This blog started, as most great modern works do, with Rachel McAdams. I saw her a few weeks ago in About Time, her latest foray into the world of time travel. Or, should I say, the peripherals of time travel – wherein she is forced to stick to the boring linear world whilst her various suitors flit around time and space. Just as a quick reminder:
This trend got me thinking about women in time travel movies generally. Why are they consistently denied this cinematic God-given right? As with most things in life, Louis C.K. has provided us with a potential answer: privilege. He once said: “I could get in a time machine and go to any time and it would be fuckin’ awesome when I get there. That is exclusively a white privilege.”
Not only is it a white privilege, but I think it is a distinctly male privilege. His point is that white males are the only ones who could successfully time travel in reality because they are the dominant group at almost every point in history. And cinema tends to reflect this dominance. Whilst pondering the essential “if you could travel back in time where would you go?” question, I realised, as a female, that I would have a few things to take into account in choosing my ideal temporal destination e.g. am I going to burn at the stake for being a witch when I arrive? Will I even be considered a citizen? Will I be eaten by a T-Rex?
Granted the last one affects both genders, but still very important to consider.
What would happen if a woman from the future travelled back to 2013 to watch the top time travel movies at this point in history (as defined by google)? What are our female characters doing on the time/space continuum? (Spoiler alert: not a lot.)
Female protagonist Sarah Connor is under siege by the Governor of California who has come back from the future to kill her, therefore spends a lot of her time lying under large jackets looking sad.
She doesn’t get remotely close to time travelling herself, but certainly defies conventional constructions of time through falling in love with and deflowering Kyle within about 0.2 seconds of knowing him (thus confusing the timeline of the whole franchise for all of eternity).
Although I’m aware her character develops and changes later in the franchise, the original Sarah Connor is a boring mop of hair that is at her most active and interesting when working as a diner waitress and yelling at a kid for dunking ice-cream in her pocket.
Back to the Future
Marty McFly’s Mum doesn’t time travel per se, but as he travels back in time we see her in her glory days as a babin’ youth (with top notch incestuous vibes). This is contrasted with her middle-aged alcoholism and chubbiness, serving as an important reminder for women that getting old is the worst thing that can possibly happen to you. After Marty returns back to his new (altered) future, we see that the chain of events has improved his family’s life to be the best it can be possibly be for each of member: his brother is now a hotshot lawyer, his dad is a swaggering aviator wearing macho-man and his Mum is, drumroll please, THIN! Praise be! The best thing a woman can achieve!
His girlfriend Jennifer has a bit more luck. I say luck, I mean she accidentally sees the DeLorean and therefore is transported through time by Doc Brown who begrudgingly acknowledges that her future might “concern her too”. The second instalment shows Jennifer travel successfully to 2015, only to be quickly sedated for asking too many questions.
Also never forget that although both Back to the Future 2 & 3 feature female characters getting rides in the DeLorean, even a local dog gets a hoon within 10 minutes of the very first movie.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure
The first time travelling female in this movie is Joan of Arc, who is dragged to the future to not only help Bill and Ted with their history presentation, but also to run an aerobics class in a mall for no reason. Yep. What better use of potentially the most famous historical heroine of all time, victorious leader of the French army during the Hundred Years War at the age of 19? Just call her Joan Fonda.
Secondly, there are these weird medieval princesses who, I’m assuming for budgetary reasons, are denied names and are instead referred to as simply “the babes”. Ted falls in love with them whilst visiting medieval England times, and is devastated to leave them on their travels. Luckily at the end of the movie the girls are biffed out of their time and transported to 1989 to accompany Bill and Ted to the prom. And then I assume they are promptly discarded in a mouldy rubbish bin, hopefully discovering penicillin.
Amazingly, across nine different realities there was only room for two female characters, one of which is blessed with more than two seconds of screen time (but not much more). Aaron’s wife Kara’s main objective in the movie appears to be “majorly killing the vibe at all times”. She can be found constantly stomping into the kitchen to upset their rampant hypothesising about weebles.
In one rare instance, Kara makes a ground-breaking journey out of the kitchen to fold some washing in the lounge. During this time she is asked the hypothetical (or, unbeknownst to her, literal) question: “if you could have any life or do anything in the world, what would you do?” Hold your breath, her answer may shock you:
Way to manifest your destiny, Kara.
So as we can see, the situation remains bleak. And if time travel ever does become possible in real life, it’s going to be really embarrassing when women travel back here and see how crap our movies were at imagining them doing so. So rare is it to find a film that sends a woman backward or forward for a reason other than stopping her future child from being a dick (see: Back to the Future & The Terminator), or simply being an accessory to the male time traveller as they fulfil their quest (Bill & Ted’s). But there are exceptions, one of which which can be found at the true apex of comedy/culture/lifestyle:
Things have to be in a pretty dire state when we turn to Austin Powers for an example of female agency. Beyonce travels from 1969 to 2004 and boy oh boy does she have a lot of funny animal videos to catch up on. But she still doesn’t do it on her own, and I guess she is still working secondary to Sir A. Powers.
I’m going to go now, due to being equal parts mad and confused about all of this. If you are a female time traveller reading this in the future or you have travelled to 2013 to read some cool blogs, I want you to know that I was/am thinking of you.
And for the love of god, Rachel McAdams swapped bodies with Rob Schneider and lived to tell the tale. Write that woman a time travel role.
PS: I’m aware there are glaring omissions from the realms of Harry Potter and Doctor Who but I operate under a strict ‘no goblins’ rule of research.
PPS: Please hit me with other suggestions.