Episode 6: Lady Chains

Rachel and Leeman look at the various ways in which women are presented by the media, churches, and various works of Geekery.

It’s not pretty.

Topics Discussed and/or Spoiled

Babylon 5, X Files, the Vorkosigan Saga, BSG, DS9, Voyager, Hunger Games, Buffy, Firefly, Stargate SG1, Neverwhere, Gilmore Girls, and Due South

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15 Responses to Episode 6: Lady Chains

  1. Rachel Kolar says:

    I have, like, eight zillion thoughts on this because I’m a girl geek, which leads to many lady chains. 🙂

    1) Oh my gosh, yes, women being treated as women instead of as people. Rachel, I actually was thinking of you during a lot of this election nonsense because so many people seemed delighted to boil “women’s issues” down to the same tired old pelvic problems–it reminded me of the giant rant you had about the “My vagina is me!” line in “The Vagina Monologues,” because it really seemed to boil down to “”Women are their reproductive systems!” Women who cared about anything other than said pelvic issues were, in certain circles, looked at as though they were out of their minds. (Of course, this may just have been my perspective because my liberal friends are a LOT more vocal on my Facebook feed than my conservative friends, so I was getting a whole lot of stuff from Jezebel and the Huffington Post.)

    One reason I adore BSG so much is it also treats women like people. Roslin could so easily have just been the caring, sharing, empathetic Deanna Troi to Adama’s hard, military, efficient manly man, but she could be much colder and more hard-nosed than Adama when she put her mind to it. If you’re a toaster, you’re getting airlocked. And don’t even start me on Starbuck. Six was a pretty straightforward femme fatale, but there’s nothing wrong with having one stereotypical female character if the rest are awesome, and she did “femme fatale” SO well.

    On the other end of the spectrum, though, for geek properties that just treat women as women, I think this is why ASoIaF’s female characters are so bad. They’re all just so … aggressively female. Even Arya, who’s aggressively NON-female (and don’t get me wrong, I love Arya) is a type. Before DWD came out, I would have said Daenerys was the exception–Dany has her haters, but I’ve always liked her–but in DWD, she suddenly became a stupid, moony teenage girl thinking with her vajayjay. The fact that she thinks with her nether regions doesn’t make her a bad character–Tyrion does, too, after all–but Tyrion has some self-awareness about the fact that he’s thinking with his nether regions and Shae doesn’t actually care about him, whereas Dany suddenly drops 50 IQ points between books. Now, one could argue that “women as women” is more justified in ASoIaF because women had such a limited social role and it was so strictly defined, and to a certain extent, that’s true–Arya HAS to consciously rebel against gender roles, and Cersei has a point in railing against the fact that she can never rule because she’s a woman, even though both these things mean that we’re constantly brought back to the fact that these are Female Characters (TM) instead of just characters. But I think the show proves that they can come off better than they do in the books. There’s no reason Catelyn has to be an awful character, and in the show, she’s actually quite decent; it’s just that Martin can’t write women.

    2) Hey, it’s the Smurfette Principle!

    3) One of my big lady chains is when women don’t have agency–either because they’re damsels in distress or because they’re clearly just the supporting character cheering the awesome male character on to his fabulous destiny (i.e. manic pixie dream girls). Part of why I was so ranty when Leeman posted the Joss Whedon article is because Fred yanks that particular lady chain. But do you know who’s yanking it hardest right now? Jadzia Dax. To be explained in a follow-up comment, because this is already insanely long and I need to get to bed.

  2. And this is Rachel — I honestly had no idea the smurfette principle was a thing! Should I be afraid that I’m spontaneously thinking like the people who run TV Tropes?

    Totally want to hear your thoughts on Dax as well. And I like your point that somehow the TV show has made GRRM’s female characters more compelling. The actresses have found strong women in there somewhere–George just can’t write them himself. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

    • Rachel Kolar says:

      By the way, on the subject of the Smurfette Principle: when Mini-Kessler is old enough to watch TV, I can’t possibly recommend “Yo Gabba Gabba” highly enough. Not only is it one of those rare and wonderful kids’ shows that adults can enjoy (one of the show runners was a co-creator of Strongbad, and the music is so good that I don’t even mind much when it gets stuck in my head for hours on end), but of the five Muppety characters, two are girls. One is Toodee, the blue tomboy cat who dresses as a witch in the Halloween episode and gets sick from gorging on too much candy, and the other is Foofa, the pink girly girl who dresses as a fairy princess and is the only one who DOESN’T get sick from eating too much candy because she’s too prim and proper to do that sort of thing (not that they explicitly point that out, but it’s there for you to pick up–the kind of girl who has Foofa as her favorite character is the kind of girl who doesn’t gorge on Halloween). Between those two, you’ve pretty much got your preschool girl archetypes covered, and it lets the girl viewers decide which one they want to associate with rather than having to say “Hmm, I guess I have to be Foofa every time we play Yo Gabba Gabba.”

  3. Rachel Kolar says:

    OK, Daxapalooza!

    First off, Dax gets about eight zillion times better as the show progresses, especially once they start doing all the Klingon stuff with her. And the writers have absolutely no problem when she’s part of the ensemble cast. The awfulness happens when it’s a Dax-centric episode, because they completely strip her of agency in episodes that are supposedly the Dax Show, and they would never, ever do that if she were a man. I’m specifically thinking of the one with Jonathan Glover (“Invasive Procedures,” I think? and the one where you first find out about Joran (“Equilibrium”?). The Jonathan Glover one had some definite awesomeness–when Jonathan Glover and Avery Brooks get into an acting contest, everyone wins–but the problem was that we only got one ten-second scene where Jadzia was just Jadzia. That should have been the heart of the episode–learning who Jadzia was as a person, watching her cope with just being Jadzia again instead of Dax, and then actually being crucial to getting her symbiont back and thus proving that she’s extraordinary on her own and not just because she has an extraordinary slug in her belly. If she were a man, that’s I’m certain that’s how things would have gone down; since she’s a woman, she spent the whole episode unconscious while Sisko saved the day. I get that they wanted to make the episode about Sisko and Curzon, but Jadzia didn’t even get a B-plot? Seriously? “Equilibrium” had the same issue–it starts out fine, but once again, Bashir and Sisko make the earth-shaking discoveries about Dax’s past hosts and about how so many Trill can be bonded to symbionts while Jadzia’s unconscious on a table. We should have seen Dax trying to work through all these revelations, but instead she just gets zapped with space slug electricity at the end of the episode. Again, I can’t possibly see them doing the episode that way with a guy, especially since they hadn’t previously established a lot of this stuff about Trill biology–by all means, in both these cases there should have been the threat that Jadzia would have died without intervention (especially the Jonathan Glover one–she could have just gone insane in “Equilibrium,” which would have been fun to watch), but the writers didn’t have to make it that she would have died in a matter of hours and was comatose until then.

    And don’t even get me started on “Facets” with the stupid “Curzon made this unprecedented decision to wash her out and then let her back in because he lurved her.” It’s something that’s absolutely never happened in all of Trill history and it should tell us something amazing and extraordinary about Jadzia, but instead we get a completely trite reason that wouldn’t have been at all out of place in a Troi episode. (Oh, yeah, I went there.)

    It’s almost more frustrating that Dax is so great in episodes that aren’t about her, because it means there’s no excuse for this nonsense. Troi episodes are terrible because Troi is a terrible character. And on “Lost,” Kate episodes were terrible because Kate was never really a strong female character, just a character who had some decent traits that never actually came through in a crisis (letting the writers check off their “yup, we have a strong female character” box when they really just had a damsel in distress). Dax episodes are terrible because…they’re terrible. She’s a legitimately strong female character who just happens to get removed from the story any time it’s actually about her.

  4. Rachel Kolar says:

    P.S.–the Bible totally passes the Bechdel test. Go, Book of Ruth!

  5. Tom Kolar says:

    With NPC’s in GMing I have kind of the security blanket of good faith- I know that my friends know that I’m not sexist, so I can just make whatever characters I want to make to advance plot/emotional arcs of the PC’s.

    [sidebar- Smallville the rpg is amazing, and has some really good general GMing advice- and one of those pieces of advice was something like “the Npc’s exist to serve the story- if you can think of a cool/emotional thing for them to do, handwave why they would do it.” It saved me agonizing over “It would be so cool if NPC X did this….but is it in character?!?!]

    But, it has been useful to have Rachel as a sounding board for “would a woman react like this?” for stuff. I know I’ve been helpful to her. She wrote a story where a guy started to suspect his wife was cheating on him, and his first reaction was “What emotional need of hers am I not meeting?” I…corrected that initial reaction.

    • Rachel Kolar says:

      Yeah, looking at the flip side of “ZOMG, men can’t write women!”, I have to admit that I can’t write men. I’ve written exactly one story with a male POV character that’s remotely publishable (the one Tom mentioned above), and it took me months because getting into his headspace was like pulling teeth. In most of my stories, the only male characters are either villains or extras, and if there’s some kind of reverse Bechdel test for men, I only have one story that passes it. I’ve written two stories about romantic relationships, and in one of them I made the main characters lesbians so I could dodge the Male Character Bullet.

      Tom’s male NPCs do tend to pop a bit more than his female NPCs (and I have no doubt that the same is true for me in reverse–it’s not that his female NPCs are in any way bad, but the men seem to come to him a little more naturally, and I have a similar issue where I default to making NPCs women because I have an easier time playing them), but then, his female NPCs include one of the most universally beloved NPCs I’ve ever seen in any game EVER. Oh, Marisol, I miss you so . . .

  6. “…is there a history of insanity in our family?”

    I watched Due South late in college and some of my female friends, who also watched, had lust for the Mounty.

    What do you think of Captain Janeway? I must admit to agreeing with ScFi Debris about; she was accidentally written to be an insane, comic book villain.

    Token characters of any kind, including race, is a problem.

    I toured London recently, and I told a friend it was good that I had read “Neverwhere” because otherwise I would have been utterly lost in the London ‘Tube System.

    • Leeman says:

      Paul Gross is a lot of fun; I’ve been watching Slings and Arrows which every single one of my theatre nerd friends told me to watch and it’s been pretty awesome. As for Janeway, I never cared for her and everything I’ve heard about Mulgrew has done little to dissuade me of that opinion. Neverwhere is pretty boss. I’m glad it helped you navigate London. The film adaptation is very strange although the Marquis de Carabas is spot on. Worth checking out for him alone.

      • Rachel Kolar says:

        Have you ever listened to the audiobook that’s actually read by Gaiman? It’s pretty fabulous. Hunter has a personality, and Vandemar is absolutely terrifying. I never really found him as scary as Gaiman clearly did when I read the book, but actually hearing what he sounds like in Gaiman’s head made a huge difference.

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