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Date: 5/14/97 8:33:05 PM
<<Sexism and the Klingon Empire>>
I've given a lot of thought over the past few days to this subject in
response to some of the postings I saw on Monday. The comments by Klincat,
Catbyte and someone who identified themself as a "Female, Lesbian,
African-American" (whose postings I can no longer locate for some reason --
maybe I'm not looking in the right place) gave me pause and I wanted to mull
over what they had to say before I responded.
There are two things I'd like to talk about: The Klingons and Trek as a
whole. Let's start with the bumpy-heads.
I said that I changed the status of Klingon women in "House of Quark", but
with a little more thought I realized that the true change occured way back
in "Redemption" when Gowron explicitly said that women weren't allowed to sit
on the Council. The motive at that point was plot -- the need for the Duras
sisters to be manuevering to have their brother's illegitimate son pushed
forward as the rightful leader of the Empire. This notion of women not
serving on the Council led to a natural corollary in "House of Quark" with
Grilka needing Quark in order to save her House from falling.
Okay. Now that that's out of the way, does this mean that the Klingons
devalue and oppress women? If we apply our contemporary American value
system the answer is an unqualified yes. We value equality before the law
and the idea of preventing women from serving on a governmental body that
rules a nation is abhorent to us. However, these are not Americans and they
are not even human (they're not even real, but that's a whole other topic).
They are Klingons. Theirs is not an egalitarian society based on certain
guaranteed freedoms and notions of justice. They have a ritualistic, almost
hidebound culture that values notions of honor and tradition above almost
everything else. I doubt that "social progress" is valued by them very much,
if at all.
This is a race where the House you are born into has more influence over your
destiny than the merits of you as an individual. This a planet that not only
embraces war, but employs it to seek out strange new worlds and conqueor
them. This is a system of justice that allows a son to be tried for the
crimes of his parents. This is a world ruled by a group of families that
fight amongst themselves for glory and power. This is a culture that
elevates personal duels and assassination to legitimate options for resolving
conflict. This is not an enlightened race of people.
Given all this, I think that the fact that they have differing notions of
what should be the roles of men and women in society is to be expected. I
also doubt that Klingon women are aching for the chance to sit on the Council
or to run a House. Grilka was more frustrated by the *circumstances* in
which she found herself than by the fundamental inequality of not allowing
women to run a House. Not even the Duras Sisters were interested in changing
this inequality, they just wanted to find a way to manipulate the system.
Why? As hard as it is for us to understand, I think that they simply aren't
interested in equality. Again, the most highly valued concepts in their
society are Honor and Tradition.
Someone tried to make the comparison between sexism and racism (an analogy
that has its own flaws) and suggested that I would've never said that White
Klingons kept Black Klingons from serving on the Council. Au contrare. It
requires no stretch of the imagination to believe that one racial group on
Kronos would keep another racial group on a subservient level. In fact,
there have been many notions floated in fandom that the bumpy-headed
Klingons, and the earlier TOS Klingons were different racial groups
representing an "Imperial Race" and another race, and that the Imperials were
the true masters and the earlier, swarthy fellows were considered to be
inferiors. Now, we've decided not to go that way on the actual series, but
it was a valid idea and it would've also been in keeping with the Klingon
Date: 5/14/97 8:33:08 PM
(Continued from last post...)
What I'm getting at here is that there are many inequalities in this race.
(Personally, I find the notion of being born into a warrior cult that values
only martial prowess and doesn't even allow VOTING to be extremely
The Klingons are a fascinating people -- I know that perhaps better than
anyone -- but they are not supposed to be role models. They started out as
villains and while they have been more fully fleshed out over the years, I
don't think anyone's ever suggested that they should be held up as examples
of how to run a planet.
That said, I think I've erred in not showing what the role of women in this
society is supposed to *add* to their culture. If women aren't allowed on
the Council, what are the compensating benefits of that choice? Should there
be a role in the culture that men are forbidden to participate in? Is there
some other segment of society that is the sole provence of warrior women? Is
there a gulf between the sexes, or do they understand each other better with
This needs work. I need to flesh out this part of the Empire and give
Klingon women their due. If their race is different, that's fine, but it
shouldn't look like we're just disguising old stereotypes under the name of
"alien diversity." And it seems like that's what some of you are seeing.
And that is a mistake.
This brings me to the second topic -- Trek as a whole.
The observation that too many races in the Trek universe are male-dominated
and overtly sexist (like the Ferengi or the Cardassians) is right on the
money. I'd never really thought about it in those terms, but you're right --
we have too many of them. The only defence I'll offer on this point (and
it's a feeble one) is that we never intended it this way. None of us set out
to populate the galaxy with a bunch of male-dominated societies.
Look, I'm a white male heterosexual. No matter how much I value the
principles of racial, gender, and sexual orientation freedom and equality,
I've never experienced the humiliation and degradation of prejudice that
minorities experience every day in this country. It doesn't mean that I have
"contempt" for female fans, or feel that women are "worthless" like some of
you have alleged. It does means I don't feel discrimination in my bones the
way a black person, a woman, or a gay person does. And sometimes that means
that I don't always see the bigger picture on something like this.
I believe in the equality of women. Strongly. (I won't call myself a
"feminist" since I always find something comical about men who have
appropriated that term for themselves.) I've prided myself on the promotion
of Gene's future society where women fight alongside men, command starships,
excel in the sciences, and have every opportunity given to men. But that
pride is misplaced. Women need a bigger role in Trek, especially in the
"strange new worlds" we find. We don't need more "Angel One"s (please
no!!!), but we do need more diversity among the "new life and new
civilizations" we seek out.
Some people say that "young adult males" are our target demographic and
hence, that's all we care about. But the truth is, women are the ones who
really kept the flame alive after TOS went off the air. Women organized the
first Trek conventions. Women wrote the first fanzines. A woman wrote the
first Concordance and organized the first fan club. And women still dominate
the conventions, the newsletters, and the fan mail with a passionate
committment to the show that has set it apart from every other TV show for
over thirty years.
We owe them more.
I owe them more.
We'll do better.