Women and Geek, Pop Culture
A blog series on observing changes women present in the wonderful world of geek, pop culture.
By Christopher Harris
Hello everyone and welcome to another installment of “Women and Geek, Pop Culture”. If you haven’t read the first piece or the introduction, then this series, like the name implies, will highlight some of the more authoritative roles women have in geek media. For example, the series will pin-point certain forms of media by briefly underlying how a particular show might diverge from tropes and reoccurring narratives we expect to see today. It’ll analyze fictional characters in TV, comics and video games, and emphasize the effects these characters have on future media and the representation of women.
The spotlight was on Korra, from the hit animated series Legend of Korra. I explained several reasons why she represents a fundamental change in how women can be portrayed in media, even in cartoons!
This week is another personal favorite, and when I originally wrote this article, the character was just starting to blossom. Now she has bloomed into a character the show simply cannot do without.
She hails from the planet Casti but now calls the ruins of St. Louis home.
Defiance – Syfy
(Plot spoilers will be at a minimum but I will have to reference some of her actions to make points!! Defiance is on the Syfy channel so it goes without saying that this show may not be for everyone.)
A post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama that knows how to cater to its audience. Defiance is not without its flaws but if you want a decent story told through a cast of colorful characters then this show is for you. Developed by Rockne S. O’Bannon (FARSCAPE), Kevin Murphy and Michael Taylor. The story of Defiance opens with 7 alien races making up what is called the Votanis Collective, showing up on Earth’s door in the year 2013. An extremely convoluted chain of events occur with the result ending in a 7 years’ war between these aliens and humans. With both sides suffering heavy losses, humans and mixed aliens are forced to co-exist on a war-torn Earth and this is where the fun begins.
For the sake of this article I want to point out Stahma’s race in particular. As mentioned before, Stahma comes from a planet called Casti, making her Castithan. There a very few physical differences between Humans and Castithans. The obvious being the pale skin, pink-lavender eyes, white hair, and apparently their xeno-specific body parts. Castithans are known for being sly. Their religious beliefs lead them to be very conservative in most aspects of life. The best examples of this, and this is important, is their use in a culturally fixed caste system. Subsequently, female Castithans are subservient to their male counter parts in every way. Castithan traditions and law lump all their women together and strips them of their identity. This old imperialistic tradition breeds the idea of continuously stripping the power away from the females until it’s the only thing they know. They’ve been deprived of their own voice for generations they don’t even realize they have one. They know no other way. Their regality is also matched by their extremely open-minded views on sexuality, which is also important but not for this article.
So how does Stahma play into all of this? Well she is certainly no exception to the Castithan rules. Or is she?
When the series begins, Stahma is the tactful, encouraging wife character to an egotistical chauvinist alpha male. She faithfully serves her husband Datak, the leader of their Castithan people in Defiance. While backstories unfold you get the sense of the caste system and Castithan traditions very early on. During this time you see Stahma as her husband wants you to see her. She’s silent, deadly and above all, dutiful. When called upon Stahma will do every bit of Datak’s dirty work, and carry out the task with style. When she isn’t “taking care” of the family’s enemies, she’s taking care of her husband and her son, Alak. She follows her role to the letter.
But even in the early episodes, she is still a major player. The few times she’s out from under Datak’s largely casted shadow, is definitely when Stahma has a chance to shine.
As you watch the first season you begin to see Stahma for who she truly is. While she does her misdeeds you can see the spark in her eye. She isn’t just murderous trophy wife. Stahma has the uncanny ability to blend her submissive nature with her cunning intellect, throwing off any suspicion to her character. Stahma is timid, polite and kind, yet as the viewer, you know the things she’s capable of. The way she interacts with other characters is how she acts around her husband. Even he doesn’t truly understand her, which makes her such a unique character. It’s this fine line she walks that allows her to “cheat the system”, in every sense of the phrase. Her ambitions are able to flourish at the end of season 1 when her carefully orchestrated planning raises her husband, Datak, to a position of power in the town of Defiance. She is single-handedly responsible for propping up Datak’s stature and he doesn’t even realize it. The winds start to stir and by the end you have no choice but to consider that there might be more to Stahma’s character as a whole.
Now this is where Stahma’s character breaks out and is worthy of being on WGPC.
When season 2 goes underway, Stahma appears to be the loyal wife you remember from the previous season. A substantial amount of time passes and Datak is in jail for, well, being Datak, and their son is busy playing at being human. Stahma has inherited the business and put Alak in charge of it as a figurehead. Castithan women, as you might have guessed it, aren’t allowed to surpass their husbands in every possible way. I suppose it stands to mention Alak is more human than Castithan as he doesn’t have the fortitude to participate in the more extreme forms of Casththan tradition. When Datak eventually finds out that his loving and thoughtful wife has the mind to betray him, it takes everything in his power not to kill her. There’s a look that Stahma gives him at the end of a GREAT scene that sums up the fear and rage inside of her. In the very next episode she throws traditions, the caste systems and all ways of Castithan life out the door when she has him beaten by the very same men he used to command. Stahma and Alak look on as Datak’s once loyal henchmen beat him to an inch of death then leave him out in the street for the town to see. Stahma kneels down to a broken Datak and whispers “You should have made me a partner!”
It’s one of the greatest scenes in the show and it’s really just about an alien spousal dispute gone to the extreme!
Everything about Stahma and what she represents can scarcely be found on most shows today. Stahma is the living embodiment of Women’s equality and Stahma, like the issue, will not be ignored. Of course its sci-fi drama, and her methods are a bit extreme, but at her core, Stahma’s whole purpose for being isn’t to usurp authority or take control, it’s to be represented equally and treated fairly. She literally has to fight to be “partners” with her husband. A feeling most women can relate to in predominately male professions. Her story on the show is the bridge between issues of equality and gender misrepresentation and how we as men as women might overcome them.
Defiance is a show all about new beginnings, as you’ll come to understand if you ever get a chance to watch it. Stahma’s fresh start is to be the woman she knows she is, without predetermined notions from words written by old men from a time way passed the point of relevancy. She strives for her husband to see her worth. She decides to explore other options from observing human women and how they’re afforded the luxury of independence.
I don’t need to explain the irony there.
Stahma breaks her shackles of submission by interacting with other characters on the show that introduce the idea of equality into her life. It’s the idea of being treated fair because you have that right. Stahma wants it that so badly that she ends up breaking the most sacred Castithan laws.
Her character also goes hand in hand with all the joys and pains of a marriage. Her and Datak are the only married characters with substance on the show. Datak goes through the series, clinging to his traditions on a new world that he doesn’t see the potential rising in Stahma. She plays the supportive role extremely well only to be ignored by her husband and his thick bravado. He doesn’t see it until it’s too late and eventually even he is in the way of her ambitions. What’s great about Stahma’s character is when she finally does take control of the family, she eventually breaks through Datak’s tough masculine armor by communicating with him, albeit, after beating him up and kicking him out of the house. However the end result is positive. She was able to get through to him, to make him ackowlegde his own faults, not behave violently or lash out, and then make steps to change for his family. Which is nothing short of spectacular.
The thing I find the most amazing about Stahma is that her character role is so unexpected. You’re reading this article and have some knowledge of events during the season, and the conflict she goes through but when you watch the show you will see just how this character suddenly explodes and then realize that the match was lit the whole time. Kudos go to the creators, writers and staff. If not for them this character would not exist. They made a choice to tell a narrative that is hardly ever told in a genre that at best, gives women decent side roles to put alongside a main male character and to be honest in the first season, that is exactly Stahma’s character. She delivers some the greatest lines of dialogue and her screen time is always a villainous delight. The way the writers tell and display her character in such a way that seems fresh and new is just, well, its amazing character writing. It’s the type of writing and character development we need to practice repeating. We need to see more of in all types of media.
Shot out to the wonderful Jaime Murray, who does a phenomenal job owning Stahma Tarr’s character. I couldn’t see anyone else playing that character. Stahma has that devilish charm that only Jaime Murray can portray accurately, I think.