A little while ago I read an A.V. Club article about the separation between female cast members in ‘Stranger Things 2’. A little while after that, I saw this tweet, not realising it was from the same author:
This got me set onto a project made for my particularly niche combination of interests: could I quantify ‘Star Trek: Discovery’s gender balance?
Turns out the answer is “Yes! Badly.”
This will be a long-ish article filled with numbers, charts and clumsy attempts at numerical analysis of gender representation in a nine-episode TV show by someone woefully underqualified for any part of that task, but here goes:
First things first: what’s the initial, top-level finding? Well, see below.
The bars on this chart show how many individuals spoke during the episode. Specifically, “speech” in this context means delivering meaningful information, i.e. more than an “Aye, captain,” or equivalent. For example, Keyla Detmer appears in every episode, and Rhys (listed as “Reese” in my data) appears in most, but they are infrequently included in these stats because they’re usually just acknowledging that they’ve been told to do something, saying no more than a handful of words.
[It’s worth pointing out here that for none of this analysis have I included disembodied entities with female voices, i.e. computers. There’s all sorts of issues around women being used to voice what are essentially autonomous servants, and it’s difficult to argue that the ship’s computer is even a character at all. As such, voices only get counted if they belong to some sort of physical being that has an outwardly visible gender identity.
I have also ignored group chants in unison, because fuck cataloguing something like that, I’m a blogger, not a voice-recognition algorithm.
Also, the fucking space whale absolutely does not get counted, for reasons that are pretty bloody simple.]
The line charts show, on the same y-axis, the number of connections in each episode between two people of the same gender. In plainer terms – I’ve counted a connection as being Woman A talking to Woman B. If Woman B responds to Woman A, then that’s a second connection. So, in episode 8, ‘Totally Not Errand Of Mercy’, Admiral Cornwell and L’Rell talk to one another – I’ve counted this as two “connections”. If it had just been L’Rell talking, but Cornwell not answering, then it would have been one.
Now, one thing I haven’t done is quantify conversations. In ‘Totally Not Errand Of Mercy’, L’Rell and Cornwell talk to each other on two occasions, but I’ve only counted each connection once. This is because of the complexity of things like split scenes, and noise coming through from, for instance, repeated conversations in ‘Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad’. Burnham and Georgiou spend the cold open of ‘The Vulcan Hello’ talking to one another, and that scores them the two connections for the rest of the episode, even though they talk to each other repeatedly throughout the next forty minutes.
A Lacklustre Approach
There are many caveats to this simplistic approach I’ve taken, which include but are not limited to:
- No representation of the number of conversations.
- No representation of the amount of time spent on each conversation.
- No representation of the number of lines a character speaks.
- No acknowledgement of important things like viewpoint, plot relevance, etc.
In short, I chose this particular method of quantification because it was much, much quicker for me to gather the data for it. As it happens, I have begun a mini-project to find out how much time is spent in each episode on women talking to women and men talking to men, which gives this interesting statistic for ‘The Vulcan Hello’:
In ‘The Vulcan Hello’, there is approximately eight minutes and twenty seconds of conversations exclusively between women, and two minutes and fifty-three seconds of conversations exclusively between men, out of a total of thirty-two minutes and thirty-eight seconds of conversation.
As you can see, this looks quite different, from a representational point of view, to the stats based on my “connections-only” model, which has ‘The Vulcan Hello’ as follows:
The thing is, it took me around two-and-a-half hours to log the conversations by “time taken” just for ‘The Vulcan Hello’, with another hour to put it into this spreadsheet. I’ve already recorded the conversation times for ‘Battle at the Binary Stars’ on paper, but the sheer labour intensiveness of this project means it’s on the sloooww-burn.
The other, really important weakness of my “connections model” is that it is highly likely to be slightly inaccurate. I’m confident I’ve got everything down, but only about 90% confident, and I’m only 50% sure about that. As such, it’s entirely possible that I’ve missed something or someone, and I’m sure some smart alec out there will be happy to point out all the mistakes I’ve made.
It takes roughly an hour to note down all the connections and characters in a single episode, and I absolutely do not have the resources to multiply that time investment by closely checking my own work – at least, not without losing the job that puts vegan junk food on my table.
As such, if you want to check my data yourself, and if you can even make sense of it in its crude, poorly-planned layout, feel free. You will find it here.
Episode 1 – ‘The Vulcan Hello’
‘The Vulcan Hello’ is, for the first thirty-five minutes, a very strong episode of Star Trek, right up until Burnham dashes all of our hopes with some really shonky behaviour. My views on it have been recorded elsewhere, but we want to look at the stats.
As covered above, female-only conversations dominate this episode, and conversations that include women at all make up 91.1% of the episode’s dialogue by time.
In terms of connections, though, we have six, as follows:
- Burnham has conversations with Georgiou (2) and a female doctor (2).
- Georgiou also speaks with Detmer (2).
- L’Rell gets a couple of lines in subtitled Klingonese, but no other speaking female Klingons appear.
A total of five women get lines in this episode. I think the box-headed woman on the Shenzhou mumbles something, but it falls into that “not meaningful information” category and it wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular.
The men’s connections are as follows:
- T’Kuvma speaks to Voq and Or’Eq (2).
- They each speak to T’Kuvma (2).
- Connor and Gant both interact with one another (2).
- Saru, Admiral Anderson, a male doctor, Sarek and Weeton all speak, but only to women – either Georgiou or Burnham, predominantly.
What’s interesting here is that there are ten men who talk throughout this episode, but they only have as many connections as the women, i.e. six. This falls in line with the time stats – with less than 9% of the episode’s conversation time being between exclusively male characters.
Episode Two – ‘The Battle at the Binary Stars’
Sadly, I have no more time stats for any episodes besides the first at present. Additionally, I was intending to do neat little network charts for each episode, by gender, but that proved waaaay too difficult to do – or at least, learning how to do it with a program like Gephi will take more time than I have spare. So for now, this will mostly be in bullet points and written word.
Episode Two is a continuation of Episode One, and as such most of the characters remain in play. Our women get the following connections:
- Georgiou talks to Burnham and Detmer (2) who each respond to her. (2)
- L’Rell speaks, as does Dennas, leader of the Klingon House of D’Ghor, each speak, but not to each other.
That’s five women again, with a total of four connections. What’s really peculiar is that in two episodes the Shenzhou‘s helm officer and first officer (disgraced) don’t interact at all. This isn’t so peculiar, I suppose, but they also happen to be two of the three female Starfleet officers who speak in both episodes.
Our men get the following connections:
- T’Kuvma has a conversation with Admiral Anderson (2), and speaks to Voq and Kol (2).
- Voq and Kol also interact with one another (2) as well as T’Kuvma (2).
- Saru, Connor, Gant, Weeton, Sarek and the Starfleet Judge all speak, but only to women (Burnham and Georgiou again).
So we again get ten men speaking (twice the number of women), and this time we have twice as many male-to-male connections as we do female-to-female, at eight to four. It should be noted that in two episodes, Saru hasn’t once spoken to another male character, as all of his interactions have been with Burnham and Georgiou.
Episode Three – ‘Conscience is for Kings’
Now we reach the third episode, where we get a raft of new characters, as well as a few familiar ones. Detmer and Saru are both familiar, as is Burnham, but we also meet Lorca, Tilly, Stamets and Landry.
First off, the women:
- Burnham gets conversations with Landry (2), Tilly (2), Psycho (2) and a female engineer (2).
- Landry also converses with Tilly (2).
- The pilot of the prison shuttle is female, and briefly speaks to an unseen male Starbase officer.
That’s a full ten connections, between six speaking female characters, which isn’t bad. I ought to make clear – there is a moment where Burnham comes face-to-face with the now-wounded Detmer and softly speaks her name. However, Detmer doesn’t respond. I’ve not included it in the analysis, as it’s really not a conversation, and I feel like if I were to include it, I’d also have to cover things like eye contact or handshakes for other characters, which I cannot be bothered doing.
I also omitted a possible connection between Landry and Psycho, when Landry addresses the prisoners as a group. I decided against including it as Landry doesn’t address Psycho directly, and Psycho certainly doesn’t respond, and again, it would set a precedent for tracking every time someone speaks to a room full of people. When Lorca gives his “motivational” speeches to the whole bridge, does that generate connections between him and the various men on the bridge? I decided no, it doesn’t.
For the men, we see the following:
- Lorca speaks with Saru (2) and Stamets (2).
- Stamets speaks with his counterpart on the Glenn, Straal (2).
- Stone and Cold, the prisoners, talk to one another (2).
- A shuttle pilot and a security officer, Kowski, each get brief lines, but only to women.
This leaves us with an interesting episode, connections-wise, as we have twelve all-female connections and only eight male connections. Which seems fine – there may be slightly fewer women speaking, but they’re interacting more with one another, which is great. Sadly, this is the only time that an episode will have more all-female connections than all-male.
Episode Four, ‘The Butcher’s Hand Cares Not for the Knife That Cuts It’ or whatever
- Burnham converses with Landry (2) and Tilly (2).
- Georgiou speaks to Burnham (1), who can’t physically respond to the holographic recording.
- Admiral Cornwell, L’Rell, Navigator Owosekun, Detmer and an unnamed girl on the mining colony (referred to as “Miner” in my spreadsheet) all speak, but only to men.
- I should’ve called the girl “Minor Miner”. Shit.
This is where we see the real problems creep in in terms of ‘Discovery’s female connections. There are nine women here, but only three of them, plus one recording, speak to any other women. This may not seem like a huge issue, but let’s see the men:
- Lorca converses with Stamets (2), Saru (2) and Doctor Culber (2).
- Saru and Stamets also converse (2) as do Stamets and Culber (2).
- Voq and Kol also speak to one another (2).
- There’s a male adult Miner (a Major Miner) who speaks, but only as a broadcast.
Here we see the imbalance start to appear. There are seven men who speak in this episode, two fewer than women. But between them, they form twelve connections. We get, for instance, a scene between Lorca, Stamets and Culber, but we don’t get a single three-woman scene throughout the entire series.
Equally problematic, there’s a single man out of the seven who doesn’t speak to any other men. Meanwhile, there five women out of the nine who don’t speak to any other women – more than half of the female cast of this episode don’t interact with any other female cast members.
What will become apparent going forward, as well, as this episode is the last episode in which we will be introduced to any recurring female speaking characters. And we will only meet two more speaking women at all – Stella and Amanda. Note that although Commander Airiam, the… probable cyborg, won’t get her first line until a later episode, we first see her in Episode 3.
We will, however, meet a further three recurring male characters (Admiral Terral, Harry Mudd and, of course, resident human Ash Tyler), as well as numerous speaking one-off male characters.
This episode is also the last and indeed only time that the number of women who speak outnumbers the number of men who speak.
The trouble really is only starting.
Episode Five: ‘CHOOOOOSE YOOOUUUR PAAAAIIIIN’
God, I hate the title of this episode even more than I hate the title of the last one, simply because of how macho it’s trying to be.
- Burnham and Tilly talk (2).
- Cornwell, L’Rell and Owosekun speak, but only to men.
Five women. Only two of them interact. Versus:
- Lorca speaks to Tyler, a male Klingon Guard, Harry Mudd, and Saru (4).
- Saru speaks to Stamets, Culber, an Operations officer and a Tactical officer (5).
- Stamets and Culber both talk to each other (2) and to Saru (2).
- Tyler talks to Mudd, Lorca, and the male Klingon Guard (3).
- The Klingon Guard talks to Lorca, Mudd and Tyler (3).
- The Operations officer talks to Saru (1).
- The Tactical officer talks to Saru and Lorca (2).
- Mudd talks to Tyler, the Guard and Lorca (3).
This makes for nine men who speak, for a total of twenty-four (!) connections. This is the highest number of connections in the series. Compare that to the previous episode, where nine women made a total of five connections between them.
Further, we see here that there nine men, and not a single one goes without speaking to another man. Meanwhile, less than half of the five women in the episode talk to other women – specifically, two of those women speak to each other.
Also worth noting, there are three female bridge officers on the Discovery whilst Saru is in command, but only one of them, Owosekun, speaks more than an acknowledgement, and even then she speaks only to Saru. Airiam, who appears to be the third in command of the ship, i.e. acting-captain Saru’s first officer, doesn’t say a thing, and Detmer, who has been in every episode, barely gets an odd “Aye, sir” past her lips.
If you think that this seems improbable, then the best explanation is this: there are many scenes in this episode between multiple men. There are not so many between multiple women. Bear in mind, this analysis just checks that women are talking to each other – there can be men in the scene too, it’s just as long as the women speak to one another that we build connections. But we’re not even getting that.
Let’s move on.
Episode Six: ‘Lethe’
‘Lethe’ sees a slight bump in female connections, as follows:
- Burnham has conversations with Tilly (2) and Amanda (2).
- Cornwell and Dennas appear in the same scene together, but weirdly never actually address one another.
Five women, four connections. Now the men:
- Lorca converses with Terral (2), Tyler (2), Stamets (2), Saru (2) and Culber (2).
- Sarek speaks with a “Logic Extremist” (2) and the Vulcan Expeditionary Director (2).
- Kol and some other Klingon Leader talk to one another (2).
Eleven men, sixteen connections, and again, no men who don’t talk to other men. Admittedly, most of them revolve around Lorca or Sarek, but that’s still quite a hefty network.
There isn’t much more I can say about ‘Lethe’ that I didn’t already say about ‘CHOO-CHOO-CHOO-CHOOOSE YOUR PAIN’, so we’ll wind on a bit.
Episode Seven: ‘Bullshit To Make The Sanest Mind Go Postal’
The return of Harry Mudd! The return that nobody asked for. And with it he brings another unwelcome guest: continuing imbalance in gendered interactions. As usual, women up first:
- Burnham and Tilly talk to each other (2).
- Stella appears, and Airiam finally gets a line in, but neither get even the chance to look another woman in the eye.
Four women, two connections. All the mens:
- Tyler talks to Stamets, Mudd, Lorca and Barron (4).
- Mudd talks to Lorca, Stamets, Tyler, Saru and a Communications officer (5).
- Lorca talks to Saru, Mudd and Tyler (3).
- Saru talks to Lorca and Mudd (2).
- Doctor Culber talks to Stamets and Tyler (2).
- Stamets talks to Culber, Tyler and Mudd (3).
- The Communications officer talks to Lorca (1) but never to Mudd.
- Barron, the arms dealer, talks to both Mudd and Tyler (2).
- A male medical officer talks, but only to Burnham.
Nine men, twenty-two connections. Only a single man of the nine who doesn’t speak to other men, half of the four women who speak do so to one of the others. This makes Episode Seven extraordinarily similar, in terms of number of speakers and connections, to Episode Five. Which means neither is a one-off case.
Here’s a more sobering statistic: this is the first episode in a row of three in which no more than two women will interact with one another. Three episodes, in a nominally female-led series, in which a total of six all-female connections (three two-way connections) are formed. In those same three episodes, there will be a total of 52 all-male connections formed. In each episode, there will be nearly twice as many male speakers as there will be female speakers.
Episode Eight: ‘Si Ridiculum, Para Discovery’
- L’Rell and Cornwell scream at each other for a bit.
- Burnham, Tilly, Detmer and Owosekun all talk, not to each other, though.
Detmer speaks! As does Owosekun! After only, oh, two or three episodes I guess. They really don’t say much, though. And nothing to each other.
- Lorca talks with Captain Kovil (2), Rhys (2), Admiral Terral (2) and Tyler (2).
- Tyler also talks with Saru (2).
- Comms officer Bryce talks to Lorca (1) after Lorca says his name (not counted).
- Kol and a male Klingon comms officer have a brief conversation (2).
- Culber talks to Burnham briefly, and Stamets talks with Tilly, but neither talk to each other. Weirdly, this is yet another episode in which the only established couple on the show don’t interact in a meaningful way.
Five women and eleven men speak in this episode. Three of those women only talk to men; two of those men only talk to women.
There are a total of two female-only connections in this episode. This is both L’Rell’s and Cornwell’s first dialogue with any other women. All of the regular male cast members have previously established connections with multiple other male cast members.
(Look, I know this is childish, but I’m actually struggling to cope with continually writing about “all-male connections” and “multiple other members”, it’s all getting a bit ‘Allo ‘Allo’ around here.)
I should point out that L’Rell’s and Cornwell’s conversation, indeed, their entire arc this episode, feels rather like it was put in there so that the episode would pass the Bechdel Test. Certainly, no part of their arc seemed necessary for them to end up where they ended up: Cornwell could still have been paralysed due to the torture she went through before L’Rell appeared, and Kol could easily have locked L’Rell up just for her having betrayed him previously.
But that’s my cynical side coming out again. I’m sure there were strong creative and narrative reasons to put their little story in here, and I’ll trust the writers in that regard.
Episode Nine: ‘Into The Forest I Go’
- Burnham and Cornwell talk to one another (2).
- Tilly, L’Rell, Airiam, Detmer and Owosekun all get lines.
Seven women, two connections.
- Lorca has discussions with Admiral Terral (2), Saru (2), Stamets (2), Tyler (2) and Culber (2).
- Tyler and some human Operations officer also have an exchange (2).
- Culber and Stamets also exchange words, as well as saliva (2). Oh, and it only took seven episodes for them to show any physical affection to one another. HOW PROGRESSIVE.
- Rhys says something to Lorca at one point, without a response (1).
- Kol and some Klingon Operations officer have an exchange (2).
Ten men, seventeen connections.
This is the third episode (the other two being five and six), where EVERY speaking man has spoken to another man, and where at least two fifths of the speaking women have not spoken to any other women. In those same three episodes, there are eight female-female connections formed, whilst there are FIFTY-SEVEN male-only connections in the same episodes.
There is no episode where every speaking woman speaks to at least one other woman. Episode Three came really close, but the pilot’s presence meant it just fell short.
Over the Series
With the whole of the first half of the series analysed, we can take a look at how many men and women get to speak, in total, to one another. I feel the network charts speak for themselves:
We can see here that the women all orbit around Burnham, which seems about right given she’s our main character. But there are a couple of points that are important to me.
Seventeen women get actual lines in the entire series so far. They form twenty-two all-female (one-way) connections when the series is viewed as a whole. Six of those seventeen never speak to another woman, two of whom appear in only one episode.
Detmer speaks only to Georgiou, and only in the first two episodes. After that, none of the female bridge officers get a word in to any other female member of Discovery‘s crew.
Tilly has a connection to Landry, from Episode 3, and it’s about seven words between them. After that, Tilly doesn’t get to speak to any women besides Burnham. Mary Wiseman, the actor who plays Tilly, is the only other woman besides Sonequa Martin-Green who is listed as a “main” cast member.
Now let’s look at the men’s graph:
First off – wow. It’s bigger, more complex, and harder to follow. So I’ll break it down for you.
There are thirty-seven men who speak throughout the series. That is more than double the number of women who speak. These men form seventy-five male-male (one-way) connections when the series is viewed as a whole, which is more than three times the number of connections that the women form.
Of those thirty-seven men, six fail to speak to any other men. That’s the same number of women who don’t speak to women. However, these men are such pivotal characters as “Judge”, “Miner” and “Pilot”, and none of these “men islands” appear in more than one episode.
A final piece of stark contrast, I feel, is the structure of these graphs. The men get the massive landmass of “Starfleetistan”, with Lorca in the middle but also with Tyler, Mudd, Saru and plenty of others as smaller hubs. Then the men also get “Klingonia”, a separate, smaller continent with plenty of its own connections, but no connector to Starfleetistan. Then there’s “Vulcanisberg”, which is a narrow little landmass with Sarek in the middle. And finally there’s two minor states, “Stone Cold” and “ConGantinia”, which float off doing their own thing.
Meanwhile, every female connection is either to Burnham, or is a single step away from Burnham. L’Rell has literally no other female Klingons to talk to besides Dennas (who gets two lines in the whole series), but there’s a little mini-continent of male Klingons tied together by Kol and T’Kuvma. And we see plenty of female Klingons in the background – they just don’t say or do anything (although I think one was trying to shoot Cornwell in the final episode). L’Rell even mentions her house’s “matriarchs” in one episode, and yet we never meet them.
I don’t think there’s much more I can add to this subject that hasn’t already been covered by the numbers. I just genuinely find it interesting and troubling in equal measure that a show that is meant to be female-led can have such a one-sided balance to its interactions.
The truth is, there’s nothing in the setup that’s keeping characters like Detmer and Tilly apart. It wouldn’t be a stretch to have a scene where Tilly asks Detmer about Burnham, given that Burnham’s just moved into Tilly’s room. There’s no reason you couldn’t have Detmer and Owosekun exchange navigational information during battle or training exercises. There’s nothing stopping a short scene where Tilly uses her expertise as “the top theoretical physicist in the academy” to explain spore drive navigation to Owosekun and Airiam.
It’s just odd to me that so many of these women never interact, and I wish I understood the creative decision behind it. Assuming there was one.
I think it’s also worth pointing out – if you were to carry out this same analysis for previous Star Trek shows, or movies, or heaven forbid the Star Wars franchise, or even the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, the results would be even more one-sided. But ‘The Last Jedi’ just days before I’m typing this, and that manages multiple connections between several female characters. And that’s Star Wars, the franchise that made three whole films with only three women and one black guy.
I will tie this article off for now, with a final point to make. I’ve shared links to my data below. It’s horribly laid out and not professionally done, but it’s there for anyone who would like to have a crack at producing some better analysis. I daresay it wouldn’t be difficult, most of what I’ve put above could be charitably described as “simplistic”.