Unshackled from Earthly Roles, Women Become “Space Oddities” in CWRU Professor’s Book

Marie Lathers

Marie Lathers

Fifty-four years after the first screen portrayal of a human woman in space—in the 1929 German movie Woman in the Moon—the first female American astronaut, Sally Ride, took a real-life trip into space. For the most part, women were, as Case Western Reserve University Professor Marie Lathers describes, “grounded.” They were limited, especially in the post-World War II United States, to roles “in the home, kitchen or backyard.”

In her new book, Space Oddities: Women and Outer Space in Popular Film and Culture, 1960-2000 (Continuum), Lathers examines how female space travelers broke through this airy ceiling and went from the silver screen to the International Space Station. The book evolved from Lathers’ longtime interest in feminist issues and her SAGES University Seminar Women in Outer Space.

“This study poses woman in space as a problem, one that the U.S. space program, the media and popular culture wrestled with and worked through in fits and starts throughout most of the 20th century,” writes Lathers, Elizabeth M. and William C. Treuhaft Professor of Humanities and French in the College of Arts and Sciences.

For earthbound women of the 1960s, films and popular television shows like I Dream of Jeannie and Barbarella primed the general public with the idea that men could give up a seat to accommodate a woman on those space journeys, and films such as Alien and the more recent Contact helped assure the public that women could survive and make life-saving decisions in an alien environment, Lathers says. In the spaces of film frames, photographs and stories, she shows “a woman is woven into space.”

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