Wed
Feb 20 2013 11:00am

Women and Power in Star Trek: The Next Generation

Women and Power in Star Trek: The Next Generation

When I saw Tasha Yar for the first time, I was four years old, sitting on the couch with my parents, watching re-runs of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Aggressive, authoritative, trusted and respected—not to mention the fact that she rocked that floppy blonde crew cut—Tasha had an effect on me that I could not have understood at the time of our first meeting. I enjoyed Star Trek as a child because it was adventurous; its depictions of space travel filled me with awe. But even then it was teaching me the power of womanhood.

The depictions of women on The Next Generation are problematic in some ways, of course. After Tasha’s death, the two lead females, Doctor Crusher and Counselor Troi, occupy strictly nurturing roles. Still, Crusher is a scientist at heart, a field that even now women have difficulty breaking into. In the season six episode “Suspicions,” Crusher exudes confidence, staking her career on the strength of her convictions. It is not only her dedication to science that motivates her to keep investigating the suspicious death of a visiting scientist but her dedication to the truth—she has nothing to prove but the facts. And by the time the episode ends and she’s squaring off with the scheming villain in a shuttlecraft, you find yourself wondering how she managed to do it all: solve a murder, reveal a new invention, and engage in intense hand to hand combat.

As for Deanna Troi, her obnoxiously stereotypical chocolate addiction aside, her role on the ship is much more than a cushy job as the onboard babe. Troi teaches the importance of expressing and embracing emotions. No displays of masculine bravado could outweigh Troi’s emphasis on listening to emotions in a contentious situation. She taught the people around her—not just the men— that our emotional lives are worth nurturing, that those aspects of our personalities aren’t just “feminine,” but human.

Subversive women are the norm in the universe of TNG. Take Lursa and B’ehtor, the sisters who try to take over the Klingon High Council after the death of their brother Duras at the hands of Worf. The pair manipulate their misogynist system of government to maintain their family legacy. They thrive despite living in a culture that oppresses women, and even though they use their wits to achieve immoral ends, Lursa and B’ehtor have agency over their fates. Plus, the fact they tried to seduce both Captain Picard and Worf takes some guts.

The women of TNG are survivors. They endure. Even in memory, Tasha still exists on the bridge of the ship. Picard and Riker stand front and center, always in the spotlight, but the women of the Enterprise know that power doesn’t always mean who’s got the biggest chair in the room. More importantly than that, they know that power is just a word. What really matters are actions. I can’t help but think of the scene at the end of the season five episode “Violations” when an alien telepath attempts to rape Counselor Troi. After expertly repelling his attack with a series of kicks to the groin she grabs her computer from her desk and bashes him in the side of the head with the device. Without advocating for violence (we already have Worf to do that) the scene makes me want to stand up in my chair and give Troi a round of applause. We already know that she’s in touch with her emotions, but in a moment such as that one, she is given dimension, another side to a character that could have been a flat and empty caricature of a woman.

That the women of Star Trek could take care of themselves emotionally and physically without a man swooping in for the big rescue seemed like a revelation then and it still does now. Katherine Pulaski, the Chief Medical Officer who replaces Doctor Crusher for season two embodied the strength of character inherent to the female protagonists on TNG. The stubborn, difficult to work with, even unlikeable, Dr. Pulaski was also a courageous example of female power in a male dominated field. She often challenged Captain Picard, voiced her opinion openly, and wasn’t afraid to take risks even when they put her life in jeopardy. It was her boldness that always astounded me. Pulaski knew herself and wasn’t willing to compromise that for any person, no matter the number of insignias on his uniform or the title of his office. The lesson is an important one: that fear of offending someone who holds power shouldn’t stop a woman from employing her right to freedom of expression, to follow the path she cut out for herself.

Star Trek: The Next Generation’s leading ladies didn’t want to be part of some boy’s club, where men take command and make the rules. Instead of yearning for acceptance, they wanted to kick down the doors of the clubhouse and start their own crew. Watching them as a little girl showed me the power of that statement as I grew into an adult: What matters as a women isn’t that men approve of your intentions, it’s that you have the courage to uphold your beliefs even if they don’t.


Elisabeth Sherman is a graduate student at Columbia University School of the Arts living in New York City. Her work has appeared at Not So Popular and Cellar Paper

37 comments
Tesh
1. Tesh
Pulaski could get away with more because she was the CMO, one of few officers with a legitimate avenue to "pull rank" on the Captain. I *liked* that she was stubborn, but sometimes it came across as trying *too* hard to be McCoy.

...which is interesting to me, actually. The Kirk/McCoy/Spock trio almost always seemed to feel as if each character had equal authority, even though Kirk had the final call. Pulaski and Crusher had their moments, but they always seemed to be "second tier". I would have loved to see them as strong as McCoy. I've always liked Crusher, and thought she was woefully underused. Still a good character, no doubt, and I loved it when she stood up to the Captain... I just wish there was more.
Tesh
2. Lsana
I think you're being a little too optimistic here about the Next Gen women.

Tasha Yar's main achievement was merely existing. Yeah, the fact that they would let a woman be security chief is in itself kind of interesting, but I can't remember anything she actually did prior to "Yesterday's Enterprise." My main memories of her are (a) she slept with Data, (b) she got kidnapped and needed rescue, (c) she died. She may be the only Sci-Fi security chief whose main role was "damsel in distress."

I loved Crusher, she was my favorite Next Gen character, but she had almost as little to do as Yar, quite an achievement given that she was on the ship for 6 years compared to Tasha's 1. I was just saying in the "Sub Rosa" thread that I'm pretty sure you can count the Crusher episodes on one hand.

Troi was more important than either of the other two, but she was also kind of irritating. It's become a cliche to say that she spent most of her time stating the blazingly obvious, but it's no less true for that. There were definitely a lot of great moments for her, the "Good Troi Episodes," but on the other hand, the phrase "Good Troi Episode" came about because there were so many substandard Troi moments.

Pulaski...it's been long enough since I've seen those episodes, that I'll defer to your judgement, but my memory of her is less "assertive" and more borderline insubordinate.

All in all, I think the best you can say for the Next Gen women is that they were light-years ahead of the original Star Trek women. I can't remember the 80s well enough to know if they were ahead of their time, but I know that the women who came after them were even further ahead. I'll take Kira Nerys, Jadzia Dax, Susan Ivanova, Lyta Alexander, Kara Thrace, Laura Roslin, and even Kes over Yar, Crusher, and Troi any day.
Tesh
3. XenaCatolica
I was in college and then graduate school during TNG, and neither I nor my women friends & colleagues admired any of them. Dr. Crusher was at least competent and had had a successful relationship before being widowed. I realize the plural of anecdote is not data, but I'm not exaggerating when I say the women I knew preparing for professional careers considered Troi our worst nightmare. And this was tripled for friends who had naturally big hair--in the late 80s a common stereotype was that "big hair" girls were stupid and overly emotional.
Tesh
4. sofrina
it's worth mentioning kaylar in this. she was a woman with agency. a half-breed who walked in both the human and klingon worlds. she was a great counterpoint to worf's stiff, uneasy presence. she was brash, charismatic and independent. i don't think any particular argument can be made for keido o'brien, or guinan, who gave great advice but took no action.

otherwise, kira nerys every time.
Sean Dowell
5. qbe_64
You're using TNG as your Star Trek reference for strong female characters?
You should watch Voyager and DS9.
Janeway, Torres, Seven, Kira, JADZIA! I'm not sure if you're trying to reference that TNG was doing it in the 80's and 90's, before anyone else was doing it, but the other two series definately gave better and more complex characters.
Sara H
6. LadyBelaine
- what no mention of Ro Laren? Easily the most complicated, non-T&A intended, non-token female bridge officer.

She's surly! She's ethnic. She's not blonde. She's a redemption project and a failure. She's ultimately a traitor/freedom fighter/patriot.
Mike Kelmachter
7. MikeKelm
I'm trying to figure out if you are going for sarcasm here and failing, or just really, really are optimistic about the female characters on next generation.

Tasha Yar could have been an interesting character, had Denise Crosby not gotten frustrated and left the show. As it is, her replacement, Lt. Worf may have the most character development of any Star Trek series character (not to mention the longest run, with 11 seasons under his belt. She had a clear authority and presence to her, and knew how to handle herself. Unfortunately, the season 1 writing was at best mediocre as the writers had to figure out what each character did.

Troi and Crusher though were dual damsels in distress/sex objects. While (as mentioned) Pulaski was willing to go up against Picard, Crusher was essentially the Moonlighting love interest of Picard and got only a few good episodes (remember, they made 173 of the things). Troi was most definitely the damsel in distress, and had so little authority that for the most part she didn't even bother to wear a uniform, and it wasn't until Season 6 that we even knew what her real rank was. Her defensive skills consists of kicking someone in the groin and smashing pots over their head (which is interesting, since in real life Gates McFadden and Marina Sirtis were the only ones with sword fighting skills of the cast) is about one step removed from scratching people with her fingernails. No self-defense techniques, no use of weapons, and no command presence. At least Crusher was theoretically in charge of other people, though most of the time she appeared to be a one person medstaff due to the producers unwillingness to have re-occurring extras as other doctors and nurses. For every "you go girl" episodes, there are at least 2 where our leading ladies are assaulted, captured, or serve only as eye candy.

There are far better examples of women's equality in Star Trek. Jadzia Dax is a resepected scientist, best friend/counselor of the commander, respected warrior and diplomat. Kathryn Janeway is a strong-willed commander, explorer and scientist who leads her crew across the galaxy against the greatest of odds (who else endures not one, but two "years of hell"). B'Elana Torres and Seven of Nine are both key personnel, and in the case of the former is the Chief Engineer of the starship, placing her amongst the command personnel of the ship. Kira Nerys is a genuine freedom fighter and patriot, fiercely independent, and willing to confront anyone and anything.

The Next Generation women simply put, weren't equals of the male crew. For whatever reason (influence of Gene Rodenberry, timid writers, studio interferrence) they were type cast and weak.
Thomas Thatcher
9. StrongDreams
The die was cast when the producers (maybe Roddenberry himself) decided that the 2 nuturing roles in the main cast (doctor and counselor) would be played by women. After that, there just isn't too far you can stretch those roles. As pointed out variously in the re-watch, it just doesn't make a lot of sense for a medical doctor to host a conference on shield technology, and then take over all the investigatory and security functions that should belong to Data and Worf. It goes against character for Dr. Crusher to kill people (which she does a couple of times) not because she is a woman but because she is a doctor. Sure, they could have shown Troi actually using the martial arts she was learning from Worf in a self-defense sitation, but the ship's counselor should never be in a position to order someone to their death--it's incompatible with the job description, no matter what gender the counselor is. The female secondary characters were much more interesting (once you get past The Planet Ruled by Women, The Other Planet Ruled by Women, The Planet of the Pajama People, The Planet of Irish Hillbillies, and a few other aberrations).
Sara H
10. LadyBelaine
a blonde girl, @ 8 who cordially stated in response to my comment (edit by moderator: original comment unpublished due to tone and profanity)

Well, Ms. Blonde, surely it cannot have been lost on you that the blonde female has quite frequently and historically been added for shall we see, cheesecake effect, a la Seven of Nine. Or, for that matter, Thelma Todd. Or Jean Harlow.

Indeed, did it escape you that Tasha Yar, the nimble lithe security chief was a blonde and was evidently initially supposed to serve as a bit of fan service, hence having her appear very early on in her sarong-kini? Or the fact that the entire planet of nubile nymphomaniacs who wear swimwear made of kleenex was an entire planet of blondes?

Oh, evidently it was lost on you.
Tesh
11. Gilbetron
I'm a little dismayed, though not surprised, at all the negativity here in the comments. While there were some mistakes made with TNG's characterization by our modern, more enlightened standards, I believe the principle reason people dump over the portrayal of women in TNG is because overall Star Trek sets a very high bar for progess.

Some people look at Troi and Crusher and discount them because they're in "nurturing" roles. This is nonsense. The truth is that nurturing roles are gaining more and more respect as time goes on, respect they didn't always receive but certainly deserve. These are fields not to be discounted. They are highly professional occupations. And it's a little strange to discount the medical profession and say that a woman portraying a doctor isn't progressive. Until very recently, the vast majority of medical doctors were men -- and I'm sure this is still true in most parts of the world. Even today, there are more men than women in the medical field. The stereotype is female nurses, but doctors? That's a whole different ballgame.

Crusher, in particular, didn't get as much screen time as she deserved. This is true. But I don't see how you can use that unfortunate fact as a strike against her. Even though the writers never developed her to the degree I would have liked, she was always portrayed as a highly competent scientist and professional. You don't need a Crusher-centric episode to demonstrate how awesome she is. She's always around making her invaluable contribution. She doesn't have to star in every episode to be integral.

Yes, there was the one episode where Troi and Crusher hit the bad guys over the heads with pots and pans, but that was ONE EPISODE, and there are dozens upon dozens of other better examples where they kick butt either physically or intellectually. These two characters are examples of powerful women in important roles that influence and shape all aspects of life aboard the Enterprise. The crew depends upon them, in more ways than one.

As for Yar, she also didn't get the development she deserved, and that was the reason for her early departure. But does that mean she was somehow a weak or pathetic character while she was around? Hardly. Once again, you don't need a Yar-centric episode to see her demonstrating her skills. She was spunky and clever, savvy and reliable. Denise Crosby may not have had the best material, but she played Yar as a strong personality. It is remarkable how memorable her character is in the Trek canon given that she only appeared in 23 first-season episodes, along with a couple of later appearances.

Are the women of Star Trek: The Next Generation perfect examples of modern feminism? No, not by a long shot, but they are still pretty great. And I'd bet over the last 25 years they have inspired a lot of people.

So let's not let the exceptions completely overrun the rule.
Sara H
12. LadyBelaine
Gilbetron,

Look, TNG was the product of its time and it did break barriers as much as it could, but at the end of the day, they were aiming at a certain viewing demographic with ingrained (perceived) subjective preferences - for example, Troi and her cleavage-bearing outfits etc, and the fact that even in the 23rd Century a Caucasian face is the most likely human face.(1)

The real thing is that they definitely did better than TOS where the women were largely auxiliaries in go-go boots and miniskirts (even the Klingon women!) and yes, they made a conscious effort to feature the women prominently, but at the end of the day, the two most visible women were caretakers - not that there is anything horrendously wrong with that, but it is what it is. They did make all sorts of efforts to make them interesting and unique and non-token. For example, Beverly was a single parent, a dedicated scientist and a talented actress and was not defined by being Picard's eventual love interest, and that's great.

Deanna is much more problematic with her silly outfits and perennial courtship with Riker, but they made efforts later on to enlarge her like when she was forced to take command of the Enterprise, they showed her failing then passing her bridge officer comand test and the great episode where she was forced undercover as a Romulan Stasi agent.

There was a wide spectrum presented across Trek as a whole, with Kira and Dax and Janeway and B'elanna etc (and Gene Roddenberry definitely earns Gloria Steinem points for his initial conception of the cerebral Number One (in a non-degrading uniform, no less! slacks! high collared tunic like the men!) ... but then there was a definite retrograde action when they gave us the awesome character of T'Pol who wears velour catsuits on the bridge even when she was commissioned by Starfleet. It's not as if we saw that the velour catsuit is common attire for Vulcan women (and Enterprise showed us a lot of Vulcans. They wear kimino-like robes with heavy gold jewelry like pharoahs or ancient Hebrew high priests. Or, in on TOS, silvery cocktail dresses during pon'farr).

1)(Ever wonder where all the Asian-descended humans are, proportionally? Both Harry Kim and Sulu were both Americans, at that - what, do China, Korea and Japan not have any prevalence on 23rd C Earth? India?)

edit: speeling ;) (I think I caught most of the typos - google toolbar acts weird in these dialgue boxes!)
Tesh
13. Gilbetron
LadyBelaine: You're absolutely right. Perhaps sometimes I'm optimistic and look at the *intention* over the *execution*. You make really good points.

And I also agree that women in Star Trek got better after TNG. And you're right about T'Pol in Enterprise, too. Her character wasn't alone in the producers' goal of being salacious to the detriment of character growth and good storytelling. At least Hoshi was pretty awesome.

I know we're straying from the subject a little (women on TNG), but the thing about T'Pol is that if you gave her a different costume and didn't cast a supermodel in the role, there's a lot of great stuff going on in the writing. T'Pol is not a bad character necessarily as written, but the way she's portrayed leaves something to be desired. And I mean no disrespect to Jolene Blalock at all, because I fervently believe she threw everything she could into making her role as substantial as possible. And her improvement over the course of the four seasons is noticeable.
Sara H
14. LadyBelaine
Gilbetron,

sometimes reading a textual medium can be deceiving - when I say "the awesome character of T'Pol who wears velour catsuits on the bridge," she was in fact awesome. She was cool and imposing and resourceful... but she also wore a zentai (google it!) in a command position and that's just weird. Upon reading your comments, I think you took my 'awesome character' comment to be sarcastic. It wasn't. I genuinely liked T'Pol, but they just couldn't resist making her Vulcan Sex Kitten. It was a tad unfortunate. Hoshi did rule, though. I just wish T'Pol was more... professional. I tend to overthink things and get disappointed, though :)

(hell, I still grow sad at the lost potential promise of Lt. Stahdi or the unnamed Vulcan nurse on Voyager.)

edit: spelling again!
Tesh
15. Gilbetron
Lol. Indeed, I mistook you. Though it all comes up roses, since we are, happily, mostly on the same page regarding T'Pol.
Alan Courchene
16. Majicou
@2: Hey, don't forget the time Tasha was featured in a surprisingly racist rip-off of "Amok Time." Wait. Actually, forget it.
Tesh
17. Action Kate
Hoshi? Hoshi did not "rule." Hoshi got a few cool bits in S3 as far as codebreaking. Otherwise she had less to do than Uhura and didn't even have Uhura's musical talents.

Another vote here for K'Ehleyr -- actually for any Suzie Plakson Trek role, including Suzie Q and the Andorian Tarah from ENT. I wish they'd found a way to keep her around, or at least keep recycling her like they did with Jeff Coombs and Vaughn Anderson.
Tesh
18. Gerry__Quinn
"Ever wonder where all the Asian-descended humans are, proportionally? Both Harry Kim and Sulu were both Americans, at that - what, do China, Korea and Japan not have any prevalence on 23rd C Earth? India?)"

Maybe they divide up Starfleet based on language?

Or maybe it was just that the series was made by Americans, so they cast, you know, mostly Americans?
Tesh
19. a blonde girl
I love Ro Laren. She's one of the people who shoved the smug self-righteous Starfleet men's faces in the fact that they're not perfect and that their values are not universally objectively good. She has her own agenda and her own point of view in a fictional universe consisting almost entirely of unindividualized corporate factions. The fact that she is not blonde (emphasized! As if that's the most important thing!) does not mean a goddamn thing.

But I should know better by now: even ostensibly feminist women are happy to reduce people to sex objects ("cheesecake effect") based on the color of their fucking hair. And add a dash of condescending "dumb blonde" at me when I call them on it.
Tesh
20. Gilbetron
Action Kate: Hoshi had less to do than Uhura? Really? Uhura? Uhura was only interesting in that she's so mysterious, in that we literally know nothing about her, even her first name (at least until much, much, much later after the series ended). Uhura gets to say a few episodes per line, and occasionally gets to carry an entire scene to herself once or twice a season. And that's it. Don't get me wrong... I like Uhura a lot. But still. There's not much going on there.

Hoshi carries entire episodes and is usually pretty integral to the various plots. Like or hate her, the crew could barely communicate with anyone without her. Hoshi's not awesome? Well, maybe she's not one of your favourites for whatever reason, but she has the ability to pick up any language just by listening to it for a couple of minutes. That's, like, a superhero ability. Uhura's superhero ability, as depicted on-screen, was pressing a radio transceiver into her ear and saying "Hailing frequencies open."

Anyway, I'm done defending the women of Star Trek for now. I had no idea it was going to be such exhausting, tireless work.
Sara H
21. LadyBelaine
Gerry_Quinn,

"Or maybe it was just that the series was made by Americans, so they cast, you know, mostly Americans?"

Exactly - you hit the nail exactly on the head! Thank you for echoing my point. The producers, while making notable efforts to making progressive characters, were bound by the profit motivation of appealing to their target audience, hence I don't really give them too much a hard time for things like the deep abiding whiteness of Starfleet, or the occassional leotard-clad female Starfleet officer.
Sara H
22. LadyBelaine
Ms. Blonde,

You seem to have missed my point. Once again, I ask you if you are familiar with the stereotype of the blonde female as the token sex object in popular entertainment? If you are so, then you are either a) railling against the fact that they didn't make Ro blonde when they could have (just to defy expectations! ), or b) celebrating that they invented the character of Ro Laren who by no means did they intend as fan service. She has nothing about her that was intended as T&A. Again, I suspect I am a tad older than you, and am viewing this through the prism of late 80's entertainment.

As a corollary, I also presume that you are familiar with the trope in popular entertainment of the brunette as the serious, nerdy one and not at all like her fun, bouncy, blonde sister. For example, have you ever seen Three's Company? Or Heather Locklear's character on TJ Hooker? Ever see an episode of 90210? Who was the fun flibbertigebbet belle of the ball and who was the serious, ocasionally mean fish out of water? Oh, right's that would be Kelly (blonde) and Brenda (brunette), respectively.

By which I mean, for I shall have to be precise with you lest you fly off the handle again, bleeding on your flaxen cross, they didn't give us an ostensibly serious-intended character who was also meant to be cheesecake simultaneously like Seven of Nine, or even what they did to Kes, who was originally elfin and childlike then started wearing the ubiquitous velour catsuit and becoming a sex object in a way that Be'lanna Torres never was.

FYI, I am also blonde . I just don't have a chip on my shoulder about it.
Chris Nelly
23. Aeryl
@2 Lsana, While I agree with you there, I think that's why she was written off(though killing her off is problematic as well) as she wasn't working as the female badass she was intended to be. An Abrams like reboot like the one discussed at the 25 year reunion could rectify that, having more examples in culture as to what works. Gina Carano would be awesome as a new Yar that doesn't die, ala Pike.
Beccy Higman
24. Jazzlet
Unusually for comments on this site I wonder if you have all read the article you are commenting on. The author says there are problems with the depiction of the women in TNG, but that despite that TNG inspired her as a four year old to expand her idea of what women could be. How is that wrong?

Do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Tesh
25. jonathan inge
@Jazzlet. You have a point. But the author hasn't been four years old longer than a year. Meaning, the stuff she mentions about the show occurs during it's seven year run. So by the end of series, I figure she was either 11 or 12. Basically, the author was deprived of the female badass Yar and was stuck with "nurturing" Crusher and Troi during her formative years.

TNG needed a regular badass female. Ro Laren was too little too late. Pulaski was badass, but that actor left the show too.

I wouldn't say Crusher and Troi were weak characters because they're nurturing. I don't need them to fire phasers and fight to be "strong." They just have to be active characters with well defined personalities and have agency. To me, the actors who did the roles were passive people and this bled into the performances. It's easier to write for actors who have more versatility. Yes, Picard, Data, and Worf. No, not Riker and Wesley. So the show's leading ladies ended up in the background or fringes most of the time.

Yes, TNG has awesome female characters! Dr. Selar, Nurse Ogawa, K'Ehleyr, Ensign Sito Jaxa, Ensign Sonya Gomez, Ishara Yar, Lursa, B'etor, and Sela to name a few.

But we're talking leading ladies, right? That's Troi and Crusher. Over seven years, what happened to them. How have they developed? Very little when compared to their male colleagues. The power of womanhood is more than nurturing, the author says, but she strains TNG to find a few examples of Crusher and Troi breaking away from that trait. That's the problem I see with this article.


"Star Trek: The Next Generation’s leading ladies didn’t want to be part of some boy’s club, where men take command and make the rules. Instead of yearning for acceptance, they wanted to kick down the doors of the clubhouse and start their own crew."

Honestly, I laughed when I read this part. Hyperbole is dangerous.

As one commanding office once said to his first officer: "Go over my head again, and I'll have yours on a platter." So Crusher and Troi, as career officers, wouldn't be kicking down any doors and starting their own crews.

As others noted, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise had stronger actresses thus stronger female characters thus stronger stories about them in greater number.

If the author really felt inspired by Troi and Crusher, in what ways was she? Specific real life examples please.
Sara H
26. LadyBelaine
Jonathan Inge,

"But we're talking leading ladies, right? That's Troi and Crusher. Over seven years, what happened to them. How have they developed? Very little when compared to their male colleagues."

I would quibble with that somewhat - Jerri Taylor, when she took over writing responsibilities, made definite efforts to give these women more, I dunno, "oomph" (Troi's Romulan's adventure, etc...) Troi made enormous strides, although one does wonder why the ships counsellor would ever be command-rated?

They had at least as much character development as say, Geordi. Or Riker, who I'd be hard pressed to say developed in any meanigful way other than the beard and the fact that he made amends with his father. He had that doomed relationship with Minuet, but everyone seems to get one passionate romance with an imaginary (or parasitic, invasively psychologically implanted) person at some point.

edit: spelling nits
Shelly wb
27. shellywb
I see where the writer of this article is coming from. By the way, she doesn't need to justify her experience to make it valid; she only needs to justify it to make others understand it, and from the above responses I'd say she could perhaps have been clearer. But others' different experiences don't invalidate hers.

I think a lot of people view characters and older works through modern-day lens, and fail to see them from the POV of the times. Yes, later female characters from SF shows in the 90s and 00s were stronger and better written. Of course they were. So what? Yes, Uhura and Tasha weren't given much of anything to do, and could have been much better. But what they were was enough of a jolt to have made a real difference. A black female serving as a respected officer on the bridge of a space ship, a woman as chief security officer with no second thoughts about her ability to do the job because of her sex? These were revolutionary in and of themselves.

Yeah, they could have been a whole lot better if written with our current sensibilities. But that's overlooking the fact that even as they were, they were in some ways very good considering the times.
Tesh
28. jonathan inge
@LadyBelaine, you're right. I should have said "compared to some of their male colleagues." Picard, Data, and Worf grew over seven years. The others floundered. I totally forgot Geordi (that must mean something).

Troi and Crusher had wonderful episodes such as the ones mentioned by you and the author, but nothing to mark how they developed as personalities.

Sure, Troi gained command experience and rank, but that stuff felt like fan service rather than gender equality. Sadly, Troi is still defined by others. Her mother, Riker, and to some extent Worf. She never really broke away from her mother. Yes, a few arguments. But no closure. At first, she reconciled with Riker. They became good friends and supported the other in romantic endeavors. But she ends up marrying Riker in the last movie! Worf was basically a substitute for Riker, and that relationship allowed her to channel motherly affections onto his son.

Crusher is the same. Defined by others. Her dead husband, her son, and Picard. At least, she had some closure regarding her first husband. Her relationship with Wesley was odd because we never see her really be a mother. She's the working single mom! I was raised by a working single mom so I know the difficulty in finding balance. But Crusher was never really explored this way. (If you casually watched the show, you would never think Crusher and Wesley were related.) When she sends off her only child to travel the universe with a time-space alien, she's too relaxed (passive?) about it. We never see her come to grips with his destiny. It's just talked about and he leaves. No real closure. In fact, when her son leaves, Crusher is embraced by Picard. So no poignant single working mom moment. (Even though she had time to prepare mentally, my single working mom was a visible mess of emotions when I left home for Life.) Yep, it becomes another unsubtle nod to the Crusher/Picard thing teased throughout the series. The last episode hinted they will get married and divorced in the future. But we never see this. Again, no closure. In four films, Crusher only stands out in one scene where she and Troi talk about their breasts.

@shellywb
I was ten years old when TNG started in 1987. I watched every episode. I didn't like Crusher and Troi even then. I liked Yar and Pulaski. Maybe this was because I watched female-centric TV shows such as Murder She Wrote, Cagney & Lacey, Beauty and the Beast, Designing Women, and Murphy Brown.

As much as I'm nitpicking about this article. I do agree TNG is a boys-only club.
Tesh
29. killtacular
@Jonathan Inge:
"But the author hasn't been four years old longer than a year. Meaning,
the stuff she mentions about the show occurs during it's seven year run.
So by the end of series, I figure she was either 11 or 12."

Nope. Again, if you read the original piece, it states that she was four when she was watching reruns. So, again, reading the original article is probably a good idea.
Tesh
30. Jonathan Inge
@killtacular, you're right. But does it change the larger points of my responses?

With a title like "Women and Power in Star Trek: The Next Generation," I figured this article would be more analysis than pathos. The author, who is a graduate student at Columbia, should know how to write an argument. As it stands right now:

1. the topic is too broad
2. there is neither a clear thesis statment nor (narrow) focus
3. the stuff she uses as evidence doesn't build to a point
4. the conclusion is way off base

I read and graded college students' essays for two years. This article feels like a very rough first draft. It may be good at tapping certain readers' emotions regarding rape, gender bias, challenging the status quo, and finding inner strength. If the article was a response to someone else's blog, I might have let it go. But in a vaccuum, it comes across as pure pathos.

If it sounds like I'm being snarky, sorry.
Tesh
31. Gilbetron
Jonathan Inge: You make some solid points. I don't agree with a lot of them, but... well, that's neither here nor there. But your expectation that this post be brimming with academic analysis doesn't mean the author's decision to write about her feelings was wrong. Your expectations merely need to adjust to reality. There's nothing wrong with pathos, which you seem to use as though it were a dirty word.
Jordan DeLange
32. killtacular
@Jonathan Inge

All I do is read and grade college student essays. Fortunately, this was not one. It was an autobiographical blog post on a speculative fiction website. And, for that purpose, it did it quite well. Your criteria make no sense. Would I be wrong to mock you for not citing a single academic source in any of your comments? YES! I would!

The point isn't that your are being snarky. The point is that you fundamentally don't understand the purpose of this post, and on top of that apparently didn't bother to read the whole thing before deciding to "enlighten" us all with your thoughts.
Bridget McGovern
34. BMcGovern
Jonathan Inge @33 (unpublished): I'd like to point out that this post is Elisabeth's first foray into blogging for the site. Constructive, helpful criticism is one thing, but by now I think you've made your points, repeatedly, and this is starting to feel like a personal attack on the blogger. There are more constructive ways of disagreeing with someone's opinions and approach, but if you want to offer a dissenting opinion in the form of a point-by-point refutation of what you *think* Elisabeth was trying to say, you're welcome to do so elsewhere; this thread is intended for civil discussion. It's not an attack zone. I'd appreciate it if we could move on.
Tesh
35. Jonathan Inge
@ BMcGovern, thank you for moderating. You think I'm personally attacking the blogger? I'm attacking her position in the article. But I won't argue. You make the rules. You removed my last comment. Then please remove all of them.
Bridget McGovern
36. BMcGovern
@Jonathan Inge: I'm going to leave the rest of the conversation as it is--it's not my policy to alter or edit the conversations on this site after the fact, except where moderation is called for. I appreciate your understanding.
Tesh
37. Jonathan Inge
On reflection, I was rude. My apologies to Elisabeth Sherman and others who feel my comments were personal attacks.

I've modified my unpublished comment. I removed repeated information and anything I felt was flammatory.

Here goes:

Sherman points out how Troi and Crusher, two typically nurturing females, gain power (agency) through taking physical action. I kindly disagree. First, it is somewhat of a contradiction to the author’s exhortation for women to uphold their beliefs. Second, it equates power with physical actions rather than beliefs.

Believing in something is not a passive thing. It is an action within the mind. On occasion, beliefs manifest outside the body. If you can believe you can drive a car, you can. If you believe you can fly by just flapping your wings, then you’ll be sadly mistaken of course. But some folks believed flight was possible using machines and it eventually happened.

So deciding to believe in something is an action too. Holding on to one’s convictions in the face of a moral dilemma can be just as physically stressful as a kick or a punch to the body.

With this in mind, let’s reexamine Sherman’s take on Troi and Crusher.

In “Violations," Troi supposedly gains agency when she physically fights her telepathic attacker. Sherman writes: "In a moment such as that one, she is given dimension, another side to a character that could have been a flat and empty caricature of a woman." But let's consider what happened in "The Child"? In this episode, an alien impregnates Troi. The senior staff (of mostly men) hold a meeting about what to do. Riker stupidly is more concerned about the father's identity. Worf suggests the obvious tactical solution to the threat (that's right, abortion). Data dutifully wants to study it (apparently whether it is dead or alive). Of course, all the men focus on abortion. And then Troi snaps: "Do whatever you feel is necessary to protect the ship and the crew, but know this -- I'm going to have this baby." Picard and Co. acquiesce to her wishes! No fisticuffs. Troi makes a decision. She has agency in “The Child” because the whole plot revolves around that decision. In “Violations,” she ends up a victim of a serial thought-rapist through no choice or action of her own. Her self-defense during the second attack is instinctual.

As for Crusher, the author mentions her transformation from boring doctor to action hero in "Suspicions." "You find yourself wondering how she managed to do it all: solve a murder, reveal a new invention, and engage in intense hand to hand combat," Sherman writes. But in "The High Ground," Crusher defies Picard's orders -- in a clear and present danger situation -- in order to help the injured of a terrorist bombing. She makes a decision. Her decision pushes the plot forward. So she has agency. Yes, Crusher is later kidnapped by the terrorists, but she doesn't become a victim. She reasons with her captors. No hand-to-hand combat. Bu she still agency. Also, in “Ethics,” Crusher upholds her beliefs even though they conflicted with Picard, Dr. Russell, and Worf’s desire to have experimental surgery. (Memory Alpha lists more of Crusher’s clashes with the Prime Directive.)
Sara H
38. LadyBelaine
BMcGovern,

I will note some degree of chagrin that Jonathan Inge's posts are construed as a 'personal attack' on the blogger and you remark in comment #34 "this thread is intended for civil discussion. It's not an attack zone" and that evidently the discussion warrants moderation, yet I am told to 'go fuck (my)self' in comment #8, elliciting no response other than my own. I will lay the observation on the table that the moderation, if there is any, is quite uneven.
Bridget McGovern
39. BMcGovern
@Jonathan Inge--Again, I appreciate that!

@LadyBelaine: Those comments have now been amended, please let me know if I missed anything. We try to read every comment on the site, but sometimes things slip through, (especially when things are particularly busy elsewhere on the site) which is why flagging innappropriate comments is so helpful to both Irene and I. If you feel that someone is being innapropriate or abusive toward you or anyone else, please flag their comments and they will be dealt with as soon as possible.

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