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strong alien women

KelisThePoet

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POSTS: 636

Report this Apr. 21 2011, 11:38 am

Star Trek portrayed many of its alien women as strong, intelligent and independent; from Mara ("Day of the Dove") and the Romulan Commander ("The Enterprise Incident") in the original series, to title characters in the later series, such as B'Elanna Torres (my favorite Star Trek character) and T'Pol.  (And in all four examples I mentioned, these strong characters were members of a species that humans had problematic relations with at the time.)


Maybe it just depends on my mood, but some days I think this is great--it's like a little parable, showing audiences that human gender dynamics aren't universal, that there are other ways to imagine a culture's gender dynamics.  Other days, I worry, are the writers implying that strong women are inherently alien, that strong women are unfamiliar and threatening to humans, with a troubling degree of exotic appeal thrown in?


Thoughts?


Falor was a prosperous merchant who went on a journey to gain greater awareness: Through storms he crossed the Voroth Sea/ To reach the clouded shores of Raal/ Where old T’Para offered truth./ He traveled through the windswept hills/ And crossed the barren Fire Plains/ To find the silent monks of Kir./ Still unfulfilled, he journeyed home/ Told stories of the lessons learned/ And gained true wisdom by the giving. – Falor’s Journey, “Innocence”

coastcityo

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Report this Apr. 21 2011, 1:52 pm

It could also be that the writers felt 60's main stream America still wasn't ready for strong female characters, and therefore used aliens to show how a woman could be as strong as a man. That was my understanding of why Majel Barret had her role as #1 in the pilot changed to Nurse Chapel for the series. A strong woman as second in command of a starship was problematic, but a nurse chasing after the unrequited love of a Vulcan was fine. The only strong human female I can think of in TOS, was Dr Janice Lester from Turnabout Intruder, and that was not a great step forward for women by any stretch. A woman who couldn't be captain because she was a woman (very 60's), switches bodies with Kirk, and is discovered because Kirk begins acting too emotional (just like a woman). So, I like to think it was more a product of the 60's stereotype of woman that meant human women needed to be nurses, more than a statement that women where weaker, and strong women where just alien.


"Lions and Gigers and Bears..." "Oh my."

Treknoir

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Report this Apr. 21 2011, 2:28 pm

Quote: KelisThePoet @ Apr. 21 2011, 11:38 am

>

>Other days, I worry, are the writers implying that strong women are inherently alien, that strong women are unfamiliar and threatening to humans, with a troubling degree of exotic appeal thrown in?

>Thoughts?

>


IMO The standard Hollywood templates for a strong woman character are bitch (sadistic), butch ("manly"), bi (sexpot), or bipolar (crazy). Caricatures. So yes, I do think it is easier for writers who want to ATTEMPT to portray a more well-rounded female to make her alien. And if they can, throw her in a catsuit so the fap brigade will stay interested.


  


It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want. - Spock

KelisThePoet

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POSTS: 636

Report this Apr. 21 2011, 2:49 pm

I would point to Mira in "The Lights of Zetar" and Carolyn in "Who Mourns for Adonais" as strong human women from the original series--certainly better representatives of human women than Janice Lester.  And I don't think Uhura is as weak a character as she is often described to be.


All of which is not to deny that Star Trek's representation of human women was problematic, much less to deny the related, intriguing problem of the way the franchise has portrayed alien women.


Falor was a prosperous merchant who went on a journey to gain greater awareness: Through storms he crossed the Voroth Sea/ To reach the clouded shores of Raal/ Where old T’Para offered truth./ He traveled through the windswept hills/ And crossed the barren Fire Plains/ To find the silent monks of Kir./ Still unfulfilled, he journeyed home/ Told stories of the lessons learned/ And gained true wisdom by the giving. – Falor’s Journey, “Innocence”

Treknoir

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Report this Apr. 21 2011, 3:12 pm

I will always give ST credit for even trying to show women and minorities in non-stereotypical roles. I do not expect perfection.


We can agree to disagree about Uhura. As a black female, I completely understand her significance. I just don't feel she was a strong character overall. I attribute that to the time period and not to GR or Ms. Nichols. Hell, his own girlfriend and eventual wife got busted down from first officer to lovesick nurse.


It is curious how often you humans manage to obtain that which you do not want. - Spock

coastcityo

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POSTS: 601

Report this Apr. 21 2011, 3:34 pm

The argument against Uhura (and most women/minorities on the show) was they were supporting characters, not the stars like Kirk/Spock/Bones, and that is viewed against todays standards of minorities/women on TV. But, the fact that a women (of color no less) was a technical officer on board the bridge instead of a maid, while an Asian man was piloting the ship instead of running the kitchens or laundry is trivialized exactly because it is viewed through the modern prism of our modern society, and that is unfortunate as it misses the significance of a show using women and minorities as equals in the future since they couldn't be in the 60's.


"Lions and Gigers and Bears..." "Oh my."

toranaprem

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POSTS: 621

Report this Apr. 21 2011, 3:37 pm

Quote: KelisThePoet @ Apr. 21 2011, 2:49 pm

>

>I would point to Mira in "The Lights of Zetar" and Carolyn in "Who Mourns for Adonais" as strong human women from the original series--certainly better representatives of human women than Janice Lester.  And I don't think Uhura is as weak a character as she is often described to be.

>All of which is not to deny that Star Trek's representation of human women was problematic, much less to deny the related, intriguing problem of the way the franchise has portrayed alien women.

>


Carolyn was not a strong woman!


Yet another episode where Kirk has to remind the Starfleet dame of the hour that she is an officer with a job to do because she is just so compromised by love and a pretty pink toga miraculously glued to her breasts.


Also don't tell me you don't remember Scotty lusting after her in the first scene and him and Kirk having a sad manly talk about how all the women in Starfleet are eventually going to get married and presumably go back to earth to be proper little housewives. It would have made me go, "Awww! Our boys don't want their good female officers to go away for their menfolk, yay!" Except, you know, it was Scotty obviously hitting on her that made them talk about it. ARgh.


Not bottom of the barrel, but not one of my favorite episodes either, and not just for its serious Spock shortage!


Oh, and Mara! LOL. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3oxRPZmG_w


"What will they find when I am ripped apart? 'I love you, captain' written on my heart."

KelisThePoet

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POSTS: 636

Report this Apr. 21 2011, 4:10 pm

Ok, I feel compelled to defend "Who Mourns for Adonais," one of my favorite Star Trek offerings, but what follows is a long-winded analysis not entirely relevant to this thread's central concern of alien women, so the uninterested are invited to stop reading, with my sincere apologies.


"Who Mourns for Adonais" is a commentary on women in the workforce masquerading as a story about mythology and culture.  The scene in which Kirk and Scotty discuss that women tend to leave the service for family life sets up the issue, and yes, their perspective is rather sexist, certainly judged by our standards, but I think even on the terms of the episode itself.  Then we get the dramatization of what they are talking about, in which Carolyn must choose her career and her loyalty to it over an idealized, allegorical version of husband and family life, namely Apollo.  The traditional role of women in marriage and family life is allegorized by Apollo, a representative of the outdated cultural values and beliefs of humanity's past.  The fact that Carolyn is torn between Apollo and doing her job is not a sign of her personal weakness, but a reflection of the fact that when the episode was made, American culture was transitioning toward women's greater presence in the workforce (a transition that is still haltingly, imperfectly continuing toeday), so the story of that episode and Carolyn's reactions dramatize the transition, with all the real conflict, concern and confusion a lot of people felt about it.  But ultimately, Carolyn chooses the Enterprise over Apollo, the career over the man.  The past cultural model, for all its attractions, is rejected.


Just to make sure viewers don't miss the point of the episode, we get the scene on the Enterprise bridge with Uhura capably doing her technically complex job.  I think there are all kinds of problems with the way the series as a whole portrayed Uhura, but it is scenes like this that lead me to argue that she was a more complex, interesting woman character than the "Enterprise secretary" she has become in fan caricatures.


Anyway, I'm not saying that "Who Mourns for Adonais" will fit everyone's definition of feminism, but I have always considered it a feminist episode, and I am arguing that it cannot be simply reduced to mere, unreflective sexism.


Falor was a prosperous merchant who went on a journey to gain greater awareness: Through storms he crossed the Voroth Sea/ To reach the clouded shores of Raal/ Where old T’Para offered truth./ He traveled through the windswept hills/ And crossed the barren Fire Plains/ To find the silent monks of Kir./ Still unfulfilled, he journeyed home/ Told stories of the lessons learned/ And gained true wisdom by the giving. – Falor’s Journey, “Innocence”

toranaprem

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POSTS: 621

Report this Apr. 21 2011, 4:39 pm

Ah, thank you for explaining your take on the episode further, KelisThePoet. It makes a lot of sense.


However, I think it is significant that it is Kirk that has to remind Carolyn of her duty whereas the women's lib movement was about women getting together in consciousness raising groups, and taking on these issues despite what their husbands thought about it, and their poor treatment in the workplace for those who entered it.


I guess, that's ultimately my problem with the episode though. That it is Kirk (who the shows really about) who must be the voice of woman's equality, not the woman herself. So instead of portraying the reality of what the women's lib movement was about (women opening each other's eyes to patriarchal oppression) the episode subverts itself by portraying it as the women who are deluding themselves into their own subservient status.


And while there certainly is some truth to this, it was OTHER WOMEN waking their sisters up, not enlightened and benevolent menfolk. So Kirk being the mouthpiece for the concept is essentially what I take issue with. The writers choosing to put Uhura down on the surface and let her have dialogue with Carolyn? That would have sent a very different message.


And Uhura being shown capably doing her job, while always a good thing, was still using her as a metaphorical object lesson instead of giving her much voice and characterization of her own.


There's also the problematic issue of the differences between white women's and black women's oppression's in this time period. As well as significant differences of class. Black women and poor women generally were working in menial labor positions and had been for quite some time, while it was only the middle-class white women who were kept from working. So the fact that is Carolyn on the surface of the planet getting wooed while Uhura is working is significant, and makes it a little more problematic to see the theme of women in the workforce as so effectively addressed when it doesn't seem to bring women's oppression as it intersects with race and class into consideration.


I can see what the episode was attempting to achieve on a symbolic level, and it was a noble attempt, but I think it faultered badly at the level of characterization, as both women are painted more as narrative ideas than as actual people.

toranaprem

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Report this Apr. 21 2011, 5:03 pm

Quote: /view_profile/ @

>

>- DS9 stepped it up, but still the attempt to make female characters relationships organic and reasonable drivers for plot also came from a biased POV ...

>- example: Kira's driving force against Cardassians was that intricate multi-episode explanation of issues (including her mom sleeping with Dukat, the foul treatment of her kind but not kin and the seeming negative view of her father we are given).

>- in contrast to Sisko, who's sole motivation for everything leading to DS9 was simply the death of his wife at the hands of Picard and the Borg (oddly, the Borg are never an issue; interesting choice)

>


Rusty, I really don't understand what you're saying here about Kira and Sisko's motivations. What is biased about their respective storylines? That you feel Kira got more backstory than Sisko did? 


I also think it is worth mentioning that Kira didn't know that her mother had been involved with Dukat until VERY late in the series. In fact, that whole development was a reaction to Nana Visitor's refusal to allow Kira to become romantically involved with Dukat, which is what the writers had originally been intending.


 


"What will they find when I am ripped apart? 'I love you, captain' written on my heart."

KelisThePoet

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Report this Apr. 21 2011, 5:03 pm

Re: "Who Mourns for Adonais"


I won't deny that Kirk becomes the primary voice for this episode's social commentary.  On one level I think that's interesting, because it forces the male characters of the show and the men like me who identify with them to confront the problem, to own the problem.  Whatever role men have indeed historically had in the women's movement (mostly in hindering it), they should have played a more supportive role in it.  The problem is that Kirk doesn't do the best job of walking the fine line between being supportive and being patronizing, between supporting Carolyn and taking over the decision for her.  I admit that, and it's disturbing.


I do think that this disturbing element of the episode is interestingly modulated, if not undone, by the scene with Uhura and Spock on the bridge.  Uhura is far more than an object lesson without a voice in that scene.  Spock basically gets on her case for not getting things done as fast as he wants them to get done, she stands up for herself and the job she is doing to the Enterprise's second in command (its commanding officer at the time), and he in turn grudgingly backs down and admits she is right.  So the Kirk-Carolyn pairing, in which the man teaches the woman a lesson she should probably have known better than him, is neatly foiled by the Uhura-Spock pairing, in which the woman indeed puts the man in his place.


Also, Uhura has opened up one of the Enterprise's panels and is fixing it in that scene, which I guess could be considered menial labor after a fashion, but it is also the kind of professional engineering ability that distinguishes all the high ranking members of the Enterprise crew, the very kind of work we see Spock himself doing in other episodes.


Falor was a prosperous merchant who went on a journey to gain greater awareness: Through storms he crossed the Voroth Sea/ To reach the clouded shores of Raal/ Where old T’Para offered truth./ He traveled through the windswept hills/ And crossed the barren Fire Plains/ To find the silent monks of Kir./ Still unfulfilled, he journeyed home/ Told stories of the lessons learned/ And gained true wisdom by the giving. – Falor’s Journey, “Innocence”

KelisThePoet

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POSTS: 636

Report this Apr. 21 2011, 5:11 pm

As for how richly or realistically the women in the episode are characterized, the original series often leaned toward the allegorical and metaphoric in all its representations.  Of course, that kind of storytelling presents a problem when it involves the representation of women and other groups who have historically been allegorized and oversimplified in the real world, rather than treated as individuals.  But I still think we have to think about this problem in the context of the original series general propensity to allegorize.


Falor was a prosperous merchant who went on a journey to gain greater awareness: Through storms he crossed the Voroth Sea/ To reach the clouded shores of Raal/ Where old T’Para offered truth./ He traveled through the windswept hills/ And crossed the barren Fire Plains/ To find the silent monks of Kir./ Still unfulfilled, he journeyed home/ Told stories of the lessons learned/ And gained true wisdom by the giving. – Falor’s Journey, “Innocence”

toranaprem

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POSTS: 621

Report this Apr. 21 2011, 5:30 pm

While I think it is important for males to be able to identify with another man who is telling them something they need to know about feminism (and part of the reason why the book on feminism I most recommend is by a man) I think it is dangerously easy to go from a place of identification and understanding to make the information more palatable, to the same old position of men appropriating for themselves the achievements of women.


And maybe it was good enough for the '60s, but we have definitely reached a point where more men need to identify with women. Our society should be way past the need of having to sugar-coat things for the men, and yet it isn't. Not at all.


This is the very thing that makes me wonder if the goals of feminism can ever be truly successful because of how much we've stalled in this regard. Media brings this to the fore, because women pay to watch shows "about men". Men do not pay to watch shows "about women". Women are used to identifying with men. Every female TOS fan is adept at identifying with men, but the same level of identification is simply never required of men. Women are allowed to remain the Other in their eyes for as long as they want, and there's really nothing to be done about until men realize that they're not getting the whole picture of human experience until they willingly partake in "women's stories" just as much as they do in men's.


I wasn't meaning to imply that the work Uhura was performing in that scene (a great one for Uhura that stands out I agee) was menial labor of the sort common to black women in the '60s, I merely thought it was necessary to point out that women being kept out of the workforce was a problem for white middle-class women, and that it is important to acknowledge that this was not the experience of all women in the '60s. Many other kinds of women were working, but were limited to servial occupations that were fitting for women of their "race" or "class".


I just don't think this one scene (one of Uhura's best) proves a precedent in the rest of the series. I mean, I love all Uhura's quips ("Sorry, neither!" LOL) and shows of technical prowess and professionalism. But it was never enough to make her real to me in the way many of the male characters are.

toranaprem

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Report this Apr. 21 2011, 5:39 pm

Quote: KelisThePoet @ Apr. 21 2011, 5:11 pm

>

>As for how richly or realistically the women in the episode are characterized, the original series often leaned toward the allegorical and metaphoric in all its representations.  Of course, that kind of storytelling presents a problem when it involves the representation of women and other groups who have historically been allegorized and oversimplified in the real world, rather than treated as individuals.  But I still think we have to think about this problem in the context of the original series general propensity to allegorize.

>


I agree with you that TOS tended toward allegory and metaphor with all of its characters except for the characters who were actually undergoing an a emotional journey that the allegory and metaphor they encountered helped to develop and illuminate.


The movies further indicated who TOS was really about, and further showed their emotional development through the allegorical use of some very symbolic people. Decker/Ilia and David/Saavik are great examples of this.


My only gripe is that TOS did not break the mold when it came to women invariably being used as symbolic characters instead of real human ones. That's a tale as old as time in patriarchal literature, and I just don't think we should exaggerate the depth to which TOS subverted the dominant paradigm of their time (and unfortunately ours).


It did present women as officers on a spaceship, and it did attempt social critique on gender issues to varying degrees of success, which it should be commended for. But it achievements only went so far, and I think praising it too highly in 2011 when Hollywood still rarely does much better keeps us from seeing how far we still have to go.


"What will they find when I am ripped apart? 'I love you, captain' written on my heart."

BrotherofShran01

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Report this Apr. 21 2011, 5:52 pm

Quote: coastcityo @ Apr. 21 2011, 3:34 pm

>

>The argument against Uhura (and most women/minorities on the show) was they were supporting characters, not the stars like Kirk/Spock/Bones, and that is viewed against todays standards of minorities/women on TV. But, the fact that a women (of color no less) was a technical officer on board the bridge instead of a maid, while an Asian man was piloting the ship instead of running the kitchens or laundry is trivialized exactly because it is viewed through the modern prism of our modern society, and that is unfortunate as it misses the significance of a show using women and minorities as equals in the future since they couldn't be in the 60's.

>


 


QFT. Well said.


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