Deanna Troi and the Nature of Consent

Updated on July 23, 2018
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Ash has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.

Remember Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation?

She was an empath and served as counselor for the Enterprise. She was kind, elegant, compassionate, beautiful, and Riker constantly ignored her existence and took her for granted -- except when she was in danger.

In an episode of Season 2 called "The Child," Deanna is impregnated by an alien who wishes to better understand humans and our world. And if you think that sounds tropey, it gets worse.

This alien forces his way inside Deanna as she is sleeping (this sentence is already all kinds of disturbing) and forces her into a rapidly accelerating pregnancy.

The next morning, the entire -- notably male -- crew gets together and argues about what's best for Deanna while she sits in miserable silence.

Worf wants Deanna to get an abortion.

Riker is pissed off that someone has been sleeping with his kinda-sorta girlfriend.

Data is merely interested in the biology of what's happening and could care less that Deanna has been basically raped and impregnated by an alien species.

Everyone at the table only cares about what implications the pregnancy could have for the safety of the ship. No one gives a rat's ass about Deanna . . . except for Captain Picard.

The conversation is abruptly halted when Deanna announces that she's having her baby dammit. Captain Picard is the first to respect her decision, and the others grudgingly follow suit.

I was very relieved that no one tried to force Deanna to do anything to her body that she didn't want to. At least that was something. It would have been extra horrifying otherwise.

You could almost compare and contrast this to Alien, a movie in which one of the crew members is "impregnated" by an alien. In that case, however, the crew member is comatose and the crew is forced to make a decision for him. What's pretty ironic is, had they listened to Ripley and let John Hurt and his "baby" die, they would have avoided the grisly events of the entire movie.

Hilariously enough, the same thing happens in this episode of Star Trek.

While I'm fairly aware that "The Child" was probably not intentionally an allegory of a woman's right to bodily autonomy, that's exactly what it wound up being.

My only problem with the episode is how Ian -- the actual rapist -- is presented as "not meaning any harm." His violation of Deanna's body is viewed as harmless, even something she benefits from, as if birthing children and being a mother is assuredly the secret wish of every woman.

Deanna warmly accepts Ian and gladly raises him, never once stopping to realize she is actually raising what is not a child but an ancient being who used her like a portal into our world.

By the end of the episode, the other characters realize that Ian's birth was actually as harmful as they'd feared, as his presence is a danger to the ship. As the alarm goes up and the ship goes into Yellow Mode, Ian -- now having grown into the body of an eight-year-old -- decides to sacrifice himself to protect everyone and lets himself die.

Again, what's ironic is that all of it could have been avoided in the first place if Deanna had just got an abortion.

I, like Captain Picard, respect Deanna's decision. I'm just sayin'.

The fact that Ian violated a woman for his own ends is never addressed and, indeed, he is never cast in a critical light for having done so.

To make another comparison, an episode of Babylon 5 had several people being possessed Body Snatcher Style by an alien race. But Babylon 5 purposely subverted the Body Snatcher Trope (while Star Trek: TNG embraced it with their own episode "The Conspiracy").

At the end of the Babylon 5 episode, it turned out that the aliens had been given permission to inhabit their human friends and that the possession was something that benefited both parties and was not at all parasitic: the human hosts were healed of sickness by the presence of their alien inhabitants, while the aliens themselves were given a new home after their old one had perished.

In Star Trek's episode "The Child," there is no such equal benefit between the two parties. Deanna experiences no pain during birth and seems to enjoy raising Ian, but the sacrifice was her bodily autonomy. She never once sat Ian down and explained why it was wrong to force himself on her.

What I'm saying is, the episode "The Child" would have succeeded in getting across its saccharine storyline (I might have cared about the sappy ending where Deanna cries), had Ian bothered asking Deanna for her help.

Instead, Ian didn't ask. He just did whatever he wanted to a sleeping woman and everyone patted him on the head and looked the other way because "he's just a boy."

Sounds a bit like real life.

© 2018 Ash


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