Welcome to this week’s installment of Geek Girl Authority Crush of the Week, wherein we shine a spotlight on strong women who inspire us. Now, this not only includes fictional female characters in geeky media, but creators as well. These ladies are a prime example of female empowerment and how crucial it is for young girls to have said example to follow.
DISCLAIMER: The following contains spoilers for Firefly, a shiny science-fiction show that aired from 2002 to 2003, and its fan-petitioned 2005 film spinoff, Serenity, which tidied up the show with a nice little bow.
Kaywinnet Lee “Kaylee” Frye (portrayed by Jewel Staite) is a natural talent mechanic sailing under Captain Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) aboard the Firefly class transport ship, Serenity. She fixed up the engine with only a few minutes of time to study it, instantly getting welcomed aboard to replace the ship’s existing mechanic. The cargo transport quickly becomes more than her duty, it becomes her home. Her emotional investment in the ship itself is as tangible and apparent as her attachment to the crew. She may look sweetly innocent and come across as a naive young woman, but the moment she opens her mouth, she can be (but tries not to be) as crass as a stereotypical roughneck. But don’t let her fool you – at her core, Kaylee is a romantic with her heart on her sleeve, has a weakness for the finer things in life, and is as at home in a ruffled dress as much as she is in a pair of coveralls. She is smart, loyal, and loves fiercely.
The Real Deal
Because her looks defy the traditional stereotype of her role aboard Serenity, Kaylee is someone that can easily be underestimated. She was never formally trained or educated, owing her mechanical aptitude solely to natural talent, and really did diagnose and repair the Serenity with only having minutes to look around under the Firefly class’ engine. She adopts the ship the way most people adopt a pet and it becomes a point of pride to keep it in the sky – partly because Mal told her she could remain aboard as long as Serenity was functional.
Just as she does with the vessel more suited to a scrap heap, Kaylee bonds with the crew in her own way. She often comes across as naive with her youthful face and bright, sunny disposition. This only endears her to everyone she meets, even the gruff and tough Jayne Cobb (Adam Baldwin). And, even in the far reaches of the ‘verse, Kaylee’s spark shines bright. She manages to maintain an air of innocence about her, which takes center stage when Dr. Simon Tam (Sean Maher) and his sister, River (Summer Glau), join the crew. Though we first meet Kaylee in a very compromising position in the engine room, she runs to Inara Serra (Morena Baccarin), a Companion, for advice on how to get Simon to notice her. The pair eventually share a very adorable courtship, very reminiscent of a teenage love story.
Kaylee’s youthful exuberance only dims when there’s trouble, though she never truly gives up hope. When Serenity is left adrift without a functioning engine (which Kaylee takes as a personal failure), Mal talks her out of her spiraling funk and has her explain what needs to be done to replace the broken part – which he promises they will get somehow. She may not fully believe him, as the rest of the crew believes the situation to be hopeless, but she tries. She has also been held captive more than once, but her faith in the crew and her optimism that survival was possible remained intact. Even when facing against the Reavers after the death of Serenity‘s pilot, Hoban “Wash” Washburne (Alan Tudyk), Kaylee is determined to live (though that may have something to do with Simon’s profession of his attraction to her).
When she’s not facing death or repairing an engine far older than she is, Kaylee enjoys small indulges. One of her most prized pleasures is fresh strawberries. Shepherd Derrial Book (Ron Glass) gives a small box of the fruit to Kaylee when he comes aboard, which she fawns over. She keeps a small stash in her bunk and makes a beeline for the buffet table when Mal escorts her to a party on one of their excursions. In addition to the strawberries, Kaylee gushes over a brand new dress “just like Inara’s” – Kaylee idolizes Inara and envies the comforts of her lifestyle, if only a little. Although she likes these finer things, Kaylee is quite content having them in small doses from within her own bunk.
Why She Matters
While Joss Whedon is known for writing strong main female characters, he doesn’t skimp on the supporting cast. Kaylee stands out from the beginning as the seemingly out of place young lady in a man’s world and a traditionally man’s role. It would be easy for Kaylee to be the written off as just “one of the boys,” fully embracing a brash, masculine character with Casanova tendencies, especially on a ship that initially only holds one other woman: the military veteran Zoë Alleyne Washburne (Gina Torres). However, she was allowed to be different by simply being what she was: a smart young woman on an adventure. She maintains the traditionally soft attributes of being a girl while outperforming her predecessor in the engine room. She remains true to her small-town (small planet?) roots and stays humble, never throwing around the fact that she knows more about mechanical parts than anyone.
Kaylee also knows who she is and doesn’t let the world change her; she keeps her femininity while covered in grease and yet doesn’t let the spoiled, rich brats soil her happiness over having an off-the-rack frilly dress. She is almost always smiling, looking for the bright side of whatever situation she’s in. Kaylee loves easily, which makes her someone most people gravitate toward. Her heart is on display at all times, even when she doesn’t know how to truly express herself. And through it all, she never gives up hope.
Be like Kaylee and let the real you shine through. Don’t change who you are or become someone else just to fit in. Choose to surround yourself with those that love you for who you are and people that support you. Stay humble as you explore life, open your heart to new friends, and make wherever you may find yourself your home. And remember: Home isn’t really a place, it’s the people you love. Don’t be afraid to enjoy yourself, just indulge in your pleasures when the work is finished. If you ever find yourself in doubt, ask yourself how Kaylee would respond. Let the little mechanic be your guide and you will always find a smile.