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.