Television has a gender problem. Studies have shown that women are less likely to be given speaking roles in TV shows and movies than men, and, if they are, they are generally stereotyped or only shown as sex objects. Female characters are also rarely shown in a working environment, especially in the STEM fields, and, they are less likely to be focused on their career over personal life than men. Basically, being a woman on a male-dominated TV show means that you’re at a high risk of being reduced to nothing more than a cardboard cut-out.
One shining beacon of light in the dark TV world was Joss Whedon’s short-lived sci fi-western series “Firefly.” A staple of “TV shows cancelled too soon” lists everywhere, “Firefly” featured lots of strong, complex characters, from cocky captain with a heart of gold Mal to adorkable pilot and leaf on the wind Wash (may he rest in peace).
Among these characters were four of the strongest women ever written for television: River, the slightly insane genius on the run from the Alliance; Zoë, the badass first mate who holds her own against Mal; Kaylee, the ship’s brilliant mechanic who also loves frilly dresses and strawberries; and Inara, a Companion who constantly owns the work that she does, despite what anyone else says about it. Two of the actresses who played these lovely ladies, Jewel Staite (Kaylee) and Morena Baccarin (Inara), are celebrating their birthdays today, June 2, so we put together five reasons why they represent two of the most awesome, complex women on TV.
They’re both badass.Fox
Both women have saved the rest of the crew's skins on multiple occasions — Kaylee brings her awesome mechanic skills to the table, pretty much single-handedly keeping Serenity in the air, while Inara knows how to use her wit to her advantage (and looks hella threatening holding a gun — have I mentioned that she was an integral part of the crew’s heist in “Trash”?).
But they keep their femininity, too.Fox
One thing that is so unique to Kaylee and Inara is that, on top of being strong women, they are feminine too. All too often, women in media either get the option of being badass or being feminine, but rarely do characters get to be both. As wonderfully explored in “Shindig,” even though Kaylee loves her job as a mechanic, she also enjoys dressing up and sometimes envies the fact that Inara gets to do this. Inara also fully embraces the pioneer life that they live on Serenity, while still rocking some awesome outfits and eye makeup.
They own their sexuality.Fox
In media, sex is traditionally about men — women are generally stereotyped as not wanting sex, and they are slut-shamed if they do. On “Firefly,” though, Kaylee actively pursues Simon, taking their relationship into her own hands when he is too shy to make a move. Inara, on the other hand, works as a Companion, which is a bit like an elite sex worker, a job which is traditionally viewed in a negative light. However, she is completely in control of her career — she only chooses the clients she wants, and is able to blacklist those who mistreat her in any way. She also has access to healthcare, and, with the money that she makes, she is able to explore the universe and live life the way she wants. Both Kaylee and Inara are fully in control of their sexuality, something that is sorely missing from most other women on TV.
They can hold their own against the men on the ship.Fox
Kaylee and Inara don’t take s--t from anybody — they know what they want, and they’re not going to let anyone stand in their way. Their relationships with the men on the ship are so compelling because they’re complicated and multi-faceted. With Kaylee, the men respect her ability as a mechanic (a job, which, traditionally, would have been held by a man), while also recognizing her femininity and her role as the “soul” of the ship. With Inara, she is always ready to stand up and defend her choice in career, as well as pointing out that there is more to her than just her job.
They’re best friends.Fox
Happy birthday, Jewel and Morena!