So here’s a blog entry that’s over ten years late.
I’ve been storming my way through Star Trek: Voyager recently. Apart from a few dodgy episodes (let’s not even talk about Threshold) and a dislike for any plotline that involves The Romantic and Sexist Adventures of Harry Kim, I’ve been overjoyed to find that the writing and character construction in this show still holds a lot of water. I have genuinely cried my eyes out over this crew, and I find Janeway in particular to be an incredibly inspiring character.
This evening I came home and watched ‘Retrospect’, an episode halfway through season four. It’s the series that saw Seven of Nine join the principle crew, and many of her stories so far have dealt with attempts to rehabilitate the former Borg and help her reclaim her humanity. A large part of this has been an emphasis on personal autonomy and independence. In the previous episode, ‘Prey’, Seven and Janeway argued about the boundaries of this independence, with Seven challenging the conflict between being encouraged to think for herself but also being expected to think like the rest of the crew.
So when the Doctor helps Seven recover what they both believe to be the repressed memories of a physical assault, it is a powerful statement of how this character is beginning to think about herself and her body that she describes the attack as being ‘violated’. What she remembers happening isn’t a rape but a harvesting of her Borg technology, but nevertheless this is an episode thick with rape metaphors: because of the use of terms like ‘violated’, because of Seven’s anxiety attacks, because of the (somewhat blunt) parallels drawn between nano-probes and semen, because of the disbelief Seven encounters from her crew, because of the framing of the accusation itself as something which could destroy the accused’s life, because because because.
When the episode started I was naively excited about the direction it was going. I felt it began with a series of interesting, if not wildly original, scenes covering the psychological effects of repressing, then remembering, trauma. Jeri Ryan delivered a glorious performance, and it was refreshing to see strong, unemotional Seven as an unusual depiction of a victim. I thought the reactions of Seven’s confidants were probably accurate even if they were a bit victim-blame-y in places, but I was full expecting that by having Seven’s male superiors raise her history of hallucinations, the show was preparing for a Janeway smackdown. There was no such smackdown, because for some reason my beloved captain had to be fair to a creepy weapon salesman rather than defend her crew-member (despite later claiming that she had been blinded by her desire to protect Seven. I do not think that means what you think it means, show). Still, the accused man’s reactions to the accusation seemed on point, particularly his incredibly self-centred attitude.
My alarm bells didn’t really go off until the examination of the ‘scene of the crime’, where the Doctor suddenly decided to take an out of character turn as a gross parody of the misleading psychiatrist/over-zealous activist. And then, as it was discovered that there was no concrete evidence of any assault having taken place, the episode came tumbling down.
What it boils down to is this: rape trials, if a rape even gets to trial (and the stats are abysmal), can often boil down to ‘she said/he said’. Voyager is not wrong to play out such a story. But that’s not the story ‘Retrospect’ told. For some reason, the episode veered off wildly into a half-boiled critique of the psychiatry of recovering repressed memories. As soon as it became apparent that the evidence of the assault was inconclusive, Seven’s recovered memories were neatly explained away (in the space of a few lines) as being residual trauma from unspecified medical procedures that were, y’know, probably performed by the Borg for some reason or other. Despite the fact that the Doctor had argued very convincingly that this was probably not the case earlier in the episode for reasons to do with Seven’s actual brain physiology, a few splatters of innocent
semen nano-probes were enough to make him forget all of this other evidence and chalk it up to not really understanding Seven’s neurology yet. What. So suddenly this is a story about the Doctor being a crap psychiatrist and Seven being a lying liar and that poor poor dead accused weapons salesman who so tragically died whilst trying to destroy the whole ship and everyone on it because of the terrible lies of Seven and the cloudy judgement of her friends, blah blah blah…
Unconsciously, I’m sure we’d all like to believe that false accusations account for a significant proportion of the women raped every single day in this country, because that would mean that this crime actually having taken place is the exception, not the rule. It would be an amazing world to live in where women were not routinely victimised and assaulted by the people they love and trust. But the world we actually live in is one where on top of 1 in 3 women being raped, the few women amongst that number who do come forward will be routinely disbelieved and blamed.
So consider this a retrospective fuck you, writers of Voyager, for perpetuating the myth that women cannot be believed when it comes to rape, and that the perpetrators are somehow equally deserving of our compassion. Consider that one human experience you shouldn’t have used just so that the Doctor could learn a valuable lesson about not being a dodgy hack psychiatrist. And frankly, how dare you belittle the experiences of rape survivors in order to teach Seven how to feel anger and remorse. Anger: I’m feeling it. Remorse: I hope you have some.