'Deep Space Nine' and Dax flip the script on women's roles in sci-fi

·4 min read

Like it or not, even the most diehard Star Trek fans can admit that the franchise has a somewhat… rocky history when it comes to its depictions of women. Though the franchise’s core identity thrives on ideas of inclusivity, acceptance, and exploration, the series (which has always been a trailblazer for diversity) has simultaneously also struggled with giving women the agency and respect they deserve. From the scantily clad alien women Kirk frequently found himself involved with on The Original Series, to Troi and Crusher’s gratuitous mirror workout sessions on The Next Generation, and Seven of Nine and T’Pol’s skintight catsuits on Voyager and Enterprise, the franchise had a nasty habit of objectifying women, even as late as the early 2000s.

But despite how prevalent and unapologetic the franchise’s sometimes less-than-respectful attitudes towards depicting women were, there was one character in particular who seemed to be a deliberate reactionary measure to the rampant objectification of women in Trek — Deep Space Nine’s Jadzia Dax. Though the franchise boats no shortage of strong, independent female characters both before and after Dax, her penchant for flirtation, unapologetic embracing of her sexual identity, and unflinching ability to command respect make her the perfect response to decades of women being trussed up in laughably skimpy costumes.

First appearing in Deep Space Nine’s series premiere “The Emissary,” Jadzia Dax (played by the incomparable and ever-radiant Terry Farrell) was a Trill — a species of alien that play host to a symbiont that moves from body to body every time a host dies. By the time we meet Jadzia on DS9, she’s the seventh trill to play host to the Dax symbiont, meaning she has seven lifetimes worth of experience, confidence, and knowledge to draw on when serving in Starfleet. It’s those seven lifetimes that shape Dax’s most memorable personality traits, because despite having the outward appearance of a beautiful young woman, she’s treated (rightfully so) like an officer with much more life experience and capability than most of the other crew.

Jadzia Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Jadzia Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Credit: CBS

Her Captain, Benjamin Sisko, frequently calls her “old man,” a reference to having met her when the Dax symbiont was being hosted by a male Trill named Curzon, and a testament to the understanding held by a majority of the DS9 crewmembers that Dax is hardly the naive young woman she may look to be on first appearance. What’s most compelling about Dax, though, is that even with all those lifetimes of experience and all that knowledge, she still revels in finding joy in life — and most commonly in the form of flirtation. Though DS9 has no shortage of wannabe womanizers (Season 1 Bashir, that means you) Dax is without question the closest the series comes to James Kirk or Will Riker levels of flirting. She has no qualms about putting herself out there and embracing the more sensual aspects of her personality.

Therein lies the difference between Dax’s embracing of her sexuality and the exploitation of characters like Troi, Seven of Nine, and T’Pol — while all three aforementioned women are paraded around in utterly impractical costumes that stick out glaringly from the rest of their male colleagues’ stuffy Starfleet uniforms, Dax isn’t forced into a ridiculous outfit to make the viewers understand that she’s a woman who enjoys embracing her sexuality. Instead, she’s given the same respect and agency as her flirtatious male predecessors, and allowed to simply demonstrate her penchant for flirtation by chatting up not shortage of bizarre-looking aliens that find their way to Deep Space Nine.

Perhaps more than any other series, Deep Space Nine’s writing (courtesy of showrunners Michael Piller and Ira Steven Behr) gives its female characters the dimension and depth that so many other Trek shows struggle to grasp — because while Dax’s flirtatious tendencies are certainly a memorable part of her character, she’s also not boxed in or defined by that facet of her personality. Instead, she’s allowed to have her own struggles and personal storylines — whether it’s her relationship with the stoic Worf or her internal conflicts about transferring Dax to a new host, she’s never limited by or reduced to just being a beautiful, sensual woman.

More than anything, though, credit must be given to Terry Farrell, who was able to embody and bring to life such a refreshing and well-written character: She's able to craft Jadzia into a warm, vibrant personality that, though flirtatious, never comes off as leery or out of place. She’s able to weave Jadzia’s infectiously charming personality into every line, creating one of the most beloved (and unique) female characters the Star Trek franchise has ever seen. Though Farrell may have departed the show before it reached the end of its run, her contributions to Deep Space Nine and her captivating turn as Jadzia Dax helped flip the script when it came to the objectification of women on Star Trek — delivering an empowered, confident female character who’s rivaled only by James T. Kirk when it comes to her powers of flirtation.

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