Will Riker: Unlikely Feminist

When referring to feminism in media, we often focus on how women are represented in film, television and other forms of pop culture. This is certainly important – Star Trek has many excellent women characters that display various feminist traits – and a promising vision for the future of our species (and any others that may exist out there). What we often forget, however, is that men can (and should) be feminists too. So let’s talk about feminist men in Trek. Do they exist? I say, absolutely.

I particularly want to shine the spotlight on Will Riker. At first glance, he may seem the least likely candidate to be a male feminist: He can be audacious, somewhat arrogant and a shameless flirt. Yet there were many moments in TNG when I was struck by things he says and does that I would consider progressive in a feminist sense.

Riker holds Yuta's face as if comforting her

Riker and Yuta

In the “The Vengeance Factor” as he and Yuta, the Acamarian servant, start to get intimate, he insists on equality “especially in matters of love.” Yuta is trying to please him, and it is clear that she believes this is expected of her, to give pleasure. And it confuses her when he pauses and says “I only want to make you as happy as you want to make me. You’re entitled to that.”

I don’t know if I have ever heard a male character say that in any TV show or movie before. To think this episode was written over a quarter of a century ago! It is so important, considering Riker is the “ladies man” of the series. For a male partner to insist that a woman’s sexual experience also matters is still a very rarely portrayed concept.

Riker and Troi in "Thine Own Self"

Riker’s feminism goes beyond matters of the bedroom as well. In the episode “Thine Own Self” Deanna Troi decides she wants to take the Bridge Officer’s Test and when she expresses this to Riker, he listens and then reacts by giving her his full support; he doesn’t laugh, or downplay her goals and aspirations.

Seeing how well Riker knows Troi, we could assume that he would initially anticipate how difficult the test might be for her. The decision to send someone to his or her death in order to save the ship is a challenge she almost can’t overcome. Yet he never discourages her along the way.

Today, some people still believe women are too emotional or hormonal to make tough decisions, or to survive when subject to constant criticism. Riker must ultimately deliver the news that she has failed the test, but he doesn’t gloat about it. When she realizes what she has been doing wrong and runs the test simulation one last time, completing it successfully, he proudly congratulates her and awards her the promotion.

By no means is Riker perfect in his feminism. There are many examples of scenes/episodes where he doesn’t always live up to this standard. Generally though, I have found that he exemplifies a man who treats women as equals, in both the professional and personal realms.

You may be wondering, why does this matter? Because it is essential that we see this representation too. We recognize that young girls need to see women in roles that reflect their potential. This is why we want to see more women as scientists, commanders, or…fill-in-the-blank. But young boys (and girls) must also see male role models interacting with women respectfully as equals, if they are to imitate (and expect) that in real life. It enhances relationships for all people and builds a more inclusive and respectful universe for everyone.

  9 comments for “Will Riker: Unlikely Feminist

  1. I love Riker, and this is one of the reasons why. I’m so glad other people see the complexity behind his suave flirting, just like Kirk (probably a little more than Kirk, let’s just be honest). The episode with the matriarchal society (Angel 1 planet I think?) is also a good example. His relationship with Troi is very important. They obviously have a history, and it’s clear that he still wants to be with her and that she will always be the most important woman in his life, he respects her so much that he never really pushes it when she decides she wants to remain professional. He maintains such a sincere friendship that she can feel safe with him that he will be whatever she needs. That’s so important. He never makes her uncomfortable, but he’s honest with her. I could go on about this and about the purity of their romance-turned-friendship-later-turned-marriage-FINALLY.

    • I agree, his relationship with Troi is very important to his overall character and I have always felt he respects and cares about her. Even though they both have other romantic interests throughout the series, and sometimes that brings up difficult feelings, their close friendship and professional interactions always remain intact.

  2. I started TNG for the first time this year and enjoyed Riker as a character from the start, but I felt like I wasn’t supposed to like him because I’ve heard so much Riker hate. As I watched, it felt like there was a refusal to acknowledge any of his positive qualities, which was very frustrating to me after I saw the episode with Yuta a few weeks ago. It is so important to have male characters believe in equality in the bedroom so I was shocked that I hadn’t seen it mentioned at all in Riker’s case. I’m very happy to see this blog post written about him!

    • Thanks, I’m happy I had the chance to write it! I admit, Riker really had to grow on me the first 2 or 3 seasons before he became a favorite of mine. I agree he is unfortunately a character that some fans love to hate, and I think it is unfounded. Ever since I watched the Yuta episode I’ve wanted to write this post and highlight some of his good qualities!

  3. In one or more of the podcasts, it’s been said that Kirk–despite his playboy reputation– has more pro-feminist lines, usually about the competence of his officers, while Spock– despite his logic– is usually the one with the lines about women not being able to handle whatever.

    • I would agree there are several scenes/episodes where Kirk also shines as an unlikely feminist. As much as I love Spock, I am disappointed when he sometimes employs logical thinking to argue that women are not as competent as men. Equality is the logical choice!

  4. I never considered him a feminist before, I like how you showed you don’t have to be a perfect human being to be a decent person and therefore a feminist. This helps me see Number One in a different light and somehow he became more attractive to me. (If that’s even possible!!) We need more Rikers in our lives!

    • Thanks for the comment! Yes, none of us is perfect (even fictional characters) but that definitely doesn’t mean we can’t be a feminist/decent person. And it shouldn’t deter us from trying to be a better human. I am happy to know Riker can be viewed in this new light, even 25 years later!

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