Monday, September 8, 2014

What Are Little Girls Made Of? Exploring The Star Trek Bechdel Test #1

Alright so, just in case you're new to this series. I'm looking at the results of Trekkie Feminist's Star Trek Bechdel test and attempting to explore what it is that sets Voyager apart from the other series. This is the first post in that exploration.

I've been planning on writing a post about the terrible boyfriends of Trek for some time. After an entire year of Star Trek, I was a little overwhelmed and, for a while didn't have it in me to get to this post, but the idea kept popping into my head. Why is it that so many of the female-centric episodes of every Trek (except Voyager) involve a terrible boyfriend, potential boyfriend, or ex putting them in danger?

It's a problem that's been going on as far back as The Original Series. Aside from Kirk being everyone's ultimate bad boyfriend, we get an actual Bad Boyfriend episode and it's called: "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" In this one, Christine Chapel suddenly hears from her long-lost fiancĂ© and goes down to the planet he's inhabiting along with Kirk.  Lots of naked crazyness ensues and Chapel realizes this dude is a total creep.

But does it pass the Bechdel Test? It would if Chapel/Andrea had talked about something besides dudes.
This episode sets a precedent that would be followed pretty extensively in TNG, then to a lesser extent in DS9, not so much in Voyager, and then brought back "Deanna Style" in ENT.

Now, that's not to say that dudes don't also get relationship episodes. In fact, on this very day, 48 years ago, McCoy realized he was dating a dangerous creep when she turned into a salt monster and tried to eat him. The issue here is that, when a guy in Starfleet gets a girlfriend, he isn't usually the one who's ultimately in peril. But, when a female officer dates a guy, he usually ends up being a cad and she's either put in danger of some kind or forced to act out of character.

So lets start with TNG and what I'm always going around the house ranting about as:
 Deanna's Terrible Boyfriends
1- Deanna's terrible secret fiance, Wyatt. Actually this guy isn't awful or dangerous. He's just some guy in a turtleneck who she was engaged to when she was a little girl. That's not weird. Nope.
2-Alien Entity. This also isn't that awful except that he KNOCKS HER UP without her permission. She ends up with a beautiful little boy who she loves and then has to give back to the universe. I mean, what even?
3- Devinoni Rai. This freaking guy. Am I right? Just a scumbag.
4- Jev, the telepath. Jev and Deanna basically flirt and then, when she leaves his company and goes to bed, he enters her mind without consent and, in her dream state, proceeds to force himself on her in the form of her actual on-again/off-again BF, Riker. She falls into a dangerous coma.

5- Aaron Conor. This guy isn't so bad. He's just dedicated to his perfect colony and doing his job and, in the end, he's as affected by this brief romance as Troi is. Troi clearly has a specific taste in boyfriends though, right?
6-Ves Alkar. Super creep. He basically hooks up with Troi and then starts sucking away her life force to power his own. Troi almost dies, again. She falls into a coma, again.

Alright and then there's Riker and Worf. (Just FYI: I really shipped Worf/Deanna back in the day but I thought Worf/Jadzia ultimately made a better pair.) She ends up with Riker and they finally get hitched and you'd think she'd be done with terrible boyfriends who physically/mentally/telepathically assault her. But, no. There's Star Trek: Nemesis so...

7- Shinzon. Ok, this isn't a boyfriend. It's a legit attack by a dangerous, hostile stranger and it's absolutely horrifying. The fact that Shinzon (as Ves Alkar did during the series) appears to her first as Riker, makes it even more disturbing. This is everything that's wrong with the Troi=Victim problem in Star Trek.

It's worth noting that Beverly also had a couple of ill-fated flings. She dated her grandma's creepy life-suck boyfriend. She got way into Riker when he took a Trill symbiont but then couldn't hang when a woman took the same symbiont. Ultimately, though, she was always into Picard above all others. And, let's face it, he's a pretty good catch.

Moving on.

In DS9, Jadzia Dax almost makes a couple of questionable, life-altering decisions because she goes all doe-eyed over a one-episode boyfriend/girlfriend. This happens in Meridian and Rejoined. In spite of the way this gets on my nerves, I still feel that Rejoined was a pretty progressive episode.

Kira has a one-episode fling with Thomas Riker wherein he hijacks the Defiant and then gets captured by Cardassians. She has a weird almost-flirtation/almost-combative relationship with Gul Dukat but she always stands her ground. Otherwise, her most icky relationship is with Vedek Bareil. Though, I have to admit, I think it's just me that's creeped out by this guy. Unless it's not. Is anyone else creeped out by him?
Also in DS9, they turn this trope around in the episode, "The Muse," wherein Jake gets all messed up by his creative-energy-sucking girlfriend.

 Onto Voyager:

Alright, Janeway is basically married to the ship and, thus, doesn't have much chance for human-style romance. She gives it a brief shot with Chakotay in "Resolutions" who, honestly, probably would've been an amazing abandoned planet husband. That guy made her a bathtub. She has a flirtation with Prince Humperdink of the Delta quadrant but, after a battle of wits, its Janeway who has the upper hand.
She also makes herself a holodeck boyfriend and, again, it's Janeway who holds all the power. She even feels guilty for altering him to better fit her own personality. Oh, and she also gets it on with Tom Paris when they're both Salamanders but I'm not sure that counts because, you know, reasons.

B'Elanna is pretty much in it to win it with Tom Paris the entire series. Though they have their ups and downs, their relationship is basically steady and they provide one another with a realistic, safe, deeply felt love.

Kes shows up with Neelix but she sort of calls it off between seasons. This isn't a bad thing. As much as I love Neelix, he was a Bad Boyfriend. He was jealous, over-bearing, over-protective, and patronizing toward Kes. Once they broke up, they both became better characters.
Later, she has a one-episode flirtation with a guy named Zahir but he actually turns out to be a decent guy--instead her BFF, The Doctor, tries to kill her. Does this count as a Bad Boyfriend episode? I'm not sure. I'm leaning toward yes.

Seven of Nine. Ok, so Seven of Nine has a couple of romantic interests during the show, including one which took place solely in Unimatrix Zero. Harry Kim and The Doctor both had feelings for her but the feelings weren't mutual and the friendships didn't turn into romance in either case. At one point, The Doctor inhabits her body and does some flirting but this doesn't go anywhere. In the end, she somehow ends up with Chakotay, which, I mean, if you love hand-built bathtubs, it seems like you're doing pretty well.

And, finally, Enterprise:
I'll be honest with you, I've been up since five o'clock this morning and I've already been working on this post for two hours somehow and I'm getting really exhausted. I mean, seriously, I just forgot how to go "back" on Firefox so I'll try to keep the rest of this short : 

Aside from T'Pol's main squeeze, Tucker, she has a brief encounter with a radical Vulcan. I'm not sure whether this counts as a boyfriend but it's definitely an "encounter" and this guy ends up violating her and leaving her with an (apparently) incurable (and tabooed) disease.

Hoshi has a whole Beauty & The Beast thing with this creep in a castle. Is there another one?

Anyway, both of these episodes feel like they could've just been re-written with Deanna Troi's name all over them following this simple pattern:

 Here is an intelligent, capable officer of Starfleet who just happens to be female. She hooks up with a guy or flirts with a guy or just happens to be in the same quadrant of space with a guy and he ends up endangering her in some way and her plight becomes the focus of the episode. The plot revolves around this woman being a victim.

Aside from the whole Kes/Neelix weird relationship, which they got rid of pretty quickly, Voyager didn't seem to have these episodes. (And please correct me if you think of one or more Bad Boyfriend episodes) There were stories wherein B'Elanna, Seven, or Janeway were in danger but it wasn't typically because of a bad, one-episode relationship. And, moreover, most of the plots of Voyager's female-character-driven episodes weren't based on the old "woman in peril" device. It's like the difference in a knight and a damsel. The knight rides knowingly into danger to achieve some greater goal. The damsel screams her beautiful lungs out until someone rescues her.

In Voyager, the women are knights. Deanna Troi is a damsel in distress and usually her peril is at the hands of a man and, often, at the hands of a man she is romantically involved with.

Unfortunately, at least until Deanna Troi takes the Bridge Officer Test and gets a new suit of clothes, most of the Deanna-sodes were about her being a victim. Not about her figuring something out. Not about her solving the problem or working alongside her crewmembers to save someone else. They featured her in tears, in danger, or in a coma. And that's a pity. Eventually, they endowed her with more ability and responsibility but go back to that old, awful stand-by of the mind-rape in Star Trek: Nemesis.

So, I'm not entirely sure why they went in such a different direction with the female-led episodes in Voyager. Was it that having a female captain lead to different story lines? Was it part of the zeitgeist? Was it just a steady progression from TNG to DS9 to Voyager wherein everyone involved grew steadily more conscious of the role of women in their show? Were people asking the question, "What are little girls made of?" and getting new answers?

I'm not sure. I'll keep thinking about it.

But not right now. Right now I'm going to get some sleep.

One Year Ago: Starting Voyager


  1. I think I've dated all of these. For reals.

  2. So, I just re-read this post and realized that I spelled "feminist" wrong. Woops! I didn't think to write that little intro until after I finished this one and by that time my brain was apparently in upside down. Discovering my error really took me back to the day I lost the second grade spelling bee when I spelled "feminine" wrong. Seriously.

  3. Fun post...I agree that B’Elanna and Tom had the best long term relationship... Short term, Dax and Deral were a cool couple, as were Hoshi and Ravis--the men were very appealing dudes, fully accepting women as equals.


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