Battlestar Galactica: Feminist Or Not?

Spoiler warning: post and comments thread may contain spoilers for BSG through Season Three and the Razor movie.

I’ve been pondering the feministicity or otherwise of Battlestar Galactica (the new version). I started making a list. Of course, it’s not as simple as the “feminist or not?” in the post title. (Is anything, ever?) It’s an extraordinarily complex show, and I think it tackles difficult issues more competently, or at least more enthusiastically and confrontingly, than most other television fiction.

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My initial thoughts:

Feminist cred:

* Society with powerful women all the way to the top: fighter pilots, military commanders, President. Women depicted as physically competent, robust, rational, mentally tough, flawed in interesting ways.

* Women not portrayed as “naturally” nurturing nor men as “naturally” violent: character types (mostly? arguably?) gender-blind.

* Brief touching on reproductive issues – presidential abortion ban, actual children present (in science fiction!), ship daycare discussed.

Feminist non-cred:

* No exploration of the abortion ban fallout – how about an episode on back-deck abortion? Though there was the “The Farm” episode.

* Male-female violence problematic with an early-21st-century audience, no matter how much “But they’re equal!” justification is attempted.

* Sexual degradation as torture technique. But does portrayal without clear endorsement qualify as cred or anti-cred? This gets into the whole issue of fiction depiction as critique, which again is massively problematic.

* The whole Starbuck-falls-for-cute-kid scenario. Bleagh.

* Partially heteronormative: no (overt) gay male sexuality.

* Porny-hawt sex-as-weapon lesbian Cylons.

What do you think?

[Oh. And don’t get me started on Heroes. BG wins hands-down in the feminist stakes there.]



Categories: fun & hobbies, gender & feminism

6 replies

  1. I don’t know if I’d say that BSG is feminist as a whole, but it certainly incorporates feminist themes and discourses in a way that most contemporary TV shows do not.
    Just a few points– about the sexual degradation as torture, are you referring to the way it was used on Battlestar Pegasus under Admiral Cain (raping Six, attempted rape of Sharyn), because I thought that was fairly explicitly condemned, and I think it made a very poignant point about objectification and rape culture, insofar as people see the Cylons as objects (though interestingly– but unsurprisingly– it’s only the female Cylons that face this threat).
    As for the p0rny-hawt-lesbian Cylons: even though the Cylons have the same emotional and moral depth (or shallowness) as humans, they are in effect, constructed beings, which, I think, reflects the way that lesbianism is constructed as something for the male gaze. This indicates an ongoing patriarchal current in BSG, but it defamiliarises it in such a way that audiences are more likely to examine it critically. This isn’t a defense exactly– there are a lot of ways in which it it still very problematic– but there is at least an opening for criticism there.
    Oh, and about the abortion fall-out– is that law still standing? As I recall, Baltar used a pro-choice platform as his pretext for running against Roslyn, and although he was hardly a scrupulous or reliable president, there is still a chance that he overturned Roslyn’s anti-choice laws.

  2. You should do a full post on Heroes – if only to tear it to shreds.

  3. You should do a full post on Heroes – if only to tear it to shreds.

    I can’t, I can’t. I’m hooked on Heroes; I just have to recognise that I’m visiting whitedudeland when I go there, like I do with most of the pop culture I consume.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..Battlestar Galactica: Feminist Or Not?

  4. Beppie: I totally take your point about depiction (of sexual torture/hawtlesbots) as critique. I wonder, though, how much of it is meant as critique. My impression is that there’s a cynical doubleness there: they’re going for a mainstream audience with the pornification and titillation, while simultaneously throwing in enough ambiguity and complexity and spaces for other readings that a more feminist-aware audience can find a place in the fandom. Cynicism? I dunno. As I alluded, I picked on BSG not because I think it’s among the worst of the skiffy genre in feminist terms, but because I think it’s right up there with the best.

    Oh, and about the abortion fall-out– is that law still standing? As I recall, Baltar used a pro-choice platform as his pretext for running against Roslyn, and although he was hardly a scrupulous or reliable president, there is still a chance that he overturned Roslyn’s anti-choice laws.

    I don’t know whether it’s still standing, which is why I complained about the lack of follow-through. With a shipful of bonking fighter pilots and a pro-natalist government, I would have expected MUCH more concentration on reproductive issues. Where’s the condom supply coming from? Is there a black market in hormone supplies? There is so much to explore here.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..Battlestar Galactica: Feminist Or Not?

  5. My impression is that there’s a cynical doubleness there: they’re going for a mainstream audience with the pornification and titillation, while simultaneously throwing in enough ambiguity and complexity and spaces for other readings that a more feminist-aware audience can find a place in the fandom.

    I think that’s pretty spot on.
    I’d like to make a further intelligent comment, but I’ve had too much wine. Maybe tomorrow. 🙂

  6. I’d like to make a further intelligent comment, but I’ve had too much wine. Maybe tomorrow. 🙂

    Beppie: when you’re recovered from the wine, I’d like to hear more.
    Lauredhel’s last blog post..Tagged! A Roar for Powerful Words

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