Wrongs Darker than Death or Night

by Feminist at Sea

I have to admit something, and that is that I am a bit of a trekkie. From when I was a child I used to watch reruns of The Original Series and The Next Generation. The world of Star Trek simply appealed to me, though at the time I was not sure why.

In recent years I have begun to watch episodes of the various series again, and I find that Deep Space 9 is my absolute favorite and very watchable if you are a radical feminist but generally put off by malestream television. What I liked most about the series were the characters of Kira Nerys, Jadzia Dax and the friendship between them. Both have interesting backgrounds, strong personalities and are diverse and well rounded characters. They could have easily been played by male actors, but they weren’t and that, in my opinion, is the only right way to write and portray fictional female characters.

It seems I am not the only one who liked those two and would love to share a video tribute made undoubtedly by a loyal fan:

Like all main/malestream shows Deep Space 9 was not without its problems. Most of the characters were straight, almost all were portrayed by white actors and the male/female ratio was still skewed. And there was one episode which particularly bothered me, which was “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night.”

One of the main villains of Deep Space 9 was Gul Dukat, a Cardassian military officer. For years he ran the space station and kept the Bajorans , including Kira and her family, imprisoned as slaves. During the series the character of Kira is sometimes thrown together with Dukat on certain missions. At times he is almost an ally, having lost most of his power and respect from the Cardassians. The creators of Deep Space 9 thought there was a certain chemistry between the characters and they wanted them dating. The actress, Nana Visitor, said she put her foot down and that it was absolutely not going to happen. It wouldn’t be in her character’s nature to do that, something for which I am eternally grateful.

The creators gave in and didn’t try to write a relationship between Kira and Dukat. Instead, they wrote an episode that feature Dukat having a “relationship” with Kira’s mother. Here is my biggest problem. Kira’s mother, and in fact Kira’s whole family when she was child, was just as much enlsaved as Kira was. The Cardassians required “comfort women”, so some of the Bajoran women were rounded up to “entertain” the Cardassian officers on the station, who by the way were all male. In exchange for their compliance the families of these women were sent back to their home planet ‘Bajor’, were provided with food and could live their lives free of forced labor and persecution.

On the day Kira remembers and honors her mother’s death Dukat contacts her and informs her they used to be “lovers” and Kira, not able to dismiss this information, travels back in time to figure out if it is true. She finds out that her mother was indeed one of Dukat’s comfort women and is heartbroken. She despises her mother so much for it that she tries to assassinate her. In a final moment of compassion she saves her mother from the explosion and returns to her own time.

After the ordeal she bitterly rants to the captain about how she can’t stand it that her mother sat sipping alcoholic drinks with one of the most prominent leaders of the Bajoran occupation, while Kira and other Bajorans where out there putting their lives on the line to get rid of their Cardassian oppressors. She calls her mother a “collaborator” to the occupation.

He briefly suggests her mother did what she had to do to save her family, but after that there is no more talk about the circumstances surrounding her mothers “choices” in the matter. Kira is however very keen to forgive a male friend who was a security officer during both Cardassian occupations and who, during the last one, nearly got her and her whole resistance cell executed. All in all he was much more of a collaborator than her mother ever was. He had power the second time and he refused to use it to help them.  Yet Kira forgives him again and again and by the end of the show they are dating.

However much the creators of the various Star Trek series felt they were being progressive they still have a lot to learn about sexist double standards. They still pour their preconceived notions about what is fair or not into televisions shows and try to make us accept it as “reasonable”.

It is like people don’t know what the term “comfort women” means and it is used explicitly as such in the show. Kira’s mother had been clearly starving when she was selected and had also experienced beatings at the hands Cardassian soldiers. It was made very clear to her that she was “replaceable” and that a “mistake” would get her shipped off to a labor camp. This was not a free “choice” she made.

It is not unlike how women are judged in our society. We are held responsible for the harms that others may do to us, we are held responsible for the (necessary) alliances we make to save ourselves, we are held responsible for the sons that turn into criminals and the daughters that “don’t behave like proper ladies”. Time and again I see women having to shoulder the full burden of the events they had little to no influence or say in.

Both men and women alike, tend to judge women much more harshly and quickly than they would any man. Unfortunately, people are hardly aware that they do this. It is the way they have been raised and it is a point of view to fall back on, and it results in television episodes like this one, in otherwise good shows.

13 Comments to “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night”

  1. I have VHS tapes (that’s an ancient technology that I don’t even have a device to play them on anymore) of every single ST Voyager episode, and watched all the Second Generation before that, so I know about getting sucked into that world, Feminist At Sea! I held my nose and ignored as much of the sexism as possible, but it was sometimes impossible. I just saw what I wanted to see and enjoyed what little female ingenuity and power were on display.

    Anyway, interesting analysis of those two characters and the plot lines. Lots to think about.

  2. “Time and again I see women having to shoulder the full burden of the events they had little to no influence or say in.”

    Isn’t that the truth? Women have all of the responsibility but very little of the power. It’s a great gig for men, they can be in charge, do whatever they want, and women will not only suffer the consequences, they’ll carry all the blame for you.

  3. I too, always found DS9 the best of the lot of the Star Trek franchise – by far. I never quite liked the first Dax though – but Kira remains my favourite of the all the ST women. One of the major problematicisations, all the way through (and also in nearly all major Women-in-Action genre) is the message of action-women characters being “Daddy’s Girls” – with the only Good Mother, being a Dead Mother. The ‘Good Daughter’ according to patriarchy, has to destroy her mother, and her ‘Father’ (or Father-Figure) becomes the only parent who is honoured.

    Capt Janeway, is another classic example of Daddy’s Girl, modernised version of the classic Greek myth of Athena, being born, (or Re-born) from her father Zeus. Athena was the first “feminine-Son” or Man-Made Woman, who in the classic Greek play, announces that she agrees that ” The Mother is no Parent, of that which she bears”. Only fathers are parents. There were at least 3 episodes in Voyager, where Janeway and her relationship with her father is the main theme. Her mother is never mentioned, other than passing reference to being dead.

    The other Mother figures in Star Trek, are devalued, hated, trivialised, laughed at etc – very ageist – such as Lwuxanna Troi (Deanna Troi’s mother in The Next Generation).

  4. I did like Jadzia and was originally disappointed with Ezri, because Ezri was so timid when she first came on the show and the friendship with Kira was no longer there. I never thought about the absent mothers of Kira and Dax and they always have some sort of father figure even if it isn’t a biological one.

    I really hated how much Janeway originally features as a mother to all her crew. I was watching it again recently and thought, great that’s how they solve the “female captain problem”, by making her mother to them all? Then later Janeway was turned into some sort of female Kirk without the sexual conquests and I liked that even less. remember when she killed Tuvix despite him insisting he did not want to die? Janeway was really violent at times, much more so than Picard or Sisko.

    On voyager I liked B’elanna much better. Despite having a temper she was a much more believable character. Initially Janeway and Torres had more to do with one another. Ha! You can write so many posts about the problems with Star Trek. Ever seen The Cage? It made me so mad that that pilot never made it as a series.

  5. No, I don’t remember the Cage – but the one I did love, was “Earth 2” – they stopped production at the end of 11 or 12 episodes of Season 1 – just left it on a cliff-hanger, didn’t even make a Season Finale. They blamed the lack of ratings on the fact that the Expedition leader character was a woman (and a mother) But the storylines were great, I was just really getting into it – when Bang – It Stopped Dead in its tracks.

    I loved B’elanna too, at least up until she teamed up with Tom Paris… *sheesh*.. I would have preferred her mated to Tuvok… once every 7 years 🙂

    I always thought Janeway, was “mother” only to the male characters – she was very hard on the women – she refused to have B’elanna as Chief Engineer at first, until Chakotay went into bat for B’elanna. and every time any woman made a mistake or behaved ‘badly’ she would come down like a ton of bricks. Much harder on the women, than the men.

    The Voyager FanNews, noted that Voyager was failing in the ratings by end of Season 3, and came close to being canned because of the low ratings. Mostly young male viewers, did not like it – so to revamp the series, they masculinised Janeway even more, and Chakotay as the Loyal Sidekick – and brought in Seven-of-Nine for men’s “eye candy”, to replace Kez (who wasn’t sexy enough). I wish they’d taken Neelix with her!

  6. I am pretty sure that seven-of-nine was there to be man-candy, but I really loved her character. Sher didn’t take much crap from people. She initially tried to comply with being pressured into getting into a relationship with a male crew-member, but came to the conclusion that it wasn’t working for her and followed her own path. Her eventually dating Chakotay was bizarre. It didn’t seem to fit either character. I do remember they tried to write her out of the show at some point.

  7. OMG, trekkies in the house!! I have nothing to add, I’m just amused by your conversation which appears to be in some other language.

    @Noan: VHS!!! I have one!! 😉

  8. Haha! I was thinking the same thing, UP.

    I haven’t watched star trek since tng.

  9. I hear what you’re saying about how Kira was much harder on a woman than a man and that DOES seem to be a common thing. But who really benefits if we all believe that women do that? And where does that message actually come from? Here’s the crew list for Deep Space Nine: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106145/fullcredits

    One female ever directed and just a handful of females wrote the episodes. And you can bet the ones who were hired to do that were not going to be rocking any boy boats.

    The idea that women hate on women more than they hate on men is just like the idea of “cat fights.” Men love to set up an image of women fighting with each other and doing harm to one another — it helps keep us forever divided and thinking of each other as untrustworthy and man-centered. Who benefits if that storyline is the one that is believed? And fiction is full of it. Men wrote and directed that character in DS9 reacting that way and could just as easily written it the other way. Showing women in solidarity with each other is exceptionally rare in media. Men dominate the media production environment and have every reason to keep showing women not supporting each other.

    After following Nex Gen for years, I couldn’t stand Voyager when it first started. It seemed cloying and lightweight. I revisited it only near the end of its run, then got hooked. I liked that Janeway was tougher by then. And yeah, the cat-suited Seven of Nine was visually a stereotype (except for the awesome implant), but broke television rules for smart women (at the time). And of course I’ve watched all the Star Trek women through the lens of a lesbian. I had crushes on Tasha Yar and Ensign Ro of Nex Gen and developed one for S of N. Never had a thing for any of the women in DS9 — I understood Dax as a version of trans (it’s a common enough theme in the sci-fi that I’ve read) and as being who “she” was because of being a symbiont. In other words, a female could only be that person if she were melded with another creature. That is a very common theme in sci-fi generally. I was frustrated with all the ST’s deep need to trot out heterosexual-pairing plot lines. BORING! There were plenty of flirtations between women — that video above makes that clear — but never real couples. ST in the end is a very conservative universe in that way.

  10. What feministatsea hat discribed is typical (rape) victim blaming. If she really didn’t like it she should rather have killed herself or exposed herself to even greater danger.

    The prime directive seems – at least in the beginning of TNG – to be an excuse to kiss up to male chauvinists from societies which treat women worse than earth and already do travel at warp speed. They insult, threaten etc. the female crew members and are excused for that. Cultural relativism olé! (puking inside). (Being an immigrant I particularly don’t like the idea that culture is a reason to abuse human rights).
    In the episode “Angel One” the crew encounters a female dominated society which is really rare (but even there men do the killing of prisoners…) which does not travel in space, yet. According to the prime directive they shouldn’t mess with them. But they do. There are men from earth who crashlanded on that planet and stated to advocate – what could it be? – men’s rights! What else? And they get away with it and are allowed to stay and a change in society appears possible in future. In that episode they make the excuse that only Star Fleet is bound by the prime directive but mere civilians (the MRAs) aren’t – which doesn’t make any sense and is different from other episodes (can’t picture them allowing such a thing anywhere else). It’s utterly disgusting! Probably the most offensive episode ever (though I haven’t watched all of them yet). Even in fiction they need to make sure females won’t dominate men forever though the opposite is possible and frequent.
    By the way, those women from Angel One did not behave half as badly as the male chauvinists form the other planets. But to whom does Star Fleet kiss up?

  11. Yes! Men write all this shit, and male-identified women writing to male-please the male or male-identified bosses write the rest. In other words…not radical feminists! None of this happens in a vaccuum, and they could’ve written it the other way, and didn’t. Who does this benefit, and what’s the payout are questions that always need asking.

  12. I was pissed off by Angel One too. The women really ran the place and apart from political power men had the same rights and were treated just like the women. Than the Enterprise crew started lecturing the head of government about using men as “objects”, but didn’t object to the earth crew “taking wives”. Oh and let’s not forget that the women of Angels one immediately found the males of the earth crews much more sexually attractive than their own people. The women from the Enterprise hated her too.

    I really liked Tasha Yar too. She made an excellent chief of security, but her character did not have much depth beyond it. Also rape-gangs? Really? There is, even in Start Trek, plenty of what passes for rape, but never gets even gets named.

  13. Feminist at Sea, I loved Tasha Yar. Why did they feed her to the tar monster? She was much more of a bad@ss than Worf.

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