Where Are the Superheroines of STEM on the Silver Screen? A Wishlist of Amazing Women

queer-your-tech-header_FINAL_640web

There are some amazing nerd movies coming out, y’all!

First there’s Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing in The Imitation Game.

I am more than a little bit obsessed with Alan Turing and WWII code breaking. Naturally I will see this movie immediately upon its release.

And then another trailer was released just this week — featuring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything.

I am extremely excited about these movies. And I honestly feel like they wouldn’t be as popularly anticipated as they are without The Big Bang Theory (it pains me to draw that link, really it does, but that is my honest to Lesbian Jesus opinion). I think bringing smart, nerd culture into the realm of pop culture does wonders for combating rampant anti-intellectualism. But despite Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking getting top billing and the prominent role and smarts of Joan Clarke (played by Kiera Knightley), these STEM movies are dude heavy. As are STEM fields.

Let’s talk about this, shall we?

In fact, let’s talk about The Big Bang Theory while we’re at it. Despite sweeping inaccuracies about the science community, it comes to mind as one of the most popular representations of STEM on any size screen, big or small, today. And despite the writing on that show being objectively terrible, I love watching it. But I didn’t used to. I hated the way it made fun of nerds — brilliant minds once again portrayed as humans with no social skills is cliché, but also some human beings fall somewhere on the autism spectrum in real life. Should we really be making a punchline out of Sheldon? Or out of Howard’s sexist attitudes? Or out of Raj’s complete social anxiety? They just took scientists and neuroatypical people and shat on them for three entire seasons, to the point where I am completely unable to watch anything before a certain point.

And that point is the introduction of female scientists.

As soon as Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz and Amy Farrah Fowler show up, I can watch the show. And I enjoy watching it — the characters evolve into fully-fledged people that I’d love to hang out with instead of cardboard cut-out stereotypes that are cheap shots and cheap laughs. And then there’s the added bonus of representing women in the sciences. The show even riffs on the idea that men in sciences never even think to portray women in sciences — while encouraging a group of sixth grade girls to go into STEM fields, the guys ignore the greatest resource they have at their disposal (two actual, real female scientists) and try to mansplain their way through it. That particular episode points out a blind spot for many male scientists, as well as offering up a solution — it’s a lot harder to start an interest in the sciences in college. “By then, it’s too late,” Sheldon says. And he’s right. That interest and skill set is better and easier developed in middle school.

Here’s my (by no means complete, just partial, and just my opinion) solution — these same amazing movies we’re seeing? The ones that feature male STEM nerds as the main characters? How about a little of that same love for the lady STEMers? Maybe with more visible role models, people wouldn’t be so inclined to subconsciously listen to society’s little but loud voice in their head telling them STEM fields aren’t for women.

Now I know what you’re thinking — “but there aren’t that many famous lady STEMers to begin with.” Yeah, you’re sort of right. But Hollywood and corporate media do a really excellent job of erasing those that do exist. The thing that immediately comes to mind: The Damn Steve Jobs Movie. Jobs, featuring (for better or worse) Ashton Kutcher as Steve Jobs, shafts and cuts a lot of people. But very particularly it doesn’t acknowledge the existence of women employed in the computer technology field between 1976 and 2001. The thing is, THEY WERE THERE. They actually did exist, and do exist.

My point is, there are enough lady STEMers to be getting on with, moviemakers and film-shakers. And I have a few suggestions:


 

1. Ada Lovelace

via Faena

via Faena

Lovelace invented computer programming, was the daughter of Lord Byron, and had a damn interesting life. There’s even a personal incident that ended her marriage that remains secret to this day. COME ON, PEOPLE, THAT’S A MOVIE. And yet if you Google “Ada Lovelace movie,” the only one you will find is a sci-fi film from 1997, which (to be fair) does include Tilda Swinton. But still. Historical movie bio-pic, please!


 

2. Marie Curie

Yes, there is already a movie about Marie Curie. It’s from 1947 and stars Greer Garson. But it ignores her sister as a character and also ignores her politics. And  I’m pretty sure there are two more Hulk movies than anyone ever wanted, so why can’t Madame Curie (discoverer of polonium and radium, real life person) have more than the 1947 film? Also the test tubes in her lab glowed at night. I would really like to see that scene in a movie. While we’re at it, why don’t we give a modern feature film to the Radium Girls?


 

3. Rosalind Franklin

Legit, Rosalind Franklin is responsible for the discovery of DNA. Her images were shown to Watson and Crick without her knowledge or permission. And then she was fucked over in terms of recognition and died of cancer. And the only piece of media I know of where she’s a character is about Watson and Crick. And it’s one single episode of a TV show. Woman deserves a film.


 

4. Chien Shiung Wu

I can’t find one single movie about Chien Shiung Wu, and she was a member of the Manhattan Project. Like Franklin, Wu’s work was completely stolen by two guys (Chen Ning Yang and Tsung Dao Lee) who went on to win a Nobel Prize for her finding. She disproved The Principle of Conservation of Parity. Someone write this woman a film.


 

Okay, so. Who’d I miss? I’d love to see a film about Dr. Ben Barres’s life, but I was focusing on teh ladiez in this post. Also, I’m really bad at this game: who would play each of these fabulous and fame-worthy lady-STEMers?

This has been the ninetieth installment of  Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to favorite to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Header by Rory Midhani.

Profile photo of Ali

Freelance writer and fiction author, Geekery Editor for Autostraddle.com and Fiction Editor for qu.ee/r Magazine. Keep up with her at her website.

Ali has written 272 articles for us.

25 Comments

  1. Thumb up 6

    Please log in to vote

    Leona Woods!
    She helped build the first nuclear reactor as one of the members of the Manhattan Project. Also was one of the youngest members, 23 years old.
    In addition to her dawn to dusk shifts doing everything from slide rule physics, manual labour and working with fissionable materials she’d go help out her mom at the family farm.
    There’s just so much awesome about this woman.

    • Thumb up 2

      Please log in to vote

      Also someone should for sure be writing fanfic where Ali’s love interest is Gwendoline Christie… maybe set in a world wear they can wear sensible armour/generally be dashing and chivalrous. Also, also, swagger.

  2. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    I did a project on Rosalind Franklin my first semester in college! Some researches believe she was lesbian because she never married or showed much interest in men. Personally, I think she was asexual. (I can’t find the source right now because I’m at work, but an anecdote from her friend says she didn’t understand why she should spend time alone with a man.)
    Also, there should be a movie about Hypatia of Alexandria. She even had a dramatic death that Hollywood can hype up.

    • Thumb up 3

      Please log in to vote

      The 2009 film Agora prominently features Hypatia played by Rachel Weisz. The main character is a male slave of her father’s household who’s in love with her. I find it kinda awkward but you get to see Hypatia enthusiastic about her work, and testing one her hypotheses.

  3. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    Maria Mitchell! The first female astronomer.

    Also Emmy Noether, who came up with some important physics equations, would be a great subject for a movie… she battled lots of sexism and when that was finally mostly settled she had to flee to America because of Hitler’s rise.

  4. Thumb up 4

    Please log in to vote

    1. Ali, if you are into WWII codebreaking, and read fiction stuff, have you/you should read Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson. It doesn’t focus on Turing, but he is an old college buddy of the protagonist.

    2. I am guilty of having an interest in the sciences, then totally losing my enthusiasm for a few crucial years in middle school (bad teachers + trying to fit into hellish catholic middle school social dynamics = not a good time), but I rekindled my enthusiasm with the help of great profs in gen-ed classes in college, one of whom was a woman. And having a baby, and doing research on the top of a big 6 story building. She’s doing it all. So what I’m trying to say is SCIENCE PEOPLE LET ME BACK IN THE TREE HOUSE OF AWESOME PLEASEEEE.

  5. Thumb up 5

    Please log in to vote

    Hedy Lamarr! all time hero of mine. She came up with the idea of frequency hopping while she was married to an Austrian weapons manufacturer during WWII. She then came to the states and told the idea to George Antheil a composer. together they pulled it off using a piano roll. Frequency hopping at the time would have been used for radio guiding missiles. The idea was to switch frequency to protect against an enemy jamming your missile by interrupting the frequency you were using. Today we have cell phones, blue tooth and wifi. I linked an article about this and apparently there was a play written about it but I want a movie!!!

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/hedy-lamarr-not-just-a-pr/

  6. Thumb up 3

    Please log in to vote

    sophie germain, number theory. studied alone by candlelight in secret because of her parent’s objections that math is unladylike. Very influential in her field despite obstacles for women; her work dominated thinking on Fermat’s last theorem for hundreds of years. she’s a rock star. <3

  7. Thumb up 1

    Please log in to vote

    These are great! Autostraddle is amazingly relevant to very specific things.

    I came on here to plug a Queerness & Game Design Workshop I came across! You get Amazon gift cards and get to present at a conference and stuff. You don’t need any prior tech or gaming experience! :) Here’s a link. It’s in California in September.

  8. Thumb up 2

    Please log in to vote

    Okay, not to be superrr obvious here but, Sally Ride!!!! Physicist, first American woman in space, youngest American astronaut to travel in space AND she was a lesbian (even if she wasn’t out until long after her career.)

Contribute to the conversation...

You must be logged in to post a comment.