Kenna from Priority One joins us to talk about the women many Trek fans see as “unlikable,” from Pulaski to Keiko to T’Pol. How is the idea of likability related to gender? Do women characters need to be likable? Are representations changing?
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Hosts: Jarrah, Sue, Grace
Guest: Kenna – Priority One: A Roddenberry Star Trek Podcast
Transcript: Rayén Wilson
Download Transcript: PDF and Word
- “Not Here to Make Friends: On the importance of unlikable female protagonists” by Roxane Gay in Buzzfeed
- “Women who aren’t ‘likable’ still a tough sell in films” by Christy Grosz in the LA Times
- “In defense of unlikable women” by Kameron Hurley in Bitch
- “10 Habits of Unlikeable People” by Travis Bradberry at Entrepreneur
I agree that some fans expect too much of T’Pol but to say “what do you expect from a Vulcan” seems like when people don’t criticize certain things because “it’s their culture.” It felt dismissive, which isn’t going to help people think more critically (not negatively) of T’Pol. I’m not saying being Vulcan had nothing to do with her getting cold feet. But I can’t see other Vulcans such as Spock having those issues when they fall in love for the first time. T’Pring has the opposite problem: knowing so well what she wants that she’s willing to let people die. I would have liked it better if you guys had approached T’Pol as an individual.
There’s a place for female characters with no explanation for being unlikable. But that that makes for one-dimensional people. I would argue that these “explanations” are what makes characters complex. Most complex characters need a backstory.
I was surprised to hear that some people didn’t like B’Elanna, Tasha Yar, or Vash as I quite like all three of those characters. I have no dislike for T’Pol or Keiko either, but I’m not a fan of Pulaski (not because of her gender, as I’m not a massive fan of McCoy either) Seska or Lwaxana Troi
Pulaski, although clearly intended to be a female McCoy, was totally unlikable. What an incredible act of cowardice and ego to stop the function of the Enterprise bridge to expound about how you can’t wrap your head around a sentient being who made it through Starfleet academy and rose to the rank of Lt Commander. And she gets away with it too because Data is an “unfeeling” minority.
Since I personally was in the scientist camp, I always sided with Keiko, not O’Brien. By my second time through DS9 I was a family man that loved gaming, and I felt disgust at how much time O’Brien spent ignoring has family duties to play around with Bashir.
I only watched the first season of Enterprise, but it felt like the dynamic was Archer trying to match wits with T’pol, and Trip being too slow not to blindly side with Archer. All the while, T’pol tried her best to show she was underwhelmed. I can only guess it went downhill from there.
My wife has been watching Gilmore Girls pretty much continuously since it came out. So I’ve seen every episode at least twice. After this season on Netflix I found an article that describes Lorelei and Rory as “unlikable” because for all of their witty remarks, pop culture and book knowledge, and supposed wisdom beyond their years, they keep making the wrong decisions which hurts not only them but the people who love them. Thoughts on that?
I didn’t read Archer as trying to match wits with T’Pol. He even told the Ferengi she had no sense of humor (how dense can he be?) Although they had some friendly moments, he spent more time being hostile to her. Trip was more successful in matching wits with her, which was part of the appeal for shippers like me. I agree that Trip was too slow to not blindly side with Archer but that’s the writers wanting the audience to join his hero worship. They couldn’t decide whether was a flawed character trying to wing it or a Gary Stu type of George Washington. But Archer and Trip’s relationship starts to change late in season 2. Trip grows out of the little brother role in season 3 so much that many fans think he would have been a better captain.
I (and maybe Lorelai) agree that Rory often makes bad decisions. But I’m not so sure if she’s meant to have wisdom beyond her years. Being a good student and good at life are two different things. I would think their witty remarks would make them likable because it makes the audience laugh with them. Although Lorelai didn’t make the best decisions when it came to Christopher, she has a lot of hard won wisdom from having to hustle. I haven’t seen the Netflix series so maybe there’s later knowledge I can’t speak to.
You can’t compare Picard’s opinion of Pulaski affecting the audience to Archer’s opinion of T’Pol. Fans respected Picard more. My fault for not suggesting Archer as an unlikable male character. He’s the only one from ENT who gets more hate than T’Pol. As annoying as he can be, I can’t hate him because I blame the writers for not knowing what to do with him.
There’s 2 possible answers as to why people like Spock more. The first is that he’s written better. They didn’t put much thought into T’Pol’s drug addiction so she came across as weak. They revealed it too abruptly in Damage (written by Phyllis Strong). So having a woman writer doesn’t always result in the best portrayals of female characters. The second reason is a divide in fan expectations. They portrayed T’Pol as emotional for a Vulcan (a good but poorly executed idea), which made the canon gatekeepers upset. Some of the comments under Bryanna’s article said that T’Pol isn’t a real Vulcan. So she walked an even thinner tightrope than Janeway. It’s an interesting contradiction of some fans writing her off an aloof bitch while others don’t think she’s Vulcan enough.
It’s true that viewers hated Archer… and yet he still wasn’t regarded as “unlikeable” in the same sense as Pulsaski, wouldn’t you say?
I don’t know a lot about Pulaski. But if I remember correctly, the ladies said they don’t really hear men being described as unlikable. I have heard Seth Rogen’s early characters being called the U word.