Feminism, the Patriarchy, and DS9

As a bit of background information, I gave up on Covert Affairs after 4 episodes of S4, because it had jumped the shark so badly that I needed something science fiction and comforting to watch to erase the horror. Enter Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which has always been my favorite ST. Before leaving for class today, I watched the first two episodes of S1 - "Emissary" and "A Man Alone".

(Point of Note, "Past Prologue" is technically the third episode, but it and "A Man Alone" are flip-flopped on Netflix.)

I spent a lot of these episodes cooing over "baby" Bashir, who is rather delightfully young and naive in the beginning of the series, to the point where I at least want to put him somewhere where he won't get broken ever. It's rather delightful, really, because the position of naive explorer is usually given to women (men being expected to be more worldly, particularly a medical doctor, particularly one with genetic enhancements that would likely get him locked up or killed if anyone knew about them.) His innocence in the face of almost everything is rather touching at first, though I have a feeling I'll be saying otherwise before long.

Anyway, a large part of the early episodes is spent with Bashir trying to get Dax to go out with him. It is, on the surface, charmingly endearing, because Bashir is clearly the guy who has every classical idea about Romance and True Love and etc etc etc and Dax is, well, whatever the female version of a womanizer is, if you take into account that there's never any hard feelings between her and any of her partners. You can tell right from the onset that Dax will never, ever, go out with Bashir, and Bashir will continue to make a fool of himself trying.

At first, I thought nothing of it. It is a 21 year old show that I know almost like the back of my hand. It is familiar, comfortable, unsurprising.

And then it hit me: Bashir's actions aren't really harmless. His badgering of Dax to get him to date her - however well-intended and good-spirited - actually counts as harassment. Because, while he never forces the issue, he never stops asking either. Dax turns him down... and he follows when she's off-duty to where she's trying to relax, invites himself where he's not wanted, and generally doesn't take no for an answer. There is never the slightest possibility that he'd force the issue - it is beyond imagination that he would ever force himself upon her in any way, excepting his general presence - and yet he does not stop.

He is, in short, one of those men responsible for all of those #YesAllWomen tags on twitter now.

Because it's true: not all men rape. But rape isn't the only thing women have to fear. A less self-confident, capable woman than Dax might have felt threatened by Bashir's advances. Being constantly harassed in such a manner might make some women's lives torture. And if Bashir had been her boss, rather than a relative equal, some women might have felt pressured to date him to maintain their jobs, or requested a transfer or even retirement to avoid him.

Because, while it seems all in good fun, that's the problem. Society views such incessant attempts at pair-bonding romantic or even expected. The problem is, when someone says no, to a date or to sex or to simply hanging out, that should be the end of it. But because we live in a society where "No" is never just "No" - not in the media anyway - the lines get blurred. Things happen that never should.

I'm not saying this is an entirely accurate view of society. DS9, after all, premiered in January of 1993. Things have gotten a little better since then. But the fact remains that this is how my generation was raised. Star Trek represents the most hopeful, optimistic view of the future I have ever seen in any form of media. And yet the women within are still faced with situations we thought we solved half a century ago.

Don't get me wrong, it has many positive images too. The XO on DS9 is Major Kira, who is a hotheaded Bajoran woman who eschews most gender stereotypes, and Dax is the science officer, who both has a prodigal amount of very athletic sex with a variety of partners of a variety of species, but who later in the series has the first same-sex kiss on TV. The fact that her symbote's former host was male, and that this back-and-forth between sexes can be viewed as something of gender-fluidiity, and Odo's shapeshifting as an utter lack of gender that verges on both asexuality and gender neutral (at least until his thing for Kira starts).

But the fact remains that there are men who behave exactly as Bashir does in this day and age whose actions are viewed as harmless which have the potential to be extremely damaging.