Writing Improvement Team/Simming Policies
Sexism in Simming
Written by UFOP: Starbase 118 Academy Staff
What is Sexism?
Sexism is the unjust or prejudicial treatment on the basis of sex or gender. In modern society, this often originates with men, and is directed at women. In simming, this manifests as male characters treating female characters in ways that devalue their skills or abilities – generally “less than.”
Why is This Important?
“Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations” is the core of Vulcan philosophy and is one of the fundamental beliefs of the Star Trek universe as a whole. Our community seeks to embrace all of the infinite combinations that both writers and characters bring to the group, and celebrate the worth and diversity of our members – but, while we may play our game in the utopia of Star Trek’s future, the unfortunate truth is that the twenty-first century in which we live is not always so enlightened. Because of that, we must be educated about, recognize, and refrain from engaging in sexist behaviors.
We challenge our members to think beyond the limitations of the twenty-first century and write their characters in a way that doesn’t create a hostile simming environment for others.
Discrimination is an Important Part of Fiction
Science Fiction plays a unique role in fiction. It allows us to talk about contemporary social issues from a different perspective, removing the viewer or the reader from their preconceived notions about a problem and making them think about things in a different way.
Star Trek is particularly good at this type of social commentary. Consider The Original Series episode “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” in which a fugitive seeks to escape his pursuer. The fugitive’s face is colored black and white, while his pursuer’s face is colored white and black. The message of the story was about how ridiculous racism is, and was particularly poignant in a segregated society like the United States in the 1960s.
When fiction uses discrimination with a purpose in this way, it requires careful thought, pre-planning, and consideration. But the result can be important and educational.
Simming is Different Than Normal Fiction
Unlike in standard fiction, where the violence perpetrated against characters is “victimless,” our characters are played by real people, and those real people can be affected by discrimination when it’s used casually, without appropriate planning or forethought into how to ensure that readers are not subjected to the types of behaviors which they face in everyday life, and which are hurtful and damaging.
Casual Sexism Has No Place in Our Game
The line between “literary sexism” and “casual sexism” is very thin. You could have what you see as a very good reason and a purpose for playing a sexist character. But without appropriately planning for how this will manifest in the game, it could still come across as hurtful, and create an environment in our game which is hostile to our female members. An environment that is hostile to our female players not only makes it more likely that they will leave, because they are being treated poorly, but also that it will be more difficult to gender-balance our fleet, because we will have a poor reputation.
Because of that, “off-the-cuff,” casual sexism which is not written with careful planning, intentional sensitivity to the players, and a goal for character growth, is not allowed in our game.
Examples of Sexism to Avoid
::Ensign Khan stared at the cadet’s behind as she walked away. No one who dressed that way could possibly have graduated at the top of her class.::
There are two particularly egregious points here. In the first sentence, the character is exhibiting behavior – staring at someone’s anatomy in an unwelcome way – which is inappropriate for a Starfleet officer. In the second sentence, the character is engaging in discrimination by assuming that a woman who dresses in a certain way is less intelligent or capable than a man. It’s a hurtful reminder of daily discrimination, and objectifies a woman’s body.
::Ensign Khan considered that, if the cadet was going to dress that way, he certainly wouldn’t mind seeing more of her.::
Again, this type of behavior enforces the objectification of a woman’s body and clothes.
::Ensign Khan stomped off from the briefing, having been thoroughly raked over the coals by the captain who, once again, was showing what a bitch she is.::
In contemporary society, women are often treated as unequal to their male peers when in positions of power, or are unduly perceived as being more harsh than men. Stereotyping female characters in positions of power by attempting to paint them in an unflattering light is wrong. Male and female leadership should be judged by the same standards, both in and out of character. And just because you didn’t get what you want from a female CO does not mean she is behaving in a way that is less appropriate than any other CO.
::Ensign Khan eyed the new Lieutenant as he leaned over the engineering console. What a body!:: “Any chance you’re off duty tonight?”
Here, we assume that the other player has rejected Khan’s advances…
::Khan pushed.:: “Are you sure we can’t get together for dinner?”
Just like in real life, “No means no,” not “Keep asking until you get a yes.” You should always talk with another player before trying to initiate romantic overtures, Carbon Copying (“CC”‘ing) your commanding officer, and if you are rebuffed, accept that it won’t work and find a way to make the interactions work appropriately for a Starfleet setting. Pushing another player to have their character interact with yours is inappropriate.
Common Concerns and Questions
“This is just my character – he’s a jerk!”
“We’ve seen terrible people in Starfleet. Why can’t I play one of them?”
“Aren’t you just forcing every character to be a bland, cookie-cutter version of Wesley Crusher?”
“But she described her character in a way that seemed sexy. She obviously wanted male attention.”
Using Sexism in Simming
Our hope is that all of our members keep the central Star Trek ideals of tolerance and acceptance in mind when they participate in our game. But as we discussed above, we know that discrimination has an important place in creating drama and telling stories. Because of that, we should aim to use discrimination in a way that doesn’t harm the women who are members of our community.
Before even considering a sexist or discriminatory character, take extreme caution and care. Think about what your goals are in going down this path, what you want to accomplish, and how you can accomplish it in a way that is not hurtful, but is sensitive to other players. Do not ever assume that others playing will know your intentions or will give you a “pass” for the sake of seeing what you come up with.
Remember that we have players of many cultures and life experiences in our sim, and some people have been victimized by discrimination on a daily basis in their real life. Our game, and community, are the place they can come to escape that type of hurtful behavior.
Second, if you’re planning on exploring discrimination in the sim by introducing a character who is behaving in an offensive way that could be hurtful to real life players, email your CO first and let them know what your goals are and how you plan to execute your plan. Ask if your CO has any concerns and what their thoughts are on making this attempt as fruitful, educational, and enjoyable as possible for everyone.
And third, if you’re planning on involving another playing character in any way, you should approach your CO first to let them know, and ask if it’s okay to reach out to that player while carbon copying (“CC’ing”) the captain. Your goal in emailing the other player should be to introduce your intentions and ask if there are any concerns, while making clear that your characters’ thoughts are his or hers alone, and are not reflected in your personal feelings and that no offense is intended – and if offense occurs, that there should be open lines of communication between the both of you so that it can be dealt with swiftly.
Sexism and Star Trek
On the technical and canon front, any discrimination that happens In Character must be realistic in the context of Star Trek. While it’s easy to imagine that the world of Star Trek is still full of James Kirks – swashbuckling men whose inner-lives are full of condescension toward women – the difference between TOS and TNG eras is stark in contrast, and a canon precedent of the more sensitive “lady’s man” (think Will Riker) is the norm. By the time of Jean Luc Picard, women are treated as equals, as opposed to being relegated to supporting roles in short skirts.
Moreover, Starfleet personnel are intensively screened, and that anyone who graduates from Starfleet Academy has at least a baseline sensitivity to discrimination, both internally and externally. Almost everyone in Starfleet is “enlightened.”
That doesn’t mean that sexism doesn’t exist in the Star Trek universe. We’ve seen sexist men in TNG era, and we know from some of the episodes in which the minds of Starfleet crews are manipulated that there are men who are violent and discriminatory. But the vast majority of Starfleet personnel, for most of the time, are thoughtful and sensitive to discrimination and sexism. In fact, it’s so ingrained in their daily lives that it would be extremely out-of-place for a member of Starfleet to act in a sexist way.
Join the Discussion on Our Forums
If you have questions, or would like to talk more about this issue, over to our forum thread about sexism in simming and join the discussion.
Written by Rear Admiral Brian Kelly
Shortly after receiving my captain’s pips, but before RANGER’s keel was completed, I found I had some time on my hands. One of those days was spent addressing middle school students on 40 Eridanni 6 on their career day. One of the students asked me a question which having answered then I now realize is also largely a mystery to most Federation members not in the service. The question concerned how StarFleet organized her ships and how she maneuvered them around Federation territory given the distances involved.
The adult version of this series of questions tends to focus on the seemingly impossible fact that many service members and high ranking officers seem to know one another rather well, and seem to get around quite regularly. This seems unlikely because at warp 9, it would take ten years to cross Federation space at it’s widest point from one end to the other.
Although as fleet officers reading this journal we all know the answers to these questions, I thought it advisable to provide a means for answering friends and family which includes all the accurate information.
The Milky Way’s ellipse makes it necessary to travel significant distances between stars; although we have no direct evidence of positioning for planetary formations in cluster or nebulae galaxies, we suspect that travel times may be much shorter in tight stellar clusters. As things stand here, however, there’s a great deal of empty space.
Which is something it appears most civilians don’t know. They seem to think the Federation is a large pie slice or some similar shape, and that everything within it is “ours’ or at least “friendly” or “known.” This is not the case.
In fact, Federation space is irregularly shaped, and of the several thousand sectors within it, only about half have been mapped, and only about a third explored even cursorily. The fact that the “unknown” areas remain partially or completely enclosed within patrolled space does not change the fact that they are not patrolled themselves.
It is also advisable to point out that Sector 001 is not one of the two aforementioned “furthest points” along the Federation “long axis” and that the trip at warp 9 from Sol sector to the furthest point in explored federation space is only about 6,000 light years.
What many civilians do not realize, however, is that those “furthest” points are usually not controlled by member states, when they are inhabited at all. They are only part of the border of claimed Federation space. When an area is not yet explored and mapped, or no member or treaty race occupies it, or it is not part of an established trade route, it is not patrolled.
So it is perhaps now a bit easier to understand how our ships move about so quickly; they’re really not going “all over” the federation. If one ship were to be assigned the task of going from the “furthest occupied and patrolled point” to the corresponding point in the fastest course, it would likely represent a trip of only about 3700 light years or so, which is about 4 years at high warp; still too long, especially when one considers the return trip. Which is why Starfleet is not one fleet, but many.
On Earth, in the latter half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, naval units were usually assigned certain bodies of water in which to base and patrol. There are historical references to the “Pacific Fleet” and the “Indian Ocean” Battle Group. The same pattern, not surprisingly, was repeated on other worlds in similar fashion. While the distances concerned then were expressed in miles rather than light years, the reason was as credible then as it is now.
When a group of ships bases in an area and stays there barring the most extraordinary situations, they get to know the territory. But even more important is that their deployments become manage-ably short, with corresponding time for crew lives to be led, repairs and refits, crew rotation, etc. Which is why service people are, when possible, selected for fleet postings with a mind for their home colonies or member worlds.
Starfleet is organized this way now. Sector 001 forms the hub of a large wheel with both longitudinal rings and radial spokes, breaking the whole circle into a grid. The grids, of course, are sectors, and Starfleet has organized herself to patrol them in a way which adheres to the approach described above, proven by time to be the most effective.
There are actually 15 “Fleets” within Starfleet, each with a numerical designation, and each further broken into “task forces” which change in size and composition over time and with military or political needs dominating such change. The fleet territories overlap. Not all fleets are the same size, nor are they uniformly composed. What they all have in common, however, is the fact that excepting extraordinary circumstances, they don’t need to spend more than 3 months at the most getting anywhere within their assigned space.
When one considers how much smaller claimed Federation space was 130 years ago and how most of that space was unexplored, it becomes clear how ENTERPRISE was able to perform deep space exploration and at the same time get back to Earth on occasion; they did most of their time spiraling out from Earth, not heading directly away from it in a straight line. Thus, when the time came to return at speed, they could do so quickly, in a straight course.
Although the Federation is much larger today, the same holds generally true. If a vessel is required in one of the fleets furthest from Earth, it is made there in a local shipyard on a member world or colony, not in sector 001. When personnel are required, they are schooled at one of the academy satellite campuses, of which there are 10, scattered throughout Federation Space. Though this is not generally known, since the “San Francisco” campus is the largest and oldest, the sense of it is of course obvious; it hardly makes sense for students to travel several years to go to school for the same period.
The fleet from which the ENTERPRISE comes, as well as those ships attached to SB118 and SB251, the fleets which for the most part fought the Dominion War and which fought the Borg, come from the 9th, 39th and 61st Fleets, stationed throughout an elliptical area of Federation Space only about 1500 light years across; the largest of the “slices” and thus bearing the largest fleets.
Although the war dragged on long enough for other fleets to make their way to the battle area by war’s end, as desperate as the Federation needs were, there were fleets which couldn’t have arrived in time even if they left when the first shot was fired.
It’s my hope that this aids the civilian in understanding how the Federation patrols, defends and explores the vast areas entrusted to it.