

    Why this change? And why now? And how come the actual administrators&deciders in most of these areas continue to remain young males?

    Love, C.

  15. Kate Elliotton 28 Oct 2006 at 11:54 pm

    Young males are on the computer and video games?

  16. Constance Ashon 29 Oct 2006 at 10:34 am

    That’s what demo format studies have been saying, anyway — that demo is playing video and computer games rather than watching television or going to movies.

    Though I don’t play video and computer games myself, from the online communities in which I participate, I have the sense that women are a very strong presence in these areas as well, but maybe just because of who are in these communities my own sense of the extent of female participation is skewed?

    Love, C.

  17. Laurieon 30 Oct 2006 at 12:36 pm

    I do the online video game thing and have for about, oh, 12 years now. I can tell you that the female population has skyrocketed in the last 5 years.

    It has been interesting watching women’s lib online blossom. Four years ago, when I got into a top-rated EverQuest guild (a highly structured, very strict organization with attendance requirements and a firm hierarchy of leadership), women were only allowed if they were the wife or live-in girlfriend of a male member. I was one of the very first females in the guild to make it in without invoking what they used to call the f*ck-a-Triton clause. Now, I am an officer (one of about 5 leaders) and applications are not denied based on gender; in fact, a full third of the guild is female. (Being a wife or girlfriend isn’t enough anymore – you have to earn your own way in, which, oddly enough, many women don’t like.)

    There have been some substantial growing pains, though. Many of the women that play these games are not there for the gameplay – they are there for attention from the men who play the games. As sad as it is to say, there was a very good reason many guilds didn’t allow unattached women. You’d drop a single female into a group of 100 males who may or may not have the courage to talk to a “Real Girl” in real life, and look out! The drama would flare terribly. I could recount a bunch of horror stories that stem from women causing terrible havoc simply because they could. I’ve seen 100-person guilds that were very successful torn apart by such things. It’s sadly common.

    The slut-female-gamer is one of my biggest peeves, personally, because I am there to play the game and I am damn good at it. I am one of the few female leaders in a high-end guild on any game, and I work hard to keep everything professional. It’s like every time one of the tramps acts up, my credibility takes a hit. It’s made me, the only female officer, more wary of accepting female applicants than the men are! I’ve been burned so many times. And, as I am sure you can tell, I take it personally.

    I hope that within the next few years, women in gaming will be so common that we won’t have these problems anymore. Right now, integrating them is still a work in progress.

    /hops off the soapbox

  18. Tamara K Sellmanon 31 Oct 2006 at 11:41 am

    huge fan of BSG

    my two daughters are also huge fans

    The Laura character is a beacon; Kara shows that women can be tough and vulnerable; even Baltar’s “imaginary” girlfriend, as overtly sexual as she is, has a soft spot while still being capable of superhuman feats (well, maybe cyberhuman is the word here).

    But I think what we like most is the complexity of the relationships in an intricate plot. The male characters are also amazingly multifaceted. I mean, XO Tigh surprises you every time. Admiral Adama is also tough but smart and sensitive. Even Baltar is likeable in a sort of underdog way as the fallen angel we wish would come back and do good (though now I think he’s headed for a Vaderesque dark side, being sequestered as he is by the Cylons). But he could go the other way as well…

  19. Constance Ashon 05 Nov 2006 at 4:26 pm

    It’s always character, isn’t it, when it comes down to it?

    Despite what Asmiov thought ….

    Love, C.

  20. Racy Thoughtson 20 Nov 2006 at 11:18 am

    [...] A quick post over at Deep Genre in response to a New York Times article that finds “new sci fi viewers to be middle aged women,” in the female audience and Battlestar Galactica, which elicits some interesting comments. [...]

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply