The Women of Battlestar:Galactica; Laura Roslin

Laura Roslin inherited the presidency of the twelve colonies because she was the highest-ranking member of parliament to survive the attacks on the colonies – at #42. Understandably, with little experience in politics, there are many within the fleet – especially within its military arm – who are wary of being led by someone who some refer to as a glorified schoolteacher (she’s the Secretary of Education.) If that wasn’t bad enough, she’s battling cancer and suffering hallucinations from the experimental treatment she’s taking because of it.

She meets a lot of resistance, and handles it with surprising resourcefulness and stoicism. She gathers around her a team of supporters who are as loyal as they are knowledgable and efficient at resurrecting a government from what remains of their civilisation.

As she struggles with her illness, she shows strength and calmness. Fretting won’t make her better, so she may as well channel her abilities towards something fixable – the survival of the civilisation.

She’s also well into her forties at least (according to IMDB, Mary McDonnell is 54), and the producers have made no attempt to hide it, rather, creating a realistic age for a woman of her experience, something I infinitely prefer over SG1′s attempt to portray the forty-one-year-old Amanda Tapping as a girl-wonder sex kitten.

What I loved about this character, apart from that it’s so unusual to see a female leader, was that she never did anything that was stereotypical “˜female’. Her dispatching Gaius to out-charm her opposition could have been seen as a woman getting a man to bail her out, but came across instead as a leader deploying her assets. Her constant battles with the military could have been seen as a woman raging against the men with guns who want to kill the (human-looking) Cylons, or a leader of a government whos power runs in parallel – and often clashes with – the power of the military. She struggles with cancer (something I’ve always connoted as a “˜woman’s disease’, possibly because of the huge educational drives for breast and cervical caner) but she is not an invalid. I loved that she was staring down death with little fuss, neither a sobbing, fretting wreck or a Kamikaze-like character, behaving recklessly – irrationally – in the face of death. She’s calm. She’s stoic.

She could be a man. And that’s what I think is the ultimate goal for female characters, that if the gender were reversed, the character could work just as well as a man. Battlestar certainly achieves this with Laura Roslin.


  1. SunlessNick says

    One thing I like is that she’s well aware of her inexperience at this kind of crisis – but she remains well aware that no one else, even the veterans of the previous cylon war, has experience of this kind of crisis. Almost the only character to realise this.

  2. Gategrrl says

    And lets not forget about her ruthlessness that has shown up when a recognizable Cylon shows up – no matter what, the Cylon ends up whooshing out the airlock. No mercy. The only one to survive is Sharon – and that’s only because Adama “knew” her, and thought she’d come in handy later on.

    And the writers cleverly made Roslin come down on the *other* side of the abortion debate – by having her forbid abortion (as much it personally chagrined her) due to the low number of humans. Clearly, she was conflicted about the issue, but remained pragmatic about it: not letting that one issue crystillze the opposition against her. Above all, except when it follows the law, her goal is to remain in power – and the only thing that keeps her ruthlessness from overtaking her character is her adherence to the law. (that, and her complete decency as a human being) The ruthlessness is hidden under velvet gloves, because when it comes down to it, she doesn’t hold her punches, and lets her opponents *know* it: and *rewards* them when they do something she appreciates.

    She’s a fantastic character. And I love how her actress is portraying her. She’s wonderful. Starbuck could learn a lot from her. It’s too bad they don’t have Starbuck have more contact with her – but that wouldn’t make sense given their roles in the Fleet.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m not up to the current episodes, but I’d say her ruthlessness is not driven by selfish motives: she’s ruthless because the situation calls for it.

  4. Gategrrl says

    That’s what I was clumsily trying to say – she IS ruthless when she needs to be, but not for selfish reasons.

    And in the latest episode, she *does* take a point from the former terrorist (played by Richard Hatch) and current president, about the effects of the occupation and collaboratoinists (is that a word?). It says a lot about how she works with her mindset – a teacher, one who teaches, one who wants the class to work together – and contrasts it with a typical violent male(?) reaction, which is swift reprisals.

    Her solution to the problem didn’t occur to me at all before she said it as she retook the presidency.

    It’s a fascinating character study episode, really.

  5. scarlett says

    I liked that, even when she was being ruthless, there was a damn good rationate behind it. I think too many shows liked to portray female leaders as ‘bitches’ – women who use their power absolutely, ruthlessly, and often pettily. It’s like writers like to say ‘see? women can’t handle power!’ But with Roslin there was a sense of ‘OK, so forbidding abortion is overriding civil liberties, but she’s got a damn good reason for it, and I’m sure she thought long and hard about it’.
    One of the things I really like about this show is that all the characters you could so easily gender flip, and even when the women do things which are stereotypically female, you could totally see the male characters doing it.

  6. scarlett says

    I know, I’d love to see more Starbuck-and-Roslin scenes, whenevr they’ve been together, they’ve blown my mind.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    From what I’ve seen (and you’re making me very anxious to get caught up), Roslin is tough in exactly the way good male leaders are often depicted to be. While the writing certainly supports her actions by showing the rationale behind them, Mary McDonnell does a great job coming off as anything but hysterical or irrational, even when she’s emotionally charged. And credit must also be given to the production staff, because they ultimately decide what nuances the actor will be allowed to put across, and direct the directors, who have more power than the actors.

  8. scarlett says

    You should get caught up on this. It’s one of the best, most tightly-written shows I’ve seen; it leaves me with a sense of ‘frack, was that just forty-odd minutes???’, as opposed to slightly relieved that my bro forgot to tape SG1/taped the wrong channel…
    I think the whole show is a combination of good writing, good production and good action. I saw MM in ‘Independance Day’, and I was like, OMG, what a 2D character’. Bad characterisations often mean we fail to see what a good actor they actually are (note to the All Saints producers: I still haven’t forgiven you for the mess you made of Sybilla Budd’s performance.) Beyond female characterisations, I thing BsG is one of those few outlets where writing, production, direction and feminism have come together in perfect harmony.


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