Panel Report: A Feminist View of Klingons

Editor’s note: this article is part of a series of posts that covers the discussion panels The Analytical Couch Potato hosted during Revoluticon 2012. For those who couldn’t make it, the staff decided to summarize some of the panels and provide pictures of the staff presenting. Thanks to everyone who made it out there to see us!
We were the first panel of the morning and it took us a little while to get started, but pretty soon about nine people were out in the audience – more would trickle in later. I was a little apprehensive about sitting down in the massive panel room one, especially as our modest turnout was dwarfed even more by the venue. But the people who showed up were all obviously interested in one or both aspects of our topic – they seemed to be all either Trekkies or feminists, and we decided to just jump in.

After a brief introduction where we talked about who the ACP is and what it is we do, I started by observing how Star Trek uses different monocultures like the Klingons, the Ferengi, and the Romulans, to tell stories about the human condition – basically a reiteration of some of the points in this article. In the particular case of the Klingons, the monoculture is one of hypermasculinity – that is to say, the Klingons represent what it is to be a “real man” in our society, at least according to the sociopolitical constructs of the patriarchy. I asked the fundamental question of the panel, which was, looking at the Klingons in this light, what insights does Star Trek have about gender politics?
Following this, Gillian took the mic for a while and briefly defined a few terms – the patriarchy, the male gaze, etc. – that we thought would be useful to our audience over the course of the discussion. Over the next forty-five minutes we would find our audience surprisingly well-versed on this topic, but it was still important to make sure everyone was on the same page.
Our discussion was structured primarily around two characters – Worf, from Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and B’Elanna Torres, from Star Trek: Voyager. At one point a quick poll of the audience revealed that most of them favored Voyager of the three shows, a statistic which surprised me somewhat but steered the B’Elanna part of the discussion more into the spotlight than we had perhaps planned. Still we started off talking about Worf, and his struggle between his warrior heritage and the culture who had raised him, the utopian Federation, which stresses diplomatic solutions and non-violent conflict resolution. The outline at this point had us discussing Worf’s relationship with his son, but the audience seemed more engaged with the fundamental struggle between Klingon and Starfleet morality, so we talked about that for a while before venturing into B’Elanna territory.
Many aspects of B’Elanna’s character generated a spirited discussion, and it was here that the feminist element of the panel really took the spotlight. We talked about her as a metaphor for women in positions of power, drawing comparisons to Hillary Clinton at one point, and how that was influenced by her warrior heritage. We also talked about her relationship with Tom Paris and the ways in which that it confirmed and challenged traditional male/female power structures. This led us into a discussion which was nowhere in our outline, about the various fully Klingon characters on the show (Lursa and B’Etor, Grilka) and how they did and did not uphold the sexual double standard. This took us into totally new and exciting territory as we talked about whether the sexual double standard would even exist in such a hyper-masculine culture. I have to credit our audience with starting us down this train of thought, which never occurred to me during my preparation for the panel.
After a brief digression about the believability of institutionalized misogyny in Klingon culture given the rest of what we know about them, we found ourselves dissecting the very idea of a monoculture, especially one composed entirely of warriors. One audience member quoted Terry Pratchett, saying of the old Klingon adage that “Today is a good day for someone else to die” is a much more effective mantra for a militaristic culture. This brought us back around to the idea that perhaps both the masculine and the feminine are required for a productive society.
All in all I think the panel was a great opportunity for a group of Star Trek fans to talk about their passion in a new and hopefully more analytical context, and I think everyone had a great deal of fun. The level of articulate and insightful audience participation was really heartening and I hope to be invited back for Revoluticon 2013.

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