T’Pol: The Female Mr. Darcy

I cannot forget the night of May 13, 2005.  Like most Enterprise fans, I felt a kick in the gut after finishing “These Are the Voyages.”  It also marked the first time I cried over a fictional death.  I couldn’t understand why this was happening when I saw romances get robbed of a happy ending before.  More importantly, I only saw a few episodes of season 4, where Trip and T’Pol were a couple (albeit on and off).

An answer would later come through the trailer of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley.  Or more precisely, the excitement of the women I knew.  That is when I started to see similarities between the romances of P&P and ENT.  Like Lizzy Bennett, Trip is smart, charming but tends to make snap judgments.  On a side note, how cool would it be if his sister was named after her?   Like Mr. Darcy, T’Pol seems aloof and initially looks down on her partner before falling in love.

After many years, I noticed a strange pattern.  I don’t know of any female characters besides T’Pol who are similar to Mr. Darcy.  But men (and gay women) don’t swoon over those characters as much as fangirls do over Mr. Darcy.  Perhaps the most compelling reason he has stayed popular for so long is that he “embodies the archetype of finding a ‘diamond in the rough’.”  At first glance, most people would want to run away from him.  Through more chance encounters and some hard work, Lizzy discovers his softer, more caring side.  Through sharing a workplace with T’Pol, Trip also finds her to be more than meets the eye.

So why don’t fans see her as a diamond in the rough like Mr. Darcy?  For one thing, T’Pol was a less consistent character since a TV show which, by its nature, has more writers than a novel.  And some plotlines for her were poorly executed (Trellium addiction, I’m looking at you).   To be fair, T’Pol does have her share of fanboys.  One in a forum said that, aside from being “smoking hot,” that he liked smart women and she “got an interesting personality too.”  But generally, they name very different reasons for liking her than women do for Mr. Darcy.  The closest thing to acknowledging T’Pol as a diamond in the rough is congratulating Trip for melting an Ice Queen.  One piece of fan fiction has other characters thinking he deserves a part on the back for that.  There is nothing wrong with this but I wish more credit was given to T’Pol.

A less obvious factor looms large: unconscious gender bias.  Some stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in our minds that we don’t realize when they make us view women negatively.  One study found that female managers were deemed more unlikable than their male counterparts, even when they had the same descriptions.  Since introverts are generally viewed negatively in American culture, the likability ceiling is even higher for women who identify as such.  Of course, Mr Darcy did not find charming strangers easy.  But sexism was one less obstacle in the way.  Reserved women are often seen as uptight, haughty, and bitchy, to name just a few negative adjectives.  While Lizzy may have labeled Mr. Darcy all of these names initially, fans forgave him as they saw him change.  T’Pol went through a similar growth arc but a small number of fans in forums and fanfiction comments still describe her as an arrogant bitch.  A few think Mr. Darcy is an arrogant man who only got the girl because he is rich but they are much less than those who don’t like T’Pol.

One doesn’t need to hear that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” in order to think of the doom and gloom that would happen if you fail.  Some consequences include lost job opportunities and bad dates.  As a woman and introvert, I’m painfully aware that stereotypes of marginalized groups can make first impressions more daunting.  This is why seeing the couples of P&P and ENT overcome their prejudices of class and species respectively gives me hope.  Although some people see efforts to increase diversity as a choice between merit and “ticking the boxes,” this is not the case, at least for businesses.  This shows that when we follow the examples of these couples and peel away a seemingly bad façade, we all win.  In these divided times, Mr. Velek’s advice to “challenge your preconceptions” is even more important.  One way to do that is to give aloof women a chance.  You might just find a hidden gem in the form of a friend, lover, or good employee.

  4 comments for “T’Pol: The Female Mr. Darcy

  1. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Every bit of Trek adds something to the lore. Every bit needs to play its part. People who can’t stand ENT or VOY or the Kelvin AOS films (and now DIS on All Access) really bug me. I even love stuff like Star Trek Continues, which just finished its last episode. It shows that there’s another view, another passion, another perspective to add. And that’s what makes it so brilliant. Forward, backward, sideways, whichever temporal direction you go, there are Trek things to discover, because it’s bigger than just one story or one ship or one crew. And because I love the underappreciated, I love ENT and T’Pol a great deal.

  2. I’ve never read P&P (science major), but I’m familiar with the story and your comparison of Mr.Darcy to T’Pol is really insightful. T’Pol being an intelligent and introverted woman has always made her one of my favorite characters. I also loved the Trip/T’Pol relationship with all of it’s challenges and complexities. Perhaps here is more to Enterprise than most give it credit for? Excellent and thought provoking piece!

    • I read P&P in my senior year of high school, which was also season 4 of Enterprise. Oh yes, there is more to ENT than some people give it credit for. Cast members and the Warp 5 podcast say this is changing. There are fans who discover it wasn’t as bad as they thought (I credit Netflix) but the most hardcore canonistas still hate it. Of course ENT had issues (some which still bother me) but I can’t stand it when someone says it added nothing of substance to Trek lore.

      If I had to choose, Trip is my favorite character because he was written better. But T’Pol’s introversion and struggle with her emotions really made me identify with her.

  3. I love this! If you ever wanted to discuss her engagement prior to Trip, you could also parallel it to Darcy being (nearly) betrothed to Caroline Bingley. He (and T’Pol) went against family and social expectations.

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