Counsellor Troi and Telepathic Rape

by | January 19, 2012
filed under Feminism, Pop Culture

Counsellor Troi in The ChildThis post was part of a series I did for Bitch Magazine Blogs this past spring called “Revenge of the Feminerd”. I’ve made some changes in response to comments I received on the original post and I updated the video clip since the one I posted in the original article was removed from YouTube.

While I think women’s roles on Star Trek generally improved in Deep Space Nine and Voyager, I thought it was worth dedicating a post to Troi and looking at how Trek dealt with the issue of psychic rape.

One of my first memories is being five years old, sitting on my older brother’s lap on the living room carpet watching “Best of Both Worlds.” I may have had nightmares about the Borg for weeks, but I was also hooked on Star Trek. Now, Counsellor Troi is one of the more stereotypically feminine Trek women – she was the damsel in many damsel-in-distress-type scenarios, an emotional chocolate eater, and she constantly sought male validation to deal with her self-doubts about her role on the ship and ability to command.

But to five-year-old me, Counsellor Troi was more appealing than Disney princesses: beautiful and serene and intuitive, but also she got to go on cool missions and sit on the bridge of the Enterprise and tell the Captain the truth about his own motivations. Troi was the first action figure in my Trek collection, and when I started reading Star Trek novels in grade 6, I always went for the ones featuring her.

So as an adult feminist re-watching TNG and reflecting, I feel the need to complain about how Troi was treated, particularly around the instances when Troi was psychically raped.

While not quite a psychic attack, commenter Minuet brought up the Season 2 episode “The Child,”in which Troi is forcibly impregnated by an alien presence. After a very brief discussion about choice in which Worf suggests aborting the baby in case it’s a security risk, while Data argues having the child would provide opportunity for further study, Troi says she’s going to have the baby. The implication of the scene (and the whole episode) is of innate maternal instinct, as Troi’s been listening to the baby’s heartbeat right before she makes her declaration. When (spoiler alert) the baby starts growing super quickly and endangering the ship and decides he has to leave/die, Troi is devastated.

The episode that creeps me out even more than “The Child” is Season 5’s “Violations.” In case you’re not familiar with the show, Troi is an empath, which means she can read people’s emotions. In this episode, a bunch of aliens called the Ullians are visiting the Enterprise, and they happen to have unique mental abilities. After chatting with Jev, one of the Ullians, Counsellor Troi returns to her quarters. When she gets there she has a flashback to a sexy memory of Commander Riker, which gets scary when he begins to try to sexually assault her. His image then turns into that of Jev and Troi falls into a coma.

Yes, Jev attacks other crew members who also fall into comas, but Troi is the only one whose attack carries a sexual dimension, instead of it being a way of incapacitating people who are suspicious of him.

The thing that pisses me off most about this episode is a scene at the end where Picard declares that the Ullian legal system will have to punish the attacker, since the Federation has no law that would address that type of crime. So even if the Federation is out-of-touch enough to not have laws against psychic rape, how about saying it’s assault? He forced himself into her mind and as a result she fell into a coma. Even if the memory part wasn’t “real,” the fact that she had resulting physical incapacity should’ve made it a chargeable offense.

The next instance of Troi being a victim of psychic rape is disgustingly similar and occurs in the movie Star Trek: Nemesis.

In Nemesis, Picard’s clone (the bad guy) Shinzon is creepily into Troi and uses his Viceroy’s psychic abilities to force himself into her mind while she’s having a romantic encounter with her now-husband, Riker. I couldn’t find a clip of the scene on its own but there is a super short shot of it in the trailer, just after the 1 minute mark (Shinzon whispers “Imzadi” and then is seen in bed with Troi):

(Spoiler alerts in this paragraph) Again, the way they deal with the telepathic assault is way less than feminist. They mostly act like it’s not a big deal. After being examined in sickbay, Troi says she was violated and asks to be relieved of duty, saying she thinks she’s become a liability. So it’s not because she was just raped and needs time to process and heal, but because she’s worried about the ship. Picard refuses and later in the movie she’s even ordered to reconnect telepathically with the Viceroy in order to help the Enterprise in battle.

This scene can be seen positively – when she guides Worf’s hand to locate the enemy ship and fires, she shouts, “Remember me!” So it can be seen as her refusing to be a victim, but it also seems like an immensely painful experience that wasn’t really her idea to begin with, so it still weirds me out. One commenter on my original post noted she felt it was empowering to show Troi could go on and to not portray her as wholly a victim, but I think it was problematic that she couldn’t make the decision herself.

The way Counsellor Troi’s assaults were portrayed exoticized the situations, making them alien. Not taking them seriously made it seem like psychic rape wasn’t even necessarily a crime or that it wouldn’t have the same kinds of impacts as physical rape. I’m not saying she should’ve been incapacitated, but they should’ve scrapped the telepathic rapes altogether or at least acknowledged that hey, this is a really serious thing that most people would find extremely traumatic.

I think Troi deserved better than this. And so did feminist Trekkies.

-Jarrah


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