The Number Six stored in Balthar's mind exhorts us to consider the abused woman as an individual, a reality, rather than a scientific problem or icon. Balthar later observes that her catatonic state emphasizes more than anything else so far that the psychology of those Cylons who appear human is identical to that of the beings they imitate and destroy. When Cain, assuming command of the fleet, splits up the Galactica's crew on the grounds that Commander Adama is too close to them, and when Apollo is told by his new CO that he should not allow the problems of his friends to trouble him, what is really going on is a destruction of the very philosophy that has kept the understaffed crew of the obsolete Battlestar alive: their acceptance of individuality.It's a good argument, despite some clunky supporting examples (it seems disingenuous to offer the reporter in "Final Cut" as an example of someone who learns to see past preconceived notions and recognize the crew's humanity, and it is downright incorrect to claim that Adama--who may be clinically incapable of thinking impersonally--attacks Sharon in "Home, pt. 2" because he forgets that she is a person), but more interesting to my mind is Hartland's criticism of Galactica's treatment of gender. Despite what mainstream reviewers may think, Galactica is at its core a very conservative show when it comes to issues of gender, although I haven't been able to decide whether or not this is intentional on the writers' part.
When it comes to sexual humiliation on the show, the men are seduced and the women are raped. As I wrote when I discussed the show back in September, all of its individualized villains are female, and two of those villains use sexuality as a weapon. On both Galactica and the Pegasus, there is a marked absence of women in positions of authority and command (in fact, with the exception of Admiral Cain, we've seen no female crewmembers on the Pegasus at all). And then there's Starbuck, who, whatever Laura Miller might think, is anything but a feminist icon.
Galactica's writers can't seem to stop apologizing for writing the character as she is. Starbuck is violent and headstrong because she's trying to fill up the empty void inside. The fact that she's sexually assertive and promiscuous is a sign that she's a 'screw-up'. That she doesn't want children is an indication of trauma and the result of being abused as a child (by her mother, who was apparently also a religious fanatic). Starbuck, we're told, wants to think of herself as mean and unworthy, wants to believe that she's not worth respect and love. Her confident demeanor conceals, as the stereotype goes, a profound lack of self-confidence and self-esteem.
I wouldn't like to be seen as saying that I want Starbuck to be perfect and well-adjusted, but the shape of her disfunction infuriates me. When I watch her, I find myself constantly recalling that genuine feminist SF icon, Farscape's Officer Aeryn Sun, whose character starts out, like Starbuck, as a capable soldier who is incapable of recognizing her feelings and who treats sex as recreation. Aeryn grows and changes over Farscape's run, and although by the show's end she has traded in her role as an emotionless soldier for that of a wife and mother, it is an empowering journey. Aeryn is flawed and, as a person, incomplete, but at no point did Farscape's writers suggest that, in order to experience the full range of human emotions, Aeryn needed to be cured of her strength or her personality. "You can be more", she is told by love interest John Crichton in their first meeting, and more is indeed what Aeryn becomes. She casts away the parts of her training that, as she comes to realize, don't mean a damn, and opens herself to new experiences. At the same time, however, Aeryn holds on of the skills that have kept her alive and made her strong, and uses them to safeguard her new, more rounded existence.
Instead of suggesting that Aeryn's competence and strength are an armor concealing her inadequacies, as Galactica's writers seem to be doing with Starbuck, the Farscape writers recognized that those strengths were an integral part of Aeryn's personality, that they had to be added to, not stripped away. Like all complete human beings, Aeryn had to learn to be vulnerable (although it's worth noting that throughout their relationship, Crichton was always 'the girl', emotionally speaking), but the writers never tried to make her pitiable. Galactica's writers use pity as a shortcut to making us love Starbuck--poor abused, lost child--but it is that pity, and the pity that Starbuck feels for herself, that is the most off-putting aspect of the character. It tells us that Starbuck is shamming strength, and that she may never make the journey into adulthood.
There has been some indication of progress for Starbuck's character--her journey to Caprica seems to have rattled her and forced her to take a long, hard look at herself, and she did seem to have something approaching a normal relationship with Anders--and as I've said before, Galactica's near-real-time progression means that any change we see in the character will be slow and gradual, but I'm not at all certain that the roots of the problem have been dealt with. Whether or not they meant to do so, Galactica's writers are treating feminine strength as a problem or an indication of a problem (with the exception of President Roslyn, of course), and they will never be able to write feminist fiction while they continue to do so.
UPDATE: Be sure to check out the comments to Hartland's article. There's a very interesting and well-written discussion going on there about the show's strengths and weaknesses, and the point is made that Galactica is a conservative show in more ways than just its attitude towards gender.