By: Anna Merezhko
March 17, 2017
When I first saw the 2004 Battlestar Galactica series, I was in awe of how effortlessly the writers created a futuristic world with such a complex mixture of gender, politics, law, and religion. I was on cloud nine for a while, trying to grasp my mind around what it would be like to live in a world that was gender-blind. Though we are far from having unisex bathrooms and showers and having men and women fight each other, it’s an interesting interpretation of a world without gender bias. However, in their attempt to create a gender-blind world, it seems they coated women with strong masculinity and men with femininity.
Perhaps, they were trying to show both genders embracing certain aspects of person-hood that weren’t socially accepted before. Women were portrayed embracing their strength, voice and power, whereas men, were embracing their subconscious emotions. This was strange to watch because of how alien it seemed.
My first reaction was that all of these women were being portrayed as angry, power-hungry, control freaks and the men as cowardly, egomaniacs who let their emotions govern their actions. Upon closer evaluation, I realized this was something the show had to do in order to overthrow gender bias, but in order to better understand the kind of gender roles they started portraying, you have to look at the story and the characters.
Battlestar Galactica created a world, in the somewhat distant future, where humanity had evolved to accept men and women as equals. In this futuristic world, man created a race of life-like robots called “cylons”. These cylons later became a slave race, forced to work for humans. Cylons evolved into conscious beings that soon demanded to be treated as their own race but were denied. When cylons decided to rebel, a devastating war led to the complete annihilation of their Earth-like planet (at this point, civilization had evolved to the point where they found life on other planets and lived there.) The few humans that had survived the destruction of their planet, fled, fearing the extinction of the human race. So began a pilgrimage to find (the original) Earth, the only surviving planet that could sustain human life.
The first Battlestar Galactica was aired in the 1970’s but never made it past the first season. The remake of the sci-fi show happened in 2004 and they made a small adjustment to the characters. The character known as “Starbuck” was originally played by Dirk Benedict and the part was given to Katee Sackhoff. The fact that this celebrated pilot (that became a captain) was to be played by a girl sparked a lot of hate from fans. The part of “Starbuck” originally was played by a guy. Starbuck’s character was known for his heavy drinking and sexual promiscuity. Fans found these qualities admirable in a man but unacceptable in a woman. However, Katee Sackhoff played the character with the same attributes.
Starbuck was tough, opinionated, and loud. She smoked, drank, cursed, and was sexually promiscuous. She had an athletic build, rough mannerisms, and a confident, threatening walk. She was a thrill-seeker. Her impulsiveness and love of danger often got her into trouble. In Season 3- episode 9, there was a point where she got into the boxing ring to fight the Admiral’s son, Lee Adama. Adama didn’t blink twice when he knocked Starbuck to the mat. Given there was no particular reaction from the spectators of this fight, it was clear that boxing matches between men and women were considered normal.
Dirk Benedict, the original “Starbuck,” said the following concerning the role reversal:
“ In the new un-imagined, re-imagined world of ‘Battlestar Galactica’ everything is female driven. The male characters, from Adama on down, are confused, weak and wracked with indecision, while the female characters are decisive, bold, angry as hell, puffing cigars (gasp!) and not about to take it any more.”
The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica definitely had strong female characters. The President, Laura Roslin, also displayed (what would typically be considered) masculinity. She seemed stern and heartless. At all times, she did “what was best for the people” and she rarely took into account the lives that would have to be sacrificed for her decisions. She was hard-headed and stubborn and that made her a very poor leader, because she refused to listen to anyone. Throughout the series, she battled cancer and did not adhere to the doctor’s orders (somewhat masculine trait). This later caused her to be bedridden, which led to the attempted overthrow of Admiral Adama. Most of the decisions she made had serious consequences and they often weren’t easy, but it always seemed like she dismissed the opinion of all of her male colleagues (probably because no women were coming up with ideas.) It was as if she had something to prove to the fleet. She eventually let her ego get the best of her and yet again, risked the lives of everyone on the fleet.
The men in Battlestar Galactica displayed a lot of characteristics that are considered feminine. Admiral William Adama was in charge of all military actions. Although he was stern and serious, he was very attached to his ship, his crew, his friends, and his son. All of these things eventually interfered with his ability to lead. Although he was a very wise leader, the writers chose to show his inner battles about his failed relationship with his wife and rocky relationship with his son. In Season 2, he refused a very important mission because he didn’t want to risk losing his son. A typical Hollywood military leader would probably not show such “weakness.”
Lee Adama was the Admiral’s son. There were certain moments that focused a lot on his emotional state. Lee was very compassionate and at one point, refused to shoot down cylons. He wanted a position where he could fight for justice without killing anyone. He eventually became President but before he did, he went through a lot to try to find himself. There was an episode where he failed a mission and became depressed. He put on a lot of weight and became very passive.
It is obvious that the writers of Battlestar Galactica were trying to make a point by giving men feminine attributes, and women, masculine. The very idea that we identify them as feminine or masculine is the problem. In reality, both men and women have to face these very problems. Each person handles them differently. In a gender-blind world, however, we stop insinuating that the person is acting like the opposite gender.
In a gender-blind world, perhaps, we would stop classifying people into groups and seeing their weaknesses and vulnerabilities as that of a person, not a race or a gender. Some women were strong and heroic. Some women were gentle and soft-spoken. Some men were rough and unyielding, and others, patient and loving. The main characters were the ones with the gender reversals. The way these writers humanized the genders’ “vulnerabilities” is brilliant. I see it as a call to set aside the limitations that have been instilled into our minds and recognize the humanity behind a person, not the gender.