Masculinarity as a Possible Universal Trait – Richard J Tilley: Strategist and Ethicist
Monday, July 8, 2024

Masculinarity as a Possible Universal Trait

Advocate Kagus from The Orville episode, "About a Girl"

The masculine, for all its historical toxicity and oppression, may not be limited to humans. True, it may not be the case with all alien species, but we should strongly consider that other alien species have experienced the same history and that the oppressive construct of masculinarity is still a factor of their present culture even as they have evolved technologically to be a spacefaring world.

Feminist theorists are able to explicate our culture, history, literature, religions, and scientific and societal developments from within to relate to the smallest fraction how the masculine has been opposed to equality and progress. Parity is hard to locate under the realm of the male hand on the wheel of social progress. Familial landscapes internalize this reality. As many have said in many different ways, civilization is performative. It is considered by both scientists and science fiction writers alike that alien cultures might evolve along similar paths as us towards that great march towards progress, peace, and equality. However, who said that peace and equality are determining factors in the technological development that leads to space travel? I know, Star Trek and many other series have insisted that social progress must come before we are ready to reach out to the stars. While I certainly agree that it would be ideal, there is no promise that will be the case. In fact, there is very little evidence that it will. With that in mind we must also consider that alien cultures will also not be able to reconcile their social incongruities before making it to the stars.

Let us consider one such series in the tradition of Star Trek, that being The Orville. In the episode, “About a Girl,” the Moclan couple Bortus and Klyden have a disagreement on whether their newborn child will receive gender-confirmation surgery. Moclans are an all male species, or so the government and ruling institutions have everyone believe. Bortus’s and Klyden’s child is born female. We later learn this is far more common that even Bortus and Klyden believe at this time. This is a season one episode and the narrative taken from this episode continues through to the latest season, season three in big, dynamic, and emotional ways. However, focusing on “About a Girl” can be informative when considering the mentality of an alien species that values masculinity over all else.

There are real elements of circular reasoning that take place in this episode. Though Burtus decides he does not want their daughter to have the surgery, Klyden confesses that he learned he himself was born female and that did not change his conviction that all Moclans should be male. For him, any child born female as he was should indeed have forced gender-confirmation surgery to conform them to the male species to avoid being an outcast. The codified legal system agrees. According to Moclan law if there is ever a disagreement between parents on whether to have the surgery, the law sides with the parent in favor of the surgery. We later learn that to even attempt to live life as a female will subject them to forced conforming surgery when they are discovered coupled with a lifetime of imprisonment. Klyden agrees to all of this despite being born female himself. During the trial to determine the newborn’s fate, Advocate Kagus questions Captain Ed Mercer about whether he was circumcised or not or if others in the planetary union do have circumcision. Kagus insists this is a bodily alteration that the child has no choice in and that is no different than how Moclan culture views gender-confirmation surgery for babies born female. It is obvious how deeply engrained this element of their culture is.

I realize I am laying out an extreme example of masulinarity that was invented for The Orville. However, as anyone well read in feminist thinking can tell you, elements of the hyper-masculine can exist across a spectrum of varying degrees and can cause many different problems in society from the absolute to the holistic. I have spoken about the harms in our history with the masculine here and here. It is important to consider the diplomatic issues that would be forced upon us if we were confronted with a first contact with species that also made one gender primary over another (or another two or three). That being said, we have yet to develop those diplomatic skills now. Scholars of Conflict Resolution should be utilized more often in all matters of diplomacy. This is only the case on a seemingly for-the-camera view and not in applied practice. This, I believe, is intentional. If scholars of Conflict Resolution were given more credit and sway among those in power, those very seats of power would soon find themselves at a disadvantage from the points of view of the very same scholars. Where power is threatened, knowledge is suppressed. That same method might be practiced by an alien species with one dominant gender.

Complete incorporation of the oppression of gender is very likely to occur on other developing worlds. As I stated, there is no promise that they would have culturally grown beyond that before they achieved space travel and before they were to communicate with us. As of right now, we would not have an advantage of the justice of parity to hold such a species with proper disregard. We would be helpless. Neo-liberals would say “be tolerant of other cultures,” but what they would really mean is, “there is something in it for us to establish this relationship.” Masculinarity is like big media. It claims to be investigative, but it is more than prepared to adapt to such a species and sell us on the lie that everything is normal. Well, it is true that in such a scenario, everything would indeed be normal. However, that is not a good thing. It is not a promising first contact and not in our interest. Without education reform, we will not be able to combat the influence this newly introduced species would have on us.

[Header Image: © The Orville / Disney]