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If "Star Trek: The Next Generation" Had Gotten Sexism Right

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Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.


In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Lt. Riker (aka Number One) is tasked with negotiating with the leader of the planet Angel One (because to hell with the Prime Directive), where the women are physically powerful and dominant and the men are small and socially powerless. In other words, Angel One is basically a Twilight Zone version of Earth. (Yeah, Star Trek: TNG was a good show, but it was very tropey.)

In order to negotiate, Riker has to put on the local garb of the subjugated men, which is something hilariously tasteless and objectifying. (In the picture above, we see Tasha Yar and Deanna Troi laughing at him.)

It's clear that Star Trek was mocking sexism by reversing gender roles, but they got a few things very wrong.


First, if Riker was in the actual role of a woman in our modern-day American society, he and the men of Angel One would be wearing something way more revealing. In order to get ahead in life and to appeal to the women, they wouldn't be wearing shirts and pants at all and instead would be wearing skirts, thongs, and things that generally reveal more skin—the same way women reveal cleavage and legs to get ahead in a male-dominated society.

Also, the men of Angel One would likely be pressured to put socks in their crotches and wear cups to make them look bigger. This would be in order to appease shallow women who only value size.

This being the freaking '80s/'90s; however, I suppose they had to have Riker wearing more clothes than the average woman does on television today. But there are still other things Star Trek: TNG got wrong.


Such as Riker seducing Mistress Beata.

This scene was done with the assumption that women have sexual power over men, and that men are incapable of controlling their urges and can not say "no" to a woman seducing them.

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Riker, in the pictured scene, is supposedly in the role of a woman and is actively seducing Mistress Beata, who proves utterly "helpless" to his charms and sleeps with him.

If the show had been realistic in its flipped gender roles, Riker would have felt bullied and coerced into the sex by a woman who was more socially and physically powerful and would face little consequences for having bullied him. Beata, being a super-strong alien woman, would have made Riker feel threatened and cornered, and would have nagged him into doing a few sex acts just to make her back off.

That is the reality women live in every single day.

Unfortunately, this episode was a man's version of a woman's reality. It would have been a good opportunity for the writers to show Riker's loyalty to Deanna Troi by having him wrestle with the feeling of being coerced into doing something with another woman. Instead, they had him pause for a moment of guilt before willfully -- even eagerly—going on with the sex.

What was more, if they had depicted Riker's subservient role correctly, he would have faced more than just snide comments about how he didn't understand things because he was "an inferior man."

Riker would have had women giving his crotch predatory ten-minute stares while he was trying to talk, bend, sit, breathe, and as he was talking, they would speak over him and dismiss everything he had to say.

His very real, very serious issues would be sexualized (testicular cancer would be treated the way breast cancer is), trivialized, and dismissed as petty whining.

Later, if he told someone he felt coerced into the sex with Beata, people would blame him, tell him that women aren't mind readers, or otherwise remind him how being forced into sex is his own fault for not shouting "no" loud enough.

Ask some ferengi women. I'm sure they'd agree.

In the end, Star Trek:TNG was a show incapable of properly tackling social issues because it was written by men who don't have to live that reality, with zero input from the women who do. The writers always attempted to discuss serious issues but never really got there. Perhaps if they had ever listened to their female cast members (instead of firing them) they might have.

Still . . . the episode "Angel One"—clumsy attempt at social commentary though it was—is better than what happened to Carol Marcus.

© 2018 Lee

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