In Space, Everyone Can Hear You Kick Ass

Frack, frell, and ai ya!

Science fiction has always provided a forum to approach hot-button issues from a different angle. Television especially has been able to explore subjects such as race, individual liberty vs. the state, environmentalism, religion, war and present them to an audience that ranges beyond the readers of science fiction books. The "space opera" subgenre has proved especially fertile ground for this, especially in the "Star Trek" franchise. As the genre has grown and evolved alongside the social changes in everyday culture, new heroines have emerged as well. Lt. Uhura, a female, black communications officer on the bridge of the Enterprise, was once seen as dangerously subversive. But viewed through today's lens, her short-skirted uniform and subordinate role on the bridge seem to marginalize her and make her presence a token one.

The culture and the genre have both moved on, and we have seen characters from Deanna Troi, Kira Nerys, and Kathryn Janeway. These characters wield influence, and sometimes power, but their female-ness marks them out somehow - they are either limited by or considered exceptional because of their gender. Deanna Troi is in the prototypical "woman's role" - empath, counselor, cleavage. She is a valued advisor, but her influence seems valuable because of its "soft" perspective - the factual men on the bridge turn to her to provide emotional balance. Kira Nerys, representing a subjugated race, was initially hostile, defensive and constantly on the watch for a proffered offense. Her prickly hostility, though nominally stemming from her role as a freedom fighter, was hard to separate from her gender. You can fill in the blanks for yourself - "If she were a man, she would be called 'aggressive.' Since she's a woman..." Kathryn Janeway, potentially the most inspirational of them all, was something of a disappointment. She was the Captain, true, but she seemed like Picard redrawn in a woman's body. Aside from flashes of dry humor, it was hard to see her as a three-dimensional person. It was as if she had to ignore her gender and "pass" as a man.

Enter Aeryn Sun, Zoƫ Warren, and now Kara "Starbuck" Thrace. These three represent a new model of heroine. They are undeniably female, but that fact neither limits them nor marks them out as extraordinary. The fact of their gender is just that: a fact. They get the job done. They get angry, but their anger isn't all there is to them. They have complicated, loving relationships which lead to joy and tragedy. They don't have to have a girly side to offset their strength, nor do they have to ignore their gender to kick ass, and as such, they are neither Amazons with a gooey center nor neutered automatons.

And nobody would dare tell them, "You can't do that - you're just a girl."

Posted: Friday - February 18, 2005 at 07:46 AM         | |