Twenty Years Later, Star Trek’s DS9 Is Still the Most Feminist Show Around

I love DS9. It’s something I should be ashamed to admit. The characters type out imaginary codes at comm panels that look like decals while zipped into black jumpsuits with elastic waistbands. The only thing more overdramatic than the acting is the camerawork. And the sets are as static as most of the scenes. Scene begins. Door opens. Character in the room talks to character entering the room. Decision made. Character exits. Door closes. Scene ends.

The show isn’t exactly a writer’s dream.

Yet I still love it.

This year when I’m not watching Doctor Who, it’s DS9 all the way, baby.

Here’s why:

1. Diversity, diversity, diversity.
More than twenty years before Marvel finally hopped on the diversity bandwagon, DS9 debuted in 1993 with the first black captain in the Star Trek franchise, his son, an idealistic doctor who no one could say for sure was Arab or Indian or what–and no one cared, a woman who had recently lived as a man, and a strong female lead who had been a resistance fighter (read terrorist) since age 13.

By the end of its run, we also got a female black freighter captain, Star Trek superstar Michael Dorn (also black), and some serious professional advancement for a botanist of Japanese descent who, in The Next Generation, was little more than a glorified gardener. Many episodes involved white male actors only on the periphery, if at all. And you know what? It made for richer stories that rewarded everybody.

2. Feminist as fuck.
One thing you can say for those little black jumpsuits? They weren’t sexy. They didn’t need to be. Unlike so many female characters on television twenty years later, the point wasn’t how they fit into their jeans or how good they looked in heels. Cleavage didn’t even happen with the regular female characters. They aren’t written or costumed to help little straight boys get off in their beds at night. They’re written to seem real, and I spent my twenties aspiring to be these women. 

A. Jadzia Dax
Lieutenant Commander Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell) is the space station’s chief science officer. In fact, they establish early in the series that she earned multiple degrees in a range of sciences, all by the age of 28. Something of a girl genius. And who says girls are no good at science? She also studies Klingon martial arts, gambles with Ferengi men, and pretty much does whatever the hell she wants. While still enjoying spa dates with her bff, Nerys.

B. Kira Nerys
Major Kira Nerys, the station’s First Officer, isn’t about to be shown up by Dax. Nerys (Nana Visitor) and Captain Sisko can go head-to-head over who gets the best arc, and it will probably be a draw. After expelling a hostile force that has occupied her home world and enslaved her people for 50 years, the hard-fighting, tell-it-like-it-is Major loses every man she loves along with a great many friends. Yet she still keeps on fighting with a fiery anger that women on television and in literature are rarely allowed because people are afraid men can’t stomach it. But producers and publishers hold horribly sexist, limiting views of men because I’ve yet to meet a man who doesn’t love Major Kira.

Her violent past is always just one step behind her, and her complex relationships with her planet’s power brokers drive many of the episodes’ plots. What’s more, a white actor is playing a role in a fictional context modeled on Native American and black American history–and it’s an exercise in empathy for white viewers that, frankly, we need more of.

C. They’re not alone.
And let’s not forget Cassidy, Keiko, Kai Winn, the dabo girl who loved poetry and brains, a whole range of minor heroines and villains who march through the series, as well as the epic Women’s Lib Movement on Ferenginar. Frankly, it’s hard to think of any television series that celebrates feminism as exuberantly as DS9.

D. A world without sexism
Plus, the series’ only unequivocal villain is Gul Dukat, a sexist, racist tyrant played deliciously by Marc Alaimo, a middle-aged white man. Aside from Dukat–at whom our intrepid heroines either roll their eyes or throw punches–sexism is not even a thing these women have to contend with. The men don’t talk over them. They don’t question their orders. They don’t constantly second-guess their expertise. And no one harasses or assaults these ladies. It’s unthinkable because in this universe, these women have respect. Not because they fought for it tooth-and-nail, but because they deserve it.

Simple as that.

And that’s probably my favorite thing about DS9. For 43 minutes each night, I get to leave behind my own misogynist culture and enter a universe where women get to live out their lives without fear of male violence or desire to control them. They don’t find value in how they look, and neither does the camera. They get to be brilliant and heroic and bad ass in their jumpsuits–and people, men and women, see them for what they are: Awesome. 

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