Intersectionality for SciFi Settings

Wraith fans are astute and quick to point out the racism behind Larrin misgendering Todd an “it” in the series.

Intersectionality (or intersectionalism), is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, speciesism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. It is a concept coming of age as various justice movements gain progress and connect through social media and see similarities and interconnectedness of all forms of oppression, from origins to dismantlement.

Art mirrors life. The concept also works in science fiction settings and especially comes into light in dialogue involving different alien groups meeting and any ensuing warfare, discrimination, and subjugation happening as a result. In terms of oppression, a victim is a victim, no matter the bodily differences or locations. We all feel pain and we all want to live free and free from harm. No excuses: might does not make right. So, intersectional themes can be used to 1) analyze progressive views vs. prejudiced views of characters on shows and in books and to 2) model world-building and dialogue of characters, to reveal the same in fanfics and in books. For example, as a character evolves in regards to such prejudiced biases to realize the views are incorrect, his or her language could change to reflect the lessons learned and to cease using objectifying words and phrases. (Note: Keep biased dialogue for individual biased characters, not exposition– else, the author will appear to be biased, rather than the fictional characters.)

When it comes to biased dialogue, human characters in SGA are much guiltier than the Wraith, which is unusual considering humans do not need kill others outside of self-defense (and we are thankfully starting to make unprecedented strides to correct such acts of injustice to our fellow Earthlings). Science fiction is no different: objectifying language and thought is what leads to death and genocide– in the case of SGA, to the deaths of nearly half of the Wraith over the course of 5 seasons (based on Wikia tallies of hives/city ships destroyed). Wraith are only trying to survive and leave others such as Asurans alone while humans are out for genocide.

Some examples of objectification in Wraith and human interaction on SGA:

*Deliberate Incorrect Pronoun Uses, aka Misgendering
“Kill it.” — Human Traveler Larrin to her soldiers in regards to Wraith Todd. A progressive, ambitious, visionary, cooperative, ancient, wise, learned Commander is reduced to a mere object, an “it,” to be killed without consideration.
“Bring him.” –Wraith Queen Sally to her soldiers and officer in regards to human John Sheppard. John is treated as a true contender, a worry, and he proves to be.
“Bring him to me.” –Wraith Queen Laura to her officer in regards to Wraith Todd. Wraith use male and female pronouns for themselves, not “it.” It is common courtesy to use pronouns for others that they want to be used. (If, in some AU, Todd were nonbinary, or if a person does not want to self-identify gender, or if one can’t tell the sex of a cat walking down the street, “they” or “their” is better when referring to them. Living, sentient beings, people and fellow animals, are not inanimate objects.)
“You will fly me to the Stargate and return me to my people.” Wraith Queen Taina to human John Sheppard.
“I believe among your people it is customary to shake hands.” Wraith Todd to human Carter.
Wraith see themselves and humans as people, not objects. We are all animals, not objects. Not even Ronon does this and calls them people and uses the correct pronouns.

In his book, The Gift of Fear, crime expert Gavin DeBecker explains how he can tell when a person wielding a gun is truly about to shoot his or her victim: the shooter takes a takes step back. This is done on a subconscious level, to distance the shooter from what he or she is about to do and from the person he or she is going to shoot. Calling someone “it,” “thing,” or some other objectifying word, such as a racial slur, is the verbal equivalent of taking a step back, distancing oneself from someone else in an attempt to devalue his or her life and make it OK to harm them.

*Name-Calling, Derogation, Category Labels that Vilify:
-“We got a dead sucker here.” –Human Lorne in regards to a dead Wraith officer’s body found in the woods. Thankfully, this unnecessary sci-fi racial slur did not last long in the show.
-“And have this thing removed from my sight.” Emphasis in original dialogue. Human Teyla in regards to a dead Queen’s body who had just been murdered. This objectification allowed her to go on to cause Wraith deaths by ordering a needless attack. They were just “things” to her, not loyal officers who had no desire to fight, and she was willing to kill Todd, the alliance, and herself in the process. This is the 2nd time Todd heard someone from John’s team say this about Wraith and just before “First Contact” where the bigoted Ronon was willing to kill himself and everyone on board, too, by damaging random computers in the engine room.
-“Yeah, well … I don’t know how many years the darned thing took off my life, but I’ll tell you this: if Kolya’s men hadn’t have pulled that damned thing off, I’d be dust in a flak jacket.” Human Sheppard talking to Wraith Todd, not knowing to whom he is speaking. Another use of the word “thing.” Todd is someONE, not something.
“We didn’t know what they were. […] We slaughtered them, burned the bodies.” Human Goran telling other humans how his people killed/massacred Wraith crash victims, over perceived differences. Wraith are whos, not whats. Again, we are all animals, not objects.

*Category Labels That Try to Assign Sole Purpose as Objects:
“You are a Runner.” –Human Teyla to human Ronon
This is attaching a label to the person being hunted, as if that label or role was his or whole sole purpose in being. It distances the Wraith pursuers from thinking they are committing a crime against a feeling being with a right to his own freedom. It also falsely absolves other Pegasus humans from intervening or helping the pursued victim. He is just a “runner,” no longer one of them or of concern, through this mind-forged barrier. This is not a job or label he applied for nor a role he desired, but was placed on him by all races. This is similar to agribiz calling birds deplorable names, such as “layers” or “broilers,” rather than “birds,” as if their fate is sealed and deserved somehow, when, in reality, the problem exists in the minds of those doing the false labeling and resulting violence.

-Cocoons. Cocoons are used by insects for the process of comfort, security, growth, and transformation, not as prisons. The word is also used by humans, maybe because of the webbing texture and pod-like shape.
-Cull. Used by both Wraith and human survivors not taken. The former may use it to deny the way of life imposed upon them, as justification, as though they are benefactors for culling, and latter may use it to avoid thinking about fate of the missing and taken, as a less harsh word. Both races are unwilling victims of circumstance, looking for denial (see more on my previous post that Wraith are not evil and that warfare is not desirable or natural for them).

*Deliberately Different Word Choices and Categories:
-“The Wraith must feed in order to live.” Wraith Commander Todd to human John.
Wraith are said to “feed” instead of “eat.” Along with this, in fanfics, would the dominant hand’s organ be called a “feeding slit” or a “hand mouth”? There can be subtle, but loaded differences. Using the verb “feed” might make more sense for a Wraith after childhood, because mastication is no longer required. But, it could also indicate desire to differentiate, based on race. Which verb would a human prefer to say as something connects us vs. a Wraith who wants to distance himself from us?

*Secondary Derogation of Advocates and Allies
Secondary derogation exists, directed at allies of the oppressed or genocided, usually in for the form of ad hominem fallacy name-calling (e.g. *-lover (usually a race-based insult), *-whipped (usually a misogynist insult), angry-* (usually a race based insult), etc.) and Orwellian-style labels (e.g. calling nonviolence as extreme, militant, etc., when asked to cease warfare and the killing of other animals). The irony of my WraithWorshipper artist name does not escape me here: the Wraith use “worshipper” as a term of affection and the humans use it as an insult, from mild derision to something over which to be killed.
“The gift of life is reserved only for our most devout worshippers … and our brothers.” Wraith Todd to human Sheppard.
“I will inform the villagers that you are a Wraith-worshipper and let them mete out their own justice.” Human Teyla to one of hybrid Michael’s human business associates. This is not justice, this is mob mentality and racism.
Derogation of those speaking against injustice is a cheap and worn-out attempt to silence calls for nonviolence and retain oppressive status quo. But, so long as there is injustice, others will always speak out. Ad hominem fallacies didn’t work with racist or sexist norms of decades past and should be called out for what they are in current instances as well. If you are an activist, advocate, and/or ally, never internalize these petty names and ignore them as the invalid deflections and fallacies they are.

In a dystopic setting, consider also ways that the power-holding classes also suffer when there is violence and how systems of oppression reinforce one another. We are all connected. Oppression by some leads to suffering of all and no one is free when others are oppressed. It may not be readily apparent, if there are language barriers or gag laws in effect (suppression of free speech, another violated right). For example, when humans kill other animals, the slaughter workers are often disadvantaged ethnic minorities or the poor (fuels racism and classicism), they often lose fingers and hands, they are more likely to take their own lives or turn to alcoholism, and slaughterhouse towns have higher instances of rape and domestic violence (fuels sexism) and bear the brunt of pollution from sewage of those being confined to be killed. Those directly ingesting the body parts and reproductive secretions suffer from higher rates of inflammatory diseases, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, etc. There are environmental woes of vanishing rain forests, oceanic dead zones, greenhouse gasses, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, robbing and endangering future generations. How does truth get out anyhow? How does mass media play a role in awareness and suppression thereof by advertisers making money by profiting off of layers of oppression? New inventions can be pivotal in spreading awareness and fostering positive change: photography, aerial drone cameras, hidden cameras, YouTube and social media…

What myths does the power holding class tell itself in order to prop up oppression or try to alleviate guilt? The Lanteans sure do think of themselves as saviors while genociding Wraith, don’t they, both old and new, wielding the power of the city of Atlantis? Other examples include saying it is necessary and that oppressed groups are inherently inferior, in need of being managed, or even that the victims prefer the system of oppression, that violence is somehow benevolent. Examples: We are teaching this group our religion, so it is OK to exploit them because we are doing them a favor in the end by saving their souls. Women need to be protected. Mother cows like having their babies taken away and being hooked up to machines–smiling cartoon cows on ads say so. “Humane” killing, as if such a thing exists. The Wraith mask the Athosian children play with is an ugly racial caricature, conflating the faced officers and masked warriors into one conglomerate objectified concept. But, we are all unique individuals who want very much to live free from harm.

Many political cartoons mocking one attempted justification for oppression against one set of victims can easily be modified in dialogue to represent justification attempts for oppression of other sets of victims, real or fictional. Same stuff, different wrappers. The excuses always point to perceived differences, yet we are all alike in the ways that matter the most.

To my knowledge, no one has thoroughly examined intersectionality in scifi settings or made it a tool for modeling world-building and fictional characters and/or giving the characters personal growth. If you have such a resource, please send me a note! No side-lining our other animal friends, either–that is incomplete, cowardly, and aids the mindset that oppression is acceptable by ignoring it. One can’t focus on fictional worlds, live in a fantasy, and ignore real-life issues or the resulting product is also incomplete, vapid, and insincere.

Within science fiction realms, this chart could be extended for possible objectification among various races: Wraith, Ancients, Asurans, Vanir, and even Pegasus (especially Genii) to Milky Way humans with varying abilities (including having or lacking telepathy, replicating ability, ‘gate building knowledge, the Ancient gene, Wraith DNA, and so forth):


These examples were directly correlated from university writings dealing with objectification humans have used over the centuries here on Earth, to women, people of different skin colors, and to other fellow Earthlings. We are all animals (humans and fictional Wraith and Iratus bugs included) and are all made of star dust. Injustices have given names and called out in order to be able to be analyzed, compared, discussed, and dismantled. If you are a progressive-minded person who seeks to eliminate biased language and/or are looking for more examples or mindsets to use in the evolution of your characters, know that word choices are important!!!