Topic: Women in Sci-Fi
This thread was originally called Slut Shaming and SLIDERS: A Shameful History, but I've amended it to talk about all my favourite women in science fiction.
Origin: I remember the exact moment I gave up on the Slideheads Facebook group. It was when a poster called Kari Wuhrer a whore for her many nude scenes. Among SLIDERS fans is a shameful history of slut shaming, an attitude that any female expression of sexuality is to be condemned. SLIDERS fans should be above that, especially when what they deride doesn't even originate with women.
Hatred: Captain Margaret Allison Beckett (US Air Force) is unquestionably one of the most loathed characters in SLIDERS. Kari Samantha Ann Wuhrer is undoubtedly one of the most hated people in SLIDERS although she's despised slightly less than David Peckinpah, Keith Damron, Jerry O'Connell and Bill Dial.
Sluts: The charges against Maggie Beckett are that she's defined by Kari Wuhrer's physicality and little else. This is expanded to declare that Maggie and Kari are "slutty" and they exist solely to trigger sexual arousal in men with the series becoming crude, intellectually deficient and absurd. Kari has been dismissed as "a talentless bimbo" and called "a slut" along with any woman who has ever worn tight clothing or been nude in TV and film especially when it was done at the expense of creativity and imagination.
Fair and Unfair: The creative criticisms are resonable. The attacks on women and their sexuality are not; SLIDERS' depiction of Maggie's sexuality in Season 3 is in no way a rendition of any woman's sexuality. Throughout the back nine of Season 3, the male gaze where the camerawork, costuming and blocking are specifically to emphasize the breasts and backside of the women in front of the camera. That is not Kari Wuhrer's sexuality or even Maggie's; that's the male gaze.
Whose Attraction Is It Anyway? In addition, Maggie is regularly scripted as being sexually flirtatious with nearly every man who shares a scene with her, but the scripts don't offer any rationale for what it is about these men that attracts Maggie. In "The Exodus," Captain Beckett is a married woman who (supposedly) has extensive combat and espionage experience; yet she's inexplicably attracted to Quinn who, by Season 3, has become a dim witted college student. Maggie is drawn to a career criminal with the script disregarding that Maggie's husband was murdered and she's in pursuit of the killer.
Last Minute Casting: The attraction on display isn't Maggie's or Kari's; these are the desires of producers Alan Barnette and David Peckinpah. According to SLIDERS expert Temporal Flux, the Maggie character was not cast until the day before the filming of "The Exodus" when Alan Barnette charged into the office with a profile shot and shrieked, "Check out the tits on this one!" Wuhrer was hired. Crew members reported to Temporal Flux that during the filming of the back nine of Season 3, Barnette would not stop commenting on Wuhrer's breasts.
The Fantasy: Temporal Flux located deleted scenes for "Dinoslide," scripted by David Peckinpah, which reveal that Maggie was to give Quinn what was essentially a lap dance when trying to share body warmth. This behaviour does not convey Captain Beckett's militarism or survival skills; it conveys David Peckinpah's sexual fantasies as relating to Hollywood actresses.
Glass Cage: Despite this, SLIDERS fans have an alarming hatred for the Maggie character that is often directed at the actress in specificity and at women in general. Western society has not been kind to women; it was not until the 70s that women were not uniformly barred from all professions. Without entry points into the workforce, women in North America were educated to view attracting men as their only marketable skill and regarded in this way by men while simultaneously being scorned for having no other talents to offer.
Archaic: Film and television in the 90s retained this attitude with the expectation that actresses feature a minimum cup size and be within a certain weight class, often stipulated as part of contractual obligations. Women are not the villains in this commodification of their gender. Women were not responsible for SLIDERS' creative decay and if Kari Wuhrer hadn't been wearing that undersized green T-shirt in "The Exodus," it would've been someone else.
The Wheel Turns: SLIDERS fandom turned a corner in recent years, however, thanks to the sterling work of Annie Fish in THINK OF A ROULETTE WHEEL. SLIDERS fandom is still rounding that corner, but Annie started the turn, first with an appropriately alarmed review of "The Breeder" and then some insightful words for "Slidecage":
So this week we have to look at Kari in a sports bra for 45 minutes. Which is just so infuriatingly unnecessary. Why would she wear that? Let’s lay it out: she wouldn’t. In no way would she wear that. She’s only wearing it so we can eyefuck her. Which is the reason she was cast in the first place. It’s the reason she replaced Sabrina Lloyd. This show is a sexist boy’s club, and it ‘knows’ what its audience wants.
Lost Potential: Annie taps into what will always frustrate with Maggie: the character is made to dress and behave in ways that don't serve to explore her as a military officer working with civilians. They only serve the male gaze. And it's a painful loss because Maggie Beckett is very possibly a fascinating character.
The scripted details of the character establish that she's a fighter pilot, a soldier and an intelligence officer. On paper, at least, Maggie Beckett is someone who does what the sliders do: she infiltrates unfamiliar situations to acquire information; she tries to blend into unknown situations and appear to belong when she knows that she doesn't; she's seen danger and combat and horror and madness -- but unlike the sliders, who are civilians without experience or training, Maggie Beckett has been tutored and refined into a human agent of violence and deception.
A Different Kind of Slider: There is potential for a fascinating contrast between her and the other sliders. Quinn fondly improvises while Maggie would demand planning. Wade wants to topple regimes while Maggie feels bound to uphold establishment organizations. Rembrandt wants to explore alternate cultures while Maggie wants to gather weapons and equipment. Arturo is focused on broadening his scientific understanding and Maggie doesn't understand anything he says and is terrified to disobey him. The sliders are haphazard wanderers to the dismay of a disciplined, structured, controlled individual like Captain Margaret Allison Beckett.
Retooled: Throughout Maggie's appearances in Seasons 4 - 5, her abrasiveness and wardrobe are toned down, but the characterization from devoted writers like Marc Scott Zicree and Chris Black fail to deepen Maggie. Instead, Zicree and Black are focused on giving Kari Wuhrer comedy, pairing her up with Cleavant Derricks' friendliness, giving her grief and tragedy, but only passingly exploring her skillset and values. In "Way Out West," Maggie sings, revealing more about Wuhrer's musical ambitions than Maggie. In "The Return of Maggie Beckett," the emphasis is more on Maggie's troubled relationship with her father than her identity.
Little of this builds on Maggie's military background even when the singing and even the breast implants could be for Maggie's covert operations to require being easily dismissed as a pretty but empty-headed girl when she's actually a woman of militaristic force and resolve.
Evolution: Since SLIDERS, television and film have leapt forward in presenting women within action stories. Jane Doe (Jaime Alexander) in BLINDSPOT is a cunning warrior, Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) in BATWOMAN is a resolute soldier, Liz Keen (Megan Boone) in THE BLACKLIST is a brilliant law enforcement officer, Kiera Cameron (Rachel Nichols) in CONTINUUM is a hardy action star and the recent TOMB RAIDER movie presented Lara Croft as a showcase for Alicia Vikander's impressive abdominal muscles.
Media has, in recent years, shown itself capable of depicting women with athleticism, coordination, strength and will in their physical presence -- whereas SLIDERS failed to provide Maggie with any of that. Kari Wuhrer isn't directed to convey physical strength as Maggie; she isn't asked to perform the role with a warrior's will or a pilot's precision or a soldier's bearing. She is a woman made to be a girl in a tight shirt.
Men: These failures aren't Kari Wuhrer's fault. She made the best she could out of a career of performing men's fantasies. She did it to pay the rent. The failures are due to the majority of these scripts being written by men who see women as objects of desire and arousal rather than as people with histories, ambitions, goals, longings and wishes outside of how they look and who they can attract.
Damage: These fantasies have also been harmful towards Wuhrer. She originally arrived in Los Angeles hoping to be a singer; her producer encouraged her to get breast implants as he preferred women whose breasts were visible from behind. He ultimately proved uninterested in her music and only in her image; Hollywood likewise offered her easy, fast money in direct to video erotic thrillers with hurriedly filmed nude scenes which she accepted in order to afford food and shelter. SLIDERS was another one of these jobs.
After SLIDERS, Wuhrer found more direct to video work but felt embarrassed by her breasts and would ask her lovers never to touch her there. In 2002, when filming another direct to video movie, one of her breast implants encapsulated shortly before a nude scene leading to her chest looking lopsided and a nipple pointing in the wrong direction.
Punishment: She had the implants removed, was hired for a soap opera and then fired when she got pregnant and gained weight. Fans despise Wuhrer for her filmography and its influence on SLIDERS as well as for harassing Sabrina Lloyd to the point where Lloyd quit SLIDERS. But surely Wuhrer has paid her penance after being mutilated, humiliated and unable to acquire even the male gaze driven work she used to find in playing a man's idea of a slut.
Double Standard: And also, there's nothing wrong with being a slut. There's nothing wrong with having as many sexual partners as you'd like; I've never met a man who wouldn't applaud other men for having had sex with high numbers of women, but women having the same count is viewed as a problem because men, all too often, view women as commodities instead of people. There is nothing mutually exclusive in being both someone with a wide and eventful sexual history and being a kind, respectful, responsible and reliable human being.
Wuhrer was not always kind or respectful, but that never had anything to do with her sex life.
My birthday is in October and if we could see slut shaming eradicated from SLIDERS fandom by then, I'd be grateful.
I cannot emphasize enough in the name of Maggie's green T-shirt, Maggie's wet top, Maggie's sports bra and Maggie's toothbrush that the views in this post do not reflect the consensus of the Sliders.tv community and should any consensus ever exist, it wouldn't be defined by my opinions.