Sci fi, fantasy and being female in a futuristic world.

Slave girls & the men who love them

Slave girls & the men who love them

Posted on by Lily

In my experiments with Star Trek Enterprise, I recently watched ep 17 of the 4th season; Bound, the one with the very naughty Orion slave girls. There are many patently obvious things I can say about the women in this episode, instead I thought I’d talk about male representation.

To briefly sum up the storyline: an Orion privateer makes contact with Captain Archer to offer him a business deal. During their discussions, the trader calls out “entertainment” – three Orion women; sisters, and apparently slaves. Underdressed and unusually limber they dance for the Starfleet crew, and on the completion of the business deal are offered up to the Captain as gift.

The slave girls join the crew aboard Enterprise, and odd behaviour begins to surface all around them. Some medical investigation discovers that the women emit a strong pheromone, which accelerates the metabolism increasing aggression in men and makes them susceptible to suggestion (obviously). With these powers of influence one of the women lead a member of the engineering team to damage Enterprise, leaving them a sitting target.

In a thrilling twist, it turns out that the women have orchestrated their subterfuge from the beginning; the Orion privateer seemingly behind the ploy is just as helpless as the men aboard Enterprise. Trip, whose psychic link to T’Pol allows him to elude the influence of the women (for a reason they don’t bother to explain), saves the day and everyone gets their comeuppance.

Orion slave girls have been around since the original pilot of Star Trek

Orion slave girls have been around since the original pilot of Star Trek, but never really as more than a casual reference. The other notable exploration of their race was in that pilot, “The Cage”, where a human woman appears to Captain Pyke as an Orion. There are some classic lines during this scene, including: “funny how they are on this planet, actually like being taken advantage of”, implying that the slave women enjoy their captivity. In an earlier episode of Enterprise the slave girls are described as being “known for their extreme appetites”.

For all their apparent enjoyment of the situation, it isn’t until “Bound” that Orion women are introduced with any sense of personal control. The episode ham-fistedly calls on the myth of the Siren – beautiful but deadly women calling helpless men to a terrible fate.

We’ll cover the obvious point first, that in an enlightened society men are still apparently cursed with a total loss of control around an attractive women. Yes, you can build a warp drive, but you still can’t learn to buckle down and concentrate in the face of a bit of nudity. Not a single man on the Enterprise is able to, through his own strength of will, resist the chemical allure of these women.

The slightly more concerning implication is that the men of Enterprise become suddenly blind to extreme sexism and even slavery, despite the fact those qualities are supposedly irreconcilable with their culture. The Orion trader helpfully adds: “of course creatures such as these come with troubles of their own, women are the same throughout the galaxy aren’t they?” to the Captain, who nods dreamily in response whilst staring at the dancers.

Although we are clearly supposed to believe the men are in fact helpless, the episode operates on mixed logic. If their actions are against their will (the Orion trader notes: “it is the men who are the slaves, not the women”), the sexual encounters become rape, but the lighthearted tone of the episode is incongruous with this idea.  It operates on the unfortunate assumption that men cannot be raped by women due to their lascivious nature, despite the fact that were the genders switched, the story would take on a much darker tone.

Not a single man on the Enterprise is able to, through his own strength of will, resist their chemical allure.

Although the affliction is only described as speeding up the metabolism, the symptoms are much more varied.  Libidos run awry, and violent testosterone pumps through their veins; it’s clear that the symptoms are designed to be a reflection on heteronormative masculinity (particularly with the total lack of homosexual representation in the episode). After a high level of exposure to the pheromone when Archer sleeps with one of aliens, he uncharacteristically orders the destruction of an inconsequential alien ship, proving his new vicious tendencies. It is almost as if masculinity is represented as an affliction in itself, and it’s particularly telling that when Trip eventually saves Enterprise it’s because he’s been psychically “purified” by T’Pol’s (female) energy.

This episode flaunts the very tired concept that men are less in control of their behaviour, of their sexuality, than women. Some men use this notion to excuse bad behaviour and negate responsibility for understanding appropriate sexual boundaries. For most men, however, I think this conviction does them a terrible disservice. Society regularly tells you that you can be easily controlled and cheaply manipulated by simple biology, and it’s easy to compromise your full potential when no one is expecting you to push supposed boundaries. Women have suffered with similar assumptions over the years – we can’t do math, science, technology and we are far too over emotional for the boardroom.

The take home message from this episode is that heteronormative male sexuality and aggression is crude and unevolved, outside of control and usefulness. While blind heteronormativity has no inherent value, dismissing stereotypically masculine behaviour as a whole is just as short sighted as disregarding a woman’s apparent tendency towards emotion – the behaviours in themselves have value when appropriately applied, regardless of your gender.

My take home message? Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re programmed to be easily manipulated, or sexually out of control. No matter how much they dress it up with sexy green aliens.

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5 Responses  

  1. Matt says:

    I think Orions need to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt – the original series where they first appear was written in the mid 1960s, & the whole sexism, slavery, pheromone thing was written into it back then. Star Trek: Enterprise is set *before* TOS so you’d have a HUGE job explaining if you made them non-sexist, etc etc. It’d be like, egalitarian Orions meet Archer & crew, then a few years later they’ve descended into sex slavery & barbarism when they meet Kirk, then whoops, back to a perfectly egalitarian society again. Wouldn’t work.

    Also the alien races & cultures in ST:TOS & beyond are there as a counterpoint to the supposedly amazingly perfect Federation culture. In ST:E, Earth is only just sorting itself out, accepting the Vulcan influence etc, so even by then they’re far from right.

    • Lily says:

      “Star Trek: Enterprise is set *before* TOS so you’d have a HUGE job explaining if you made them non-sexist, etc etc”

      By all means, make the Orions sexist horrible people – but make the crews reaction strong and unyielding against something that is blatantly wrong? Regardless of the intricacies of the storyline, the producers decided to choose the slave girl character to be reborn in their series – they also had the option of choosing how the ST:E characters reacted.

      In ST:E Earth has internally sorted itself out – although they depict racism against aliens, they are supposed to be an equal rights society without people dying of starvation in the streets (eg, a long way away from what our culture is now). Although there was lots of sexism in the original series, actually, they were supposed to be representing an equal rights society (PoC and women on the bridge) – our culture in the 60’s just didn’t really know what that looked like.

      • Matt says:

        Yes – if you made ST:E Orions non-sexist, you’d be retconning the hell out of Orions, although that said I guess it’s not like they haven’t done that before (see the Klingons – no bumpy heads in TOS!). ST:E human society is kinda just pulling itself out of the post WW3 dark ages with the help of the Vulcans. They still kinda mistrust the Vulcans & Vulcans consider us uncouth & malodorous. ST:E Federation’s hardly a picture of perfection. ST:TOS writers *thought* they were showing a perfect society back in the day, BUT things like being gay were still taboo. Sulu was played by a gay actor, and in the Bad Robot re-imagining of ST he’s kinda camp but still even then not gay. *shrugs* – Also, in the JJ Abrams one Kirk has a fling with an Orion girl who doesn’t seem to be “abusing” her Amazing Pheromone Power over & above putting enough of a whiff of it about to get just about whoever she wants. She certainly doesn’t set up an evil empire of enthralled slaves – actually she dies in the initial Romulan attack. Pity, as she seemed quite nice.

  2. Enterprise is my least favourite of the Star Trek spin offs, but I think all the post-original series shows have a hugely conflicted relationship with feminism. On the one hand, they apparently want to address gender issues but, on the other, they seem to lack awareness of just how influenced they are by misogynist discourses. I find that you end up with a weird tension in the writing. There’s this acknowledgement of the capabilities of women but also a fear, sometimes even horror, of female sexuality and a lot of fear of powerful women too.

    • Lily says:

      I’ve actually been re-watching DS9 in an attempt to reflect on my previous thoughts about feminism & Star Trek – and I agree that it is conflicted. I was just watching an episode where Nog is horribly sexist to his date, and they all go “lol Ferenghi culture lol!” and immediately excuse him for it.

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