Sunday, March 11, 2012

TNG Women/DS9 Women

Having completed DS9 not long ago, I've been dipping again into the Picard chronicles, and one of the things I didn't put my finger on at all when these shows were current is leaping out at me pretty brazenly now.

Watching Galaxy's Child yesterday while cleaning house, I had one of those moments where my toleration and love of Trek Nerdlery is challenged.  Geordi LaForge arguably represents an avatar for the major stereotypical member of the Trek audience when his series debuted - the guy who doesn't have any particular alien power or character flambouyancy, who isn't at the forefront of power - the guy who keeps the engines going, and gets to be on the show, but isn't a driving factor beyond that engineering stuff.  And Geordi never gets the girl.

Geordi at one point creates himself a girl, of sorts.  Generating a computer reconstruction of a warp engine designer, Dr. Leah Brahms, he finds the synthetic work partner she's meant to be unpleasant, so has the computer gin up some spicier traits - and ends the show with a truly embarrassing scene in which Dr. Brahms (by now, his close "friend", Leah) spouts some goo about how "every time you touch this engine, you're touching ME, Geordi" and kisses him.

Unpalatable to an actual living woman, but at least still "only" a fantasy.

A year later, though, we get to meet the actual woman used for this little roleplay.  Inevitably, she discovers her avatar, is understandably horrified, actually emits the extremely accurate word "violated" ... and then gets YELLED AT by Geordi - because she wasn't nice to him.

And she apologizes.


The women on TNG were not far removed from the hot-alien-of-the-week Kirk got to mash with, back in the 1960s.  Brahms was chastened for her failure to understand that criminal stalking and the most perverse possible form of identity theft should have been FLATTERING to her (and, indeed, in one timeline of the TNG universe, she actually ends up marrying Geordi).  Crusher - even named in a castrating sort of way - gets to be competent ... and therefore somewhat less than an actual woman.  Lwaxana is the caricature of a woman past thirty daring to find herself relevant.

Oh, and Deanna.

Deanna Troi, the inexplicable presence on the bridge intended to represent softness, femininity, and the pointless revocation of any conformity to the uniform requirements (so she may be portrayed in fantastical hairpieces and the ugly mauve textiles so overwhelmingly adored by the production staff).  A "senior" crew member senior only so that Trek, at that phase of its existence, could prove a supposedly-evolved attitude towards women (even the most glancing familiarity with Trek's history, unfortunately, reveals that its very first episode produced included a far more prominently responsible, intelligent woman, in the form of Number One - ironically, played by Majel Barrett/Rodenberry, by TNG's time firmly demoted to the role of Troi's mother, Lwaxana herself, that bastion of "isn't femininity past forty EMBARRASSING and so FUNNY?").


Deanna gets violated, possessed, raped, compromised - even IMPREGNATED - without her consent so regularly throughout not only the series itself, but even into the movies (and Marina Sirtis babbles so happily about getting to make out with Tom Hardy - a scene which, in the film, unquestionably comprises rape), it boggles the mind.  She is sternly told by her captain to man up and work through, when these things happen to her (if the plot demands it), and neatly stowed away when the plot doesn't.  As ship's *counselor* - she never appears to experience aftereffects of any kind from these myriad assaults (meanwhile, Jean Luc's abduction by The Borg earns him angst points for years to come).  She gets the same treatment Brahms got, when Lieuteant Barclay fantasizes about her on the holodeck (The Federation, for all its wisdom, appears to have zero regulations around either identity theft or replication for "entertainment" (or sexual) purposes), and this is funny.  Barclay only gets into trouble when Commander Riker and LaForge find *themselves* also replicated in these fantasy programs, losing fights to him by programmed command.

TNG, suffice it to say, is not exactly enlightened entertainment, if you're a woman.

DS9, on the other hand, provides us with Jadzia Dax.  A symbiont alien, whose life as an ongoing entity "hosted" within male bodies, female bodies, and through nine lifetimes, Dax has been a father, a mother, a wife, a husband - and even by the time she's finally put into a reluctant, and very young, unsure host for life-and-death reasons, even THIS character (much unbeloved by Trek fans everywhere, poor Ezri) has more power and potency than Deanna, bless her for trying, ever gets.

DS9 gives us Kai Winn, the evil politician and semi-religious head of a worldwide faith - marvelously malevolent, and never once enacting her wicked ways by dint of excessive cleavage or smooching.  Louise Fletcher is a joyously wonderful villain, bless HER for trying - and succeeding.

DS9 gives us Kira Nerys, who gets to indulge a little Evil Feminine Sexuality in the parallel universe - but does so with a lot more gusto and fun than that cliche usually gets - and who in the "real" world is strong, flawed, sometimes floundering, a woman of faith, a woman willing to learn, and a growing power in her own right.


What I am saying is that ... it's obvious to me why I've gravitated to the "dark" series, the one so many Trek fans rejected for its scarier themes, its embrace of an aspect of mankind (alien-kind) less supposedly-enlightened than some of the other offerings of the Trekverse.  Other fans have found me perfectly blasphemous, dismissing Picard as a self-righteous, blundering ninny.  Or for finding so little substance in Deanna Troi's character (seriously, Marina; thank you for at least trying; and sorry they dealt you the abusive hand they did - even if you're not).  But DS9 didn't dismiss me for my failure at softness.

Or for my failure to fill out a bodysuit the way Seven of Nine did (I won't even bother with the obvious, and short, essay on visual sexual cues in Trek).


Bok said...

Thank you for an excellent post on this topic. Was wondering if you would be interested in guest hosting on a future podcast episode discussing Stark Trek DS9, but with a majority female podcasting crew this time, to get a different perspective often lacking. If so, send me an email. bok AT podcastoficeandfire DOT com

DLM said...

Thank *you* for the generous feedback and invitation. I will probably take you up on that ...