Power, Purpose, and Prophecy: the Women of Battlestar Galactica

SuperFolk, please welcome urban fantasy writer and fellow geek Lyra Selene to Searching for SuperWomen! I’ve known Lyra for several years (fun fact: she and I were roommates because she saw my Craigslist ad that confessed a love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). She IS a huge Buffy fan, as well as Doctor Who and, of course, BSG. Enjoy!


*Contains minor spoilers for all 4 seasons of Battlestar Galactica

In college, my roommate would come home from work every evening and promptly start watching episodes of Battlestar Galactica on his laptop. Depending on how bored I was, I would often hop on the couch beside him and watch portions of the episode, until he shoo-ed me away, saying that I had to start from the beginning of the series. A few years later, I finally did, and promptly fell head over heels in love with the hard-hitting military science fiction show. Battlestar Galactica (hereafter referred to as BSG) has everything an awesome science fiction series should have; spaceships, apocalypses, intelligent robots, and just a touch of mysticism. But perhaps most notably, BSG also has a cast of incredible characters, many of whom are independent, intelligent, and complex women in positions of power.

Battlestar Galactica, Kara Thrace, Starbuck, Katee Sackhoff

Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck (Kara Thrace) in Battlestar Galactica.

I’ve heard some call BSG a feminist show. In my opinion, this is not the case. I would say that the universe portrayed in BSG can be more closely identified as genderless. This is not to say that gender does not exist in Colonial society, but while individual characters certainly conduct themselves in a variety of ways with regards to gender, gender politics in the way we usually think of them are nearly nonexistent. Men and women serve equally in the military and are addressed as “sir” regardless of their sex. Bunks and showers are unisex. Queer relationships go unremarked upon. Female soldiers are harassed only as much as their male colleagues harass each other.

And more importantly, women’s actions are not reduced to their emotional state or hormonal fluctuations. President Roslin’s decisions are never questioned on the basis that her female emotions are too sensitive or compassionate. Starbuck is never barred from a battle because she is “weak” or “delicate.” Helena Cain’s position as Commander is never challenged on the grounds that she lacks a militaristic mentality necessary for war. Women are assumed to have any and all qualities that a man can have, both positive and negative, and this puts them on equal footing as men in nearly every sphere of life.

Kara Thrace (call sign Starbuck) exemplifies this kind of gender-blind universe. Cocky, brash, promiscuous and aggressive, Starbuck is the ace Viper pilot in the fleet. Her character expands the notion of femininity, because despite (and maybe even because of) the aforementioned qualities, Starbuck remains very much a woman. Even though she drinks and smokes cigars and doesn’t style her hair, she is beautiful and desirable to the men around her (although never a passive object). And Starbuck’s purpose in the series is inarguable; her decisions and experiences shape the journey of the Galactica towards Earth in several crucial ways. Starbuck’s individual journey, which both mirrors and inverts the Biblical parable of the prodigal son, sets in motion the events that are prophesied to lead to the salvation of the human race.

Battlestar Galactica, Mary McDonnell, Laura Roslin

Mary McDonnell as President Laura Roslin in Battlestar Galactica.

President Laura Roslin is another powerful woman who challenges the notion of traditional femininity. Roslin is reserved, fiercely intelligent, and beautiful, yet she is also politically ruthless and incredibly driven. She is passionate about civil rights and upholding Colonial law, yet when the future of the human race hangs in the balance she is not afraid to take whatever measures necessary to ensure humanity’s survival, even if that means going head to head with the formidable Commander Adama, who is not to be crossed lightly. But despite Roslin’s pragmatic political persona, personally she is compassionate, sensitive, and caring woman, privately battling breast cancer while making the hard decisions necessary to bolster humanity’s future. Roslin, like Starbuck, is also caught up in the mystical prophecies surrounding the journey toward Earth, and must balance her frightening visions of the future with her naturally logical personality.

Battlestar Galactica  is a complex show, dealing with issues ranging from the synthesis of man and machine to the consequences of war to the power of religion. The show isn’t about feminism or gender, and that means that it isn’t always perfect when it comes to gender relations. There are several overtly sexist characters (yes, Gaius Baltar, I mean you) and sexual violence is used as a weapon against women more frequently than  I was comfortable with. But when it comes to the portrayal of women in science fiction, BSG lands squarely on the top of the heap. Strong women in positions of power, fulfilling their roles with purpose and agency: what more could you ask for? Oh yeah– prophecies that blend mysticism, religion and science into a dizzying climax that will leave you asking for more.

headshotLyra Selene was born under a full moon and has never quite managed to wipe the moonlight out of her eyes. Raised on a steady literary diet of fantasy and science fiction, she dreams of fantastic worlds near and far. Lyra writes young adult urban fantasy and blogs at LyraSelene.com. She is inspired by brooding landscapes and the alchemy of love.