Battlestar Galactica: Gender

Following up on my previous post about Battlestar Galactica, I’ve been thinking more about this show and what they’re trying to do with it.

With regards to gender, I think the writers have been trying to portray a society as more equal sex-wise, while still being a reflection of our own culture – they are racists (against Sagittarons) and classist (Capricans are the ruling class – hell even their first new settlement is called New Caprica) but I don’t think the writers realize how sexist they still are. I suspect that by showing women serving in the military alongside men, and in combat roles even, the writers were trying to show a society with more gender equality.

You all know by now how it goes: we’re so liberated, us here in the west. We vote, work outside the home, run for office. Not like those women in [insert foreign group here]. What are we complaining about?? So watching gender being played out on BSG really reminds me of the culture I live in, but with lots of female combat soldiers (oh hang on, Canada has female combat soldiers). But I can also see the same sexist gender role in play: high heels, skirts, and long flowing hair (Starbuck only has long hair when she’s married! then cuts it when she sort of ends the relationship, or, ditches the wife part but stays married, or.. I don’t know what the hell she’s doing). It’s not equality if the standard clothing for women is high heels and slinky dresses. Also: there’s prostitution.

Of course, in light of my previous post and Sady’s post and comments that I read after starting this, perhaps the writers really aren’t trying to create a more feminist world. They’re certainly echoing the world we live in, with the racism and classism and religious fanaticism. Perhaps having the BSG world so close to ours is the point? And yet, I can’t quite believe that they are aware enough of sexism for that. I really think they just echoed our world’s gender constructs unconsciously. Something about the comments in the specials on the DVD about how different Starbuck is because now she’s a guuuurl zomg. Even though both characters drink, smoke, win at poker, sleep around, are disobedient, are awesome pilots and are loved by everybody even when they drive everybody crazy, this version:

is ZOMG so much different than this version:


Anyways, I’m beginning to think that the main problem, gender-wise, with this show is all the evil blond women (ok, there was one evil brunette). The most obvious Evil Blond™ is of course Caprica 6 (well, all the Sixes). Apart from the Sexay Evil Blond, there’s also the obnoxious (evil) blond Ellen Tigh, and Starbuck’s Really Evil Blonde mother. You know, I would really like, just for fucking once, watch a show where it’s the fucking DAD that’s the abusive monster. Almost always it’s the mom! Yes, of course, mothers can and have been nasty abusive assholes, but really, they’re in the minority, are they not? Of all of the abusive parents I have come across in real life, the abusive fathers outnumber the abusive mothers easily 10 to 1. But in tv/movie land it’s all about the Evil Mother.

Uh, where was I? Evil Mother, Evil Blond? Evil Sexay Blond? Ah, it all starts to run together, doesn’t it? The young mothers aren’t evil – the characters that become mothers, but the mothers of adult characters are.

And that whole Starbuck/Leoben thing? Ew. That needs a post all of its own.

(tune in next week where I finally finish watching the whole thing and change my mind utterly :-p But for now, this is how it’s looking to me, kids)


6 Responses to Battlestar Galactica: Gender

  1. Sady says:

    Ha ha, you KNEW I was going to comment on this, didn’t you? YOU ARE TAUNTING ME.

    So! I would like to concede many of your points, whilst offering maybe a slightly different angle on them. I submit to you that “Battlestar Galactica” started as a feminist show, then sort of deteriorated over time, and this was directly proportionate to the number of women they had in the writing room. I read an interview with Jane Espenson, maybe one of their best writers, and she said that, in Season One, there were a lot of women writing for BSG, but by Season 4, she was the only girl left in the room. My thoughts were (1) “oh, that makes SO much sense,” and (2) BOOO.

    Because I am incapable of writing a comment shorter than the blog post itself, I will add more! On the topic of Evil Blonde Syndrome! I will admit that, even in Season One, Six the Evil Blonde Sexbot and Ellen Tigh stuck out like two sore thumbs. They were the most conventionally femme ladies on the show, and also, by sheer coincidence, the women we were most encouraged to root against! (BOOOOO, some more.) Yet I’m incapable of reading them (or Three) as just Evil Blondes now. The characters get deeper over time: we learn that Six’s acts are almost always fueled by her idealism, which is her most strongly emphasized characteristic; Ellen gets to be motherly and passionately loving and wise, in addition to her let’s-party-baby-oh-wait-I-hate-you-ness; Three, I always think of as an even more intense version of Six – she’s a commandant, willing to be brutal, willing to go to extremes, because she believes in her mission. And, seriously, when you look at Chief “Anger Management” Tyrol, or the supremely tantrum-prone Bill Adama, or the hot pirate mess that is Tigh, are they any less fallible? I think we’re more used to our male heroes being flawed and three-dimensional than our ladies, who are typically cardboard cutouts of Empowerment or Womanly Virtue or (on the other hand) Catty Bitchitude, or Sluttiness, or what have you. One side effect of women not being widely viewed as individual human beings is that most people can’t write a female character who is an individual human being. All of the women on the show seem human to me, even stupid racist Cally, and that’s an achievement.

    Of course, then, there’s the story about how Tricia Helfer had to EXPLAIN to the writing staff that there was a REASON Six would not want to have sex with Baltar after he’d freed her from the cell in which she had been, you know, repeatedly gang-raped. UGH.

    • Crowfoot says:

      YES my ploy worked *rubs hands with glee* with extra goodness too in that you’ve basically written the next post that I was thinking of writing before I consciously knew I was going to write it! This one was really just my first thoughts, but I knew there was more there that needed attention and analysis. I’m really really liking what you’ve written and agree with it. There really is a lot to think about with this show, isn’t there? 🙂

      What you said about there being fewer and fewer female writers! Oh yeah that does make a lot of sense. And I’m both horrified and not surprised that Helfer had to explain why that Six couldn’t have sex after being repeatedly gang-raped! Jesus christ, guys. And just the whole way she looked scared and triggered and crying when she did end up having sex with him – but of course, what she did immediately after that is a big part of that (she’s crying for a multitude of reasons). It speaks to the actor’s talent there too, in that you watch Helfer and you see aaaalll these layers there. Tricia Helfer really is great. Does this story mean that the writers were going to have her have sex with Baltar right away and the actor said “uh, no”?

      I think you bring up a really good point about how the female characters have been written. They are really multidimensional and flawed, and I agree that we’re really not used to seeing that. I don’t want the female characters to be infallible – I love how they’ve become just as complex as the Anger Management Tyrol and Hot Pirate Mess That is Tigh.

      One side effect of women not being widely viewed as individual human beings is that most people can’t write a female character who is an individual human being. All of the women on the show seem human to me, even stupid racist Cally, and that’s an achievement.

      Maybe I should re-read what I’ve written, lol, because I really do agree with your whole comment here. While I think there was definitely Something there that was bothering me (I had thought it was the Evil Blonde trope that also touched on the Really Sexual Woman = Evil trope), there was also a lot of other things that were good. I’ve been having some difficulty putting my finger on the whole thing. My thoughts on BSG are really only half-formed, so I really appreciate everything you have to say! Moar plz 😀

  2. Crowfoot says:

    oh these comments look so big on this narrow … word screen. thing. :-/

    Anyways, did a quick re-read and I think my problem is bad writing! Lol. While I still agree that the Evil Blonde/Evil Woman thing is there, and that that’s the worst gender issue on the show (but would be happy to be proved wrong! – and your point about their humanity/complexity is a very good one and mitigates it), I didn’t say that the Evil Blonde trope isn’t a massive thing? That there’s a lot of other good stuff there? There’s little things, too, like how Starbuck back on Caprica calls what the cylons are doing to human women rape, which it is, which some people might not call rape. And, yeah, how multidimensional and real the female characters are. And how the female characters are not just support and plot points for the male characters.

    Like I said, my thoughts are semi-formed. And I can’t seem to be concise or not write run-on sentences 😐

  3. Sady says:

    Hurrah! You have responded!

    Yeah, I definitely do agree with you about the Evil Sexy Lady problem; weirdly, it doesn’t seem so much to be a problem with them being SEXUAL (Kara is known to like sex, after all – in the show alone, she’s got Zak, Baltar, Sam, Lee, Sam again, Lee again, Sam AGAIN, and that one weird hallucinatory version of Leoben) so much as it is with them being, I dunno, “seductresses.” The idea that women who wriggle and flirt and wear skimpy dresses are always out to manipulate you or sap your vital fluids or blow up your entire species is distinctly un-good. The “seductresses” are given more depth and motivation and purity of intent than they are in most entertainments, but there’s still the association of female sexuality with temptation and artifice and immorality, which is old and indelibly bedded in misogyny. You could argue that Baltar is a seducer, too, and that his charm is also shown to be untrustworthy and manipulative and destructive, but in him it’s written as a moral weakness, whereas in the women it’s an evil power.

    Yeah, the Starbuck/Leoben Stockholm Syndrome terror, or Cally’s whole “you beat me up! In your sleep! And now I shall wed thee, and bear thee a child!” thing also seem to me like fundamental misunderstandings of abuse and of rape and of women, and they are kind of the precise thing I was thinking of when I wrote about the show’s “deterioration.” The weird thing is, this and the show’s poor treatment of GLBT folks and folks of color (which I’ve written about elsewhere) stand out MORE, and seem MORE unforgivable to me, because they are within the context of a show that gets so much right.

    So, yeah, Helfer: apparently Pegasus Six really was supposed to make out with Baltar out of gratitude that he freed her from her rape cell, and Helfer really did have to explain that there were reasons why rape survivors didn’t do those things. Which I think informed the rest of the season, which is part of why I love her: the character’s trauma, and resistance to getting sexual with Baltar, defined her actions for a huge part of the rest of the season, and in the last scene, I get the sense that she was crying specifically because she’d been triggered by the sex, and that she might never have done what she did had Baltar not pressured her into it. Which makes me love her all the more, that she (a) explained to the PROFESSIONAL WRITERS that they did not understand how rape trauma worked, and (b) did so in such a way that it went on to shape her character and the plot for the rest of the season. I really have to credit the actresses in general with so much, because even when they’re given challenging material, they seem to push back against it and imbue it with real, recognizable humanity and dignity and strength.

    Have I mentioned yet that I want Mary McDonnell to be my new mom?

    • Crowfoot says:

      Alrighty then! Let’s see… your first paragraph, I would have to agree completely and utterly. Your second paragraph, however, I only agree utterly and completely. The third paragraph is a complete washout, in that I only agree utterly and echo your sentiments so much so I struggled to say the exact same thing in my last comment but gave up because it was already getting so long.

      And I don’t want Mary McDonnell to be my mom, as my mom is already made of awesome. However, she can be one of my groovy aunts.

      Tricia Helfer can be my Prime Minister.

      Lucy Lawless, of course, eloriane and I cross our fingers and pray that she’s into poly relationships because we both LUV HER SO MUCH ZOMG even when she’s evil. *sigh*

      Oh! and my other sci fi crush was on the show! Nana Visitor played the dying patient that Roslin sits with in the beginningish of season 4. She played Kira Neris on Deep Space Nine and I love her almost as much as Lucy Lawless. Or, I love Kira Neris almost as much as Xena.

      I just finished watching the episode from the fourth season where they land on earth and every. single. time. the XO came on screen I thought “hot pirate mess that is Tigh.” 😀

      wait, were we talking about gender roles and tired sexist tropes in sci fi?

      • Crowfoot says:

        ok proper response:

        I think that’s a really good distinction that you make re: female sexuality. Even though Starbuck constantly refers to herself as a frack up, and does so after sleeping with Baltar (why? frak who you want sister!), her sexual appetite isn’t really punished in any way that I can think of. Though, I was thinking that for a strong character she does spend a lot of the time crying, at least in .. the second season? I can’t keep it all straight, having watched 3 or 4 episodes at a time, once or twice a week. It all blurs together. But it is more of the Evil Blonde Seductress, isn’t it?

        And yeah, the whole Leoben/Starbuck thing is creepy as hell. Her whole dream about him was so… rapey too. I’ve also noticed the poor treatment of LGBT people (like, where are they??) and folks of colour – except I haven’t seen Razor yet, but I’ve heard that the female Admiral is a lesbian? I almost don’t want to watch it 😦 My friend and I have been watching the series together and we’ve both noticed that the black men are either very small bit characters- sometimes soldiers, sometimes Big Criminals, or just background criminals. One cylon, who we practically never see. There seems to be more men of hispanic descent? My thoughts about how the writers handle race is equally vague and I would very much like to read what you’ve written. However I am leery of spoilers so I’m going to wait til I finish Season 4.

        Helfer and Park and… the woman who plays Starbuck, sorry- too lazy to google right now – all do a really good job. With Helfer and Park you can really tell which copy is which – I notice Boomer and know that the other one wasn’t Boomer or Athena. And I can usually tell the sixes apart too. Callum Keith Reinie does a good job too, but I’m a little biased, heh, seeing how he’s Canadian and used to be on Due South lol. I’ve been quite happy with all of the acting. And it’s interesting to see, via Helfer, how an actor can influence what the writers write. You’re quite right about how they imbue the writing with life. They do really good, subtle work.

        ok enough with the yet another monster comment! I really need to get to bed!

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