Putting ALL women at the forefront of discovery

The fields of discovery and exploration have historically been presented as a male domain. From the space race to continental explorers, one only finds a list of men, a discouraging story for young girls. Two television programs have decided put women at the forefront of discovery, both in space and time. However, inclusivity is never easy, and despite progress, one of the shows is already running into problems over the lack of radical representation. DiscovHER goes further into detail in this article.

At the 2016 San Diego Comic Con, it was announced that a new series from the Star Trek universe, Star Trek Discovery, would be broadcast on American TV as of January of the following year. The news in itself was exciting and well received thanks to the large following this franchise has had over the years. However, what made it a unique announcement was what came later, when it was revealed that the lead character would be played by a black female actor.

Now, Star Trek is known for being a universe of “firsts”: it was the first TV series to show a black woman in a key role, and has not hesitated to cast women and other minorities in principal roles. However, in this day and age where the complexities of identity have led to more in-group division than solidarity, it is poignant that such an influential and revered show would cast a woman of color in such a key role. What’s more this complexity and idea of walking the line between identities is carried on into the show, and has made it so popular among critics and audiences, it has recently been renewed for a second season.

The idea of women of color exploring new worlds is of great importance in a world where the realities of both sexism and racism still collide for them, often from a very young age, and across all fields. In fact, a recent study by anthropologist Kathryn Clancy on discrimination within the field of astronomy found that women of color face more prejudice than either white women, or men of color. Their experiences are nuanced, as they often face bias from people in whose in-groups they thought to belong. Yet their lack of media representation prevents society from having an in-depth conversation about how and why this exists in real life. By opening up this avenue, Star Trek Discovery will enable audiences to follow the journey of personal experiences of identity crisis, all within a setting of professional scientific advancements and exploration.

In contrast, Dr. Who, the long-running and much beloved British series about a time-travelling alien who regenerates in different bodies, also announced that the next regeneration would be a woman. The difference here was that the actress is white, and therefore the series, which had already received much criticism for never having a female Doctor over its 50+ year run, was again accused of not taking risks. In fact, one journalist stated it was not at all a representation win since leading white actresses were not a new feature in the entertainment industry, and given the sexist backlash the Doctor is receiving even before her run begins, this would take away the chance for the series to shake up the status quo.

Pop culture has proven to have a tangible impact on real life. This is why it is so important for entertainment, despite the creativity and fantasy that informs its content, must always keep its ear to the ground, because the manner in which sensitive issues are treated on these platforms affects real life. For instance, with the release of the Hidden Figures film, many young women started considering careers in STEM.

It seems shows about time and space travel have audiences that require that creators take the plunge and explore issues rooted in reality, but not necessarily replicating them. In this way we could perhaps find out-of-the-box solutions to matters we seemed blocked on, and boldly go where no one has gone before.

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