The XX Factor, Slate’s feminist blog and one of the Internet’s foremost feminist blogs, recently ran an interesting analysis of the show Battlestar Gallactica, and asked if the show is indeed as feminist as it is purported to be. The post veers off from Battlestar and does a spot-on critique of women’s role in the genre of science fiction. However, I’ve got a bone to pick with their mention of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which seems to me an all-too-quick dismissal of the show based on the attire of Deanna Troi.
To fans, this show is simply known as TNG, and I will refer to it as such here on out. I think now and will think forever that TNG is the most politically progressive thing ever shown on television. For those who have not had the pleasure of watching it, please understand that TNG is not about shooting lasers at aliens or fantastic battles in space (well, most of the time). The show is a sincere study of the questions of the universe, including but not limited to: What is being? How do we define humanity? What is the ultimate goal of human existence? It grapples with the delicate balances of interpersonal relationships. It examines the role of humanitarian intervention and asks how best to proceed with interplanetary diplomacy with concern for cultural difference. In short, this show is deep.
As for its take on gender, an old friend once pointed out to me that all the main women characters have jobs that could fall into a stereotyped category, such as care-giver (doctor) or feelings-examiner (counseler).
And as XX points out, Deanna is quite scantily clad, at least in the first season (she is wearing a rather 60’s looking mini-dress), but this omits the fact that Tasha Yar is the CHIEF OF SECURITY in the first season. That’s right–a woman is the pre-Warf head of security! And she’s not just a man in a woman’s body–she can be sexy if she wants to and her toughness is derived from escaping the rape gangs on her civil war-torn home planet. One of the most feminist episodes has to be “Code of Honor” (although, unfortunately, this episode is rather racist, employing stereotypes of macho tribal cultures to heighten our sense of the Enterprises’ progressive attitudes toward gender).
When the macho leader of the planet arrives on the Enterprise to discuss giving the Federation a much-needed vaccine, he becomes enchanted by Tasha Yar’s strength. He explains that on his planet, women aren’t in positions of military power. So he kidnaps Tasha and plans to make her his lover. On the macho tribe planet, Tasha goes to battle with leaders lover (and financier) and she TRIUMPHS with weapons she’s never even practiced with before! Jean Luc Picard politely explains to the leader that where he is from, people believe women are just as strong and smart as men. Other characters snicker about the barbarism of a people who could possess such an antiquated attitude.
The genius of the show is that the characters’ beliefs are so far beyond thinking of the world in terms of gender difference that it demeans the very idea of sexism. It boldly goes into a new future, where debate is no longer even necessary; it just takes gender equity (the idea AND its practice) for granted, as though it is now and ever shall be the truth. Which it should be.
Too bad Tasha is portrayed by terrible, humorless actor Denise Crosby (who, after being kicked out during the first season, mysteriously returns a few years later to play a Romulan [who turns out to be Tasha Yar’s daughter in a parallel universe, or something like that]). ANYWAY! If you’ve seen nearly every one of the 178 episodes, explaining the plot begins to be a problem.
TNG also tactfully avoids sex and romantic entanglement beyond the PG-13 rating. All characters prioritize their careers above romance, including the women. Women are also to be observed in the highest ranks of Star Fleet, thank you very much.
Finally, the beloved Deanna Troi, though something of a sensitive, new age 90’s stereotype of a person, is a lovely character who derives strength, wisdom and even power from her emotional prowess. We are supposed to value her for her mind and her more stereotypicall feminine characteristics, which I think is unusual today. The sung heroines of the hour are often ones who just act like men. In later seasons, Deanna even decides to train in order to captain the ship, if need be. She learns all the technical stuff women aren’t supposed to learn and even trains in combat, all while maintaining her rather feminine mystique.
In other words, TNG is not sexist, but a nuanced portrayal of a team of characters. Most of the time.