Slave girls & the men who love them24/07/2011
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.This entry was posted in Feminism, TV. Bookmark the permalink.