Breaking the rules

Posted on July 24, 2010

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I saw the original Battlestar before the new one. So when Starbuck entered the scene I was stunned and enthusiastic. Starbuck’s a woman! And Starbuck kicks ass: she smokes cigars, plays cards and likes to get into fights. And more often than not she wins. She has casual sex and enjoys it, and maybe most importantly she’s the best pilot. (Well, yeah, there’s this thing about Apollo being good too, but come on, that’s no comparison. She saves his ass several times and Apollo is just lame generally.) So we got a woman here who breaks all the rules of being a woman, she’s playing the big guys game and she is really fucking good at it. And she’s doing that without the aid of huge amounts of impeccable make up, and while wearing clothes that are a) actually covering he body and b) not skin tight but comfortable and practical. She doesn’t fight or run in high heels. She’s not using some super-human abilities, her achievements come from grit and sweat and skill. She doesn’t do flying kicks and acrobatics to show off her legs, she punches the opponent on the nose, and gets bloody knuckels. She’s doing it right and I was instantly in love with her.

There wasn’t anyone like her ever before. She doesn’t waste my time agonising about her looks or some guy. She doesn’t have heart to hearts with her best friend. She goes out and does shit. Awesome shit. She kicks ass.

But then patriarchy strikes back. She has broken all the rules and she will be punished for it. For breaking the rules, Starbuck is thrown in the brig, she has to leave behind the person she loves and emotional fulfilment to keep on fighting, she gets beaten up and almost dies. Fair enough. I expect nothing less in an action filled space adventure. And any action hero would have to deal with punishment and obstacles like these. But alas, that’s not enough. After all, she’s a woman and how dare she fight like a man! She has to be cut back, reminded of who she ‘really’ is and brought back to heel. She has to be reduced to what a woman really is all about: her reproductive organs. She’s placed in some sort of breeding farm, where cylons are trying to create some sort of human-cylon hybrid.

Next she is placed in an abusive relationship. The only clear message from that story line is that it’s useless to defend yourself: no matter how often she kills the perp, she cannot free herself. She has to be rescued by, here we go, a man. All her skills, her training and determination amount to nothing. What a slap in the face for all those women who have made it out of abusive relationships by their own strength. And all the women who have devoted their lives to helping other women to get out, by providing advice and shelter.

Starbuck who broke all the rules of what it means to be a woman, is first reduced to the womb and then to utter helplessness and the inability to take care of herself. On the sideline we also learn, that it wasn’t her choice to become an action hero: her childhood abuse by her mother has prevented her from being a real woman and taught her to be tough and fight it out. She didn’t really have a choice there, she just reacted to the neglect and abuse by becoming tougher than the guys.

Now you could argue that it’s an illustration of the obstacles women have to contend with in society. That would be fair enough, if Starbuck would be able to free herself and continue to be kick-ass. But she ends up utterly stripped of any power of self determination and has to rely on being rescued. And her character goes through a transformation that finishes of the making of a woman:

She grows her hair and agonises over her marriage that is falling apart. She goes all super-power (no normal woman could have been that tough anyway) seeing the future in some form of religious ecstasy and turns out to be some sort of angel or other transcendent being, a concept that never had any part in the plot line whatsoever. So she goes from being an action hero, through the brutal reduction to her reproductive organs and stripped of any power of self determination to being the ultimate feminine, pure because disembodied. This is so lame it still makes me cringe.

Less than a woman, hardly a grrrl

Other women don’t fair much better. Boomer, the next coolest woman, turns out to be the ultimate traitor, a cylon who has no control over her own actions. Her other instance, Athena, is redeemed through her love for Helo and being the mother of his child. Number 6, the men devouring vamp, a traitor who uses the appeal of her body to blow up 12 planets, is raped and abused. Roslin goes religiously nuts and has a mental breakdown (after all, women just are emotionally and mentally unstable), Dualla is taken out of action by marrying Apollo, and ends up shooting herself in the head. Cally again goes crazy, after getting her bit of domestic violence, and threatens to kill herself and her baby. Ellen is killed by Tigh for being a traitor. And D’Anna Biers is discontinued for, surprise, going off the rails.

So basically, if you’re a woman, you’ll probably betray your friends and family and then go crazy for a bit. Yup. my girl friends do that all the time.

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