Mandi Favreau

Date of Award


Level of Access Assigned by Author

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Nathan Stormer

Second Committee Member

Laura Lindenfeld

Third Committee Member

Eric E. Peterson


This thesis examines portrayals of female gender performativity in the 2002 Joss Whedon space western Firefly. Whedon has often been praised for his creation of female characters that defy traditional tropes of television. The presentation of the female characters and the interactions between the characters in Firefly are analyzed against previously studied trends of gender performativity in Science Fiction Television (SFTV) and Prime time. This close textual analysis provides a basis against which to understand viewer response to female performativity within the show.

The analysis of both the text and the responses that it generated attempt to answer how Firefly problematizes gender through its female characters and its narrative, what elements of female performance generate a negative or positive response in viewers, and what these responses might imply about audience expectations of female performativity.

While the show oversimplifies Butler's views of gender performativity and ignores much of the politics that surround gender performance, the narrative does engage with the theory in a rather self-conscious way. Within the plot line of certain episodes it presents many of the conflicts and challenges that women face when they enact various performances of femininity.

Viewer responses fall into similar patterns by ignoring the politics behind gender presentations and focusing only on the end results. While viewers frequently praised instances where characters went against traditional tropes of performativity, their most frequent objections focused on presentations of traditional femininity which they viewed as regressive and even dangerous.

While the show's departure from traditional tropes and lack of political focus may only marginally advance the social outlook on gender performance, the narrowness of the responses reveals a continuing tendency to view masculine behavior as commendable and feminine behavior as regressive and limiting.