[SPOILERS] Ruby Sparks and Hurting the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

By Gillian Daniels, Editorial Assistant
For the uninitiated, film critic Nathan Rabin coined the term “manic pixie dream girl” to describe a female character whose only concern is to entertain, inspire, and charm the male protagonist of a work of fiction. This character’s flaws, no matter how self-destructive or misguided, are quirky. If she has a back story, it’s tragically endearing, diminished by charm.

She has appeared, to varying degrees, as Kate Hudson in Almost Famous (2000) and as Natalie Portman in Garden State (2004), cheering a lost young man onto enlightenment. This isn’t to say both films don’t have redeemable qualities, but their female leads are more muse than woman, human in shape but bubbly, ethereal, and inconsequential in action.

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Beyond Green-Skinned Space Babes Part II – The Ferengi

By Nathan Comstock, Television Section Editor

Last week, I continued where my Connecticon and Revoluticon panels had left off, giving a brief overview of gender relations among the Romulan and Cardassian races on Star Trek. This week, we take on one of Star Trek’s most fascinating and problematic races, and find a surprising amount of resonance with our times. I’m speaking, here, of the Ferengi.

Although they haven’t gone through as dramatic a change as the Klingons or the Romulans went through from the original Star Trek to The Next Generation, those who know the Ferengi only from their frequent, zany visits to Deep Space Nine might have a hard time reconciling this with their debut appearance in the first season TNG episode “The Last Outpost.” These Ferengi, intended as more of a menacing villain than a source of comic relief, are more animalistic and barbaric, clothed in animal furs and armed with pain-inducing laser whips. It is in this episode that we learn that Ferengi women are confined to the homeworld, treated as property, and not allowed to wear clothing.

Although several characters, most notably rough-and-tumble female security chief Tasha Yar, do express some level of disgust at this revelation, it is not totally out of place as a trait associated with a villainous race. Villains are supposed to make us fear them, so having them support cultural practices we find abhorrent makes sense — just as the totalitarianism of the Romulans, the brutality of the Klingons, and, well, just about everything about the Borg exist to make us root for the good guys, so the misogyny of the Ferengi gives the Enterprise and her crew the higher moral ground. The problem comes as the race becomes more developed and more sympathetic, and the writers attempt to reconcile this with their attitudes towards women.

By the time Deep Space Nine debuted, the Ferengi had gone from slightly silly fearsome barbarians to a full blown parody of consumerist America. Every aspect of their culture aside from greed is quickly and completely shut down, and we get a society governed by “The Rules of Acquisition” (rule number one is “Once you have their money, never give it back”). The pilot introduces us to three individuals who will become the eyes through which we discover more and more of Ferengi culture. Quark, a stalwart believer in the ways of Greed and Profit; his brother Rom, an “idiot” with a secretly compassionate soul; and Rom’s son Nog, a cunning petty thief who eventually becomes the first Ferengi in Starfleet. Like B’Elanna and Worf, the evolution of these characters is fraught with conflicts between their morals and their heritage.

The first real examination of Ferengi women comes in the episode “Rules of Acquisition.” Quark is asked by the Ferengi leader, the aging Grand Nagus, to represent him at an important trade negotiation. He is joined by Pel, an ambitious young waiter with a keen business sense. As the episode continues, it is revealed that Pel is secretly a woman, dressed as a male to be allowed to make a profit and to see the galaxy. The ruse is discovered by the Nagus, who demands she return to the homeworld and surrender the profits. The episode focuses on Quark’s moral dilemma of whether or not to betray someone who has helped him to further his own profit, and as such largely avoids focusing on the disenfranchisement of Ferengi women. The attitudes exhibited by the main cast here are extremely problematic.

Jadzia Dax, a highly competent and intelligent woman with experience being both genders, is weirdly not incensed to learn of female Ferengi’s effective enslavement, instead spending the episode giving Pel romantic advice on the erroneous assumption that he is gay (she picks up on the fact that Pel is in love with Quark, but not on the fact that she’s female). This is jarringly out of character for Dax — in her interactions with the Klingons, she is happy to completely ignore any of their cultural precepts which she finds stupid (see her behavior towards Lady Martok in “You are Cordially Invited”)^. But there is not even the stock speech about the Prime Directive and not interfering in other cultures — Dax simply accepts the deplorable civil rights situation as a fact of life.

Later on in the series, we discover that Quark’s mother, Ishka, has taken to wearing clothing and making business transactions without even bothering to dress in drag. It is in this episode that we get the first voices saying “hey, this is wrong,” but even here, the focus is more on issues of family loyalty than on basic human rights. In fact, Quark (and to a lesser extent, Rom) continues to be visibly disgusted at the idea of a female wearing clothes or earning a profit, despite having lived the last three years of his life on a space station commanded by a woman. Now, having Quark continue to stand up for Ferengi ideals was in some ways essential to the character’s evolution (and Deep Space Nine was all about character arcs), but the result, when taken holistically, is a “heroic” character whose misogyny can be hard to swallow. As late as season six, Quark can be seen soliciting female employees for sexual favors and threatening to fire them if they don’t comply,^ and filming Major Kira with the intention of making a sexual holoprogram of her for a client, without her permission. In the rare episodes focusing on him as romantic lead, he frequently talks about sex as a business transaction (Nog does this as well.) But the disturbing thing about all of this is it’s completely played for laughs.

Yes, Quark’s sexual harassment of employees and blatant violations of a female coworker’s privacy are all comic relief. Even the episode in which the enfranchisement of female Ferengi finally occurs, “Profit and Lace,” is a farce where Quark spends much of the episode in drag, resisting the advances of an old Ferengi patriarch. And while the experience is meant to teach him a valuable lesson, it still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

Because the fact of the matter is, there are still places in the world where women are considered property and aren’t meant to be seen by anyone but their husbands. And even here in the United States, there are a remarkable number of men who still want to limit women’s freedoms. Workplace sexual harassment is still a huge problem, and our culture is a long way from gender equality.

Star Trek is known for bringing perspective to complex social issues. And in the case of women and the Ferengi, there was a real opportunity to tell relevant stories about sexism in our world. And they instead chose to make light of serious social problems. While there are things about the Ferengi on Deep Space Nine and Quark’s internal struggle that I find really compelling and interesting and even funny, the feminist stuff did not hit its mark. And I look at that as a missed opportunity.

Beyond Green-Skinned Space Babes, Part I: Gender among the Romulans and Cardassians

By Nathan Comstock, Television Section Editor

As I have mentioned on this blog, I have now twice run panels on feminist aspects of Star Trek, focusing specifically on the Klingon race. I chose Klingons because of their overt associations with masculinity, but also for several other reasons – they are perhaps the most iconic, and therefore accessible race, and also one of the ones we know the most about. They are represented by series regulars on three of the five franchise shows, and appear as the primary antagonists of the other two.

But at both panels, audience members expressed a desire to see the same kind of analysis applied to other iconic Star Trek races. Well, we here at The Analytical Couch Potato believe in giving the people what they want, so here are some observations to get the ball rolling. This week I look at the Romulans and the Cardassians, and next week I’ll tackle the Ferengi.

Before I get into the specifics of the other major alien races, I’m going to take a wider view and ask a question we should consider for each of them: why? If humanity has gotten over its misogyny by the time it reached the stars, why has it been so hard for everyone else? What does it say that no inherently matriarchal societies have risen to prominence? In short, how is Star Trek’s world building shaped by the assumptions of the patriarchy?

The fact of the matter is, Star Trek is a product of 20th Century American culture, and 20th century American culture is, by and large, misogynistic. Uhura being an officer on the Enterprise bridge may have been revolutionary for its time, but she was still a glorified receptionist with little relevance to the plot. Later Deanna Troi and Beverly Crusher, despite being as capable and confident as their male counterparts, were routinely undervalued and given very little to do for much of their series. Voyager (the first Trek with a female executive producer) gave a nice amount of focus to its female leads, but also heavily sexualized Jeri Ryan’s body in increasingly unsubtle attempts to attract more viewers. Trek may have preached equality, but it was very much still a TV show primarily by and for a male-dominated world.

Because of this, we need to look at how various alien women are portrayed from a production standpoint, and how they do and do not correspond to the gendered expectations of our time. I’m going to start with a race that seems the most in defiance of these conventions – the Romulans.

The Romulans occupy an odd space in Star Trek lore. They’ve appeared on all five shows, but have never contributed a regular or even a particularly sympathetic recurring protagonist to any of them. As such, we don’t get as much of a glimpse into their culture as the other three races I’ll be discussing. What we do see suggests gender relations more in line with Starfleet than the Klingons. As mentioned previously, we see women commanding their ships (This in an era where even Starfleet ostensibly did not allow women to command Starships.). We also see both women and men among the Romulan senators, and there are mentions of an Empress (though the primary canon gives little hint as to the extent of her powers.)

Unfortunately, there’s not too much else to say about the internal Gender politics of the Romulans beyond that they appear to have the smallest gender bias of any Star Trek race. But in the contrast between TOS’s unnamed Romulan commander and her spiritual descendants on the later series does give some interesting insights. TOS’s Romulan Commander is an oddity, a woman in a position of power, but proves to have little in the way of agency. Like her Starfleet counterparts, she wears a mini-skirted version of the uniforms worn by her male compatriots, and wears impractically long hair and make-up. Despite her power over her male comrades, she is still primarily a love interest, albeit for Spock rather than Kirk, and her inability to resist him is ultimately her downfall.

Later Romulan women are impressively not sexualized, in a way which is anomalous in comparison with just about every other major race. They are tough and often ruthless, wearing short, masculine haircuts and dressed in identical uniforms to the men, complete with shoulder pads that mask their figures. Compare this to the Klingon women we see, who sport impractical boob windows and inexplicable armor skirts, or even Major Kira’s form-revealing military uniform. While the Klingon women possess an almost animalistic sexual aggression, Romulan women post-TOS show no romantic interest in anyone (though, it is worth noting, neither do the Romulan men.)
It is possible that this uniformity is in fact a political allegory – the Romulans have always carried a cold-war metaphor, and the lack of individualism fits in well with the Maoist reverence for the State which Romulan military characters seem to possess. In this way sexual equality is almost vilified – “look at this oppressive society, where the women have to dress like men.”

The Cardassians are much like the Romulans in many ways – both species are megalomaniacal, xenophobic, and somewhat totalitarian, relying on powerful intelligence agencies the Tal Shiar and the Obsidian Order. However, while the Romulans appear happy to ignore gender differences almost completely, the Cardassians still divide gender roles very strictly – albeit down a totally different line than humanity. In the Deep Space Nine episode “Destiny” it is revealed that Cardassians consider science and technological achievement to be “Women’s work” while men are far more prominent in the military. Within the civilian government and the Obsidian Order, both genders are seen to be equally represented.

Despite their cultural similarities to the Romulans, Cardassian women are not desexualized in the same way. The first Cardassian woman we see (as well as the only female military commander) is Gul Ocett in the TNG episode “The Chase.” Although Ocett wears armor similar to that of male Guls, she has long hair and wears make-up (and eye-shadow like coloration applied to the spoon-like indentation on her forehead.) From an in-universe perspective, it seems odd that long hair and make-up would be seen as universally female regardless of species, and that a strict military culture would allow such deviations in appearance.

From an out-of-universe perspective, it continues to reinforce the way in which gendered signifiers have become ingrained in our culture. Jewelry, make-up, and long hair have only symbolized femininity for an extremely narrow period in our history; it’s ludicrous to assume they would continue to in the 24th century, much less evolve independently that way on other worlds. But these visual cues inform the audience that they are looking at women, even when the individuals in question are grey-skinned lizard people.

In the second part of this article, I’ll examine Star Trek’s most misogynistic race, the Ferengi, and try and reconcile some of the more problematic aspects of their portrayal. In the meantime, I hope I’ve helped some of you look at the show in a new way.

Sound off: In the comments, let me know if there’s another race you want to see discussed. Or give me your thoughts on Romulan women post TOS.

[SPOILERS] The Women of "The Dark Knight Rises"

By Gillian Daniels, Editorial Assistant
The chief virtue of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films is not the plots (the pace is often plodding) or the characters (most if not all already invented by the comic).  It’s the way it redresses a fanboy fantasy as a serious adventure, in this case with damsels who aren’t quite in distress.

In few heroes is the power fantasy more potent than in Batman, a playboy billionaire in public and a brooding, me-against-the-world Phantom of the Opera orphan in private. It’s a cool idea and one of the most thinly-veiled testosterone-laden daydreams in popular media today. Nolan challenges some aspects of this middle school fantasy in The Dark Knight Rises, but at the end of the day, of the main female characters introduced in the movie, Bruce Wayne becomes involved with both. Batman, it seems, remains a fantasy still largely for and about men.

Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and Miranda Tate/Talia (Marion Cotillard) remain largely defined by the men in their lives within The Dark Knight Rises.  They’re able to challenge their roles to some extent but they never quite subvert them.

The role of Catwoman is a classic femme fatale. With her as a rival, she’s the one who somehow brings Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) out of his Howard Hughes-style funk. Hathaway’s character would be the spitting image of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl if she didn’t steal from Bale and beat him up in their first scene together. For most of the film, she questions both Batman and Wayne without appearing to like either very much.

It’s eventually revealed Catwoman’s looking for a new start in life. Even before Batman shows up, she’s a villain trying to make good. An important plot point in Nolan’s film is that Wayne is willing to help delete Kyle’s cat burglar history from every police file on the planet and allow her to start fresh, holding the key to her redemption. Catwoman’s affection for him dovetails with her redemptive arc as if only Batman could bring out the good in her. By the end, they’ve become involved.  It’s not bad that they’re involved but it’s questionable that she needs to fully rely on him for her salvation.

At least Nolan’s Catwoman is set up to be Bruce Wayne’s equal. Only she can maintain his interest and only he can maintain hers. This was certainly the goal of Batman: The Animated Series(1992) in which Batman discovers “the new cat burglar is a woman” (episode 15, “The Cat and the Claw Part I”) and spends most of the series chasing after her, both for reasons of justice and romance. In his pursuit, he tries to redeem her multiple times. The structure of their relationship is ostensibly the same except that, before meeting Batman, Catwoman has no desire to change. It’s only Batman who plants the idea in her head, turning her story into a redemptive arc. Anne Hathaway and Nolan’s Catwoman, however, has enough agency that she’s already made the decision to change and doesn’t need the main character to put her on the path to redemption. It’s a small — very small — but important improvement in the move from small to big screen. Catwoman’s story is helped along by Batman, but she’s still largely the one driving the change

Talia al Ghul has a similar story arc to Catwoman in the cartoons and comics. Batman also attempts to seduce this–gasp!–loose woman away from evil after a lifetime of working for her immortality-seeking father. Talia, like Catwoman, is unable to access her morals by herself. Unlike Catwoman, though, this is because Talia is lured repeatedly back into helping her father, Ra’s al Ghul.

In The Dark Knight Rises, this is very much the same. Miranda Tate, in revealing herself to be Talia, shows that she seduced Wayne, tricked him into building a bomb, and has had the entire city threatened for months, all in service of getting vengeance for her father. Even her dying words relate to Ra’s al Ghul and his rivalry with Batman, his role as her father and Bruce Wayne’s antagonist defining Talia in her last moments. She’s a woman used by a man to get back at another man.  A child seeking vengeance for her father isn’t a bad story line, but it’s problematic that we never get any reason for her goals beyond genetics.  Talia feels like a tool used to get back at the main character.

The biggest difference Nolan has worked into the movie, though, is including Talia’s backstory. While Cotillard’s character eventually comes to be defined by her father and then Batman, Nolan makes sure to detail her childhood and the person she is before becoming entwined with the destines of both. Talia’s escape from her circumstances is emotional and riveting, and while Bane (Tom Hardy) takes part in her escape from the prison in which she’s raised, Talia’s agency drives her to run away and find an escape route where no one else could before her. She’s an awesome female character.

Yet the price of admission for a main female character still seems to be sleeping with the cool male lead. It’s a pessimistic point of view, but Officer John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) probably doesn’t have to sleep with Bruce Wayne to become his protégé. To my knowledge.

Probably one of the most innovative aspects of the movie having to do with gender is the female cops in the background when Batman first returns to Gotham. They seem to disappear during the stadium cave-in, though, and are, to my knowledge, largely absent when the cops descend once more to the streets. They are still women in casual roles who do not appear to have a romantic interest in the protagonist or are defined by their father’s whims.

In a story like Batman’s, where the main character is simultaneously a Lothario and a loner, it’s difficult to create a female character outside these parameters. Nolan manages to make due with the material he has, though, showing that “fanboy” doesn’t have to be an exclusive label. The Dark Knight Rises still disappoints, however, by keeping its otherwise kickass female characters defined by the men in their lives.

Panel Report: Klingons and Feminism, Take Two

Editor’s note: this article is part of a series of posts that covers the discussion panels The Analytical Couch Potato hosted during Connecticon 2012. For those who couldn’t make it, the staff decided to summarize some of the panels and provide pictures of the staff presenting. Those who want to see the full album of Connecticon pictures can see it on Facebook here. Thanks to everyone who made it out there to see us.

This weekend at Connecticon, Jonah and I reprised the panel I led with Gillian at Revoluticon on Klingons and Feminism. It was sad to lose my cohost (and a little awkward to be on stage talking about gender theory with no women) but my brother knows more about Star Trek than anyone I know, so I felt like he was a relatively good replacement.

The crowd was fantastic. We sold out the room, and a diverse audience comprised of many ages, races, and genders of Trekkies provided key discussion points and kept the conversation moving in unexpected but fruitful directions.

Starting with the same roots, the discussion went very differently than it did a few months ago. The Connecticon audience seemed more interested in broader themes and the portrayal of Klingon culture as a whole than analysis of individual characters which had been the focus of the panel in Ohio.
We discussed the sexual aggression of peripheral female Klingons, to what extent it was the result of male writers, and the role comedy played in shaping that aspect of their development. We looked at how Klingon women were empowered vs. objectified, and what sort of roles they were allowed to play in their own society. Finally we came around to the question of how Klingon society could even function with its entire population devoted to warfare.

The character study we did do was more focused on Worf than B’Elanna this time, and delved more into issues of race and stereotyping. Worf’s complexity comes from his attempts to meld the culture he was raised in with a heritage he feels is his birthright, but which he has come to as an outsider. The discussion took this point in several directions I had not considered, noting that Worf ultimately fails in many ways to assimilate into either culture, but does accomplish the goal of learning to accept himself for what he is.

One audience member brought up the racism inherent in attributing B’Elanna Torres’s anger issues to her Klingon blood, which led us to a conversation about the questionable racial politics of monocultures. Just before wrapping up, we compared B’Elanna and Worf’s parenting woes, and the fact that neither wants their child to grow up straddling two worlds. B’Elanna wants Miral to be fully human, whereas Worf strives for Alexander to be a Klingon warrior. We asked the question of what wouls happen if they’d ended up with children of the opposite genders.

All in all the panel was a huge success. In any part of the country, Trekkies can be counted on to be knowledgeable and insightful.

One audience member commented that she thought the panel would delve into all of Star Trek’s races. Klingon’s were about all we could handle in an hour, but I’d love to look at sexism in Trek through the lens of the Ferengi, the Romulans, and the Cardassians. Is that something you would be interested in reading? Sound off in the comments!

The Doctor and the New Masculinity

I’ve been very interested lately in the patriarchy and the definition of masculinity that it presents us with. When we talk about *the patriarchy, we’re talking about the social and political system that defines roles for both genders. You can find more about it here. Patriarchy tells women that their role is to be submissive and men that their role is to be dominant. It also tells women that it’s okay to have feelings, but men that the only acceptable emotion is rage.

The Doctor struggles with emotion.

In her book The Will To Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love, feminist scholar bell hooks [sic] states, “Mass media do the work of continually indoctrinating boys and men, teaching them the rules of patriarchal thinking and practice.” hooks posits that almost every hero available to young men exhibits those qualities which the patriarchy strives to produce in men — domination, violence, and emotional disconnection. And for the most part she is right. The ultimate example is probably James Bond, the rich playboy whose skill at killing is matched only by his skill at seducing women. Bond is obviously a paragon of patriarchal masculinity, but he’s not really much more of one than most of the heroes we grew up with. hooks goes on to say that media that offer alternative visions of masculinity, that refuse to “reinscribe patriarchy,” as she puts it, do not receive mass media or advertising support.

I would like to offer a counter-example: Doctor Who. Doctor Who is an incredibly long-running British science fiction series which began in 1963. The show revolves around an ancient and mysterious alien known only as “the Doctor.” Accompanied by (generally young and female) human companions, the Doctor travels through time and space helping people and solving problems.

When they die, Time Lords are capable of regenerating into new bodies, which has made it easy for the Doctor to be portrayed by 11 different actors over the course of the show. Several of the early Doctors were old men. The new series, as part of its hip, sexier image, has featured three young Doctors, much more in line with the image of the traditional masculine hero – at least on the surface. Like James Bond, the Doctor is constantly on the move, never staying in one place for long enough to form emotional connections.

But the Doctor is not James Bond. For one thing, he doesn’t really have much of a sex drive — though he may be in younger bodies, he’s still essentially a very old man. His interactions with his attractive young companions may have patriarchal vibes, but these stem more from him being a father figure than a potential lover. A few Doctor/ Companion pairs have had a little more sexual tension than others, but the Doctor has never taken advantage of a companion. In fact, in one season five episode, when companion Amy throws herself at The Doctor, he immediately rebuffs her, saying she’d “just a child compared to him.” This chastity is unusual in a patriarchal hero, but excusable because the women are still very attracted to him, even if he refuses them. In fact, in some ways, this refusal further cements his power.

One of many creatures the Doctor has tried to reason with.

But the main way in which Doctor Who manages to avoid the trappings of patriarchal masculinity is in how the Doctor approaches problem solving. As an example, let’s take the Season Five episode “Cold Blood.” The Doctor has discovered that a race of reptilian creatures, the Sillurians, live in an underground cavern and wish to kill all of the humans so they can have the Earth. Now, a normal action hero would see a simple solution to this problem — kill them before they kill us. But the Doctor refuses to kill a single Sillurian, genuinely grieving when one is accidentally killed. Despite protests on both sides, he attempts to negotiate with the Sillurians, and ultimately succeeds with minimal bloodshed.

The Doctor’s main strength is not merely his pacifism, but his ability to empathize. Not being human, he sees no reason a higher value should be placed on human life than on any other. He see’s each creature as a unique creation with a right as much right to exist as any other. In Season Two’s “Tooth and Claw” his first reaction to an encounter with a werewolf is a very genuine “You are beautiful.”

The Doctor and an alien invader try to see eye to eye.

Time and again, when facing horrendous monsters that any sane person would just shoot, the Doctor’s first impulse is always to try to communicate, to try and put himself in that creature’s shoes. This happens with the Nestine, a sentient tub of boiling plastic, in “Rose”, and a race of Vampire Fish in “Vampires of Venice”. On more than one occasion he even feels pity for Daleks. Often this empathy allows him to solve problems non-violently, but even when he is forced to use violence it’s clear he does not relish it. This, to me, is a fantastic model of non-patriarchal masculinity. A male hero who overcomes his enemies by employing emotions other than rage.

Galactica’s Feminist Utopia, part II: Rape

In my last post, I talked about how Battlestar Galactica tried to present a post-feminist society, and how some elements, like the Twelve Colonies’ approach to abortion and the portrayal of the sexual double standard don’t quite add up. This time around, I’ll be looking at the show’s various rape scenes, and what they tell us about the sexual politics of the human fleet.
The fact is, there is a lot of rape on Galactica. At least four rape scenes come to mind immediately – the prisoner’s  attempt to rape Cally on the Astral Queen (Human on Human), the Pegasus crew raping Gina (Human on Cylon), the Pegasus interrogator’s attempted rape of Sharon (Human on Cylon) and Leoban’s creepy psychological rape of Starbuck (Cylon on Human.) As you can see, the situations and motivations vary a great deal, but it is, with one possible exception that I’ll get to in moment, always male characters raping female ones. Although rape is not about sexual attraction primarily, this imbalance still seems unlikely in a world where women are not seen as inherently weaker than men, and where the perception of sexual domination is not seen as inherently masculine.
The entire point of this character is for horrible things to
happen to her – wait a minute, that’s every character.
The first of these examples is notable only for the way in which the writer’s use Cally time and time again over the course of the show. A viper technician, Cally is the quintessential cute character – there is innocence about her, especially early on, and therefore threatening her is a way of evoking a particular emotional response in the audience, much like kicking a puppy. But in a world where femininity is not equated with vulnerable, Cally, who despite her technical specialty is still a military officer who has undergone field training, does not seem like the ideal target for this technique. Billy, the President’s civilian attaché who is also present on the mission, would be much more “innocent”.
This brings us to a valuable and important point – whatever the sexual politics are within the universe of the show, any attempt to emotionally manipulate an audience will still be based on the sexual politics of our universe. The problems of the heterosexual male gaze continue to follow Galactica in spite of their attempts to make gender a non-issue.
The next example, the human treatment of the Cylon prisoners, presents a much more complicated situation. Aboard the Pegasus, it is revealed that gang-raping the number Six model Cylon known as Gina was a way the crew took out their anger at the Cylons as a race. It is implied that women took part in this behavior as well. In Galactica’s hangar deck, some pilots brag about it to Tyrol and Helo.
Pegasus frat boys.
Vireem: Oh I heard you guys even got yourselves a cylon. Heard she’s a hot one too.  
Gage: Like to get me some of that cylon stuff, huh? A little of the oh-yeah, oh-yeah. 
Pegasus frat boys: (laughing) 
Tyrol: Okay, you know what guys that’s enough, guys. Just shut up.  
Vireem: Ohh, sensitive. You got a soft spot for the little robot girl, do you?   
Vireem: You remember when Thorne put that “Please Disturb” sign up on the brig? 
Gage: I got in line twice. 
Vireem: Oh, I hear that. Remember she was just laying there, like, with that blank look on her face.   
The Pegasus officers are posturing for each other, and for Tyrol and Helo. This is why they mock Tyrol for being “sensitive” – its a ritual designed to reinforce gender identity. They’re using the rape to assert their masculinity in a situation where their inability to defend the human race from destruction by the Cylons has made them feel weak and powerless. The entire interaction of this scene is predicated on masculinity being mixed up with power and control. But would that definition of masculinity even exist in a society that had moved beyond these defined gender roles?
The third rape portrayed on Galactica is probably one of the most realistic, since it’s the only one where we see real consequences throughout the rest of the show – the number two model Cylon Leoban’s rape of Starbuck. Starbuck, with her liberated sexual attitude, her constant insubordination, and sheer badass combat ability, is the show’s ultimate example of female power and agency. She controls her own plotlines and makes her own decisions. Throughout the first two seasons no one, not Apollo, Adama, Helo, or Tigh, can exert control over her, though all of these powerful men attempt to at some point.
Then season three rolls around. The Cylons have captured New Caprica. Starbuck is separated from her husband and forced to live with Leoban in a mockery of domestic happiness. The cell looks like a typical suburban home, but of course there is no escape. Leoban is trying to get Starbuck to love him. Over and over again she kills him, and over and over again, being a Cylon, he resurrects. Finally, he brings home a young girl, claiming it to be their daughter. At first Starbuck determinedly ignores the little girl, but this neglect causes the girl to become seriously injured. Standing over the bed, she finally submits to Leoban, seemingly emotionally as well as physically.

Starbuck struggles with the shame of having let herself be manipulated in this way for the rest of the series. In a sense, this is the counter to the use of Cally’s vulnerability to evoke our emotional responses. Rather than threatening a character who is implied to have no power, we see the show’s most powerful character lose that power completely. But nonetheless, the male-female paradigm typical of 90% of rape plotlines remains intact, with all the assumptions that come bundled with it.
It can’t be rape! It’s on a comfy bed!
There is, however, one case of female-on-male rape on the show, and it is perhaps the most disturbing of all. When Baltar is a prisoner on the Cylon base star he does have sex with two of the female Cylons on a fairly regular basis, and this is portrayed as completely consensual. The two Cylon women have complete power over him, and threaten to kill him several times. At one point the number three model known as Deanna even tortures him then immediately has sex with him. It’s hard to see how this isn’t rape. Still, the music, camera angles, and set dressings all present it in a much more positive light. In other words, beautiful women forcing you to have sex with them is portrayed as a good thing.
The problem is that gender norms are not just a set of rules that can be changed at will as part of world building exercise. If you want to commit, absolutely, to portraying a world free of gender discrimination, you must be prepared to deconstruct any cliché or trope or image you intend to use, scrub it for sexual assumptions, then put it back together. That might be impossible, and even if it’s possible, it would likely result in a show losing a certain amount of emotional resonance. While I applaud Galactica’s attempts to address these issues, I can’t help but feel that if they weren’t prepared to take it all the way, maybe they shouldn’t have set down this path at all.