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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Over-Active Feminism and Felicia Day

I like Felicia Day.
I like what she is doing and I like how she is doing it.
I like that she seems like a genuinely nice person.
She is someone I think I would like to meet and whom I think I would get along with.

She recently posted on tumblr that she enjoyed Star Trek: Into Darkness but that she feels that there were no strong women in the movie. That women were specifically excluded from all of the high-ranking positions and that JJ should try harder to demonstrate equality in the future that is Star Trek.

While I support the idea of showing women as being completely capable as men I cannot find myself in agreement with Felicia's observations on the movie. I am glad that when I went to see it a second time I did so after having read her post. As such I will address her points in order.
But first I want to remind everyone that this is Star Trek. Star Trek, even the "reboot" has a certain framework that is already established. The creative team that resurrected this franchise and which is bringing us more to enjoy has to work within that framework. At the bare minimum this framework includes the basic archetypes of the main characters:

1. Kirk - Kirk is the center of the show. He IS center screen. He is a womanizing, but brilliant captain. He cares, but more for himself and his "family" than for the people he does not know personally. He breaks rules that don't make sense to do what he feels is the right thing.
2. Spock and McCoy - The two make the second tier of character focus for the show. Their banter and friendship with each other, coupled with their relationship to the captain are reinforcing roles to the show.
3. Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Checkov - The main cast of characters are rounded out by this quad of characters. They are essential and integral to the show for a variety of reasons but they have also been third string.

The characters are what they are and the framework that they fall into is what JJ was handed. Too much radical shift in that three-tier character study would have created a failure rather than a success. Having established that those are the main character roles that JJ was shackled with I will move into Felicia's comments and outline those that I feel are in error and why.

Where are the women? The strong women? The women we’d like to see in 200 years? Where are they in this world? They certainly aren’t around the roundtable when the Starfleet are learning about Khan (there might have been one in that scene, if so that extra was not cut to in any significant manner to be notable.)

Upon watching the film a second time I made sure to pay attention to this scene in particular because of the above comment. I payed close scrutiny to the scene and I counter no fewer than 4 women in that room. There may have been a fifth, but I am certain there were four. Were they the focus of attention: no. Were they there: yes. The focus of attention, again, was centered on Kirk and, secondarily, Pike and Marcus. Pike because of the legacy of who Pike is in both the original and the new timelines and Marcus because he was in charge of the room. There was no slighting of any of the other characters as they were ALL ignored. All of them. Kirk was the only one to note the oddity of Khan taking the bag and the only one to say anything because he is the "cowboy" who doesn't know his place and is inflated with a larger sense of self-importance than the rest. Kirk doesn't recognize the hierarchy and, thusly, broke the rules of the meeting. That is why HE spoke up.

In the scene where Kirk gets his ship back and the admiral is having a meeting with “important” people around a table later, I failed to see ONE WOMAN AROUND THAT TABLE, ALL MOSTLY WHITE MEN IMPLIED TO BE MAKING IMPORTANT DECISIONS TOGETHER. Yes, these are just scenes with extras, but seriously, in the future not one woman over 40 is in charge in this world?! How can that happen?

I will give Felicia partial credit on this one. I, too, noticed it the first time. So I paid closer attention the second time. There was one woman around that table and the racial profile of the group was varied. One woman out of approximately 10 people is hardly representative, though. So, while I give her partial credit on this observation, she is still missing the mark in that there was female representation and the woman was older. I also get the implication that this group was comprised of Marcus "yes men" and that they were all hand-picked by Marcus to be his lieutenants and to go along with his decisions. But there is no corroborating evidence for this.

For main characters, Uhura had a FEW nice scenes (as a vehicle to humanize Spock mostly)

I have to point out that Uhura was not "mostly humanizing Spock" when she walked out to confront a group of Klingons without backup.
I have to point out that Uhura was not "mostly humanizing Spock" when she beamed down to engage Khan when he was on the edge of defeating Spock in hand-to-hand combat.
I have to point out that Uhura was not "mostly humanizing Spock" when she initiated the verbal "lover's spat" in Mudd's trade ship on the way to capture Khan. That was all about HER and how SHE felt. That interchange highlighted how strong she is and how she is willing to stand HER ground while still being an effective officer.
I have to point out that Uhura was not "mostly humanizing Spock" when she stated that working with Spock on the away mission wouldn't be a problem and Spock replied "uncertain." To me, in that moment, Uhura commanded the room. She was in charge and both Spock and the Kirk knew it. If ANYONE were to have stayed behind at that point it would have been Spock, not Uhura.

For main characters, Uhura had a FEW nice scenes (as a vehicle to humanize Spock mostly), but that other woman character was the WORST damsel in distress ever. I kept waiting for her turn, waiting for her to not be the victim, to be a bit cleverer, to add to the equation in a “yeah you go girl” way but no, she was there to be sufficiently sexy that Kirk would acknowledge her existence, to be pretty, to serve the plot. I loved her bob. That’s it. What if she had been a less attractive woman, older, overweight? A tomboy? Wouldn’t have that been a tad more interesting choice?
This passage (which has included the Uhura comment again for context) is about Carol Marucs. It saddens me that Felicia missed the point of Carol Marcus in this story. Carol Marcus could NOT have been "a less attractive woman, older, overweight? A tomboy?" as she is already defined. She is the mother of Kirk's son. She HAS to be similar in age and of the type that would attract Kirk. It's continuity. Her physical condition and appearance was already defined in the original timeline. JJ had a limited scope of how he could adjust this character and none of that leeway would let her fall outside of Kirk's taste in women.

Or at least give her a moment where she’s not a princess waiting to be saved.

Like the one where she stood up to Kirk, McCoy and everyone else and refused to be beamed back to the Enterprise so that she could save McCoy?
Like the one where she stood up to her father and told him he would have to kill her, too, if he proceeded to destroy the Enterprise?
Like the one where, upon seeing her father in person, she slapped him in the face and told him she was ashamed to be his daughter?
I think those were all points that outlined strength of character and competency to stand for her convictions and her ability to DO on her own.

I don’t know if I’m extra sensitive about this issue or what, but I don’t think so, it’s a trend in media today.
I hate to say this, Felicia, but I think you are super-sensitive to this. If you watch the film a second time pay attention to the background. There are women EVERYWHERE. The Enterprise bridge is staffed with nearly half women at all points in the film. Engineering has women. Sick bay has women. The hallways have women. They were even equal-opportunity in killing unknown crew members when the ship is being shredded in the firefight and when it is careening out of control on a crash course. The main story is focusing around the main characters and they are predefined. Yes, they were predefined in the 1960s when the role of women was much less acknowledged, but they are the framework that the show is suspended on.

When I walk into the theater, I see men on posters. Mostly white men, the same men we see over and over in movies. Seth Rogen, Owen Wilson, Brad Pitt etc. Where did the women go? We are telling people that only men are worth centering storytelling around, and that’s just bullshit.

I could provide a few counter examples to this but, on reflection, I realized that there are so few of them that they reinforce the point. This is a problem and I won't try to say otherwise.

And the problem is we unconsciously define the world and our culture through media. These things are subliminal, we absorb them, they formulate the “given” that influences people’s life choices.

Despite my wishing otherwise the media does a great job of programming us. I like to think that I have risen above it to make my own decisions but, even with the conscious effort to do so I find that I am influenced heavily by the norms portrayed by our media. I find this to be problematic for many reasons.

It might be a little thing on the surface, but this stuff is what prevents women from being as interested in math, or business people or tech etc. Where are the examples of women in media to strive for, to make that stuff seem possible?

Both of these are astute observations. The squashing of interest in math and science among the female population is a HUGE problem. And it is a problem that is not perpetrated by the media. It is a problem that is perpetrated by long-lasting gender stereotypes and reinforced by the media. The people who make the media believe it and, thus, they reinforce the message to the younger crowd. This is a meta-problem; a derivative problem; a recursive problem. Hopefully it will continue to recurse itself out of existence.

So, while I agree with Felicia on he thoughts that we should deviate from someone who fits my gender and racial stereotype as the main character I can say that there is a lot of that out there. There is more than she seems ready to see. Not enough, certainly, but more than is readily apparent (look at Will Smith, for example).

I look forward to the introduction of more female characters because I admire and respect strong women. I find them attractive and I would much prefer to have women who know who they are and can assert themselves as people in my life than those who are happy to be the damsel in distress and be walked over by a jerk who will take advantage of that. But there is also a balance. If we swing the culture the other way too heavily we do no one a service. We alienate an equal portion of the population as customers and as developing adults. The only real way to move forward is to reach a point where gender and race have no bearing on story and casting decisions just as they shouldn't have any bearing on hiring practices nor on friendships or anything else.

EDIT: I forgot to mention that in the re-christening sequence near the end of the film the admiralty board that is on stage with Kirk is about half older women.

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