Women in Power: Scifi and the Gender Ratio in American Government

Amber Atalaya Evans Pinel

I’ve been reading a lot of criticism of science fiction television shows by those looking at it from a feminist perspective—specifically, my all-time favorite Scifi series Battlestar Galactica (2003 reboot.) Just because I happen to adore BSG, that doesn’t mean I’m blind to its flaws. But right now I’d rather talk about what the show is actually really good at: an equal ratio of male and female characters. Specifically, the universe of BSG has more female characters in positions of power than the US Government does. As of 2012, the United States ranked #84 in the number of women serving in congressional (or parliamentary) positions. We’re tied with San Marino at a whopping 18.3% of women in congress. Considering more than 50% of voters are women, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And this trend doesn’t just exist at the federal level, “Only 22% of all statewide elective executive office positions are currently held by women.” Even though we see only a handful of military and government officials on the show (due to the genocide of most of the human race), it is pretty evident that there’s solid equality of opportunity for both men and women to be in those positions. The universe of BSG one-ups the USA in the first episode when Laura Roslin becomes President of the twelve colonies. She is appointed due to the death of the former president and a large percentage of the cabinet. However, people who oppose her do so because of the way she came into power and her lack of experience before becoming the president (she was formerly secretary of education), not because she is a woman. Then Kara Thrace (“Starbuck”) is appointed CAG (Commander of the Air Group)

after Lee Adama (a male) goes into politics. And she is easily the best CAG we see on Battlestar Galactica. One of the best things about the show, however, is that their military is totally unbiased when it comes to gender. Both men and women serve equally in every branch of the military, including the front lines and as fighter pilots. On the Cylon side of things, our three driving characters who seem to hold quite a bit of political power are Number Six, Number Eight, and Number Three, and all of them are female. However, their society isn’t matriarchal in the slightest. They pretty much have a democratic republic: the models choose one of their kind to speak for them in their own sort-of congress. Out of the eight main characters in Battlestar Galactica, five of them are women. Once I started counting the supporting and minor characters (and there are a lot of them) it appeared to be a pretty good 50/50 split. Considering a lot of our media these days is failing the Bechdel Test, I’d say that ratio is pretty stellar. Not just because there are female characters in the show, but because every single one of them is of note. (Almost) all of them are fully-fleshed out with character development and believable story lines of their own. Further on in the series we meet Admiral Helena Cain, the commanding officer of Battlestar Pegasus. Cain is arguably the most complex of all the female characters on the show, and she ranks the absolute highest in the military over everyone else. She has a Kurtz/Heart of Darkness kind of attitude in which most conventional morals were tossed out the window when the Cylons attacked. But, more on her next week. Finally, the primary reason BSG beats the US in equal representation in positions of power: The Quorum of Twelve, the universe’s parliament. Those who serve on it change throughout the show, however, it always has an even ratio of male and female representatives. Not because they are required to have an even ratio, but because that’s how the elections go. The Quorum is elected by the people, and serves much like the United States Congress.

 (The Quorum of Twelve meeting with President Laura Roslin)

So, if it’s so easy for an American television show to get it right, why can’t our nation do it for real? Well, here are several reasons from an article titled “The Gender Gap: Percentage of Women in Government Worldwide. We’re Number One, Right? Not So Much…”

1. On average, women candidates raise less money than their male counterparts.

2. Redistricting appears to target female candidates more than male candidates.

3. Incumbency: Men were in office before women, and once a person is in office, they have serious advantages for reelection. Usually, the most “winnable” seats are already held by men.

4. Less Media Coverage: According to the Daily Beast, in media reports on women’s issues—like abortion and birth control—men are quoted some five times more than women are. And that affects the coverage of women in politics.

5. Stereotypes

In my opinion, both major political parties in this country have the ability to put more women forward in elections. Furthermore, voters need to take on some responsibility for the representation inequality in our government as well. Obviously I’m not condoning voting for someone solely based on their gender. However, it is true that there is a significant amount of social prejudice riding on the idea of women in government positions. And only constituents have the power to change how they feel about women in our government.

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