In the sixth episode of Otherworld, called “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” and directed by Thomas Wright, the lost Sterling family finds itself in scenic “Adore,” a fully-functioning matriarchy where men are second-class citizens. The province was founded by a female zone trooper named Livia, and is now maintained by strict gender “stratification laws.” Women are not allowed to set foot in grocery stores or other shopping venues, as all such duties are now the exclusive responsibility of male servants.
This “conservative” town “resists compromise” on matters of sex, we soon learn, and the Sterlings are deemed “progressives” for their gender equality beliefs. In relatively short order, Trace (Tony O’Dell) is arrested by the Gender Patrol for parading about outside without his shirt on. He is then taken to a weight room and forcibly made to exercise by female officers. Then, finally, he is greased up (yes, greased up…) and put on the auction block at the Gender Arcade. During the auction, he shows off his muscular definition…
Female-dominated societies have been the bread-and-butter of so many cult-tv programs across the long decades, from Space: 1999 (“The Last Enemy,” “Devil’s Planet”) and The Fantastic Journey (“Turnabout”) to Star Trek: The Next Generation (“Angel On”) and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (“Planet of the Amazon Women.”) Star Maidens (1975) is actually an entire series dedicated to the premise.
My problem with virtually all such episodes is the general lack of imagination about what a female-dominated society might actually look like. Basically, in all these cult TV programs, the women are just as brutal and sexist as men have been, in certain situations. In other words, the women in charge are depicted as aping and mimicking stereotypical male qualities rather than actually ruling as a female society might legitimately rule. I’m not saying that this sort of strong-arm, bullying matriarchy isn’t possible, only that it somehow makes the premise seem sillier and less realistic than it could be.
Just once, I’d like to see a female-led society that isn’t based, seemingly, on some silly male fantasy involving auction blocks, whips, cat-suits, and high-heeled boots. Instead, I’d like to see a program where the qualities of female leadership are identified and explored in a meaningful way. But, of course, it never ceases to be fun seeing gorgeous women in skin-tight outfits, dominating men, right? I suspect this adolescent fantasy is the reason why Seven of Nine replaced the more three-dimensional Kes on Star Trek: Voyager.
In terms of Otherworld, the way that Hal (Sam Groom) acts in “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” suggests that maybe he had this aggressive role-reversal coming. When he meets a female leader, he calls her a “charming lady” and the condescension drips from his voice. Yikes. In this throwaway moment, the episode reveals perhaps a bit more about male-dominated society than intended. It’s an indication that the writers and the actor can’t quite take the concept seriously.
A woman in charge? That’s funny…
There’s a tremendous amount of amusing satirical material in “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” from the “serious” school discussion in Adore of “the male problem,” to the magazine pages of Available Hunk magazine. But still, there’s something less-than-satisfying and less real about this episode and perhaps that makes it the weakest program of the series so far, a title which I had previously reserved for last week’s “Village of the Motorpigs.”
In short, this episode plays things tongue-in-cheek just a bit too much, as though no one can quite take seriously the concept of a society where women pass and enforce the laws. It’s just a wee bit off, even if some of the jokes really stick their landings.
Between the condescending actions of Hal and Kroll in “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” perhaps it’s necessary indeed that “collective sisterhood” strike back hard in this episode of Otherworld.