star trek

Geek Anthropologist Marie-Pierre Renaud on the “Fake Geek Girl” Debate

Photo of a group of fans at Star Trek Las Vegas

by Jarrah Hodge

A longer version of this article was originally posted at Trekkie Feminist

For anyone not familiar with the “fake geek girl” issue, it flared up online in 2012 after two articles were published. The first was by Tara Tiger Brown at Forbes telling supposedly attention-seeking “fake geek girls” to “please go away”. A couple months later. Joe Peacock wrote an article for CNN called “Booth babes need not apply”, in which he took issue with: “pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention.”

Example of the "fake geek girl" memeThe debate spiralled out from there, leading to a couple of different memes including the “Idiot Geek Girl” meme. It touched a nerve with a lot of female geeks (like me), who felt we were having our “geek cred” policed unfairly based on gender and appearance.

So I was excited to see an article about a study on the “fake geek girl” debate by Marie-Pierre Renaud. Renaud is a graduate student of sociocultural anthropology at Laval University in Quebec and is one of the founders of the fabulous blog The Geek Anthropologist.

In the intro to her research, Renaud says she was surprised that she kept encountering an assumption that women were historically rare in geek culture.

“In the rants against ‘fake geek girls’, a lot of the arguments that were invoked was that there didn’t used to be so many women in geek culture, and now that it’s becoming more popular, there are a lot more women. A lot of people who responded to the rants…wouldn’t really contest this idea that it was new for women to be involved in geek culture,” Renaud explained to me in an interview.

She said overall there isn’t really research or hard data to support that argument.

“The fact that there are more women who are visible doesn’t mean there are more women than the past…we don’t have a census of geek culture. ‘Geek culture’ keep changing…it’s not something you can clearly define,” she said.

Renaud got into geek culture at a young age by watching Star Trek with her dad, and her experience with the Trek fandom reinforced her feeling that the idea that women weren’t involved wasn’t necessarily correct.

“I would always be thinking back to documentaries like Trekkies I and II and documentaries about Firefly fans and fans of other franchises, and my experience would always be, well, there are women out there.”

“I titled the foreword to the series, ‘As Always, it Started with Star Trek’ because as a Trekkie, I know, like a lot of Star Trek fans, that one of the reasons the show was saved from cancellation in the 1960s was that Bjo Trimble started this campaign – with her husband – and she’s remembered as the woman who saved Star Trek,” Renaud explained.

“We have to ask ourselves were women really absent? Were we ignoring them? Were we making them more invisible? And if they were really present in less numbers than men, then why was that the case? We can’t just assume if there weren’t women there, they were not interested.”

Read more

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Can-Con, Feminism, Pop Culture Leave a comment

How to Do Feminist TV Analysis

FamilyWatchingTV1958cropby Jarrah Hodge

Believe it or not, watching TV with a feminist lens can be fun, and it doesn’t have to be hard. When it comes down to it, it’s just critical thinking, asking questions about the media you’re looking at.

If we aren’t looking at media critically it can exercise undue influence on our views about people from different backgrounds, on what products we choose to buy, and on what behaviour we consider appropriate or inappropriate. The messages and images it contains can reinforce or subvert stereotypes that underpin inequality.

For example media can encourage us to feel insecure about our looks because we can’t live up to the beauty ideals in ads. Or it can show us new possibilities for our society, like Star Trek does (see the more Star Trek-specific version of this article at Trekkie Feminist).

When someone critiques representations in media, it’s not about them hating on your favourite show. In order to critique something to the level that I’m doing with Star Trek, you really have to love it and care about it enough to think it’s worth your time to try and change it for the better.

I operate from bell hooks’ definition of feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.” I also believe that we can’t achieve equality for all women without addressing concurrent forms of inequality and discrimination, such as racism, homophobia, trans phobia, ableism and classism. That influences the types of questions I ask and how I interpret the messages I see on TV.

Here are the types of questions I ask when I’m doing feminist media analysis.

Questions:

  • Who are the main characters? What are their demographics (gender, race, age, sexual orientation)?
  • Do any of them have unique abilities or disabilities?
  • What are their major character traits and what are their interests and hobbies? Do they reinforce or challenge stereotypes about their gender, race, etc.?
  • How much power do they have as individuals and within their intimate relationships, social group, workplace or organization? Read more
Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 1 Comment

Feminism and Star Trek

WhatAreLittleGirlsMadeOfby Jarrah Hodge

I have had the best week ever. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek since I was a really little kid. There are few things I enjoy more than combining my passion for feminism with my love of Star Trek and other geeky things. That’s part of what led me to write my “Revenge of the Feminerd” column at Bitch blogs in 2011.

Anyhow, this week I found out my panel proposal for Geek Girl Con 2013, “Is Star Trek a Feminist Utopia?”, was accepted! Within a couple of days I had tracked down some other super cool panelists, including Tanya from Geekquality, Jamala Henderson from KUOW radio, and Mary Czerwinski of The Televixen and the DVD Geeks podcast. If you’re around the Seattle area in October, you should totally come check out Geek Girl Con. I’ve attended the last two years and am really excited to participate this year with these other awesome panelists.

As if that weren’t exciting enough, thanks to Mary I’ll also be coming down to Las Vegas in August to participate in her Trek Girls panel at Star Trek: Las Vegas!

Basically, I am as excited as a Ferengi rolling in a pile of latinum.

So now I have started the most fun homework project ever: an in-depth exploration of feminism and Star Trek, going episode-by-episode through all the series. If you’re a Trekkie and want to geek out with me, you can follow along at my new Tumblr, Trekkie Feminist. I’ll be doing slightly tongue-in-cheek episode recaps, shouting out some of my favourite women characters and poking loving fun at some of the failures in representation of women, people of colour, and LGBT people. I’m taking requests for specific episodes to watch and analyze, so if you have a suggestion, comment below!

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Counsellor Troi and Telepathic Rape

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. Read more

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Where Were the Gays on Star Trek?

Riker falls for an androgynous alien in "The Outcast"

Saw this quote in an article on Queerty from Brannon Braga, Star Trek writer, co-producer of The Next Generation, and executive producer of Star Trek: Voyager. In an interview with AfterElton, Braga was asked why Star Trek had no gay characters:

“It was a shame for a lot of us that … I’m talking about the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and there was a constant back and forth about well how do we portray the spectrum of sexuality. There were people who felt very strongly that we should be showing casually, you know, just two guys together in the background in Ten Forward. At the time the decision was made not to do that and I think those same people would make a different decision now because I think, you know, that was 1989, well yeah about 89, 90, 91. I have no doubt that those same creative players wouldn’t feel so hesitant to have, you know, have been squeamish about a decision like that.”

I was raised on Star Trek, watching The Next Generation with my older siblings every week. My room from grades 5-8 was dominated by posters of Deep Space Nine and Voyager characters, and I slept with a map of the Star Trek universe above my bed. Even though I wasn’t the most popular kid in class, I’m still a proud Trekkie and feminist, so I was taken aback that I’d never thought about the lack of gay characters in the Trek universe.
 
It’s not like Gene Roddenberry didn’t intend for there to be homosexual crew. In 1991 he told The Advocate there would be gay characters on The Next Generation, but he died that year and the other producers weren’t able to make it happen.
 
In The Next Generation, the closest we got was an episode where the horndog First Officer Riker falls in love with Soren, a member of an androgynous race that views gender expression as a perversion. However, they still chose to have women play Soren and the other aliens, taking out some of the political punch that could’ve been created by having Riker kiss a male. In another Next Gen episode, Dr. Crusher falls in love with a male Trill, whose essence is then transferred into a female host, causing Crusher to end the relationship.

Scene from the DS9 episode "Rejoined"

We finally got a same-sex kiss in Deep Space Nine, when Trill Jadzia Dax considers re-establishing a relationship with a woman whose host was married to one of her previous male hosts. Although they make it clear gender has nothing to do with it, the two women eventually decide to part ways rather than break the Trill taboo of rekindling former hosts’ relationships.

There were a few other random homosexual or bisexual aliens and mirror universe denizens over the rest of the Star Trek series, but no main characters. What’s maybe even more important is what Braga mentions in his quote about never seeing any gay background characters. We never saw two men holding hands in Quark’s Bar on DS9. We never saw two women with their arms around each other at one of the Voyager crew’s holodeck luaus. And we never saw a trans character where the gender ambiguity wasn’t part of their alien traits. Therefore, even when they tried to address equality for gays and lesbians, it was in a context that treated heterosexuality as the norm. It sent the message, even if it wasn’t intentional, that for some reason there were no gays in the 24th century.

I still think Star Trek was a pretty progressive show and it did a good job of addressing equality for women and blacks, but I’m definitely going to be watching any reruns more closely now that I’ve realized I never noticed the omission of LGBT characters.

-Jarrah

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, LGBT, Pop Culture 6 Comments