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.
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’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.