Empathy is power. This is what Deanna Troi, counselor of the USS Enterprise, teaches us. Unfortunately, since we are still living pre-Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism, this message is lost on the hordes of misogynistic Star Trek fans who declare “Cameltoe Troi”* to be relevant only as eye candy for male viewers. Deanna Troi is undeniably one of the most feminine characters in all the Star Trek series and it is the dialectic of femininity itself which drives misogynistic fan response to her character. By “dialectic of femininity” I mean the fact that the feminine is both reviled (seen as inferior, weak, and emotional/irrational) and desired (as a sexual object) by misogynists.
For the uninitiated, empathy is the ability to feel what other people are feeling. It may sound alien, but many humans are empaths (myself included), although not to the extent that Deanna Troi, half Betazoid, is. While Troi’s skills are finely honed, human empaths have to learn the hard way to filter out others’ emotions or distance themselves from these emotions. Uncontrolled, the emotions of an empath can be debilitating and destructive, not only to the empath themselves, but to those around them. Depression and anxiety are extremely common among empaths. Troi, who usually maintains an air of ethereal calm and serenity, has controlled her empathic powers so she can use them both personally and professionally. As a counselor, empathy is her greatest tool: it allows her to understand and relate to her patients. Personally, her empathy makes her an extremely likeable character, especially by visitors to the Enterprise (hence her ambassadorial duties) and children. She is able to put others at ease (especially those who need a little emotional reassurance) but also picks up on subtleties that her crewmates miss in identifying potentially problematic situations.
I live an admittedly insular life surrounded by my cats, associating with like-minded intersectional radical feminist Star Trek fans. For this reason I often find myself surprised, disappointed, and enraged when reminded that there is a strong contingent of bigoted Star Trek fans whose opinions include hits such as “Star Trek Discovery is for SJWs!” and “Star Trek isn’t political.” Fan responses like the aforementioned are emblematic of a toxic fan culture that sees Deanna Troi as a “super lie detector with a nice rack”* and “only emotionally intelligent”* (emphasis mine). Among the first three pages of Google search results for Deanna Troi, one finds a Reddit thread entitled “I hate Deanna Troi” and a blog post debating the relative merits of sleeping with Deanna Troi or Beverly Crusher. This is, needless to say, gross.
It is no surprise that fan response to Deanna Troi is in large part negative since the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation did her no favors. Throughout the series Troi’s character is notoriously underused. In the few episodes which actually feature her prominently, she is both psychically and physically assaulted multiple times, during one of which incidents she is impregnated. In “The Child” (TNG 2×01), Troi is raped psychically by an alien entity, which results in her pregnancy. Only after the male bridge crew members discuss whether to abort Troi’s baby (without her participation or consent) is she finally able to speak up for herself and refuse to abort the baby. Later, in “Violations” (TNG 5×12), Troi is psychically-sexually assaulted and then subjected to further psychic trauma when her rapist conducts a memory search on her (albeit with her permission) in order to attempt to clear his name. The fact that this trope occurs so many times in the series is itself significant: This is the only way the show’s writers could conceptualize this distinctly feminine character.
Deanna Troi is ultimately a misunderstood character due to her femininity. Misogynistic fans both hate her and consider her a sexual object because the feminine, in itself, is both reviled and desired. While the writers of TNG did little to combat this misogynistic dialectic, Troi herself is emblematic of the power of the feminine popular in French feminism in the mid 1980s, around the time when TNG first aired. An empath, she is the feminine archetype of the caregiver and counselor; if she were a tarot card, she would be the Queen of Cups. Empathy is a superpower and a core value of Star Trek. For these reasons, Deanna Troi should be appreciated. Empathy is the zeitgeist of the future.
*Actual fan quotes.
Thank you so much for writing this! Woman who are girly are just as good as women who aren’t super girly! Deanna was my favorite and still is because I find myself most like her! I love being a woman and shouldn’t be ashamed of having hyper feminine characteristics. Yes I love pink I love nature and I try to be caring to everyone around me! Is that really so bad! True feminism is being accepting of ALL the many types of women! Thank you again!
I totally agree! great post!
Extremely well said.
30 years on, Troi appears anachronistic or out of place and shriekingly other as female.
Future female primary characters are written with at least 50% masculine traits – see Janeway as authoratative, competent, easily heads a hierarchy; B’Elanna – aggressive, technologically minded.
The apparant passivity of Troi has been repeatedly misread as there were few genuine opportunities for her to shine. When her femininity was tempered (adopting full uniform) and acquiring command skills she came to be more ‘respected.’
The re-emergence of the Divine Feminine and its absolute necessity in manintaining cosmic order and balance have yet to be grasped in our present society, but perhaps future generations will call Deanna blessed.