Cally, Dee, and Ellen: on the reviled feminine on BSG (part 1)

Sep 12, 2011 19:02

I make no pretensions to being able to focus on one topic for a whole week. But I really do love the idea behind womenlovefest's celebration of Hated Women. I’m interested in why some women are hated, by fandom and their respective narratives, in such blatantly gendered ways. JUST TO CLARIFY, this isn’t about not being wild about any or all of these ladies. I don’t pretend to get it, but SOME PEOPLE JUGGLE GEESE. Really. If the shoe don’t fit, it ain’t yo shoe. (FOR LO, I AM A FONT OF TRUTH AND WISDOM.) But the narrative pounding they all got, the presumption that they’re unliked and not particularly likeable, and the contempt for these women which seems to be a sort of shibboleth in fandom - that worries me.


Day 1: what gender-neutral society?

BSG, both the show and the fandom, is a fascinating phenomenon when it comes to gender. The show did push the envelope on female characters and narratives, particularly in the first two seasons. (I’d argue that it didn’t go to shit entirely on feminist issues until sometime mid-4.0, and someone - probably JE, bless her heart - was fighting the good fight with a little damage control here and there up until the regressive clusterfuck of the finale I DO NOT FORGIVE THERE WILL BE NO FORGIVENESS &c &c. But I think the issue was episodic rather than systemic throughout the middle of the show.)

And we’re all so fucking starved for any diversity at all with female characters, we’re (myself very much included) willing to let an awful lot slide. That’s okay. But it turns into this odd absolutism, where because there’s any effort at all, we expressly take the party line that the BSG-verse is *gender-neutral.*

This is where I get off the love train and start howling with bitter laughter.

BSG has a great Nixon Administration view of feminism - some inroads into combating overt sex discrimination are SO FUCKING ONEROUS as to HAVE TO constitute total equality. And again, that’s still better than most television; being a progressive means I accept the nature of progress, that something can be better without being perfect or even good. But it also means pointing out when things still fail miserably, which, on a strict Watsonian level, Colonial society very much does, [1] on even the most basic, uncontroversial feminist issues. Here, off the top of my head:
  • Sexual politics: A society with religious stigma on abortion and social stigma on (uniformly female) sex workers does revile women as the sex class, whether or not this is explicit. Sexual violence against women is a constant threat.
  • Electoral politics: Laura Roslin, transcendent as she is, only becomes the president because EVERYONE ELSE IS DEAD and stays in office only for so long as NOBODY ELSE WANTS THE JOB. All four - four! - other presidents are men, who get quite as much or more credit from the electorate for a fraction of her service and competence. (THOSE INGRATES. I CANNOT EVEN.)
  • In the workplace: All doctors are men (though some of their assistants are women). With the exception of Cain, all other high-ranking military officers are men; even Starbuck is only the CAG for a hot second (and, crucially, promoted for the first time not by Adama but Cain). So it’s not that surprising when they’re all referred to as “men” and “sir.”
  • In the home: Women are presumed to change their names upon marriage - which is, uniformly, the expected endgame of a relationship between a man and a woman.
It’s not quite Sterling Cooper, but I absolutely refuse to accept that as the standard.

So the whole sex equality mirage is, on its own, demonstrably crap. But! Let’s say it were true. Let’s say these nuts and bolts issues were not quite so glaring. (In this hypothetical, Doc Cottle will be played by Kathryn Joosten, because she Improves Everything.) That’s still not the same as gender neutrality.

Because, check it out: not only are men as a class better-positioned than women as a class in Colonial society, but the grouping of characteristics which are generally assigned the qualities of “masculine” or “feminine” occurs much in the way it does in our world, and those traits and actions which are considered masculine are valued in-universe by the characters - again, setting aside the narrative use of sexist tropes and audience reception thereof, BUT STAY TUNED - far over and above things assigned to “femininity.” There’s still a hierarchy of gendered people, even if there’s a little more flexibility for a few more individuals than we generally expect. Feminism is about equality and diversity (ie, basic human dignity), not about magnanimously recognizing a small handful of female humans as honorary men if they are truly exemplary by way of whatever arbitrary rubric their society uses to measure masculinity.

Which isn’t to hate on the show as a whole! Because I love it still, not least because of all the awesome women! I also watch shows set in the real world, which is EVEN WORSE! However, I will yell until I am blue in the face against the notion that this is what equality looks like.

But the myth persists, and it’s a handy tool for coding the misogyny of finding female ambition contemptible, or defining a woman by the male perspective on their relationship, or straight-up calling her ugly, or outright intimate partner murder both in-universe and by fans, or even celebrating such gross inequality as evidence that the universe as imagined by the show is unburdened from any and all considerations which might come of a critical feminist analysis, because feminism is so very unnecessary to this society. REAL FEMINISTS DON’T SEE GENDER, OKAY?!

Sufficiently advanced feminism, it would seem, is indistinguishable from patriarchy.

[1] Leaving the Cylons out of it for the moment because they are definitely constructed beings in-universe as well as for us. There are tons of issues with Cylons and gender, but mostly by way of use of gendered tropes in the story rather than a presumed operational framework for the characters.

feminism, lol my innate leeness, sorkinitis, haters gonna hate, i do what i want, bsg, bsg: laura roslin is my favorite, femininity, losing friends & alienating people, hated women

Previous post Next post