Political Flavors

About those “jokes” comparing Hillary Clinton to Dolores Umbridge or Winn Adami…or Tracy Flick

Posted in Editorials on June 14th, 2016

People I know and respect along with a ton of people I don’t know have latched on to the meme that Hillary Clinton is Dolores Umbridge, the sickeningly sweet teacher at Hogwarts who tortures Harry, is useless as a Defense Against The Dark Arts Teacher (though weren’t they all) and has a generally fascistic worldview.

I mean, I guess? Clinton voted for the USA Patriot Act and she views Edward Snowden as a criminal more than a whistleblower. That’s kinda fascist. But she’s also solidly against torture, said that we should screen and accept Syrian refugees and is making one of the themes of her campaign “Love Trumps Hate.” So, maybe?

What bothers me the most about this comparison though is how things end for Umbridge. Did you forget that part? I’m almost positive most people have, especially when making this comparison. She’s raped by centaurs. And it’s supposed to be funny. When she comes back to Hogwarts, she’s in shock, and our heroes know what happened. Ron makes clopping hoof noises to scare her (trigger her?) and Hermione and Ginny crack up. Granted, they’re teenagers, and they have bad judgement. But no one in authority tells them “Hey buzz off, that’s not funny.”

Similarly, though even more geeky and less widespread I see Trekkies making “Hillary Clinton is Winn Adami” jokes. On Deep Space Nine, Winn Adami, played by the amazingly badass Louise Fletcher, was one of the best villans in the history of Star Trek. She’s a religious cleric with both fascistic and theocratic tendencies (although on her home planet of Bajor it’s pretty accepted that the religious leadership shares power with the elected government). She’s a master at manipulating people’s fears to get what she wants no matter the consequences. Like Umbridge, she’s uses sickeningly sweet faux coquettishness to mask her true intentions. Unlike Umbridge, as the writers reveal the complexity of her character, we are meant to empathize with her as a person while still despising her actions. Her crisis of faith is relatable to so many people who have searched for truth.

Is Hillary Clinton like Winn Adami? They’re both blonde and religious and ambitious. I suppose you could draw it out further by bringing up Clinton’s connections to The Family. But that’s still a bit of a stretch.

And yet, like Umbridge, in the end Winn Adami is also raped. Deep Space Nine draws out a more complex story than Order of the Phoenix. Winn is seduced and deceived by her greatest enemy and she is sexually, emotionally and spiritually exploited. The storyline is fascinating one, with an unsettling trainwreck quality that still viscerally disturbs me.

I know that most people making the “Hillary is Umbridge” or “Hillary is Winn” jokes don’t really mean that they think Hillary Clinton should be raped by centaurs or a sociopath in disguise as punishment for her more imperialistic tendencies. I’m not immune to this myself. I love Tom Perrotta novels and when I saw people comparing Hillary Clinton to Tracy Flick I saw it as a backhanded compliment. Tracy Flick kicks ass. She’s super smart and accomplished and wins in the end.

Then I remembered that most of the plot of “Election” is driven by the fact that Tracy is seduced (statutorily raped) by her Math teacher, Dave. Tracy is smarter than most of her peers but she is far behind them in terms of social skills. She has no real friends. This makes her an exceptionally easy target to be groomed and taken advantage of by a much older authority figure. Dave’s actions set off a chain of events which Tracy’s teacher Jim blames her for on some level. In a moment of frustration Jim threatens to ruin Tracy’s reputation by telling the whole student body what happened to her. Tracy takes this in stride because she has a very thick skin, but it’s hard to watch her be manipulated and then blamed and threatened for it.

So perhaps this isn’t the best comparison either.

This is one of those things that once seen, cannot be unseen. So keep that in mind. If you keep making those clever memes, I’m going to keep rolling my eyes and thinking “Ugh. Raped by Centaurs. Really?”

Themes of Reproductive Justice In The Second Season Of Star Trek Voyager

Posted in Editorials on March 9th, 2015

Star Trek Voyager is a very feminist show. A lot of television in the 90’s took feminism for granted, and Voyager is no exception.
I think in part this stems from having so many great women characters.

The second season of Voyager is considered by many fans to be the weakest, and I’m not sure if I agree. But even if that’s true, I did notice that there was a strong theme of Reproductive Justice underscoring a few of the episodes.

It starts with Elogium. In this episode, the ship flies into the mating ground of some giant space slugs and this throws Kes into heat, many years before she expected to have to decide whether or not to have a child. Trekkie Feminist has a great review of the episode, but what stood out to me were that:

  • Janeway stated plainly that she will not institute a blanket ban on “fraternization.” If the crew wants to hook up, that’s their business
  • Janeway acknowledges that some members of her crew may have children. But again she’s not going to encourage this or discourage it. She doesn’t think this is any of her business.
  • Kes considers whether or not to have a child and concludes that just because she can, doesn’t mean that she should.

At the end of the episode we find out that Ensign Wildman is pregnant. She and her husband were trying to conceive before Voyager left the Alpha Quadrant and she has just confirmed it now. They’ve been lost in space for months, but the show glosses over this. Perhaps it’s because Wildman’s husband is Ktarian and that species has a much longer gestation period. Or maybe Ktarian sperm can live a lot longer than human sperm in fallopian tubes waiting for the right egg.

When Wildman comes to tell Captain Janeway, the tone is serious:

WILDMAN: I know this isn’t the best place to have a baby, but it’s all I have left of my husband.
JANEWAY: Well, congratulations, Ensign.

At first I wondered why they didn’t seem happier about it. But their serious tone is fitting. Being lost in a hostile area of space 70 light years away from family and a support network is not the best place to have a baby. Gushing and squeeing would not have been appropriate. The show takes this very seriously. Wildman’s baby is wanted and yet arriving under less than ideal circumstances.

In the episode Deadlock, Wildman gives birth, and there is a complication:

EMH: Push!
KES: Don’t forget to breathe, Samantha. Deep regular breaths. That’s it.
EMH: Cervical dilation is at ten point two centimeters. Prostaglandin levels are normal. Push, Ensign.
WILDMAN: You push, damn it! I’m sick of pushing!
EMH: I know you’re fatigued. Try to focus on your breathing. Remember the exercises we did. When you feel a contraction, bear down.
WILDMAN: Oh! Oh, what was that?
EMH: What’s wrong?
WILDMAN: A pain in my abdomen. It’s different. Sharp. Oh, God!
EMH: The baby has shifted position, and its exo-cranial ridges have lodged in the uterine wall. This is a rare complication, but it’s been known to happen in human Ktarian pregnancies.
KES: Can we reposition the baby?
EMH: No. Its spinal column is too fragile. I don’t want to risk nerve damage. If we don’t deliver the baby now, its ridges could perforate the uterus and cause internal bleeding. Kes, prepare for a foetal transport.
EMH: I’ve locked onto the baby’s coordinates. We’re ready to begin. Initiating umbilical separation. Energizing.
EMH: Congratulations, Ensign. It’s a girl.
WILDMAN: Is she all right?
EMH: The transport caused a slight hemocythemic imbalance, but we’ll stabilise her cell membranes with osmotic pressure therapy.

Although there was a risk to the baby (she born with something like decompression sickness) the Doctor and Kes did not think twice about saving Wildman’s life. She was in danger of dying and they saved her. Immediately. Without question.

When I was a teenager I probably watched this episode at least three or four times, and I never noticed this. But now I know that we live in a climate where for many, saving a pregnant woman’s life at any risk to the fetus is taboo. Governments in places like Ireland and El Salvador force women to die on the table for their babies. Religion lauds these tragedies as beatific. Those who dissent are condemned. As recently as 2011, the United States was considering a bill that would free hospitals from any liability if their religious refusal to treat a pregnant woman resulted in her death. But on Voyager, this was never even considered to be an option. Not for a millisecond.

Finally there is the matter of Seska’s assault on Chakotay. She tells him that while he was being held hostage by the Kazon, she took a sample of his DNA while he was unconscious and impregnated herself with it. When the baby is born she sends a message saying that she and the baby are in danger. This is clearly a trap. Janeway and Chakotay know this. Janeway tells Chakotay that it is his decision whether or not they decide to attempt a rescue. In his review of this episode, Jammer says,

If you guessed that Chakotay decides to go after his son, you win today’s prize. Still, despite the tough-to-judge arguments early in the show regarding whether it would be wise to indulge in such an emotional response over a child that was born under such manipulated circumstances, the bottom line is that it is downright foolhardy for Janeway to divert the course of the Voyager into what is the heart of Kazon territory and what may very likely be Seska’s latest snare attempt. Just how many times has Seska duped the Voyager crew in the past?

But this is only true if you consider that Janeway’s only objective is military success. It’s not. She frequently places the heath and welfare of her crew, and the existence of other civilizations above their goal of getting home or winning battles. Even though she’s his superior officer, Janeway does not want to stop Chakotay from rescuing his son and having his chance at fatherhood – even though it might put them all at risk. When you include Chakotay’s rights as a parent her calculus makes more sense.

It’s clear that for Captain Janeway, the reproductive rights of her crew are a priority. One more reason why Star Trek is a utopian vision of the future.

I just wrote a thousand words about reproductive justice in the context of a television season that aired twenty years ago. But I’m also doing something for the cause of reproductive justice today. For the third year, I’m participating in the National Network of Abortion Funds Bowl-a-thon. Abortion funds are local, grassroots groups that work tirelessly to help low-income and disadvantaged people who want an abortion and do not have enough money to pay for it. I’m bowling because I believe that everyone should have access to the abortions they need, regardless of how much money they have. Click to follow the link and find out more. Please donate if you can.

Seven Seasons Of Questions About Odo

Posted in Editorials on February 2nd, 2015

Adam and I have recently finished watching Star Trek: Deep Space 9. It’s a really good show. Perhaps the best one. As Zack Handlen of the AV Club explains so well, it’s strength is in how it deconstructs the premise and tropes of the two previous series:

Cracks in the facade have been showing for a while now, though. DS9 hasn’t given up the dream of the unity, but it has addressed the way the base metals of the individual often react in ways no one can predict. It used to be that just wanting to be friends was enough; now, though, there are conflicting allegiances, religions, philosophies. Communication helps, but it’s not a cure all, and situations arise in which there is no real right answer—in which the most two sides can hope to achieve is an uneasy compromise until the next great crisis. There’s no definitive protagonist on DS9, no single hero like Picard of TNG or the Kirk/Spock/McCoy trifecta of TOS. Sisko may get top billing, but he’s first among equals. All viewpoints are welcome, all are treated with equal respect.

Still, what I want to talk about is how mind shatteringly awesome Odo is. Deep Space Nine’s chief of security is a shape shifter in a Bajoran militia uniform. He’s far better at security than Worf ever was, and he makes the most convincing case for an all seeing all knowing police state I’ve ever heard (no, really.) He has Data’s longing for connection, Spock’s vulnerability and Worf’s torn allegiances. But still, there’s so many unanswered questions about what he can do. You could ask similar questions about Q, but he’s used sparingly. Odo is a regular cast member.

Sometimes it seems like Odo had no idea what the answers are to these questions himself!

For your discussion and consideration: the grand list of questions about Odo that Adam and I have been compiling for months:

How does he get energy? Odo doesn’t eat or drink. (Except that one time in “Facets” where he was hosting Curzon’s memories and drank Tranya.) He needs to regenerate, but where does he get the fuel for that process?

How can he change his mass? We see Odo transform into a few small things, and people pick him up with ease. How can this be?

Is there a limit on how big or small he can become? We see Laas become a giant creature that can fly through space. But can changelings get even bigger than that? Could he make himself small enough to fix problems on a molecular or atomic level? The possibilities here are endless.

Why don’t O’Brien and Dax and Bashir follow him around asking him questions all day? If generating this list of questions was a fun game as we watched the show, wouldn’t the curiosity be just torture for inquisitive scientists? Perhaps they understand that he doesn’t like being treated as a science experiment but we don’t see them even asking the occasional, respectful question.

Can he see in 360 degrees? There’s no indication that he can do this, but shouldn’t he be able to?

Are all parts of his body equally sensitive to light and/or touch? And if they are…

Does he/can he echolocate? It seems like he should be able do do this too. If not, what does he hear with?

What’s a “morphogenic matrix”? Is it like a neural net?
What does he think with?

How does he understand gender – his own and that of humanoids? Odo takes the form of a Bajoran male because the doctor who studied him was a Bajoran man. If Doctor Mora had been a woman, would Odo had taken a female form? Is there anything about him that’s inherently “male?” Does changeling reproduction require two (or more or fewer) biological sexes?

How does he understand/experience friendship/love/sex etc? Does he have a limbic system? Odo seems to easily assimilate to humanoid concepts of friendship and camaraderie. He appears to approximate heterosexual cisgendered male sexuality. But he also says that changeling relationships within The Great Link are not understandable to humanoids. How is it that he can so easily adapt to our social structures?

Odo seems to equivocate The Link with other changelings with having sex with humanoids. How similar are they really though? Is The Link an erotic experience or just pleasurable and intimate? Does it have anything to do with changeling reproduction? The way he links with himself in Children of Time and with a changeling he barely knows in Chimera is very different from the way he establishes sexual relationships with humanoids.

Can he turn himself into a machine with working parts? If so how complicated? Like maybe he could be a pair of scissors or a pulley but not a power drill or a transporter?

Does Odo have Bajoran citizenship? This is implied but it never really comes up. I think it would be interesting to know how the Bajoran government classifies him.

Can he make himself rain down Sulfur? Or can he turn into any caustic or explosive substance? Could he turn himself into a bomb that explodes and still survive? Alternately, if he was on a ship that was about to explode could he turn himself into some kind of inflammable or shock absorbing material to survive?

Does he have any way of proving his own unique identity? If another shapeshifter was pretending to be him would there be any way to tell the difference? Does he have any kind of tissue with any kind of DNA like substance that he sheds? (Like dead skin cells?)

How does the universal translator work with Odo? Does he have an implant? It makes sense that he can speak Bajoran and Cardassian, but what about other languages?

Does Odo use his bucket on The Defiant? Not as important, but I’m still curious!

In case you are going to tell us to repeat to ourselves “it’s just a show” and that we should really just relax, or to get a life, we know this is a little silly. In fact, we kind of recognize ourselves in this episode of After Hours

Michael:You guys ever think that maybe we think about movies more than the people who made the movies?
Soren: Yeah, like maybe we’re projecting? Yeah I think about that…
Michael: Right, like maybe the guys who wrote Aladdin maybe wouldn’t have if they knew a bunch of assholes were going to sit around tearing all their choices apart?
Katie: Well no matter what you make, some dickhead is going to comment on it.
Dan: I’m going to stop making things forever now, because of comments.

But we also find ourselves agreeing with SimonF:

Watch enough Deep Space 9 and you will begin to generate a list of pretty fucked up questions about Odo…

And if you still doubt that I have a sense of humor about Trek, check out my Deep Space Nine memes:
It Had To Be Done
The Answer To An Age Old Question
That’s a Good Question

The Federation Doesn’t Take Sexual Assault Very Seriously…

Posted in Editorials on September 30th, 2013

Adam and I have been re-watching “Star Trek:The Next Generation” and we’re in the middle of Season 4 right now. When I was a teenager, I would have told you that this was the best show on television ever. Watching it again at age 30, I am still enjoying it very much, but for the first time I can see what people don’t like about Star Trek – that it can be painfully earnest, that it’s a bit silly, that sometimes the science doesn’t make any sense. And now that I can analyze it with a feminist lens, there’s a lot to talk about.

Generally, I think they show is very good – especially for it’s time – in terms of gender roles. I know the common criticism that Troi and Beverly Crusher are the main women characters and they are also the “caretakers” but that they are people with strengths, weaknesses and personalities of their own is always clear. What does become annoying is that Troi rarely has an episode that isn’t directly related to her sexuality in some way. Dr. Crusher, on the other hand is the virginal Madonna. At this point in the series, all the other characters have gotten laid (except possibly Wesley, but he’s very young we’ve seen him dating at least three different women) but Beverly Crusher is someone’s mother, so no sex for her! I do recall a later episode where she gets lucky, but it takes quite a while to happen, something I find unrealistic for someone as smart and beautiful – and as we see from several of her “will-they-or-won’t-they” moments with Picard very interested in sex.

William Riker, I think is a very interesting character. He is extremely masculine, but he is a feminist, or at the least staunchly egalitarian. He’s big on consent, as we see in “The Vengance Factor.” Sex is not a conquest for him but an experience he shares with others. When Yuta seems unsure what she wants, he stops things right away. He’s not possessive or jealous which seems to clash with what our current idea of masculinity is right now. Riker’s relationship with Troi could be considered open or poly. They love each other but they often say they reject the idea that they “own” each other.

The one bump in this very progressive road, is the way the show handles sexual assault, or at least the threat, accusation or attempts of sexual assault which come up quite often for a show Netflix says is good for kids ages 8 and up.

Tasha Yar – The Enterprise-D’s short lived first chief of security was brash, strong and loyal. She also referred to the fact that she escaped a planet where “rape gangs” were common. Nothing is said about the fact that this is common for women in war torn places, this is pretty much “rape as character development.”

“Code of Honor” – This episode is extremely racist. But there is an additional squick factor. Tasha Yar is about to be “forced to marry” Lutan and Troi asks her about the fact that when they first met, she was attracted to him. What kind of question is that? Hey I know this guy kidnapped you and you have to fight his girlfriend to the death lest you are “forced to marry him” but you thought he was cute before this all went down, so it’s kind of your fault, right? The whole context given her past as an assault survivor makes this even worse.

“The Child” – This episode is clearly about Troi being violated by an alien force. This actually happens to her quite often, sadly, but in this case, it’s explicitly sexual, as she is impregnated without her consent. No one asks her how she feels about that, even during a senior staff meeting where people openly debate whether or not she should have an abortion – without asking for her input and talking as if she wasn’t in the room. For the record, Worf wanted to force her to abort, Data wanted to force her to give birth. Picard at least said that she had the final say in what happened, but again, no concern for the fact that she was violated.

A Matter of Perspective” – In this episode we see a series of events from three perspectives, Rikers, Manua’s – a woman who accuses him of trying to rape her and of killing her husband, and Dr. Nel Apgar, the man Riker is accused of killing. Riker claims that Manua came on to him and he rejected her. Apgar told his research assistant that Riker and Manua were both kissing enthusiastically when he walked in on them. After Riker is found innocent of murder, the fact that he was also accused of attempted rape is entirely forgotten and never mentioned again. As much as I dislike the “women lie about being raped” trope, and as infuriating as it is that the title implies that rape is just “a matter of perspective” I think it’s inconsistent with Riker’s character and with the series that he would do such a thing. Starfleet officers make mistakes, but do not commit vicious assaults. As a viewer, I am satisfied that he is innocent. However, within the universe of the show, I am uncomfortable with how easily this accusation is dismissed, especially because the Manua never recants.

Ménage à Troi” – aka Lwaxana Troi is a Big, Damn Hero. In this episode, Riker, Troi and Lwaxana are kidnapped by Ferengi, one of whom – Daimon Tog, has expressed romantic interest in Lwxanna. There’s an extremely creepy scene where Daimon Tog summons the women to his quarters naked, via transporters. Ferengi women do not wear clothing. It’s also established that Betazed culture is very body positive and rituals like marriage are frequently performed naked. Yet, Troi and Lwaxanna are acting anxious, and it’s not because they are insecure about their bodies, it’s clear they are afraid they are about to be raped. Lwaxanna offers to go willingly if Troi and Riker are set free. And then Daimon Tog attempts to “seduce” her. We see Troi grimace as she emphatically feels her mother’s disgust. But Lwaxanna manages to talk her way out of it before the assault is completed. At the end of the show, once all three captives have been rescued, The Enterprise flies off into the sunset. Apparently it’s no big deal that the Ferengi just kidnapped two Federation officers and the Ambassador from Betazed to the Federation, and that Daimon Tog assaulted and attempted to rape a Federation ambassador. Just another crazy day on the Enterprise! Especially because the show ended on a humorous note with Picard’s convincing Daimon Tog that he was Lwaxanna’s true love and would stop at nothing to get her back. Who cares that a Ferengi was about to rape her? It’s played for the lulz. Also, I totes see what you did there Star Trek! Ménage à Troi! GET IT?!

“Devil’s Due” – Nine years before Bedazzled, and twelve years before “Shortcut to Happiness” there was another knock off of “The Devil and Daniel Webster” where the Devil is actually a hot chick. Sort of. In “Devil’s Due,” a woman, Ardra appears to a planet the Enterprise is visiting and claims to be a god that the people there pledged to be slaves to upon her return 1,000 years ago. Picard is really insistent that she’s not who she says she is. It’s a crappy version of “Who Watches The Watchers.” Picard winds up having to prove his case before a court where Data is the sole judge. If he loses, he will belong to Ardra “mind, body, and soul” forever. As Ardra previously tried to seduce Picard and was rejected, we know she’s extremely keen on the body part. No one cares, at all, that someone is trying to kidnap a the Federation flagship’s Captain and make him a sex slave for life. It’s played alternately as comedy and for titillation.

“First Contact” [fourth season episode, not the movie] – Riker is injured while surveying a civilization about to test their warp drive capabilities for the first time. He is recovering in a hospital where the doctors have him quarantined and under security as they correctly suspect he is an alien. When he realizes they know he isn’t one of them, he tries to escape. A creepy chick sneaks into his hospital room and says she will help him flee in exchange for sex, and that she’s always wanted to do it with an alien. He says no repeatedly. She insists, and whines. In the next scene, Riker has escaped. This is never mentioned or addressed in any way. Like in “Devil’s Due” it’s supposed to be kind of funny and we are meant to boggle at why Riker wouldn’t want to get down with the cute geek girl, I mean, he is a ladies’ man, right? What’s the problem?

Roddenberry’s vision was that in the future, that everyone is equal regardless of gender or ethnicity would be taken for granted as a matter of fact. And the show reflects that, for the most part. But I hope even the best shows can withstand some feminist media criticism, no matter how faithful the fandom.